Are Christians to Submit to the Governing Authorities in all Matters?
Recent events in our country have moved many people to consider the Christian’s view of government. The blitzkrieg of executive orders that have accompanied the Biden administration, have forced many Christians to rethink what our attitude should be toward government. Romans 13:1–7 stands out as a passage that many people use to support the idea that we Christians are to submit to the government in all matters.
At the center of this thought is the attitude we should have about the vaccine mandate that the Biden administration has publically announced. He announced that the Department of Labor was developing a rule for employers with 100 or more employees requiring vaccination in order to keep their jobs. It has been several weeks since this announcement and the rule is not official though many companies and organizations are acting like it is official and in effect.
The president ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to draft the specifics of the rule. It was expected that OSHA would issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for the mandate. That has not happened yet so the “mandate” is not yet a mandate even though many people have jumped on the mandate bandwagon. This has resulted in a slew of lawsuits by states, businesses and individuals who feel the “mandate” is unconstitutional and unwarranted considering the downward trend of the Covid-19 growth and the success of states that have no mandates.
At any rate, it should be understood that the mandate has not been officially implemented. It would appear that the Biden administration is using this announcement to float the idea to find out how the public will react.
So far two reactions are taking place: those who agree with the idea are implementing it and those who disagree are fighting it with protest and even lawsuits. California’s Governor Newsome has already implanted the mandate and also is requiring children 5 to 12 to be vaccinated once the FDA approves the vaccine for children. But many people in the military, hospitals, schools, businesses and state and local governments are protesting the mandate and facing being fired from their positions.
So, all of that and much more leads us to Romans 13:1–7:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
At first reading Paul seems to be saying that Christians should submit to the government in all matters. A little context and deeper investigation might help to clarify what the apostle is really saying. First of all, Paul is writing in the context of an explanation of what we could call the marks of a true Christian from Romans 12:9 onward. In that context are these words:
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. Therefore “IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM; IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP COALS OF FIRE ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (vv. 18–21).
We must remember that these are Romans that Paul is writing to. They live in the center of the world’s most dominating government at that time. Christians were faced with the same challenge we are beginning to face in America. When a government becomes abusive and violent how are we to react? Some apparently were taking the stand that vengeance was part of their responsibility but Paul reminded them that vengeance belongs to the Lord. He was telling them to treat other Roman citizens with love and respect and not be overcome by the evil around them while understanding that evil is overcome with good.
Following that passage we come to Romans 13 where he tells them to submit themselves to the governing authorities instead of trying to resist them with evil. He reminded them that God instituted government to keep the order after sin entered the world. Without governing authorities the world would be a disaster for them because of the power of sin.
Today we have a different challenge. We live in a country governed by law as it is laid down in the Constitution. We have a saying that defines our ruling authority — “the rule of law”. I believe that the Constitution was inspired by God because men sought to provide a government that provided its citizens with a way forward to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With this in mind we must realize that the president of the United States is not our ruler or governing authority. Our governing authority is the Constitution which every elected leader swears to uphold.
Biden is merely the head of one of three branches of government all of which play a balancing part in the governing of our nation. He has decided to bypass the Constitution, the rule of law, on several occasions. In regard to the executive order regarding evictions of renters, he admitted that it was illegal and unconstitutional but he was going to do it anyway. Another overreach by Biden is the proposed law that would require the IRS to be allowed to snoop into our bank accounts if we have over $10,000 of transactions in a year. This allows the government through the IRS to violate any number of First Amendment rights guaranteed to the people.
Consider his openly unconstitutional attitude about immigration. Section Two 12 F of the immigration and Nationality Act requires the president to exclude aliens whose entry would be detrimental to the interests of the United States. When sworn into office the president swears “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It appears this is another example of our president not executing the rule of law.
It is my conclusion that the “governing authorities” Paul speaks of in Romans 13 should be applied in America to the rule of law as it is finalized through the three branches of government: the legislature makes the laws, the executive administers the laws and the judicial branch interprets the laws in the light of the Constitution, the rule of law in America. We have no obligation to be subject to anyone or anything that disregards the rule of law.
As we apply that principle to our vaccine mandate controversy it is likely that the states and the federal government have no authority to rule on this issue by governmental fiat. It must go through the process of legislation by representatives elected by we the people. Some may argue that the pandemic presents an emergency situation that must be handled as such. If that were truly the case our government would not be allowing thousands of unvaccinated and untested immigrants to enter illegally into our country to the detriment of many.
In conclusion a word in the first sentence of Romans 13:1 should probably be translated “under” rather than “from”. The Greek word upo is generally translated as “under.” This would have the verse read “there is no authority except under (rather than from) God.” In other words, only the authority that is “under” or authorized by Him is to be submitted to. This would help us understand why Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, could resist Adolf Hitler or why any of us would have resisted Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, emperor Nero or any of our own leaders who move in opposition to the rule of law.
We also have the example of Peter and John who were being commanded by the authorities to be silent about Jesus. Their reply was “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). They recognized that the Jewish authorities did not speak what came from God. Therefore, they rejected it and obeyed God. There are many other examples of this righteous disobedience. Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his gods (Dan. 3:19) or Daniel who refused to cease from praying to the only true God (Dan. 6:22). We do not submit to the commands of worldly leaders who tell us to do something that is contrary to how God is leading us.
Christians have a solemn reason for not receiving the vaccine. A recent whistleblower revealed emails from within the Pfizer company that clearly show that the company was trying to hide the fact that fetal tissue was used in the production of their vaccine. That provides a clear reason for seeking a religious exemption if we understand God’s heart on abortion.
All of this means we must be led by the Spirit rather than by any political principle as we seek to follow the Lord. May God bless you as you seek to walk in step with Jesus as led by the Holy Spirit.