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Christians and Government

Governments and national boundaries exist by the command of God, per Acts 17:26-27 (…[God] marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands… so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him) and Dan. 2:21 (…He deposes kings and raises up others…). But does God really ordain every government ruler, from the decent to the despotic? Does this apply only to the figurehead or to every office at every level? Are Christians ever allowed to defy the state, and if so, how does this not violate Rom. 13:1-7?

The Questions

Let’s begin by looking at the Romans passage to establish which authorities are in view. Some believe it refers to church leaders, but unless one spiritualizes the part about carrying weapons, this cannot be the case. Neither are church leaders to be feared as agents of God’s wrath against their fellow believers, since the church is not appointed to wrath (1 Thes. 5:9) and church leaders do not carry authority.

We do have an example of the disciples defying Israel’s government (the Sanhedrin) in Acts 5:29, so there is precedent for disobeying it. However, this governing body was subservient to Rome, a state no one would mistake for an example of moral, ethical governance. It is secular government to which Paul refers in the passages above, and he calls them God’s public servants. There was a temple tax only levied by Israel, but when combined with tribute (secular government tax) it seems clear that Paul had the Roman government in mind.

Certainly everyone could agree that a Christian cannot obey any law that would violate the faith, and many were executed by Rome for that reason. So how can we resolve this seeming conflict between what Paul said about secular government, and his own eventual (and wrongful) death at the hands of that government? Is Paul saying that God willed for Rome to be brutal and unjust? Does it mean for us today that if our government uses our taxes to fund abortion or war, we must support it? Did God actually ordain that the current treasonous and criminal world leaders should be obeyed by Christians without protest?

God doesn’t cause sin or tempt people to sin (James 1:13). But he does raise up or bring down governments and kingdoms, sometimes to punish others (e.g. Isaiah 10:5-6). Certainly God would and could take down any wicked government as he saw fit, but he doesn’t always do so; in fact, the prophecies of the end times require a whole world filled with evil governments.

The Answers

How does any of this help to answer the question about whether Christians can oppose or even revolt against any government? Certainly Peter was not plotting to disband the Sanhedrin, and Paul was not a subversive against Rome. But in both cases, the injustice of the governing body was being confronted. They still had to suffer the consequences of this confrontation, but it was well within their rights as Christians and citizens to do so. The Romans passage speaks of the government as only being fearful to those who do evil, but when the government itself is doing evil, scripture does not teach or show by example that we’re obligated to comply. In fact, we must speak up in opposition.

The ramifications of this issue are very important. Some Christians believe that we must support the government even when it starts wars, because loyalty to the state means never questioning anything it does. But this would include supporting abortion for example. How can it be that we should turn a blind eye to the carnage and suffering of aggressive wars while (rightly) protesting the slaughter of unborn children? Conservative Christians see through the double standard when liberals support abortion but oppose capital punishment (killing the innocent instead of the guilty), but they seem blind to the same double standard between war and abortion.

So can and should Christians oppose the government over any and all unjust laws and actions? Scripture seems to answer in the affirmative. This does not mean we try to overthrow government, either our own or someone else’s. Rather, it means we speak up to defend the oppressed and oppose unjust laws. And when we pray for secular leaders, it’s so that they won’t oppress us, not to wish them success in everything they do. To bless the wicked is to curse the righteous.

Then what of the current situation where, in most countries, the governments are so thoroughly corrupt and oppressive that there is no due process, no honest voting, no means of peaceful change? Some leave the oppressive countries, but the list of non-oppressive countries shrinks by the day, and there is nowhere for millions of refugees to go. In the case of Jesus, God told his parents to take him out of Israel for a time, and God gave them the opportunity and ability to do so. In the case of Jesus’ prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem, he told everyone to flee to the mountains (Mat. 24:16). But here again, there was a divine command, an opportunity, and a place to go.

Scripturally, it seems that if a wicked government is there by God’s permission, then only God can tear it down, even by using other governments, as when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD. Will the western governments fall? Eventually, yes. But in the meantime, it would seem clear that Christians must not plot to overthrow them, but rather keep praying for God to do so, and that we can live in peace while we wait (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to be good citizens to the extent we’re able (Titus 3:1), yet without engaging in sin. But we also must stand clearly and strongly against all evil, be willing to speak out and confront, and be willing to accept the consequences.

Some believe that any form of government is intrinsically evil. They cite the fact that in scripture most references to governments are condemnations, and that even Israel’s demand for a king was against the will of God (1 Sam. 8:6-7). The history of Israel is a history of kings being killed and replaced, but not even David, who was rightly and divinely chosen to replace evil Saul, would take by force what was rightfully his (1 Sam. 24:6-7). Instead, he waited for God to act, and God acted by making David king in due time. So God does in fact set up kings and states, though ideally only God should be the head of any country. But that time is not yet, and for now we’re under human governments.

What about anarchy?

If we were to be given the opportunity to start over completely, what should Christians do? Should we set up any government at all? The problem with anarchy is that the more aggressive and less ethical are going to wreak havoc on society, such that everyone would have to keep constant guard over themselves and their property, and everyone would be a vigilante (but see this video for a defense of anarchy).


If there must be some form of government, then it’s our obligation to pray for that government to leave people in peace and bring evildoers to justice. Every human government will become corrupt in time; the cycle never ends until God intervenes. Our loyalty as Christians must always be to God and righteousness above all, not blindly given to the wicked just because they are the state. Worship God, not government.

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