Romans 13:1-7. I have included this passage of Scripture in my series of difficult Bible texts not so much because it is quite difficult to grasp or interpret, but because it – and what it addresses – has often been the subject of abuse and misuse. It is of course the famous statement by Paul about governing authorities, or civil government.
In a fallen world, God uses the state to restrain evil. Fallen man left to their own devices with ‘voluntary groupings’ and the like will simply not cut it. Do states get it wrong and abuse their power? Sure, happens often. But this is the means by which God maintains order and deals with evil on the wider social level.
Of course individual self-government is the way we were meant to rule ourselves, but as I say, in a fallen world, this needs to be augmented with the role of the state. Individuals can and do get it wrong, and obviously states can and will as well. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater helps no one here. Getting the biblical balance right is imperative.
A second error this passage guards against is the notion of “my country right or wrong”. This passage is not extolling the state as some perfect and virtuous institution, but as a necessary one in a very fallen world full of selfish and sinful individuals.
This raises a third mistake which this passage – along with the rest of the New Testament – deals with: the idea of complete and unreserved obedience to the state. Yes we are to submit to the state as this text lays out. But as other passages make clear, there will be times when an individual must disobey and/or resist the state.
There are times for example when the believer must say no to the state in order to say yes to God. When the state orders us to disobey God, then disobedience, along with a willingness to face the consequences, is called for. Thus Christians can and must at times engage in civil disobedience. But I discuss that in more detail here:www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/02/christians-and-civil-disobedience/
And it is possible (although Christians certainly can disagree on this issue) that the state can at times go so far away from what God intended it to be, that a just revolution may be in order, as a last resort. But that too I canvass elsewhere:www.billmuehlenberg.com/2013/07/11/is-revolution-ever-justified-part-one/
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