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Submission to the Authorities May 10, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 13:1-7.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding all people to be subject to those who have authority over them – especially civil authorities – because their authority is derived from God. Therefore, anybody who resists those who have lawful authority over them is disobeying God, and they will be condemned and punished by God. In particular, governing authorities have been appointed to hinder the progress of evil while facilitating the progress of good; thus, those who do good will not be punished by the powers that be. Rulers have been appointed to both benefit society and punish the wicked – in fact, they have the right to inflict capital punishment. Also, Paul commands his readers to submit to the governing authorities because it is inherent to obeying God. Now that Paul’s readers have a clear picture of the nature and purposes of civil government, it is clear that they should pay their taxes, since public servants are actually God’s ministers, and God has ordained taxes as the proper means of supporting them in their work. Paul concludes by telling His readers that since it is God’s will for them to pay taxes to support benevolent civil servants, they should give them whatever they owe them – including land and per-capita taxes, duties on merchandise, respect to their superiors, and honor to their peers.

Thoughts: Perhaps the first question that arises when reading this passage is, “what if the governing authorities are oppressing me and treating me unjustly? Doesn’t God allow me to rebel against them?” In his commentary on verse 1, Hodge addresses this issue as follows:

We are to obey authorities because they derive their authority from God…All civil authorities of whatever grade are to be regarded as acting by divine appointment; not that God appoints the individuals, but as it is his will that there should be authorities, every person who is in point of fact clothed with authority is to be regarded as having a claim to obedience, a claim founded on the will of God.

He later adds:

The actual reigning emperor was to be obeyed by the Roman Christians, whatever they might think about his title to the scepter. But if he transcended his authority and required them to worship idols, they were to obey God rather than man. This is the limitation on all human authority. Whenever obedience to man is inconsistent with obedience to God, then disobedience becomes a duty.

Hodge is essentially taking the position that Christians can rebel against their governments, but only when obeying them causes one to disobey God. Some well-known situations where it can be said that Christian rebellion was justified include those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Beijing Shouwang Church. If we consider the unique circumstances that gave rise to those rebellions, though, it is clear that Christian rebellion is not something to be performed at the drop of a hat. Indeed, Christians should carefully choose their words and deeds when responding to hotly-debated acts of their governing authorities, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

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