Yesterday, my wife and I listened to our pastor pontificate on Ephesians 5:21-33 and for good measure, threw in comments about Romans 13. We’ve attended and been members of this church for about 5 years now. I’ve taught adult Sunday school classes for the past several years as well. We’ve been involved in AWANA and other events and things connected to our church. We’ve supported our church financially as well over the years. In short, we positioned ourselves as supporters of this particular local body of believers and we still love and appreciate many of the people who also attend.
However, we made the decision yesterday to begin the process of leaving this church. My wife and I began to have the discussion about leaving a few months ago and it was largely due to the vacillation of our pastor regarding shutting the church down over “CV-19”, whether or not to wear masks, social distance, etc., etc., etc. This was difficult for me because neither my wife or I wear masks (unless we are at the doctor’s because if we do not, we will not be served). The reason we do not wear masks is because they are harmful to people’s health. I recall my pastor saying, “Masks help.” That, for me, was the first red flag among others.
Areas of Sweden have banned masks because there is absolutely no science to back up wearing masks.  We know that wearing masks causes the person wearing the mask to rebreathe their exhaled CO2. That’s not a good thing as it can cause hypoxia and other issues that are dangerous to the wearer.
However, the big problem for my wife and I was not necessarily with the way our pastor handled the CV-19 situation, though that was problematic. The bigger problem is what he said yesterday in the pulpit about the need for Christians to “obey” the government (Romans 13). Why? Because human government was instituted by God. Yes, God did institute human government but God intended government to be good and above board in ruling the masses. An evil or corrupt government does not need to be obeyed and should not be obeyed.
Too many pastors – in my opinion (and I’m not the only one) – are completely misinterpreting Paul’s words of Romans to make it sound like Christians are supposed to obey the government at all costs simply because government in general is instituted by God. This is absurd in the extreme. It’s simply taking words as they are without considering context at all, without focusing on the actions of both Paul and Peter on numerous occasions.
If Paul (and Peter), actually believed that Christians should obey the government in all situations, why would they have done what they did to avoid government authorities? In 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, the governor of the city of Damascus had secured the exits in order to find and arrest Paul. What did Paul do? Did he surrender to be arrested? No, he notes the fact that he escaped their clutches by being lowered out of a window in a basket and on was able to “escape their grasp.” Gee, was Paul a hypocrite here, not taking his own advice?
The same can be said about Peter. He was arrested by Herod because Herod wanted to please the Jewish elite (Acts 12). However, as Peter lay in prison, an angel came and released him from his chains and guided him out of the jail into the city. If Peter really believed that Christians should obey the government at all costs and in all things (except being forbidden to preach Christ, apparently), then why did he follow the angel out of jail into the night? I realize the text implies that Peter thought he was dreaming but after he realized he wasn’t dreaming, why didn’t he turn himself back into the authorities? He seems not to have taken his own advice in 1 Peter 2:13. Why is that?
In both cases, there are clues and in fact, in Romans 12 and 13 there is much most do not see because they simply refuse to consider the actual context of those particular texts. Is Paul really saying that Christians should always obey the government rulers? Actually, no, he is not. What Paul is saying is that God instituted human government as a way to hold lawbreakers guilty and punish them. Paul is actually telling his readers that if they do “good” (uphold the law), they will not only not be punished, but they will be allowed to continue to live their lives unbothered by that government. Those who break the law will be found and punished by the government. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Is that what’s happening in America today? Are people who break the law in protests being arrested and charged? Not really. Are people who illegally enter the USA being deported? Not anymore.
We also need to remember that even though Paul lived during the time of Nero the lunatic, it is very likely that Paul penned these words in Romans 13 during the very early years of Nero before he went off the deep end and ended up fiddling while Rome burned due to the fire he most likely started, but blamed on Christians. Even though Nero was emperor during this period when Paul wrote Romans 13, things in Rome were still relatively peaceful.
Part of the reason Paul wrote these words is due to the fact that there were many Jewish zealots who wanted nothing more than to overthrow the Roman government. These Jews believed that they only answered to God alone and not any human form of government. Because of this, they often tried to overthrow Rome. New Christians were often Jewish and converted to Christianity. Paul wanted to be sure these new Christians did not fall into the same trap as zealous Jews. Paul was teaching them to not try to overthrow Rome. It wasn’t a good idea. It wasn’t something that God would be pleased with and it should be avoided. We are to try to live peacefully in society.
Paul also wrote Romans 13 because he knew that his letter might be seen and/or taken by Roman authorities and he wanted to be very clear that what he was writing condemned all efforts at revolting against Rome. He didn’t want Christians to be labeled as revolutionaries or extremists bent on insurrection against Rome. This should hold true today as well. We carry on and do our best to cause government to abide by the Constitution.
One wonders, if Paul actually meant that we should never question the government, why he chose to call attention to the fact that he was a Roman citizen and should not have been in chains or beaten without a trial (Acts 16 & 22). Why claim the rights of Roman citizenship if we’re just supposed to kowtow and obey the government? Why not just submit? Because what was happening to Paul was illegal. He had rights, and was not afraid to use them.
Moreover, the word used by Paul here – submit – is the Greek word hupo-tasso and actually means to arrange things respectfully in an orderly way. Translated to society, it means that there should be some orderliness in society and good government helps to make that happen, while bad government causes the exact opposite. The word Paul used in Ephesians 5:22 about wives “submitting” to their husbands is the Greek word, hupo-kouo. This word suggests a hierarchical context. Why didn’t Paul and Peter use that word in their comments about “obeying” government?
Interestingly enough, in the New Testament (written in Koine Greek), the word “submit” does not always mean to “obey.” It simply means that we can choose to not obey, but we will still submit to the government’s response to our disobedience. See the difference between that and blind obedience to everything?
Apparently, my pastor disagrees with this and believes that Christians are obligated to always obey the government. Really? Imagine if more Christians had disobeyed Hitler and other fascists. Imagine what might’ve happened then and how many lives would’ve been saved.
Paul’s words do not provide tacit approval that Christians are to obey the government at all costs. This is fallacious. Christians in the USA are not under a monarchy-type of government like Rome. We do not have an emperor that we must kowtow too. In fact, in the USA, the higher authority of our Constitutional Republic is the Constitution. That is what created and preserves the United States of America. We have an obligation to obey the Constitution and to do so, may at times, mean we disobey government officials even though government often works against us.
Since 2006 or thereabouts, FEMA has issued a 33-page document that has served as training materials for pastors to “condition” their congregations to understand that the government should be obeyed especially during times of Martial Law. Unfortunately, while many have discussed this document and even quoted from it, it is seemingly impossible to find the actual document. All the links I viewed came up with “file not found” except one (noted below, which may not be it). However, it is clearly a real document because too many people (including a few pastors who voiced concerns over it), have discussed and quoted from it.
The gist of it appears to be that if Martial Law were enacted, pastors would be the go-to person who would help people “relocate” to camps if needed. Pastors are generally people who are trusted and it is believed that FEMA specifically wants to use them to guide people in the way they should go as opposed to using SWAT teams, etc. Margaret Sanger did this by using black pastors to help black women feel more comfortable having abortions.
Sanger shrewdly used the influence of prominent blacks to reach the masses with this message. She invited DuBois and a host of Harlem’s leading blacks, including physicians, social workers, ministers and journalists, to form an advisory council to help direct the clinic “so that our work in birth control will be a constructive force in the community.” She knew the importance of having black professionals on the advisory board and in the clinic; she knew blacks would instinctively suspect whites of wanting to decrease their numbers. She would later use this knowledge to implement the Negro Project.
We are living in a day and age where government intrusion into our lives has been severely ramped up. The government has ceased to be “good” preferring instead to decimate the Constitution, which birthed this country. Too many within Christendom seem to think that the Bible unquestioningly forces Christians to go long with the government’s program.
I’ll not go along. I have critical thinking skills and will continue to use them. How about you?
Resources for further reading: