The Biblical Church and The Government
In the light of recent events and in the knowledge of the precedents that have been set, and further in the recognition that many pastors have awoken to the errors they had attended to in their misled choice in obeying the government above that obedience that is to be found in God alone, I have re posted this article written near a year ago in the hope it may encourage some.
This article is written as a part of The Falling Away series.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)
The above passage, held long in the minds of most churches today, is thought to be the rule above all rules governing the relationship between the Church and the Government. “Obey” is the charge, “Obey all their decrees” is the command. The advertised belief is that Romans 13, together with 1 Peter 2:13-17 stand alone in authority, nothing else withstanding, and if this were all we had of the Bible then perhaps that would be true.
Many Christians and even Pastors fail to consider that both of these epistles were written by men who were imprisoned for undertaking that which was against the governing rulers of the day. The crimes of both Paul and Peter were seen as so severe by the governmental authorities that they were summarily executed for their willful disobedience. Stephen, the first martyr in the Bible, was stoned to death for his neglect to obey the ruler of his people (Acts 7). James the brother of John was executed by the sword at the command of the king who also saw fit to imprison Peter (Acts 12:1-2). It is evident both men were determined to act counter to the decree of their king for the sake of the gospel, the apostle’s own words are worth repeating, “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b). Is this a contradiction?
The matter does not end there. When we turn to the books of the Bible and we see with all plainness the words of the Lord Jesus who condemned the rulers of the people of Israel,
“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (Matt 23:35),
We see from the mouth of Christ evidence given from the beginning of history, that those faithful to the Lord continually undertook the practice of their faith contrary to the will of those who exercised authority over them.
But the matter does not end there either. All through history men and women who trusted in the Lord breached the rules of government in the preaching of the cross of Christ. From the first century till this very day the Church has been faithful to the commands of the Lord in both worship and the preaching of Christ in contrast to their pagan rulers; and this in spite of the risk of fines, restriction of privileges, confiscation of goods, imprisonment or even death.
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church
We would not have an English Bible today if it were not for William Tyndale who disobeyed the decrees of the Papal Government, a government who ruled above all governments and kings at that time. Tyndale was burnt at the stake because he would NOT be subject unto the governing body of the day in the matter of the Gospel, but not before he gave the world the Word of God in English. Dare we think this is not blessed of God?
Detailing historic Christian witness, was an enormous volume of writing titled “Acts and Monuments of the latter and perilous days, touching matters of the Church”, written by John Foxe, whose abridged version known today simply as “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”, the original work (still available in PDF) was over 2100 pages long. The martyred church is recorded from the first century till the time of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre under the evil maternal rule of Catherine De Medici in France, in August 1572. These writings show that the Biblical Church had always worshipped in opposition to the ruling authorities of the day, and often paid the ultimate price, giving rise to the saying “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church”. It is seen that throughout history the biblical Church answered their rulers with ‘we ought to obey God rather than men’, and their gain was glory.
We are ALWAYS to obey the commands of those who have the rule over us,
UNTIL those commands have us disobey God
So what are we to make of this? How are the clear commands in the Bible to obey our rulers reconciled by what seems the contrary part witnessed also in the Bible? How do we reconcile the evidence of history?
Beloved, it is reconciled simply in that we are ALWAYS to obey the commands of those who have the rule over us, UNTIL those commands have us disobey God.
It is not the Governments place to tell the Church how they are to worship the Lord, even Jesus denied the king such authority (see Luke 13:31-33). Jesus never limited the preaching of the Gospel of Christ to a capped crowd, Jesus never discriminated against people due to their medical handicaps. The “Whosoever” of John 3:16 does not have an 80% preferential treatment toward those with societal privileges, it is “Whosoever”!
Try for a moment to imagine our Lord, or Paul, or Peter or any of the apostles, or for that matter, any biblical preacher in history conform to the dictate of a secular ruler and LIMIT the word of God from the ears of ANY. Try to imagine Jesus with guards at the door of a house, and once the total reaches 30 people, command that no more should enter in (see Mrk 2:1-4 for the contrary example), can you do it? It saddens me immeasurably to consider pastors doing so today, and I wonder that they are not already ashamed of their ministry.
The word ‘Church’ means assembly; where you have no assembly you have no church.
Beloved, we are speaking of eternal life and damnation. Who is better pleased with the limitations of the Church, our Lord or Satan? Who is better pleased with our efforts to preach to some and not to others? We limit the growth of trees by making small the pot and upon our desks, we take pleasure in a bonsai, but is this how we take pleasure in our work for the Church? Can we truly claim to give full potential to the development of the gospel when we limit the church to governmental decrees?
And what are we to say for the souls of the lost? Do we no longer care for the souls of multitudes today whose desire for hope eternal is greater than ever? As hope in this world dissipates, why is the Church cowering under a rock when it ought to be the light directing to hope everlasting? Let us ask the cutting question, who is better pleased with neglecting the opportunity to comfort those that mourn, Jesus or Satan? Who’s work then are you pleasing?
The word “Church” means “assembly”; where there is no assembly there is no Church. Zoom is NOT an assembly, nor can it come close to the fellowship enjoyed by one.
We have hope in the faithfulness of Christ, we place no confidence in the flesh, the Lord has given his charge and we trust him, there is a peace in this. We have the confidence and blessing to obey Governments and to ensure we do them no harm, but we obey the Lord first. Where rulers seek to crucify the work of Christ, we take up the cross and live our lives for it and leave to the Lord the consequence of our trust. Amen.
Pr Edi Giudetti
Sermons specifically addressing Romans 13, together with notes, can be found in detail here, here and here