There certainly are times when it is right to say no to the State:
The more the state defies God and his values, and the more the churches meekly sit by submitting to everything, with no questions asked, the more I become uncomfortable, and the more I need to point out some biblical truths. And those truths include the following: the state is not absolute, and there are times where God’s people must obey God rather than man.
Civil disobedience in other words can at times be called for. As we see the state shutting down churches and the like, using things like a virus as their justification, there is all the more need for believers to think clearly – and biblically – about all this.
Religious freedom matters, and as the state increasingly seems to be stamping on our basic human rights and liberties, the church needs to stop being passive and cowardly here, but to take a stand. Sadly however this has not been happening very much, with only a minority of churches and church leaders showing some backbone and some resistance.
This is surprising, given how often Scripture speaks about those who have resisted the state – and praises them for doing so. In a recent article I listed 12 biblical cases of disobedience to authorities (13, if you count one case which may be less clear). That piece is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/03/24/12-biblical-cases-of-civil-disobedience/
I mentioned in that article that one could find more such cases. Well I have another two cases to add to the list – they both have arisen from my current reading of 1 Samuel. Let me speak briefly to them, and then close with some snippets from a new article on this matter.
In 1 Samuel 14 we read about Saul’s rash vow. It involves Saul and his son Jonathan and one of their battles with the Philistines. The key part of this is found in verses 24-30:
And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”
Here we see Jonathan deliberately defying the order of his own father – who was also the ruler of Israel. Yes, at first he was unaware of this order, but even when informed about it, he knew how foolish it was, and how God’s people should not be bound by it.
Some Christians might be getting a bit squeamish here, but they need to go back a chapter. In 1 Samuel 13:13-14 we read about how God had already rejected Saul as being king because of his disobedience. Indeed, the prophet Samuel was not blindly submitting to the king, but bravely confronting him and holding him to account.
Samuel has made it perfectly clear to the king that the kingdom would be taken away from him and given to another who would rightly follow the Lord. God still used faithful Jonathan, and he still blessed his people, but he was through with the wicked king Saul.
The second case is found in 1 Samuel 22. By now we see just how bad King Saul had become, and how God’s choice for a righteous ruler was clearly with young David. Saul believed the bogus report of an Edomite about the priests of God, so he ordered them to be killed. As we read in verses 16-20:
And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.” And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me.” But the servants of the king would not put out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword. But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David.
The servants of Saul could see what an evil thing this ruling was, and they refused to carry it out. As Richard Phillips put it:
For Saul’s guards, passive acquiescence to an evil ruler inevitably collided with orders to commit grave sins against God’s law. The time had come when faithful Israelites would have to take a stand against evil or find themselves engaged in sacrilegious opposition to God. It was encouraging to learn that none of them were willing to “put out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord” (1 Sam. 22:17). This refusal to obey the king could not have failed to bring them to trouble.
So in both of these cases the biblical text has made it clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Saul the king of Israel was the bad dude in both episodes, while those who disobeyed the king’s edicts were clearly seen as the good guys.
Let me finish with a brand-new piece by American Christian commentator Mario Murillo. In it he speaks about when we should submit to government and when we should not. He looks at how we should understand passages such as Romans 13:1-7, and then he concludes his piece this way:
God not only does not endorse evil government: He will have no part in it. “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with You—they who frame and hide their unrighteous doings under [the sacred name of] law?” (Psalm 94:20). There is your answer. A corrupt throne (government) cannot be allied with God. He cannot have fellowship with it.
When a government creates evil laws God cannot be allied with it—because evil laws are the worst form of wickedness.
They are damnable because they give legitimacy to evil. Matthew Henry said, “Iniquity is daring enough even when human laws are against it, which often prove too weak to give an effectual check to it; but how insolent, how mischievous, is it when it is backed by a law! Iniquity is not the better, but much the worse, for being enacted by law; nor will it excuse those that practice it to say that they did but do as they were bidden.”
Notice how at the end, Henry says we can’t use the excuse that we were just obeying the law. That is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The laws being created by Democrats, using the coronavirus as an excuse, are far worse than the virus itself because, unlike the virus, those new laws become permanent. It is time for the church to wake up and take action, beginning with voting the evildoers out of office and quit calling our submission a godly thing, when it is just a cowardly thing.
“WHO WILL RISE UP FOR ME AGAINST THE EVILDOERS? WHO WILL STAND UP FOR ME AGAINST THE WORKERS OF INIQUITY?” (Psalm 94:16). https://mariomurilloministries.wordpress.com/2021/03/29/do-you-know-when-and-when-not-to-submit-to-government/
I am now working on more pieces about such matters, looking at various examples from church history. One interesting case in point involves the Scottish Reformation and John Knox. Stay tuned for that article and others like it in this ongoing and irregular series of pieces about Christians and the State.