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FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS, volume 11, number 47, November 22, 2012
Jesus said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” Matthew 22:21.
The When and How of Civil Disobedience
In 1774, as the British government moved forward with their taxation initiatives in the American colonies, and as the resistance increased, especially among the so-called Black Regiment,1 a knowlegeable member of the British Parliament said, “If you ask an American who is his masterr, he will tell you he has none, nor any governor, but Jesus Christ. I do believe it and it is my firm opinion that the opposition to the measures of the legislature of this country is a determined prepossession of the idea of independence.” The over-arching, heart felt cry of Colonial America was, “No king but Jesus.”
What was the historical and theological foundation for Christian resistance to King George III and England? The founding fathers said, in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed—That when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government . . . But when a long train of abuses and usurpations . . . to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian pastor and President of Princeton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, clearly understood the theological foundation of the Declaration of Independence. He knew this was vintage Samuel Rutherford, the seventeenth century Scottish, Westminster divine, who wrote Lex Rex, debunking the divine right of kings doctrine.3 Rutherford said that any magistrate who ran roughshod over the law of God, demanding his subjects obey him rather than God, ought to be resisted.
The question before us now, however, is two-fold—when should we disobey the government and how, practically, ought we do so? Francis Schaeffer is helpful in this regard and I commend to you his still much needed and prophetic word, A Christian Manifesto, published by Crossway Books, 1981. The Manhattan Declaration, composed in November, 2009, is also a very important work, calling Christians to stand strongly for the unborn, for the sanctity of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and to resist the tyranny of losing our religious freedom. 3
Whenever the people in any nation face laws that are contrary to the Law of God, they must resist the tyranny. But how? First, they should protest what is happening. As an example—in the case of abortion, same sex marriage, or our income tax going to pay for abortions we should speak out against such injustice. We should write letters to the editors of newspapers. Make use of the social media to get out the word of truth. We should labor to remove from political office any who stand against the truth, and we should labor to put into office those who hold to the truth. We should make use of the court systems to bring to bear the law of God in these matters. We should prophetically warn those in public office, who support such wickedness, that they stand under the judgment of God for supporting such things, and they will stand before the Righteous Judge and give account of their actions on that great day.
But what if the tyranny continues, then what? Is there ever a time to use force as citizens of a nation? Clearly our founding fathers thought so. So did the Scottish Covenanters in the seventeenth century. So did the Huguenots in Roman Catholic France in the sixteenth century. In all three cases these believers took up arms to defend themselves against the usurpation of their God-given rights. Such action, obviously, is fraught with danger. Without sincere, heart- searching prayer, without considering the cost (imprisonment, death, legal bills which could bankrupt families) some may, in a fleshly manner, give themselves over to anarchy and do much harm to the cause of Christ. Liberation Theology, founded upon Marxist ideology, is not biblical. This is not an option for Christians.
Let’s look at a few potential scenarios in our country. Let’s say our government forbids homeschooling or outlaws Christian schools, requiring that all children attend government schools. Let’s say The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) is implemented and you conscientiously object to the government requiring you to purchase health care and you are required to pay a fine. Let’s say the government mandates to churches and privately owned businesses that we must hire homosexuals. Let’s say that the funding of abortions comes from your federal income tax payments. Let’s say pastors or other Christians are picked up by the government for “hate speech” when they preach that same-sex marriage is an abomination to God. Let’s say our government brings back mandatory military subscription, requiring our eighteen year old sons and daughters to fight in the war on terror and continue nation building in Muslim countries. Let’s say that income taxes continue to rise and strip away your wealth. What will you do? What should you do?
You can always flee to another country, as many of my friends did in leaving South Africa a number of years ago. But where will you go? Besides, this is our country, founded on Christian principles. Why should we be forced to leave it? After much prayer and counting the cost, it very well may be that Christians will need to rise up and resist such intrustions of our rights. We may need to say, “No more. We will not obey your laws because they are contrary to God’s law.” We will continue to teach our children and keep them from governments schools. We will not buy health insurance as the government mandates. We will refuse to hire homosexuals for church positions, no matter what the government says. We will refuse to pay our income taxes if they go toward funding abortions. We will not stop speaking the truth on marriage, abortion or any other hot topic in our culture. We will refuse to send our children off to a war if it is mandated and we believe the war is unjust. If the government continues to take more and more of our hard earned money, we may choose to withhold part of our income taxes. If enough Christians rise up, as did our Colonial fathers and mothers, then surely the government must bend to our demands.
1 On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean Calvinistic pastors, due to wearing black robes when preaching, and due to their military like influence on their congregants, were called the Black Regiment. See Forged by Faith, written by Rod Gragg for an inspiring and informative look at the Christian roots of resistance which led to the American Revolution.
2 See last week’s devotional, May a Christian Engage in Civil Disobedience, archived at <www.pefministry.org> for details on Samuel Rutherford.