“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 esv
What are the governing authorities in America today?
When Paul wrote this verse it was far more easily distinguishable. They had to deal with the Caesars and their ambassadors. Times have changed dramatically today. Now we have a government shaped by multiple authorities.
First of all, we have a Democratic-Republic. This unique hybrid government assures that authority does not rest solely in one place. But that only makes it more complicated for the believer trying to figure out this command of subjection.
As a republic, the authority is the laws and the constitution. Therefore, every Christian should abide by the laws and Christian leaders shouldn’t teach contrary to those laws. If a law is contrary to faith and scripture, the Christian’s highest authority is God’s Word.
Secondly, democracy denotes that the populace is also a governing authority. It is undoubtedly apparent that the morality of this governing authority has been compromised and even participates in allowing horrendous acts of murder and immorality (Not that far removed from the problems is ancient Rome).
Now, there are other authorities as well. The politicians who shape the laws and govern them are voted in by the will of the populous. So there are a lot of authorities that we have to answer to as believers and each one of them was placed and positioned by God for a particular purpose.
Paul tells us that no one is ever placed in a position of power and influence without God’s direct involvement. Remember that God used the evil and wicked kings of Assyria and Babylon to exercise judgement on His people when they wandered from His precepts. So God continues to function as he places different authorities in government over the church.
What About Communist China and the Islamic Middle East?
Paul teaches that every governing authority is instituted by God. Does that mean that God instituted corrupt forms of government like Sharia Law and Socialism? Yes. Though we need to remember that Paul wrote this letter before the major persecutions of Christians took place, we can still look at how the Apostles responded to the persecutions they endured in the book of Acts. They did not raise up an army to instill that ever Christian had the freedoms they deserved, they submitted to the government and proclaimed the gospel even though they were told to censor their message. Their only crime against the governing authorities was the gospel. They had no rebel army. They didn’t have traitorous alliances with foreign governments. They were submissive and God blessed them with the purity of suffering for Christ and the joy that brought.
I find it a shame that many believers today see Christianity as a major force in politics. Every four years we see a fervency for political power among Christians that far exceeds their efforts in evangelism. While politics are a major concern, it seems like Christians see their role in it as a chance to go against the very evident immorality of the mass populous.
Is the Church Really Separate from the State?
Yes, as a Baptist I believe that the church should function separately from the state. Meaning that the church should not make demands on government and function as an authority over society, neither should government exercise control over the affairs of the church.
It was the early Baptists in Rhode Island that realized there was an unfair system in the American Colonies – Pastors were being paid by the state and if a person wasn’t an upstanding member of the church, they didn’t have a vote in government. This was a very unhealthy arrangement. The church has no authority over government. But members of the church must submit to the governing authorities.
What is Wrong in Society?
It is evidently clear that society is far from God. Every facet of the governing authority has been corrupted. Politicians cannot be trusted, laws are written that legalize murder, but the populace is where all the corruption really begins. Many Christians see it as their political objective to restore biblical values to America once again even though it is in complete opposition to where the majority of Americans are today. Morality will never be achieved through legislation. It was never modeled by the early church and it has never been effective.
What Role Should Christians Play in Politics?
Christians should actively participate in their role as the governing authority, but they should’t act shocked when the majority is against them. Jesus never promised a governing authority or a mass populous that would approve of Christianity. It seems that many Christians today are fighting for what the Bible speaks contradictorily against. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12 esv) Christians should be less concerned about creating a habitat where they won’t be persecuted and more concerned about being a counter culture in society.
Contrary to our current presidents campaign slogan four years ago, I don’t have any hope in the governing authorities. The Bible never told me to hope in them. I must be subject to them, and as a part of the governing authority I must do my part to stand up and speak against evil. I ultimately place my hope in God, not mankind. The only thing I am guaranteed from God’s Word that I should be expecting from society is to be persecuted and hated. There are no other promises.