Revisiting Romans 13
by Pastor Gregory A. Dixon
In recent years, Christians in particular have interpreted Romans 13 as a command for unlimited submission to government by God. Many proponents of this belief have sat passively by, in the soft pews of their place of worship, while evil has triumphed in most areas of family and church life. In our pacifistic smugness, many have allowed government to become god without even knowing. Yet, when confronted with the true meaning of Romans 13, absurd accusations are shouted in religious rhetoric toward those who would dare to break an unjust law or even to question the almighty government. The opponents of unlimited submission to government are deemed as rebellious, anarchist and disobedient. However, there is no practical, historical or biblical consistency in the shallow arguments of these simpletons.
First of all, unlimited submission to government is not practical. For a philosophy to be a valid philosophy, it must be consistent. As a result, it does not make practical sense to blindly obey a tyrant like Adolf Hitler or deem a law such as abortion on demand a legitimate law just because one's government says it is public policy. However, if Romans 13 teaches unlimited submission to government, then we must obey and acknowledge all laws, good and bad, as the will of God. If all governments are of God, then all laws are of God. This is not practical from any point of view.
Second, it is not historical. Our founding fathers recognized and understood tyranny and despotism. They perceived the ultimate end of the king's actions. Thus, they besought George III to relent in his persecutions and implored him to uphold his covenantal agreement.
In July of 1774, our forefathers met in Fairfax County, Virginia, and considered ways of forcing Great Britain to redress American grievances. George Washington and George Mason were the instrumental agents in drafting what has come to be known as the "Fairfax Resolves."
Ponder for a moment Resolves five and six:
"Resolved that the claim lately assumed and exercised by the British Parliament, of making all such Laws as they think fit, to govern the people of these colonies, contrary to the first Principles of the Constitution, and the original Compacts by which we are dependent upon the British Crown and Government; but is totally incompatible with the privileges of a free people, and the natural Rights of Mankind; will render our own Legislatures merely nominal and nugatory, and is calculated to reduce us from a state of freedom and happiness to slavery and misery."
"Resolved that Taxation and Representation are in their nature inseparable; that the right of withholding, or of giving and granting their own money is the only effectual security to a free people, against the encroachments of Despotism and Tyranny; and that whenever they yield to one they quickly fall prey to the other."
All of the Resolves are loaded with bullets that explode against a tyrannical and despotic government. The "shot that was heard around the world on Lexington green was loaded in the "Fairfax Resolves." How can one make that statement? After pleading with George III to uphold his covenantal agreement and after seeking for a redress of grievances, the "coup de grace" is plainly stated in the twenty-third Resolve:
"Resolved that it be recommended to the Deputies of the General Congress to draw up and transmit an humble and dutiful petition and remonstrance to his Majesty, asserting with decent firmness our just and constitutional Rights and Privileges, lamenting the fatal necessity of being compelled to enter into measures disgusting to his Majesty and his Parliament, or injurious to our fellow subjects in Great Britain; declaring the strongest terms of duty and affection to his Majesty's person, family and government, and our desire to continue our dependence upon Great Britain; and must humbly beseeching his Majesty, not to reduce his faithful subjects of America to a state of desperation, and to reflect, that from our Sovereign there can be but one appeal."
In simple terms, the Resolves offered George III two obvious choices. One was to fulfill his covenantal obligations and be the king and ruler to the American colonists that he had agreed to be, or second, to prepare for war. George III was asked to "reflect upon the fact, that if he did not keep his end of the covenant, there could be but one appeal!"
Last and most importantly, it is not biblical. Daniel disobeyed King Darius and went to the lion's den. The three Hebrew children broke the law for not bowing. The parents hid the baby Moses from Pharaoh. Rahab lied to protect the Hebrew spies. The Apostles went to prison for preaching Christ in the authority of Heaven. Paul and his followers in Acts 17 did contrary to all the decrees of Caesar in order to make Jesus the King. Even Jesus lived in direct opposition of the political religious leaders of his day and went to the cross for us.
Romans 13 is a treatise by Paul the Apostle on the institution of model government. As we rightly divide the word of truth and take this passage in its total context, we will discover seven truths.
1. Good government is ordained by God.
2. Government officials are to be good ministers who represent God.
3. We the people must obey good and godly laws.
4. As we relate Romans 13 to America, our U.S. Constitution is the higher power, not the IRS tax code.
5. Good government is not to be feared.
6. In America we are to pay honor and custom and constitutional taxes to whom it is due.
7. Government is to protect the righteous and punish the wicked.
As a result, we have a practical, historical and biblical mandate to fervently disobey any unconstitutional laws and all government officials who cease to be good ministers of Jesus Christ. God almighty is the only power that deserves unlimited obedience.
Greg A. Dixon
Indianapolis Baptist Temple