In America, we are not under Nazi, English, Roman, or Communist oppression. While no civil official is (yet) demanding that ministers obtain a license to preach the gospel, restrictions are being placed on what ministers and Christians in general can say on moral issues derived from the Bible.
Either God or man is ultimately sovereign. When these sovereignties clash and conflict, the Christian, first a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20), must obey God rather than men. William Tyndale (1490) taught that the truths of Scripture had authority over both the state and the church. Partly for this “heresy,” government authorities in England tried to capture him, but Tyndale evaded them for years. He was finally caught, tried as a heretic, and executed in 1536. Separated by three hundred years, John Bunyan (1660) and Martin Luther King (1963) both wrote powerful apologetic treatises from a prison cell for disobeying the authorities.
No human authority is absolute. In Matthew 22:21, Jesus tells the Pharisees and the Herodians to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” He does not say, “render to Caesar everything Caesar commands and demands.” We are only to render those things that are Caesar’s. This implies limitations, as Lord Acton argues:
But when Christ said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” He gave to the State a legitimacy it had never before enjoyed, and set bounds to it that had never yet been acknowledged. And He not only delivered the precept but He also forged the instrument to execute it. To limit the power of the State ceased to be the hope of patient, ineffectual philosophers and became the perpetual charge of a universal Church.
There are restrictions on Caesar’s sovereignty, as Old and New Testament examples demonstrate, and by extension the sovereignty of all rulers, because we are told to “render to God the things that are God’s,” and Caesar is under God and must also render to Him. The things that are God’s did not belong to Caesar, and what legitimate authority Caesar did possess had been given to him by God (Rom. 13:1). Did Jesus give Caesar, and by analogy all civil governments, unlimited authority to rule without regard to God’s commandments? Whatever else Matthew 22:21 can tell us, and it can tell us a lot, we know that Scripture limits the sovereignty of Caesar.
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths
Christianity's failure to show itself practical in the past 150 years has guaranteed the success of anti-Christian beliefs, which are doing incalculable harm at home and abroad. The rejection of any type of ‘this-worldly’ application of the Bible has resulted in the proliferation of man-centered worldviews that have steadily drained the life out of our world and left behind a spiritual vacuum. Will the church of Jesus Christ be prepared with biblical answers for the millions who will be ready to follow the light of the gospel as the folly of humanism is made manifest? (2 Tim. 3:9).Buy Now
But what about today? On today’s podcast, Gary discusses the Christian’s response to authority. Should Christians always do what the state or magistrate say we must do? Biblical examples of individuals and groups disobeying tyrants are many. What are we to learn from these? The final chapter of Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths deals with this topic and discusses the Christian’s response to civil and ecclesiastical tyranny and demands to obey.