When Should We Disobey the Government?


From my 2009 Journal. Following up my recent blog post about The Blue Parakeet—Rethinking How You Study the Bible, I remember Scot McKnight’s injunction to read the Bible as a dialogue that includes different facets of a topic. We can get into trouble when we quote one verse or phrase in the Bible out of context, and we can come up with some pretty bad theology or advice. For example, I hear Paul saying in Romans 13 that you should never disobey government; and if you oppose government, you bring condemnation on yourself.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2, 7 NIV)

Yet when Peter and the early apostles were instructed to stop preaching, they said to the high priest, “We must obey God, rather than men.” And God honored Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they defied the king and refused to bow down to his statue. Apparently it’s okay to practice civil disobedience if it conflicts with God’s law—but you’ll pay the consequences if you’re caught.

And so I think it’s wrong to apply Paul’s statement in every situation. In context, I think he was saying “Do what’s right.” There’s nothing morally wrong in paying your taxes and obeying the speed limits and [practicing social distancing, to apply this blog to 2020]. You don’t want to be slapped in jail for doing something the government opposes. But if the government forbids assembling together as believers [and I’m not saying as a temporary measure to avoid the corona virus], then disobedience is legit and the church must go underground.

Let’s dialogue. Over what issue would you disobey the government?

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