Tuesday, December 30, 2014

God and Government Pt. 3 : The Limits of Temporal Authority By Chris White

“ Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah;  and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”  But the midwives  feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”   --Exodus 1:15-16

“So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:18-20

Last time we considered the idea that human government is part of God’s plan for restraining evil in the world and protecting human life.  We also considered the idea that government by nature must be coercive to actually be effective but this should be of no consequence to the Christian because as Christ-followers we follow a higher standard than human law requires us.  But this does bring up a question that every Christian must grapple with: if I am to follow and obey the government God has put me under (through the circumstance of birth,  immigration, or travel), is there ever a time for civil-disobedience or dissent?  The short answer here is yes, but only under limited circumstances. 
Martin Luther King Jr.

I recently heard a congressional leader who is known to be a Christian suggest on a television show that it was time for civil disobedience regarding some government licensing and regulations (and no, he wasn’t talking about any of our rights enshrined in the constitution).  Admittedly, there are way too many regulations out there and this does need some reforming, but his advocacy for ignoring or disobeying the government is wrong in every way.  As Christians we are not free to disobey the government just because we genuinely dislike a law or regulation.  The circumstance that permits civil disobedience by a Christian is when our government requires us to violate God’s higher law. 
Tiannaman Square

A scriptural example of this is the Egyptian mid-wives who were commanded by pharaoh to kill all Hebrew baby boys.  They ignored this command and actually lied to pharaoh about their attempts at compliance.  And God blessed these women for doing so.  God’s law is to take precedence over human law when human law commands us to break God’s law.  Another example of this is when human government prohibits the preaching of the gospel. 

Many years ago I had a conversation with someone who was concerned that our church was involved in Bible smuggling missions serving then communist Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China.  “It is a bad testimony for Christians to break the laws of another country.  God is not honored when we break the law,” I was told.  Ethically a Christian may break the law of another land in good conscience because God has not given any government the right to rule a man’s soul.  That is the place of Christ alone.  Such disobedience in some settings may earn severe consequences (think Iran or Saudi Arabia) from the government, nevertheless one is not an evil-doer in the eyes of God.  To sum up our obligations to obey human government are real and binding but only insofar as they relate to the temporal affairs of life and not the spiritual.

Read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail here
Lunch counter sit-in

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