On Rebellion

How should the Christian think about the issue of rebellion?

One of the memes making the rounds on the social media is from the late US comedian and social activist George Carlin. It says this: “Don’t just teach your children to read…Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

Given that I had just earlier penned a piece on how we are increasingly being told not to question what our leaders and experts are saying – especially in light of the Rona crisis and the Big Government over-response, I thought of sharing this meme.

But then, I had second thoughts. I knew about him back in my young lefty days, and I thought maybe I should not share it, as it might send out the wrong message. After all, he is known as a “counterculture comedian” and his resistance to authority and his desire to question everything can lead in the direction of anarchism and wild leftism.

While I always have had problems with radical libertarianism and anarchism – once I became a Christian that is – the whole statist overkill to the Rona has made me lean a smidge more in the direction of the libertarians. That is, I still believe it is God who instituted civil government, and it is not evil in itself.

But increasingly in the West we see the rise of statism and far too much government control and power, with the corresponding push that the masses should just submit fully without asking any questions, and do whatever their political overlords tell them to do.

That whole mindset of ever-expansive government and an ever-more compliant citizenry has me worried big time. Indeed, I even started a new subsection to this site entitled “Resistance Theory” in which I ask theological, historical and political questions about how far we should submit to the state, and when it is right to disobey and rebel against it. That in turn raises the broader question about whether Christians should ever be ‘rebellious’.

As mentioned, I was once a rebel. As an avid member of the radical hippy culture and the political left, I was always rebelling against authority in all its forms, be it the police, the church, middle class values, the government, the military, and so on. We were rebels and we were proud of it.

Of course a conversion to Christianity 50 years ago put an end to all that rebelliousness. I learned that generally speaking, rebellion is wrong and it is not something the believer champions and promotes. And yet, the issue of rebellion needs to be looked at a little more closely and with a bit more clarity.

Is rebellion ALWAYS wrong for the Christian, or is there a time and place for some legitimate rebellion? Here I want to dig into such questions, and seek to get the full biblical stance on this. These are important matters and well worth thinking about.

Of course at this point most Christians will instantly be thinking of a verse they are quite familiar with. They may not be able to tell you just where in the Bible it comes from, but they will readily raise it in a discussion such as this. I refer of course to 1 Samuel 15:23 which says in the NKJV: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Now as always, context is everything. In this case, 1 Samuel 23 is discussing the Lord’s displeasure with, and rejection of, King Saul. He has been bad news for far too long, and had been flagrantly and consistently disobeying the Lord. Samuel the prophet rebuked Saul after his latest case of disobedience – even though Saul claimed that he did obey. Samuel said this in response in verses 22-23:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.”

So the clear context is this: God expects of us obedience. When we do not obey God, we are rebelling against him. But does this mean that all types and forms of rebellion are always sinful, and always like the sin of witchcraft? Not necessarily. Let me offer a very brief bullet point arrangement of how we might proceed here:

-Yes, rebellion against God and his laws is a bad thing.
-Yes, rebellion against the just laws and rulings of a justly constituted authority is a bad thing.
-No, rebellion against tyranny and unjust laws is not necessarily a bad thing.

Let me unpack each of these a bit further. As to the first, this should be pretty straightforward. God is always to be obeyed, and his commands and precepts are always to be diligently followed and adhered to. When we reject God’s laws we reject God himself. This sort of rebellion is always sinful and always to be avoided.

As to the second point, God has set up various authority structures that he expects us – generally speaking – to be in submission to. The three main ones of course are the family, the church, and the state. Generally speaking, children are not to rebel against their parents; citizens are not to rebel against the state; and believers are to submit to church leadership.

But as I said several times now, this involves a ‘generally speaking’ proviso. There can be exceptions. And since my main concern here is the matter of if and when we can and should disobey or rebel against the state, let me speak to that a bit further. As texts like Romans 13:1-7 state, we are to submit to the ruling powers that God has set up.

But as we see in various places, including in a number of cases in the book of Acts, there are times when saying yes to God means saying no to the State. “We must obey God rather than man” as Peter told the authorities in Acts 5:29. But see the 33 other articles on ‘resistance theory’ for more details on this: billmuehlenberg.com/category/politics/resistance-theory/

And that leads to the third point I mentioned. Not all rebellion in this sense is wrong. Indeed, at times it is sinful NOT to rebel when failing to do so means that we violate God’s laws or cause greater moral harm and evil. Sure, discerning when it is right to resist or rebel is not always clear cut, but there can be times when this is the right course to follow.

Obviously, great care is needed here. One key aspect of sin is rebellion. We are all sinners, and we are all rebels. We want to resist God and all the authorities he has established. We want to rebel against him and his norms. We want to do our own thing and be fully autonomous.

So if and when we do think there can be a place to not submit, to not obey, and to resist the authorities, we need to make sure this is not just our old rebellious nature raising its ugly head, but is indeed the morally licit way to proceed. We need to be prayerful and careful here.

And things like civil disobedience come into the discussion here. Is it ever right for the Christian to refuse to obey certain laws of the state, and protest – usually in a non-violent manner? I think there is. And that generally means being willing to take the consequences for such actions as well.

Thus a Christian who rightly cares about the mass murder of the unborn may have a prayer-filled silent protest outside of an abortion mill, even though exclusion laws may be in place. In which case he knows that he will likely be arrested and will have to face the consequences for violating that particular law.

And I of course know of people like this who have done this very thing. Some have been put in jail for a while, while others have had to pay fines. But they felt it was their God-given responsibility to stand up for the unborn, even if it meant disobeying human laws and paying a price for that.

But I have written about these matters in much more detail. See these two articles for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/02/christians-and-civil-disobedience/

billmuehlenberg.com/2009/05/06/abortion-and-civil-disobedience/

So the moral of the story is this: generally speaking, a rebellious spirit is not a godly disposition. But there can indeed be a place for rebellion against unjust and immoral laws. And there certainly can be a place to question things, including what our leaders and authorities are saying and promoting on various issues.

There is nothing spiritual or godly or virtuous about blind obedience, unquestioning submission, and idolatrous worship of the state, believing it can do no wrong. In a fallen world the state and our political leaders – like everyone else – will get things wrong. And the Christian is to discern that which is right and that which is wrong.

So as believers we do not want a rebellious and sinful spirit, but we DO want a discerning, wise, and an inquiring spirit where we do ask careful questions, and we do challenge the powers that be when needed. That is all part of what it is to be a faithful biblical Christian.

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9 Replies to “On Rebellion”

  1. Part of it is the difference between questioning and asking questions. The former is generally called for by rebels wanting to do away with societal order and build a utopia. The latter is called for mainly by people whose duty is to the truth and either asked to probe further to better understand the truth or to expose falsehoods being touted as truth.

    Many God given right were won BACK from the state over the centuries through rebellion. A Holy Rebellion is one that seeks to remove from the state that which belongs to God or that which God has given to man individually. Even with national, and state and local, governments there are rights God has reserved for man to exercise individually that he has forbidden the government form exercising or preventing the exercise of. As you point out the state is at the top but there are right that don’t belong to it and got to tier two the church there are further rights that don’t even belong to the church but to tier three the family and finally their are rights that are not the families but belong to tier four the individual. Balance must be maintained though which can be tricky some hyperindividualist take away from the state the family and the church and hand all that they take away to the individual while at the other end tiers 2-4 lose most, if not all, of their right to the state.

    When the state has left it’s God given role and associated itself with satan rebellion against it is against satan not God.

    Holy Rebellion often enters in because of laxness in the church. She failed to be the conscience of the state and the state left God as a result. Depending on the situation rebellion may simply be civil disobedience and marching and protests or if it has been some time since the church was truly a nation’s conscience civil war. War is not taken but Christians lightly. War is devastating and costs many lives but there are times when to not fight is to reject the path God has put forth in front of you. Has it come to war in the West???? Not yet. Will it??? I can’t say. But IF it does and you won’t fight for your God given rights (without reason obviously if you have different disabilities fighting might not be an option but you CAN help in other ways) you aren’t worthy of them, aren’t worthy of the title Christian and aren’t worthy of heaven. Don’t expect to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labors.

    Come what may let us choose the Lord. Let us honor him either in fighting evil that would control us aiding those who fight or if necessary dying refusing to burn that pinch of incense. The state can take our LIVES but they can not touch our SOULS! “you cannot touch me, you cannot harm me. I am not afraid.”

  2. Thanks Bill , another great article.
    I’m amazed personally how many Christians quote the Romans passage and interpret it as un-qualified obedience to the Govt / State. The voluntary shutting down of churches over the last year has shown this to be true. Pity there has not been more discernment and “searching of the scriptures” to determine the “overall” teaching of the Bible on this subject.

  3. How can we be rebelling against the Government, WHEN WE ARE INFACT THE GOVERNMENT. Yes you heard me right. WE THE PEOPLE ARE THE GOVERNMENT. The Politicians are OUR SERVANTS. It is the truth that can only set us free. This is really not about rebellion it is about JUSTICE! The Parliamentarians who call themselves are Government and have us all believing this, is actually are CORPORATION and they have been lying and deceiving us for years. It goes all the way back to Whitlam and then Hawk. Many Christians know this yet close are blind eye to it. Many churches take on the mark of the Corporation and it is called a ABN number. Lawfully churches are not suppose to pay tax, yet they are dipping into the purses of this Corporation for money which is ours anyway. Do you think our Lord takes kindly to that. This was are Christian nation and WE WERE THE HEAD and we are sliding down to the tail very fast. We had and still have the Commonwealth Constitution in place which was established through the King James Bible with the Head being the Crown which is God himself. We the people fall straight under that and our Politicians are on the bottom of the list. It is still lawful today, the Corporation is not. Liberal and Labor are also Corporations and are the left and right wing of the same bird and they have made sure that they will always be the ones in power. We the church fell asleep at the wheel and allowed the devil to take over. Why? Because apparently leading are nation which our Lord blessed us with was not high on our agenda. He gave us this nation so that we could reach out and spread the gospel to other nations. All the protests against abortion, homosexuality and anything else of are Christian’s heart nature makes no difference BECAUSE ARE CORPORATION IS ARE BUSINESS and their motto always is “IT IS NOTHING PERSONAL, IT IS ONLY BUSINESS”. They are not LISTENING, so when are the Christians going to realize that? As Christians we need to take this nation back and that has to start from the top in positions of power. They are an UNLAWFUL government, and we all need to grasp this truth!!!! At the last referendum when they asked us for are Republic and to step aside from our Commonwealth Constitution we said NO! Yet they when ahead and did it anyway. Our Parliamentarians have betray us Bill. They have acted unlawfully, not only against us the people but also against God himself. Don’t you think our God is angry against this, but more importantly against us. Why? Because we allowed it to happen and like the Israelites before us, we to will go into bondage unless we repent and take back what belongs to our Lord. Jesus is not only coming back for his people, he is coming back for HIS NATIONS. So when he asks us what we did with ours what are we going to say to him. “Sorry Lord, but we fell asleep at the wheel so the thief came along in the night and stole it”. If we don’t wake up soon and take back what is rightfully ours, we will loose it and to our shame. After the failure of the last referendum the State Leaders have all decided to wait till after the Queen dies and they already have everything in place. The way things stand now, it will probably go through which means they will get away free with their treasury, deceit and lies and we would have lost our last chance to claim back what is rightfully ours. There is are ground swell of thousands of people who know this truth now and are taking action to take it back, but unfortunately they are predominately not Christians, so I believe it will possibly fail. Why? Because it is sort of like the sword stuck in the stone. It is only the one who is rightfully to be King who can pull it out. Meaning it is only those called by our Lord’s name who are the rightful heirs to his kingdom of nations. “If those called by my name will humble themselves and not go their wicked ways, and ask for repentance, then and ONLY THEN will I heal their land. We the people of God called by his name, his church, need to repent. Why? Because we fell asleep on the job and allowed ourselves to be deceived by the enemy and he stole what was rightfully ours, and only we can get it back for Christ on his return. So Bill, where are the Joshua’s and the Celabs. We have a lot of would be Moses and his helpers who stood on the mount and did the praying, but just where is the army of the Lord. Who is prepared to do the dirty work and fight back. Interestingly enough when Joshua and Celab came back with are can do attitude after spying the lands, they would have been young men. It was forty years later when they actually took possession of the lands, which means they would have been nearer our age. So we are not done yet! So I believe I can safely say, that both you and I have still a lot of fight left in us yet!

  4. Thanks Ingrid. Well, I have been involved in the culture wars for over 30 years now. And the way things are going, I will likely be at it for another 30 years – if I should live that long!

  5. I am at the ‘relationship’ stage with my Lead Pastor to hand this copy to him.

    He is a Brilliant Biblical Teacher, Beautiful Family-Man but Servant to the State, the Wider Church he practices under & his Congregation.

    However, God is a-moving and I NOW have his ear. Thankyou Abba Father.

    Much, much prayer work would be appreciated for this to come to pass…Culture Watch Warriors.

  6. It seems like the basic divide is what are you rebelling against? If you’re rebelling against God and His will then that’s a problem. If you’re rebelling against rebellion against God and His will then you’re seeking to be in conformity with His will.

  7. Thanks Bill, a helpful article – sometimes we have to be rebellious. What came to mind as an example is President Trump. He had to be rebellious as he went against Planned Parenthood wanting money to fund abortion. He had to be rebellious and not sign the continuing Paris Climate Change Agreement and cut aid money to Iran, call the coronavirus the China virus etc. If we had more rebellious politicians like Craig Kelly, Pauline Hanson, Mark Latham, etc making a stand then this country might get back to being a great country again.
    Also, as a rebel, I just want to let readers know that President Trump has his own website and one of his articles is this about fraudulent voting https://www.donaldjtrump.com/desk/desk-za94crwyx4/

  8. I’m pretty sure when Elijah rebelled against the king and queen and their support for the prophets of Baal, that rebellion was completely sanctioned by God, as demonstrated by the accompanying miracles and by the fact that God actually directed the rebellion.

    The scriptures tell us we do fight against spiritual wickedness in high places and clearly wisdom is required in how we do this, so yes a new topic heading in this field is very welcome.

    My guess is that those who have no stomach for rebellion against the government sanctioned and promoted wickedness we are increasingly seeing, are those who love Mammon and this world.

    My understanding of prophecy is that a banner is set up and there will be no room for middle ground. You are either for God or against Him.

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