Is it ever right to refuse to submit to a governing authority? Listen to this lesson to learn what the Bible has to say about authority orientation. Hear biblical and historical examples of those rightfully committing civil disobedience when either told to do something the Bible forbids or forbids what is mandated in the Bible. Find out whether the Founding Fathers were justified in not submitting to the King of England. Does God only expect us to respect the office but not the one holding the office? The answers to some of these difficult questions may surprise you.
Dr. Dean referenced an article by David Barton entitled “The American Revolution: Was it an Act of Biblical Rebellion?” during this class.
1 Peter 2:13–17
1 Peter Lesson #066
October 6, 2016
“Our Father, we mention several prayer requests as we come before Your throne of grace. We want to pray for our nation. We want to pray for this election. We pray for wisdom on the part of many, many races that go up and down the ballot box—from local elections all the way up to the White House. We pray for wisdom. We pray that believers will turn out and vote—that this is part of the way in which we function as “light unto the world” and having an influence that this country can be blessed by association.
We need to be involved because this is a nation that is built upon the participation of the citizens. As citizens of this nation we are to function to Your honor and glory to the fullest extent possible.
Father, we pray for those we know. We pray for those in Florida. Many people are going to lose a lot of property and have sustained damage. We pray for this storm, that it would turn aside and not create the damage that is expected. Especially for those who are close to many of us who are family members and also those who are extended members of this congregation who live in the path of the storm, that You would watch over them, protect them, and provide for them during this time of weather testing.
Father, we pray for those who are ill. We pray especially for Julia Smolyar. We pray for others who are facing financial crises. We pray that you would sustain and provide for them. For others that we know of that are facing surgeries, that are facing life-threatening diseases, that You would comfort them, comfort their families, provide wise doctors for them, that they may make wise decisions.
We pray for us as we study Your Word today that You would help us to sort our way through the material we’re studying and come to understand its significance and application for us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
I want you to open your Bibles to 1 Peter. We’re going to go back through what I covered last week in 1 Peter 2:13–17 because we need to think about something. Today is sort of a test. Pop quiz time! Practical application. So probably the first 15 or 20 minutes we’re going to do a review because I want to get the key information back into our heads so we’re thinking about it. Then, the last part of the class is going to be a practical application.
We’re going to have a little critical thinking drill as I take you through some material to help us think through something. It’s a question that I think everybody in this room has asked—if not once, they’ve asked it many, many times. It’s one that I’ve wondered about, asked questions about, and taken different views on since I was in high school. I’m sure that’s true for many of you.
Last week as we looked at this passage in 1 Peter 2:13–17, the topic was “Honor the King.” We are to honor the king. That’s clear from Romans 13:1–7. It’s true from our passage in 1 Peter 2:13–17. We are to submit to authority over us. We have to understand. What does that mean?
We see different categories of involvement: submission to a parent, submission to a husband, submission to other areas of authority mentioned in Scripture—a slave to a master and submission to the governing authorities that God has set over us.
I think whatever we say about one has to be said about the other. Now the reason I say that is because sometimes we want to waffle a little bit on one or two of these authorities and not apply the same principles in the same way to every sphere. I think that’s a categorical error.
One reason I’m going back to this is that I received a question last week. It’s a very good question. I got to thinking about it and said, “Well, I need to address this question. I want to do a little more homework on this, and I haven’t in a while.” This is the question that came in last Friday after our Bible class on Thursday night. It’s a long question. But I’m not going to get into all the details of the question, because the core question is what’s covered in the first three lines.
“Based on your dissertation last night on the obligation of all citizens to obey divine authority [it should really read, “to obey governing authority”] regardless of how evil the leadership, my question is, ‘Were our founders [that is, the American Founding Fathers] justified in defiance of British tyranny?’ ”
That’s an important question. You’ve heard it phrased a different way. You’ve heard the question phrased, “Were we justified in rebelling against the king of England?” That is a wrong question. Any question that includes the word “rebellion” or “revolt” is the wrong question.
This is a good lesson in critical thinking, because words really do matter. How you set up a question shapes the direction and flow of the answer. Sometimes it gets us right off on the wrong course when we ask the wrong question. And that’s not the correct question.
In fact, there is an article that I will refer to several times by David Barton. David Barton is very well known as an historian. He’s done some wonderful work in reminding Christians that our nation’s history was built on a solid Christian biblical heritage. He’s done some great research.
When I read some of his earlier work I wasn’t so sure, having come out of a church history background where I did my doctoral work at Dallas Seminary in the area of church history and studying these things. But like so many things that I didn’t know when I went through seminary and that were becoming evident, the evangelical camp is really split between two polar opposites.
One side of this argument is the view that America really wasn’t founded on Christian principles. It wasn’t founded by Christians. These men were primarily deists or they were primarily influenced by the Enlightenment. So what you have is a lot of Enlightenment ideas that are the primary influence on the Founding Fathers, not the Bible.
I have quoted Donald Lutz’s material before. Back in the 80s he was a political science professor at the University of Houston. He and his students ran a lot of studies, computer programs, analyzing the speeches and the diaries and the letters and other things that were written by the Founding Fathers to analyze where they got their material. They analyzed about 5,000 or 6,000 different pieces of information and discovered that the vast majority of source material didn’t come from John Locke or Montesquieu or one of the Enlightenment thinkers, but a vast majority came from the Bible. It came from the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy primarily—the books of the Law.
They were not trying to create a theonomy. There is a terrible book that’s been out for seven or eight years now that was written by a guy who really has a hatred for evangelical Christianity and it’s called American Theocracy. The guy who wrote it is Kevin Phillips, and it’s just an awful book. I can’t critique areas where he discusses the oil business or our economy, but I can critique the section where he deals with the influence of Christianity on the religious right—and the guy is full of prunes. He has misinterpreted a tremendous amount of information because he doesn’t understand a biblical framework or the role that the Bible played at the time.
It’s very important also to understand how the Bible was understood and how the Bible was interpreted in the 18th century and in the 17 th century. Remember, they’re not that far out of the Reformation and they’re still trying to consistently interpret the Scripture in light of a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation. So they’ve got some erroneous ideas there.
But the Bible is the primary source. The second or third primary source—I didn’t bring my slides with me with the specifics—was from John Locke. John Locke was raised in a Puritan home, and a lot of the quotes that they have from John Locke are actually secondary quotes or allusions to the Bible. So the Bible plays a huge role in influencing their ideas.
Like I’ve said before, it’s important to understand this. That doesn’t mean that every Founding Father is a Christian or those that are Christian, to some extent, that they have a sound biblical theology or even an accurate understanding of the gospel. They didn’t have theological training, per se, and they weren’t theologians, but they were influenced by a Judeo-Christian ethic. That was the worldview.
Just like today. The worldview that shapes the thinking of every one of the people in this room is post-modern relativism. None of you have escaped it. I haven’t escaped it. We live in that environment. It influences us in ways that we are totally unaware of every single day and we have to fight it. That’s our battle of sanctification in this generation.
In their generation, it was the flipside. Even the unbelievers were influenced by a Judeo-Christian theistic worldview, because that was the worldview of the day. So even if you have someone who is one of the Founding Fathers who was not a Christian, such as, probably, Thomas Jefferson was not a believer in Jesus Christ. He’s the only one who possibly could be a deist, but he’s not that far. He really isn’t.
That’s really a misrepresentation by the secular historians. He doesn’t go that far. In fact, by the time Jefferson comes along in the 1770s and 1780s, deism is basically dead. He is heavily influenced by Enlightenment thought though.
But most of the founding fathers were influenced to one degree. No matter who they were—even if they were Jefferson—they’re living in the framework of a Judeo-Christian theistic worldview. They may be thinking more like a Christian than a lot of Christians are today because they’ve been so influenced by a post-modern worldview. So worldview of the culture shapes people’s thinking. We have to pay attention to some of those issues.
You have on one side, as I was saying, a group of neo-evangelical, hostile to dispensationalism, usually, hostile to fundamental evangelicalism—biblical evangelicalism—scholars, historians, whatever. They say, “No, no, no, no, no. All these Founding Fathers were just influenced by the Enlightenment.” Then you have others that say that we’re influenced by a Christian influence.
Barton played a huge role. My only criticism of Barton is that I think he overstates the case several times in several ways. I will show you a couple of examples as I go through this. I think he so overstates the case that he makes it sound like these guys are all Sunday School teachers and they’re all citing Bible verses every day and getting up every morning and reading their Bibles. That’s not true either. But the reality is closer to him than it is to the other guys. So we just have to have that as a little bit of historical background.
That comes to play in understanding how they looked at the issue of authority and submission to the authority of the king, because this was something that had been going on for quite a few centuries—since the Protestant Reformation. This had been a major issue in the thinking of pastors and theologians and Reformation leaders. Especially in the early 1500s, their life is on the line for preaching the gospel.
I want to make that very clear. What were they doing? It wasn’t that they were voting Republican. It wasn’t that they were voting Democrat. It wasn’t that they were standing up for the American flag. The issue was: They were preaching the gospel. They were telling people that Jesus Christ is the only way, that transubstantiation was a heresy, that justification by works was a heresy, that the idea that you could merit the merit of Christ, which is a Roman Catholic doctrine, was a heresy. They taught these things, and that made them not only heretics; but because of the union of church and state in Germany, France, and England, it made them traitors to the king because they were preaching the gospel. We have to understand, that’s the starting point.
There are those who confuse that civil disobedience, which is biblical civil disobedience in the pattern of Daniel, in the pattern of the Egyptian midwives, in the pattern of others who did what God said to do rather than what the king said to do, in the pattern of Peter and John, who said, in Acts 4, that we are going to serve God rather than man.
Let me review, quickly, the first 10 slides from last week. The command here is going to deal with submission. The biblical category isn’t dealing with rebellion; it’s dealing with submission. That’s why I appreciate the way that question was formulated. It is stated, “Were our Founders justified in defiance …” Now, “defiance” I don’t like. Defiance is an emotive word. Defiance may involve emotional overtones that I don’t see—the Bible is talking about submission.
So the correct way to approach the question is, “Were they justified in not submitting to the British government?” That’s the question: “Were they justified in not submitting to the British government?”
We’re using the language of Scripture and we’re talking apples and apples and not apples and oranges.
The believer’s responsibility is to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, not for the king’s sake. That’s important. You have two basic views that are presented in the 1600s to 1700s. One of those is—the only option is to go with the divine right of kings, which says that, whatever the king says, he’s the mouthpiece of God. So what he says, God says. That’s not biblical. That’s not what this passage is saying.
We’re to submit to the king—for the Lord’s sake, because of the role of authority within the angelic conflict and other things that we’ve studied.
This is the word that is always used, the word HUPOTASSO.
It’s the same word in Romans 13. Romans 13:1 says “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.”
1 Peter 2:13, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors.” Now that’s important. The words that are used here, in the Greek, are very important. He doesn’t say, “to Caesar.” He uses a broader general term for the highest executive authority that was known at that time—that is the king, the BASILEUS.
He says “the governor.” The term that he uses for “governor” is not the procurator, the proconsul, or the tax collector. Those are all subsets of the governor.
Just as a side point that you should remember, for the average Christian in Pontus or Bithynia or Ephesus or Thessalonica or Caesarea or Tiberias, when he had a problem with the governor, it wasn’t going to be Tiberias. It wasn’t going to be Claudius in Rome. It wasn’t going to be Nero in Rome or Caligula in Rome. He was going to have a problem with the policies of the regional governor, the procurator, the proconsul; whichever position it was.
This guy was not a guy that was free from corruption or free from personal vendettas against the people over whom he ruled. Pilate was horrible that way. The Romans considered Pilate bad, and that’s why they eventually recalled him to Rome.
So when Peter is saying this, he doesn’t stop by saying, “whether to the king as supreme,” and we’re just talking about the federal government or the executive branch—he’s talking about the lower level administrators of the kingdom or the empire or whomever that are ruling the regional subdivisions as the representative of the of the king. They are to be submitted to.
In many of these cases, they were not just; they were not fair. The classic pattern we are going to see is the illustration of Jesus. Jesus submits to Pilate—who is evil and wicked—and if He hadn’t, you wouldn’t have your salvation.
Another thing we need to point out here is that, in 1 Peter especially, it’s clear that he’s talking about the person who holds the position, not just the position. Remember that. That’s very important. He’s not talking about the office as being established by God; he is talking about the person who’s holding the office is there under God’s permissive will.
God puts a lot of people—I pointed that out last time—good and bad—into those positions. He not only ordains the position of president or king or governor or proconsul, but it’s the person that’s there under the permissive will of God.
Romans 13 is saying the same thing.
We saw the word “authorities” in Scripture involves a lot of different people—Israel’s high priest, those in charge of the synagogue, members of the Sanhedrin, a judge, pagan officials, even demons have different ranks of authorities. God establishes all of those authorities.
So the believer has a responsibility to submit to the ordinance of God.
The same thing is said in Romans 13:2—to these laws. Some of them may, at some level, be unjust.
Now listen. There are different categories of unjust laws. In my opinion—probably in your opinion—I think if you have a graduated income tax system, it’s unjust. Period. Over and out.
If you have an income tax system that is taking 30% or 40% or 50% of your earnings as taxes, I think that’s unjust. But we don’t have examples of tax revolts in Scripture outside of one that we all know of, which is when the Northern Kingdom divorced itself from the Southern Kingdom. But that was for other reasons.
We don’t have authorized tax revolts. The taxes that were imposed by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians were all egregious. But we don’t have any believers being authorized to run tax revolts because it’s an unjust taxation system.
In fact, what happens? We’ve studied this in Matthew. Matthew is questioned—two different times. First of all, there’s the issue of the temple tax. Jesus sends Peter to go get the fish and pull the coin out, which pays the temple tax. Who’s running the temple? Basically it was the Jewish high priestly mafia, the family of Annas. He’s running the temple. The whole temple structure and the priesthood is as corrupt as it can possibly be. So Jesus pays the tax.
You listen to certain people today. They say, “We shouldn’t pay the taxes because it’s going to support a corrupt bureaucracy.” I guess Jesus was wrong. Well, if Jesus was wrong, He was a sinner. If Jesus was a sinner, we don’t have salvation. Let’s go home.
He does the same thing with the tax when the Pharisees come to him and say, “Should we pay the tax to Caesar?” He says, “Give me a coin.” He says, “Whose image is on the coin?” The image on the coin is Caesar’s. He said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” He is really making a very sophisticated theological point. He is saying, “This coin—your money—has Caesar’s image on it. Render to Caesar that which has his image on it, and unto God what is God’s.”
Who is in the image of God? We are. What Jesus is saying is, “You give yourself. You are in the image of God.” What’s in the image of Caesar goes to Caesar; what’s in the image of God—you—goes to serving God, one hundred percent. But He’s making the point that you pay the taxes.
Is it a corrupt government? Every government is corrupt at some point. Is it fallen human beings? Yes, it is. But Jesus says you pay your taxes—even if it goes to supporting a corrupt government.
So all of this is set up. We saw that God raises up just and unjust rulers.
Saul. Isaiah calls the Assyrian, Sennacherib, the rod of God’s anger. God raised up Sennacherib for a purpose. Isaiah calls Cyrus God’s anointed. He raised up Cyrus for a purpose. Jeremiah says that Nebuchadnezzar is God’s servant in Jeremiah 25:9.
Also look at Jeremiah 21:1–10. God basically tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Go give yourselves up to Nebuchadnezzar because I’m going to have him kill everybody. If you want to survive this and you want to have My blessing, then go, give yourself up to the enemy and you will be safe and you will be prosperous and you will have My blessing.” What did they do? They said, “We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to be a traitor.” So they all got killed.
Jeremiah 25:9. God says, “And Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant.” He’s a corrupt unbeliever. He’s an evil king at this point. He later becomes a believer, but he’s God’s servant because God is using him to bring discipline on Israel. So God raises up unjust men. He approves because He appoints through permissive will. He’s not putting His good housekeeping stamp of approval. He is not saying, “Nebuchadnezzar’s a righteous king. Cyrus was a righteous king. Sennacherib was a righteous king.” But He is saying, “I put even unrighteous people into positions of rulership because they are going to accomplish My will.”
1 Samuel. We saw that Saul is an evil king, and David isn’t going to raise his hand against him. 1 Samuel 24:10, “I’m not going to stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” 1 Samuel 26:9, “For who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?”
In Daniel 4:17 we are told that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men—God’s sovereign will. Now I’ve heard people say, “I just can’t decide who to vote for in this election. But God’s in control. I’ll give it up to Him.” Then quit being a Christian! Quit it!
Do you sit at your house and say, “Oh Lord, I’m going to pray that somebody would just balance my checkbook.” Ten years later you’re still praying for somebody to balance your checkbook, and you’re a mess. Right? No—at some point you have to pick up your checkbook and start balancing it. God said, “I gave you an education so you could balance your checkbook.”
You might pray, “Oh Lord, I just need somebody to cut my grass.” You keep praying for somebody to cut your grass, and the Lord says, “I gave you a lawnmower! Cut your grass.”
We have to vote. You don’t just opt out because you’re a pansy, weenie believer. You have to vote! It’s your responsibility. Make a decision. But don’t opt out and say, “God will overrule everything.” He doesn’t act like that! That is a blasphemous statement against God to just bail out in that manner! I’m sorry I’m angry, but I’m tired of this kind of pusillanimous talk from believers who ought to know better! You can’t bail out just say, “Oh, God’s in control.” That is mysticism! That is pacifism! That is irresponsibility and a failure in the Christian life!
Daniel 4:17, “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men.” But in the kingdom of men they make personal volitional decisions which carry things in one direction or the other. It’s both: God rules; we also exercise our volition.
Habakkuk recognizes that God raises up even the evil Chaldeans to do His will. That’s the background. Remember all those things.
How do we answer this basic question? I’m going to restructure it just a little bit. “Were the Founding Fathers justified in not submitting to the British government?”
“Were they justified in not submitting to the British government?” I want to refer to this paper because, in terms of the historical facts, I think that David Barton has brought out a lot of good historical research as to what was going on among the Founding Fathers and during the generation of the War for Independence. As he does so, it helps us to understand how the Founding Fathers answered this question when they went to the Bible.
That’s really the question. When they went to the Bible, how were they interpreting the Bible to justify their disobedience, their lack of submission, to the king of England?
As I started to say earlier, this idea of when do we submit and when are we justified in not submitting has been the focus of tremendous theological discussion—papers, books, sermons—for at least two centuries since the Protestant Reformation. Because you had your life on the line. What you are putting your life on the line for was the truth of the gospel.
It wasn’t for a political position. It wasn’t in relation to statutes related to various laws, or taxation, or the extent of the authority of the parliament or the king. Those founding generations—when you’re talking about Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and others—is what you were focusing on. “When the king says I can’t preach the gospel, do I have a right to disobey the king and preach the gospel?” The answer was, “Yes.” But we have to be careful as I go through this.
Remember, there are differences between a direct command from God to do something, and the king telling you not to do something or the Bible saying don’t do something and the government telling you to do something. That’s where civil disobedience exists.
What are the examples? Think about this. That’s part of your test. What are the biblical examples that you can think of where individual believers disobeyed the king? What’s the first clear example? The midwives in Exodus. What’s another clear example? Daniel.
First of all, you have the diet issue in Daniel 1. He appeals to the head of the eunuchs to say, “Give us a chance. We’ll try out our diet, your guys go on their diet, and after a few weeks we’ll see who’s doing better.” One way to approach the conflict was to do that. God gave him favor in the eyes of the chief of the eunuchs.
Then you had the situation in Daniel 2, where you had Nebuchadnezzar putting up the big statue that everybody had to fall down and worship. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego say, “No. I’m not going to bow down.” They’re going to take the consequences. They get thrown into the fiery furnace, and they have the right attitude. They said, “Even if God doesn’t deliver us, we’re going to do the right thing.”
They are not going to bow down and worship an idol. That would be a direct violation of what the Scripture says. They do what the Word of God says, as opposed to what the king says.
Then you have the example of Daniel.
So you have three examples there. What’s another example? Jeremiah. Jeremiah does the right thing in spite of what the king says. He’s constantly got opposition from the king, and he continues to preach the Word and proclaim what God says for him to proclaim.
Then you have another in the New Testament. You have Peter and John, of course. That’s good. Those are the examples.
Remember, it’s always the person in authority—the king, the government—telling the individual believer that you either have to do something that the Bible says you don’t have to do, or you don’t do something the Bible says you’re supposed to do.
As a result of the conflicts that occurred in the 1500s in these tremendous religious wars that took place, people were persecuted; they were burned at the stake. Bloody Mary wasn’t called “Bloody Mary” because she liked to mix tomato juice with vodka. Bloody Mary was called “Bloody Mary” because she had so many Protestants burned at the stake for preaching the gospel. She was a Roman Catholic who was trying to turn England back away from Protestantism to the Roman Catholic Church.
There was a tremendous massacre in France—Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572—where The French slaughtered 110,000 Protestant believers. You had a number of these kinds of instances.
Now this is what David Barton says. “Facing such civil opposition, Reformation leaders turned to the Bible and found much guidance on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance to tyrannical civil authority.” Barton is telling us what occurred; he’s summarizing their viewpoint. There’s nothing wrong with what Barton is saying. It is not expressing an opinion; he’s telling us what their view was.
He says, “In fact, numerous famous heroes of the Bible—including many of those listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 as well as in other passages—were accorded their special position of honor because they committed civil disobedience (e.g., Daniel, the three Hebrew children [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—they weren’t children], the Hebrew midwives, Rahab [we left out Rahab], Moses, etc.; and the apostles in Acts 4–5 also declared their willingness to be civilly disobedient against tyrannical commands of civil and religious rulers.”
But he’s too broad, isn’t he? See, it’s not just against tyrannical commands—it’s specific kinds of tyrannical commands. There are all kinds of tyrannical commands that can come down from a person in authority over you. Whether it’s a husband, a parent, or an employer at work—they can have all kinds of tyrannical commands. They can tell you to do all kinds of things that you don’t want to do.
Your drill sergeant—if you are in the military—might be a real tyrant, but you did what he had to say. But he wasn’t telling you to violate the Scripture. That’s what happens here. You have to watch these guys because they go to categories—and then they slide back and forth because they’re not being specific enough. So we have to keep that in mind.
Then he goes on to say, “Some of the important theological works on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance published during that time included two works, the 1556 book, A Short Treatise of Political Power, and of the True Obedience Which Subjects owe to Kings and Other Civil Governors.” They didn’t have short titles back then. Their books won’t sell today, because their titles are longer than what most people’s attention span is.
The bishop John Poynet wrote that in 1556. And the 1579 publication of a book called A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants published by the French Reformation theologian Philippe Duplessis-Mornet. So that’s in 1579.
Now it’s important to understand these, and the reason is that both of these books were highly influential on the thinking of the Founding Fathers when it came to disobeying civil authority. In fact, John Adams highly recommended to people that they read and study both of these works. So it’s these two works. If their theology is good, it’s a good influence. If their theology and biblical exegesis is not good, we’ve got problems in River City. Guess what? Their theology and biblical exegesis isn’t up to snuff. We’ve got problems in River City.
When do they write? They are writing in 1556 and 1579. They are barely a generation beyond sola Scriptura and Martin Luther’s call to go back to a literal reformation. In 1579, they were still burning theologians at the stake if they thought that Jews ought to go back to their historic homeland. They were still caught up in Christian anti-Semitism. They were still primarily amillennial. You don’t start premillennialism until just right about the end of the 1500s.
So you see, their theology is still in a very formative state at that particular time, and they’re going to make some fundamental errors in the process.
By the early 1600s, you have the conflict between the Puritans in England… Elizabeth dies and James VI of Scotland becomes the king of England as James I. We remember him in the title of the translation he authorized, the King James Version or the Authorized Version, and he and the Stuart kings held to a view of monarchical authority that was referred to as the Divine Right of Kings.
That meant when the king spoke it was the voice of God. “Christians are required to submit.” This was the view. This was one view. You basically have two options as far as Poynet and Mornet are thinking. You only have two options, folks.
You only have option one: “Christians are required to submit blindly to every law and policy of the government.” That’s how they interpreted Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Peter 2. You have to submit blindly to every law and policy of the government. Is that what those passages teach? No, it is not. So that is false. That’s a false view. It’s not a biblical view.
The second view. And there were others that came along. There were a number of denominational leaders—Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists, and others—who were influenced by Poynet and Mornet, and they took the view that God is for government but He is not for anarchy.
See, they interpret those passages to say that God established government to promote order in society; He didn’t establish anarchy. So it’s not the person who holds the office—God just instituted the office.
So if the person who holds the office is a tyrant, then you can get rid of him without being an anarchist. You can still hold to the institution of government, and you kick the bastard out—or you kill him. You cut off his head like they did with Charles I. Is that biblical? No! That’s bad exegesis, because both Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are saying that it’s both the office and the individual that are installed by God through either His active or His permissive will.
That view was that God established the institutions of government, but does not approve of every government. Well, that’s not the issue. The issue is not, “Does God approve of every government?”
See, they change what the Scripture says. The Scripture says God established the authorities. This is the ordinance of God. He has established the authorities—not just the office but also the one in it. It doesn’t say God approved of them, that they were all righteous.
Now where this is going to go is very significant, because in the thinking of the English Puritans, in the thinking of people like John Locke and others who are in influenced by that kind of thinking, you get the idea that if the king is not just…
Who’s defining justice? If the king’s laws are not just, then we have a right to be civilly disobedient and to get rid of the person in the office. But see, they expanded the category of civil disobedience from the government telling you to do something the Bible prohibits—or the government telling you not to do something that the Bible mandates—to any law, whether it’s a criminal law, whether it’s a civil law, whether it is an economic law.
They’ve expanded that so that if you as a citizen think that the tax laws are unjust, then you have a right to band together and overthrow the king because it doesn’t fit your idea of injustice. But if that’s true, then you’ve got a real problem with Peter and with Jesus.
And let me tell you, there are some people on the Internet that the exegetical and theological somersaults they have to do to justify their 180° wrong interpretation: “Jesus said, ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,’ but that’s not what He meant.”
You read these guys and you go, “You’re saying that white is black and black is white. You’re just going through these somersaults to justify your previously held political philosophy. You’re not listening to the Bible. You have adopted a political philosophy, and you have to interpret the Bible through the grid of that political philosophy. You’re not paying attention to the fact that Jesus is authorizing and saying that you have to pay taxes—even if it goes into a corrupt system—because that is consistent with God’s establishment of the authorities.”
Barton talks about this dichotomy. See, according to their view, you only have these two options. At the top of the slide I said, “This is the fallacy of the excluded middle.” Neither option is a biblically correct option. But our Founding Fathers just saw those two options. Because of the way they did exegesis and theology at the time these theologians that them that Jephthah and Gideon and Deborah and Sampson were all overthrowing tyranny. Is that true? Were they overthrowing tyranny?
Were they like the Founding Fathers overthrowing the tyranny of a foreign government? It wasn’t a foreign government—they were English citizens.
See, what Gideon and Barak and Ehud and Sampson and Jephthah were doing was… it was a long war against these foreign powers who were trying to totally take control of Israel, and they are throwing off these foreign powers. They are defeating them. It’s war. It’s not that they are overthrowing a tyrant.
For example, you might think that Jeroboam I or Jeroboam II were a tyrant. They were, but you don’t find the Jews overthrowing them. But that would be the correct analogy. But they are not—they are overthrowing foreign powers that have come in and have temporarily won the battle but they have not won the war.
David Barton says, “Therefore, a crucial determination in the colonists’ Biblical exegesis was whether opposition to authority was simply to resist the general institution of government …” [see, that was wrong. In their view, you don’t resist the general institution of government, because that’s anarchy. You have to support that.] “… or whether it was instead to resist tyrannical leaders who had themselves rebelled against God.”
That’s okay. If Nero has rebelled against God, then it’s okay to overthrow Nero. Where do you get that from the Bible? You don’t get that from the Bible.
He goes on to say, “The Scriptural model for this position was repeatedly validated.” See, he is summarizing for us what Mornet and Poynet said.
“The Scriptural model for this position was repeatedly validated when God Himself raised up leaders such as Gideon, Ehud, Jephthah, Samson, and Deborah to throw off tyrannical governments.” Is that correct? That is not correct.
So the books that are influencing them are fallaciously using examples from the Old Testament to justify their position. But that’s not what’s happening. The evidence supporting their contention is false, so their contention is false. Their contention is: It’s okay to overthrow tyrannical leaders because all God wants you to do is respect the office—not respect the person He’s put in the office.
He says, “… leaders subsequently praised in Hebrews 11:32 for those acts of faith. That the Founders held the view that the institution of government is not to be opposed by that tyranny is a position clearly evident in their writings.”
So that’s how they understand it. And that justifies their position. If it’s okay to throw out the tyrant and still respect government, then you haven’t violated the biblical command. But the problem is—that’s not what the Bible says. So they were operating on a false presupposition.
Now this issue of America being rebellious. Let me expand on this just a little bit. John Quincy Adams was asked about whether Americans were a nation of anarchy and rebellion. Remember how they view anarchy and rebellion. That is viewed as taking out the tyrant, but you’re not anarchical if you still believe in government.
John Quincy Adams said, “There was no anarchy. The people of the North American union and of its constituent states were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians in a state of nature but not of anarchy.” Now that’s a really important statement.
It’s not anarchy because we weren’t against government. We immediately established our own government. See, we’re not rebellious against government, because we established our own. But they were rebellious against the individuals who were in the government.
There was a Rev. Jacob Duché, who was a British supporter, who ironically defended the position of the Americans. Pay attention to what he says here.
He says, “Inasmuch as all rulers are in fact the servants of the public and appointed for no other purpose than to be ‘a terror to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well’ [c.f., Romans 13:3], whenever this Divine order is inverted [that is, when you get a tyrant in the office].
“Whenever these rulers abuse their sacred trust by unrighteous attempts to injure, oppress, and enslave those very persons from whom alone, under God, their power is derived—does not humanity, does not reason, does not Scripture, call upon the man, the citizen, the Christian of such a community to ‘stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ … hath made them free!’ [Galatians 5:1]”
Has he accurately quoted Galatians 5:1 to support his position? No, not at all. He has cherry picked a verse that has the words “liberty” and “freedom” in it. So this doesn’t support his position at all.
He goes on to say, “The Apostle enjoins us to ‘submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,’ but surely a submission to the unrighteous ordinances of unrighteous men …” Now what does he mean by “unrighteous ordinances”? He means the Townshend Acts. He means the confiscatory acts. He means unjust taxation. He means quartering soldiers in people’s homes. He means various things like that. But none of those things contradict a specific command of Scripture.
So he’s comparing apples and oranges here and he saying, “surely a submission to the unrighteous ordinances.” Now, an “unrighteous ordinance” would be like when Queen Mary says you can’t preach the gospel. That is, biblically, an unrighteous ordinance. It’s telling people that they can’t do what God told them to do.
This is the issue. When we look at this in terms of how the framers understood this, we have to conclude that, according to their understanding of Romans 13, the American revolution was not an act of anarchy; it wasn’t an act of rebellion; it was an act of resistance to a government that violated the biblical purposes for which God had ordained civil government.
But what about Claudius? What about Caligula? What about Nero? What about Tiberius? And what about Hadrian? And what about all the other Roman emperors? What about many other rulers in history? What about the pharaohs? See, it’s logically and historically invalid and inconsistent.
They went through this hoop, because this is what had become the theologically accepted interpretation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. In some quarters we’re seeing that kind of interpretation resurrected today in order to justify a wrong kind of civil disobedience. But that’s not what the Scripture teaches.
On the other side—I don’t know why people jump through these hoops to try to justify this—if you look at and examine what was actually taking place on the ground, there were a lot of legitimate grievances. There were a lot of inconsistencies. The British government violated their own laws. They gave Americans a second-class citizenship. There were many kinds of things that were wrong on the part of the British government. For over 11 years, the colonial leaders were meeting with the Crown to try to rectify, justify these. And the Crown just resisted it completely until the point the Crown shut down the negotiations.
Now let’s say something about the Tea Party. What happened is that the East India Tea Company is falling on hard times, and so the government is going to prop up the tea industry—which is bad economics—and they are going to put what they thought was an egregious tax on the tea. If they got upset over that little bitty tax, then we would all be throwing everybody into Galveston Bay, because we have to pay 8.5 to 10% sales tax on different things. That’s much worse than the tax that was being put on the tea.
In other cities—in Charleston, in Baltimore, and other cities—they just turned the ships back and they sent the tea back. But the leaders in Boston made a bad decision. They said, “No. We’re not going to yield to what the patriots want. We’re not going to let it go back.”
So what the patriots did was they violated their own standard. What was their standard? It was to protect private property. And they destroyed the private property of the East India Tea Company by dumping all of that tea into Boston Harbor. Two wrongs don’t make a right. A right thing done in a wrong way is always wrong! It’s just very simple ethics. So they violated this.
This is why things like this are such a messy kind of thing to work through. When I was in high school, I held the view that it’s a war for independence and we’re totally justified. I’ve gone back and forth and forth and back as I’ve read all kinds of different stuff over the years. A lot of others have as well, because there were some right things done the right way and there were some right things done the wrong way. The right things done the wrong way exacerbated some of these particular problems.
But as things got heated, what happened was England sent troops in—especially into the Boston area. They forced people to quarter the troops in their homes, and then they sent out arrest warrants for John Adams and John Hancock. They went out to stay at the home of Jonas Clark, the pastor of the church in Lexington.
There was also the desire to take away the arms from the colonists so they couldn’t protect themselves, to violate their ability to self-defense. It’s on the frontier and Indians could attack. All kinds of other things could take place.
So they sent troops out—all those troops that Paul Revere was announcing were coming. Paul Revere rides out to Lexington to warn them that the British are coming. You know, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” That led to violation. It led to the Americans defending themselves.
You can get into a big discussion. Who fired the first shot? Barton argues that at no point did the colonists start anything. I don’t know that that’s demonstrable. But it doesn’t have to be.
If the British are forcing a march onto Lexington and Concord like that, that is an attack on the colonists. Then it doesn’t matter who fires the first shot; the scenario’s been set up where the colonists have a right of self-defense.
Just as the Israelis took the initiative in the 1967 War, knowing that the Egyptians were about to attack. The Egyptians had all their air force out on the air force bases ready to launch that day. Before they ever attacked, the Israelis came in and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground in a preemptive strike. It doesn’t matter who fired the first shot. If the Americans did—great; it was a preemptive strike in a situation where they were already being threatened.
There is an argument to legitimize that the British were the aggressors—not the Americans—and it was a war of self-defense. Because what happens is you have this negotiation that goes on, year after year, year after year after year, in order to avoid any kind of bloodshed. It’s the British who shut down the negotiation, and it’s the British who sent the military in that exacerbated the whole situation. So that brings us to a conclusion.
I know this is an issue that a lot of people have talked about, so does anybody have any questions? Mark?
Q: “What about a leader of a government of your country that assumes power in an illegal manner? How far can you legitimately go to resist that?”
It depends on the circumstances.
Q: “Where the German officer tried to kill Hitler?”
What happens with Hitler is Hitler manages to use the law in his favor in order to gain the chancellorship and to gain the presidency. That’s the problem when you have evil people.
This is a problem we have with the Supreme Court. We can argue all day long. We can go back to Marbury and we can do all kinds of things and say, “No, the Supreme Court shouldn’t do that.” Well, we lost that battle 170 years ago. It’s de facto—whether it’s de jure or not is irrelevant. It is de facto the law of the land. The Supreme Court determines what the law is; we’ve let that happen for 80 years. It’s the way it goes.
Government deteriorates. A lot of this thinking on America, that somehow we’re protected in the eternal plan of God and we’re always going to be a city shining on a hill, is a false romanticism that has influenced a lot of people. Every nation goes downhill sooner or later because of corruption and because of the sin nature.
Every example we have in Scripture is a really clear-cut and dried situation, and what we usually come up with in scenarios is not clear-cut and dried. It gets very, very fuzzy because the other side is very sophisticated.
Q: “Illegal governments that riot, that the people can’t stand it anymore.”
Two wrongs don’t make a right. To go out and riot in opposition to the government destroys property, and that doesn’t make it right. That’s what was wrong with the Tea Party; it destroyed personal property. What was their value? Their value was to uphold the right of personal property, and then they went out and destroyed it. They violated their own ethic. You can’t do that.
That’s a hard thing about having an ethic as a Christian; we have a standard and we can’t do things that the other side is always going to do. That’s one reason I think the Republicans at some level are always going to be ineffective, because at some level there are Republicans who still have a standard of right and wrong and they won’t stoop to the level of the other side.
Q: “Who are they?”
There are a few—you know who some of them are. There have been more in the past—there have been a lot more in the past. So I think that’s limited—not so much today.
But that’s the issue—it’s hard. Remember, when you start talking about the slave or the servant obeying the master, it’s the same principle. In fact, 1 Peter says even if the master is abusing the servant, the servant needs to respect him and obey him. Now that’s got to be consistent with how you interpret obedience to the government.
They can’t be talking about two totally different situations. The concept of submission to authority—even if that authority is wrong—goes all the way through Scripture, unless the wrong is a direct violation of a direct righteous command of Scripture.
That’s why it’s so difficult, because your little sin nature and my little sin nature just don't want to put up with it. We get on our self-righteous high horse and say, “That’s wrong.” And it is! But that doesn’t give us the right to follow in Satan’s rebellious footsteps. That’s the ultimate issue. That’s why authority is such a central issue in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, because the violation of God’s authority is the original sin. And it doesn’t make it easy.
Trust me, I would love to be able to say, “Yeah, we need to go do XYZ because it’s wrong.” That appeals to my sin nature; it appeals to some of your sin natures. I know this. But we’ve got to deal with what the Bible says and not what we feel like.
John? “Q: Are we now to consider our Constitution a dead letter? Thomas Jefferson gave us the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in which the States had the authority of the Constitution to challenge the federal government.”
There are systems within there where the states are supposed to challenge the federal government, but if we can’t get leaders to do it, that’s the problem. We’ve basically nullified the Constitution by being ignorant of it and by having leaders that won’t use it. That was a good question.
What John asked had to do with Jefferson. I think you’re right. I think that, legally, the Constitution has certain provisions within it. Is the Tenth Amendment the one that Perry and others are trying to get the States to call a Convention of the States?
“No. That’s Article Five.”
Article Five—that’s right. You know me—I’m not good with numbers.
Article Five. I think that’s right. I think we have to utilize what’s in the law. We have to do that. We have to be smart. We have to be like a Daniel, and unfortunately we don’t have too many Christian leaders who can function like a Daniel. There are a lot of options—it’s whether or not anybody wants to really take the options.
Alan? Q: “The Declaration pretty well laid out why they were separating from the Crown. There was nothing in there about a revolt. We weren’t overthrowing the Crown either; we were just separating ourselves.”
See, that’s why I said it’s not about revolt. As soon as you bring the word “revolt” in, you change the conversation. The issue is, “Are you justified in submitting to the authority. Is the governor of Massachusetts a representative of Parliament and the King? If the answer is, “Yes,” and it applies not just to his office, but also to him as the person who holds that office, then whatever he’s enforcing—that is, that comes from the king and Parliament—we have to submit to. That’s what 1 Peter says: “Submit to the king and to his governor.”
They didn’t want to submit at one level. But remember: they negotiated; they fought. It wasn’t just that. When it broke down and England sends troops in, they are taking the initiative.
That’s where I think the justification lies. It’s not in the rationale that they gave: that you can revolt against the person but not against the office. That’s why I stay away from that word “revolt.” When you read the revolt argument, that revolt argument is based on the assumption that we didn’t overthrow the king, we don’t overthrow the office, we just got rid of the person.
Whether he is still there or not is irrelevant. That’s the argument, and that argument doesn’t hold water. It’s logically flawed; it’s exegetically flawed; it’s built on a theologically flawed argument. It just doesn’t work.
So that’s why I said, “Stay away from the ‘revolt’ question.” The real issue, as it was framed to me, is: “When is a believer justified in not submitting to authority?” That’s the real question. Let’s close in prayer.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to think through these things. It’s not always easy, and it’s difficult, but we recognize, as the Scripture tells us, that all authorities are established by You. That involves not only the office, but it also involves the people that are in it—whether they are just or unjust. You have allowed many unjust authorities to rise to positions of power and You have used them through Your permissive will to accomplish Your will. Father, we have to learn to live in light of that and submit to Your will.
Father, we pray for this nation. We pray that you would raise up leaders who are wise like Daniel and leaders who can fight for the truth in recovery of the Constitution based on the provisions that are within the Constitution. But we also recognize that we are in a spiritual warfare and the forces that are arrayed against us are just incredible and that it may already be too late to do anything because of what has already taken place. We may be past the point of no return.
But we’re not past the point of no return in terms of Your plan or Your purpose, and therefore we have hope. Even as Jeremiah looked at the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem around him, he said, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21–23
Therefore, we should not ever look at the circumstances as a way of something to get us down but always focus on Your character and Your plan because that lifts us up and focuses us on a hopeful, positive, victorious, eternity. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”