The corona-virus pandemic, and the social and economic consequences of State and federal Mandates for citizens, has been the topic of much discussion. In the present circumstances, it is becoming increasingly clear that many do not trust their governments, or even the advice and counsel of Medical and Scientific professionals. Not only is there a wide-spread skepticism of authority of any kind, and a distrust and suspicion of political leaders - often bordering on paranoia, and leading to the acceptance of conspiracy theories - but, even among Christians, a spirit of sedition and rebellion. Certain voices in the political realm have fostered such a spirit, and it has even been aided and abetted by some preachers as well. The subject of submission to authority, and the question as to whether or when any kind of civil disobedience or resistance to civil authorities is justified, has been the subject of discussion among Christian believers. It is a controversial issue, no doubt. I think it is important in all circumstances to go directly to the Word of God for guidance and direction. Some are wont to consult and to quote man-made documents first, before any resort to scripture. The Christian ought to be interested, first and foremost, in the answer to the question: "What saith the Lord?" Here are some scriptures for us to consult on the matter of civil authorities, and our duty as citizens living under such rule: Romans 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1, 2; 1 Peter 2:13 -15. These and other scriptures are clear as to the duty of subjection believers must give to governmental authorities. It should be remembered that those in positions of power, in the days of the Apostles, were tyrants and oppressors of people in many instances. The oft-quoted words of Peter: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) was in relation to a command by Jewish religious leaders to cease preaching and teaching in the Name of Jesus. This is NOT the situation in our Western nations at this point. The use of Peter's words as a pretext for civil disobedience to lock-down restrictions and precautions is a total misuse of this scripture. The broader question is: How many Christians are diligent in praying for their civil authorities? We don't have to agree with their policies, and some of their decisions.in order to pray for them. Note these words from Ellicott's Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:2: "'For kings, and for all that are in authority'.â€”Without any special reference to the Roman emperors, the expression simply directs that prayer should be offered in all Christian congregations for the supreme authorities of the Roman empire, and especially of that particular province in which the church, where the prayer was offered, happened to be situate. Josephus especially mentions how a refusal on the part of the Jews to pray for Roman magistrates led to the great war with the empire which ended in their destruction as a separate nation. A well-known passage in the Apology of Tertullian, written about a century and a quarter after St. Paul sent his first letter to Timothy, shows how well and carefully this charge of the great teacher, written to the Church in Ephesus, was kept in distant Carthage:â€”'We Christians. . . . do intercede for all the emperors that their lives may be prolonged, their government be secured to them, that their families may be preserved in safety, their senates faithful to them, their armies brave, their people honest, and that the whole empire may be at peace, and for whatever other things are desired by the people or the CĂ¦sar.' Early in the second century, Polycarp of Smyrna bears similar testimony to this practice in the early Church of praying publicly for their heathen rulers:â€”'Pray for all the saints; pray, too, for all kings and powers and rulers, and for your persecutors, and those that hate you, and for your cruel enemies.' 'That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life'.â€”What now is the special object of this prayer for those in high authority and power? First, that through their wise rule the Christians might enjoy peace; and, second, that the temper of the people who prayed thus for the ruling powers might be so affected by the constant repetition of such prayers: that all thoughts of revolt and resistance would be gradually stamped out. St. Paul knew whom he was addressing. The Christian congregations of his age were largely made up of Jews. An intense longing to throw off the yoke of Rome pervaded the whole nation. The terrible events of the year 70 (only four or five years at most from the time of writing this Epistle) show how deep-seated was their hatred of the stranger. No Christian, however, was implicated in that fatal rebellion; so thoroughly had the teaching of St. Paul and his fellow Apostles done its work among the Jewish followers of the Crucified." Consider the GENEVA BIBLE on 1 Timothy 2:2: "And first of all, answering the question for whom we ought to pray, he teaches that we must pray for all men, and especially for every type of magistrate. And this thing was at that time somewhat doubted of, seeing that kings, indeed, and most of the magistrates, were at that time enemies of the Church." Calvin's Commentary on 1 Peter 2:13-14 states the following: "v.13 Submit yourselves He now comes to particular exhortations: and as obedience with regard to magistrates is a part of honest or good conversation, he draws this inference as to their duty, "Submit yourselves," or, Be ye subject; for by refusing the yoke of government, they would have given to the Gentiles no small occasion for reproaching them. And, indeed, the Jews were especially hated and counted infamous for this reason, because they were regarded on account of their perverseness as ungovernable. And as the commotions which they raised up in the provinces, were causes of great calamities, so that every one of a quiet and peaceable disposition dreaded them as the plague, -- this was the reason that induced Peter to speak so strongly on subjection. Besides, many thought the gospel was a proclamation of such liberty, that every one might deem himself as free from servitude. It seemed an unworthy thing that God's children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies. Then there was another trial, -- All the magistrates were Christ's adversaries; and they used their own authority, so that no representation of God, which secures the chief reverence, appeared in them. We now perceive the design of Peter: he exhorted the Jews, especially for these reasons, to shew respect to the civil power. "To every ordinance of man". Some render the words, "to every creature;" and from a rendering so obscure and ambiguous, much labor has been taken to elicit some meaning. But I have no doubt but that Peter meant to point out the distinct manner in which God governs mankind: for the verb ktizein in Greek, from which ktisis comes, means to form and to construct a building. Suitable, then, is the word "ordination;" by which Peter reminds us, that God the maker of the world has not left the human race in a state of confusion, that they might live after the manner of beasts, but as it were in a building regularly formed, and divided into several compartments. And it is called a human ordination, not because it has been invented by man, but because a mode of living, well arranged and duly ordered, is peculiar to men. Whether it be to the king So he calls Caesar, as I think, whose empire extended over all those countries mentioned at the beginning of the Epistle. For though "king" was a name extremely hated by the Romans, yet it was in use among the Greeks. They, indeed, often called him autocrat, (autokratora) but sometimes he was also called by them king, (basileus.) But as he subjoins a reason, that he ought to be obeyed because he excelled, or was eminent or supreme, there is no comparison made between Caesar and other magistrates. He held, indeed, the supreme power; but that eminence which Peter extols, is common to all who exercise public authority. And so Paul, in Romans 13:1, extends it to all magistrates. Now the meaning is, that obedience is due to all who rule, because they have been raised to that honor not by chance, but by God's providence. For many are wont to inquire too scrupulously by what right power has been attained; but we ought to be satisfied with this alone, that power is possessed and exercised. And so Paul cuts off the handle of useless objections when he declares that there is no power but from God. And for this reason it is that Scripture so often says, that it is God who girds kings with a sword, who raises them on high, who transfers kingdoms as he pleases. As Peter referred especially to the Roman Emperor, it was necessary to add this admonition; for it is certain that the Romans through unjust means rather than in a legitimate way penetrated into Asia and subdued these countries. Besides, the Caesars, who then reigned, had possessed themselves of the monarchy by tyrannical force. Hence Peter as it were forbids these things to be controverted, for he shews that subjects ought to obey their rulers without hesitation, because they are not made eminent, unless elevated by God's hand. v.14: "Or unto governors," or, Whether to presidents. He designates every kind of magistrates, as though he had said, that there is no kind of government to which we ought not to submit. He confirms this by saying that they are God's ministers; for they who apply him to the king, are greatly mistaken. There is then a common reason, which extols the authority of all magistrates, that they rule by the command of God, and are sent by him. It hence follows (as Paul also teaches us) that they resist God, who do not obediently submit to a power ordained by him."
Rev. Stephen Hamilton
Rev. Stephen Hamilton is the minister of Lehigh Valley Free Presbyterian Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania.