The Powers That Be
Who should be subject to civil government?
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God." Romans 13:1.
By whom are the powers ordained?
"The powers that be are ordained of God." Verse 1.
What does one resist who resists just civil authority?
"Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." Verse 2.
NOTE: "That is, they who rise up against government itself; who seek anarchy and confusion; who oppose the regular execution of the laws. It is implied, however, that those laws shall not be such as to violate the rights of conscience, or oppose the laws of God." --Albert Barnes, on Romans 13:2.
What are the proper sphere and work of civil authorities?
"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil... If thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Verses 3-4.
Who is it that receives the enforcement of law?
"Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient ." 1 Timothy 1:9.
How should Christians respect civil authority?
"Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work." Titus 3:1. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well... Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." 1 Peter 2: 13-17. "For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour." Romans 13:6, 7.
In what words does Christ reveal that there are two spheres of authority: one that belongs to earthly governments, and another, higher one, that belongs to God alone?
"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:21.
To whom alone did Jesus say that worship can and must be given to?
"Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." Matthew 4:10.
What decree did King Nebuchadnezzar once make to all the citizens of his empire?
"That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace." Daniel 3:5, 6.
NOTE: This decree was in direct conflict with the second commandment of God's law, which forbids making, bowing down to, and serving images. It was religious, idolatrous, and persecuting in character.
What answer did the three faithful Hebrew captives give?
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us... But if not... we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Verses 16-18.
What did Nebuchadnezzar then do?
"He commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace." Verse 20.
After their miraculous deliverance, what did Nebuchadnezzar then declare to everyone?
"Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God." Verse 28.
NOTE: By preserving these men in the fire, God was demonstrating before all the world, through this great kingdom, that religion is a realm outside the ligitimate sphere of civil authority; and that every individual should be left free to worship, or not to worship, according to the dictates of his own conscience.
In what way alone were the envious leaders of Medo-Persia able to complain about Daniel?
"We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." Daniel 6:5.
What religious law did they succeed in urging the king to enact?
"That whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, a king, he shall be cast into the den of lions." Verse 7.
NOTE: Unlike the decree of Nebuchadnezzar, this decree forbade the worship of the true God, and was in direct conflict with the first commandment of the Decalogue, which forbids the worship of any other god.
Did Daniel obey this new governmental edict?
"He went into his house, and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did a foretime." Verse 10.
What was done to Daniel for disobeying it?
"Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions." Verse 16.
What did Darius say when Daniel was taken out of the lions' den?
"O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" Verse 20.
What was Daniel's reply to the king?
"O king, live for ever, My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt." Verses 21-2.
NOTE: Here again was demonstrated by a miracle, wrought in the face of this great nation, that with the directing, prescribing, proscribing, or interfering with religion or its free exercise, civil governments can of right have nothing whatever to do.
What parting command did Christ give to His disciples?
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15.
What counter command did the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem soon give them?
"And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." Acts 4:18.
What reply did Peter and John give to these authorities?
"Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Verses 19-20.
For continuing to preach the Word of God, after being forbidden to do so, what was the result?
"Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison." Acts 5:17, 18.
Did God then reveal Himself to be on the side of governmental authorities when they did wrong?
"But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." Verses 19-20.
NOTE: Here once again is demonstrated the fact that men have no right to interfere with the free exercise of religion, and that when the laws of men conflict with the law and Word of God, we are to obey the latter, whatever the consequences may be.
When the apostles were called before the council again, what question did the high priest ask them?
"Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Verse 28.
What reply did the apostles make to the authorities?
"We ought to obey God rather than men." Verse 29.
NOTE: "Obedience is to be rendered to all human governments, in subordination to the will of God. These governments are a recognized necessity, in the nature of the case, and their existence is manifestly in accordance with the divine will. Hence the presumption is always in favor of the authority of civil law; and any refusal to obey, must be based on the moral proof that obedience will be sin. . . . It is too obvious to need discussion, that the law of God, the great principle of benevolence, is supreme, and that 'we ought to obey God, rather than men,' in any case of conflict between human law and the divine." --James H. Fairchild, Moral Philosophy (1869 ed.), pp. 178-181.
Who is higher than the "higher powers" of this earth?
"If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a provine, marvel not at the matter: for He that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they." Ecclesiastes 5:8.
NOTE: In attempting to defend the right of civil government to enforce religious observances by law, some still ask, "Shall we not obey the powers that be?" We answer, "Yes, when they are in harmony with the higher powers that be. God made His law for all the universe. He is to be recognized, His law honored, before all the great men and the highest earthly powers."
Because Mordecai refused to bow down before Haman, a leading official of Medo-Persia, what imperial decree did Haman succeed in enacting?
"And the letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey." Esther 3:13.
NOTE: God has placed the sword (civil authority) in the hands of Caesar (civil government) for the punishment of evildoers; but when the sword is raised to slay the innocent, as in the case of the children of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16); or to enforce idolatrous worship, as in the case of Daniel (Daniel 6); or to slay all God's people, as in the time of Esther; or to enforce the observance of a false sabbath, as in the case of all Sunday laws, it is an abuse of civil authority, and not a proper or justifiable use of it; and God honors those who, under such circumstances, in the face of persecution, oppression, and death, remain loyal and true to Him.
"Government is never the gainer in the execution of a law that is manifestly unjust. . . Conscientious men are not the enemies, but the friends, of any government but a tyranny. They are its strength, and not its weakness. Daniel, in Babylon, praying, contrary to the law, was the true friend and supporter of the government; while those who, in their pretended zeal for the law and the constitution, would strike down the good man, were its real enemies. It is only when government transcends its spheres that it comes in conflict with the consciences of men. . . .
"It should always be remembered, that the great end of government is human well-being -- that law and authority are nothing in themselves, and that their sacredness arises from the uses which they serve. The machinery of government is valuable, only for the work it does; in itself, it has no value. . . . The most grievious of all imperfections in government, is the failure to secure the just and good result." --James H. Fairchild, Moral Philosophy, pp. 184-186.
God is above all earthly rulers, and His law above all human laws. He made us, and we therefore owe allegiance to Him before any earthly power, potentate, or tribunal.
What is religion?
"The recognition of God as an object of worship, love, and obedience." Webster. Other definitions equally good are: "The duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it." "Man's personal relation of faith and obedience to God."
In religious things, whom alone dare we call "Father"?
"And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Matthew 23:9.
When tempted to bow down before Satan, what reply did Christ make?
"Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." Matthew 4:10. (See Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:30.)
To whom alone, then, is each one accountable in religion?
"So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God." Romans 14:12.
NOTE: With this agree the words of Washington in his reply to the Virginia Baptists, in 1789: "Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for hsi religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience." --Writings of George Washington (J.C. Fitzpartick, ed.) Vol. 30, p. 321.
What do those do, therefore, who make men accountable to them in matters of religion?
They put themselves in the place of God. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4.)
Why is it, that in areas of religion, Christ declared that men must not be called masters?
"Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ." Matthew 23:10.
NOTE: Everyone, therefore, who acts as master in Crhist's church, or lords it over God's heritage (1 Peter 5:3), puts himself in the place of Christ.
To whom, then, as servants of God, are we responsible in matters of faith and worship?
"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth." Romans 14:4.
Whose servants are we not to be?
"Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." 1 Corinthians 7:23.
NOTE: Satan's methods ever tend to one end -- to make men the slaves of men," and thus separate them from God, destroy faith in God, and so expose men to temptation and sin. Christ's work is to set men free, to renew faith, and to lead to willing and loyal obedience to God.
Says Luther: "Concerning God's Word and eternal matters God does not permit such a submission of one man to another, . . . because faith, submission and humility is the real worship which . . . should not be rendered to any creature, . . . since to trust any creature in things pertaining to eternal life means the same as giving honor to a created being, an honor which belongs to God alone." --Translated from Martin Luther, Letter to the Emperor Charles V, April 28, 1521, in his Sammtliche Schriften (Walch ed.), Vol. 15, col 1897.
Where must all men finally appear to render account of their lives and actions?
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." 2 Corinthians 5:10.
NOTE: Inasmuch, then, as religion is an individual matter, and each individual must give account of himself to God, it follows that there should be no human constraint nor compulsion in religious affairs.