Do Americans have a right to oppose unjust authority? Given our history, this right goes without saying. You see, our country was founded by men resisting the unjust rule of Great Britain. More precisely, in one of history’s most famous recitations of the Right of Resistance, the American Declaration of Independence itself says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
And yet, to many American Christians, part of the de facto religious majority—a straightforward reading of the Bible might suggest there can be no opposition to the established authority. In other words, true Believers are simply commanded to suffer wrongdoing in silence, and any evil will be judged later by God. Yet, were this true, even if a Hitler arose in America, there could be no Christian resistance. Further, had this been true during the American Revolution, the Founders would have been the evil-doers, while mad King George III would have been the more correct. Does the American church really embrace this position?
It is the simple and straightforward opinion of many sincere Christians that God commands passive obedience to all authority. This would be based upon such passages as Romans 13:1-7:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
But, if so—Americans could never stand against the evil misuse of authority in the States. But how can this possibly be accurate in a world where evil flourishes when not confronted? So, obviously this notion of good Christians simply taking abuse in resigned silence, no matter how bad the ruler, must be wrong.
But how did our intrepid forebears, being sincere and highly educated Christians, mount and justify revolutionary activities? By taking a deeper and more exhaustive examination of Scripture, as well as using history and common sense as their guides. In doing so, they created the biblical doctrine of Resistance Theory.
I. Early History of Resistance: Martin Luther
I. Early History of Resistance: Martin Luther
The foundations of Resistance Theory were laid during the Reformation (1517-1648). Of course, since time immemorial there have been sentiments to push-back against tyrants. For example, Julius Caesar was killed by members of the Roman senate for creating a tyranny, as immortalized in Shakespeare’s famous play. Such anger towards tyrants is caused because of the incredible destruction such regimes create, and their war against liberty. For example, while Julius’ adopted son, the Emperor Caesar Augustus oversaw one of history’s most peaceful reigns, later emperors were often ineffective, depraved, perverted and even mentally deranged.
The American Founders employed Calvinist Resistance Theory, although this was not ultimately derived from John Calvin, but Martin Luther, according to Quentin Skinner in The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Vol. 2: The Age of Reformation. Originally, after the Reformation split, the Lutherans were content to simply work with the amenable Catholic German authorities. But around 1530, when these same Catholics suddenly decided to compel the Lutherans to rejoin the Church, Luther and the other leaders were in a quandary. So, they began to debate amongst themselves about their options.
Two theories emerged from these Lutheran discussions on how to resist evil rule. The first was a “private-law” argument based on the theory that everyone has a right to defend themselves against the menacing actions of other private citizens. Ingeniously, they claimed the bad ruler lowered himself to the level of a private citizen by doing evil acts. In doing this, they echoed the Conciliar Theory of the Catholics during the crisis of the Great Schism.
The second theory was a constitutional argument. Here, they argued that the seeming prohibition against resisting God-appointed authorities was countered by the fact that God does not call leaders to do bad acts. If “leaders” regularly do bad things, harming the state and the populace, this simply reveals that these are not men God has called to lead. Further, the term “authority” itself is not singular, but is composed of all the established magistrates. And therefore, to resist one does not mean to reject all authority, for a lesser magistrate can resist an evil, higher leader.
II. Magdeburg Confession
II. Magdeburg Confession
Magdburg is a small, ancient German city, over 1,200 years old, originally founded by Charlemagne. The Magdeburg Confession was a response to royal tyranny, and is considered the foundational document related to the Right of Resistance. It’s story emerged in the aftermath of Luther’s decision to leave the Catholic Church and start the Lutheran Church.
The Reformer’s theories on resistance were soon tested when German king Charles V demanded all Lutheran cities, including the Saxon town of Magdeburg, return to the Holy Roman Church in 1546, in the document called the Augsburg Interim. Magdeburg was a small town with a history of independent thinking and resiting tyranny. The Magdeburg Confession is similar to Luther’s Warning to His Dear German People, based upon his two-kingdom argument, which similarly prepared the Protestants of a coming religious war. The ministers published their Confession and Defense of the Pastors and Other Ministers of the Church of Magdeburg in April, 1550.
According to David M. Whitford in Tyranny and Resistance: The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition, the Magdeburg siege was a political and religious blunder for Charles V, as it caused the Protestant movement to gain sympathy and supporters. Further, it was a failure as a means of staunching anti-Catholic sentiments or political movements.
The Magdeburg Confession begins with these words:
“If the high authority does not refrain from persecuting with force and injustice not only the persons of their subjects, but even more their rights under Divine and Natural Law, and if the high authority does not desist from suspending or eradicating true doctrine and true worship of God, then the lesser magistracy is required by God’s divine injunction to attempt, together with their subjects, to stand up, as far as possible, to such superiors.”
The work of the Confession was authored by a number of resistant ministers. Writes Whitford,
“…the pastors underlined a fundamental doctrine that supported their work: They referred, though not by name, to Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms. Their readers were to resist the current persecution, “each one in accordance with his calling and his ability.” The implication, to be repeated again and again in the body of the work, is that persons ought to work in their areas of competence and calling; lesser magistrates must resist, and pastors must admonish and preach.”
The Confession is a complex document, which deals with the two-kingdoms of religious and secular authority. Matthew J. Trewhella, in The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government, explains the Magdeburg doctrine:
“In their arguments, the pastors declare the idea of unlimited obedience to the State as ” an invention of the devil. ” They rightly assert that all authority is delegated from God. Therefore, if the one in authority makes commands contrary to the law or Word of God, those subject to his authority have both a right not to obey, and a duty to actively resist…no one in authority holds his authority autonomously. Rather it is delegated to them from God. If the authority therefore makes law which contravenes the law of God, those subject to their authority can refuse obedience because, as the pastors write, “divine laws necessarily trump human ones.”
The teaching here was that it was no rejection of the biblical doctrine of obeying authority, if lesser authorities—or “magistrates”—were encouraged to resist the bad deeds of higher rulers.
III. Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates
III. Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates
The Reformers, in their desire to be biblical, and yet still preserve their lives and movement, developed a nuanced definition of “authority.” In their theory, when the Bible described “authority,” the writers countenanced the entire gamut of various authorities in a society. The lesser posts were referred to as “magistracies.” So, for example—in ancient Rome, where there was either a consul in the Republic, or a later Emperor, their would be various lesser officials, or magistrates, such as aediles, praetors, or prefects. Or, consider in modern American, the many lesser magistracies, such as US and state senators and likewise congressmen, etc.
Trewhella here defines lesser magistrates:
“The Magdeburg Confession is an important historical work because the pastors of Magdeburg were the first in the history of mankind to set forth in a doctrinal format what only later came to be known as the doctrine of the lesser magistrates…The lesser magistrate doctrine declares that when the superior or higher civil authority makes unjust/ immoral laws or decrees, the lesser or lower ranking civil authority has both a right and duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. If necessary, the lesser authorities even have the right and obligation to actively resist the superior authority.”
To the pastors of Magdeburg, all magistrates, higher and lower, possess delegated authority from God. Therefore, the lesser magistrates have a right and duty to oppose the superior magistrate-turned-tyrant when he makes laws contrary to the law and Word of God. This responsibility is both positive and negative. In other words, a magistrate has a duty to disobey the evil commands of a bad ruler, and help protect the at-risk subjects of the realm. But if the lesser magistrate does not resist, he himself becomes an instrument in the hand of the evil ruler, and therefore subject to the judgment and wrath of God.
The argument of the Madgeburg pastors was simple, yet revolutionary. If God creates all authority, from greater to lesser magistrates, then all authorities answer to him. Further, since God does not directly call anyone to do evil things, and therefore break his law, a bad ruler becomes just a simple private citizen.
And if a bad leader begins to oppress the people and do ungodly and monstrous deeds, it is up to the lesser magistrates to do what they can to resist and protect their people. In doing this, the magistrates are not acting illegally, but fulfilling God’s higher law by acting in love in the face of hate. Further, the fact that the lesser magistrates have the duty to resist evil, means that the private citizens would not have the right to revolt. This would keep the entire society from erupting into chaos and anarchy, a position the Lutherans worked hard to avoid in their theory.
We will examine next week how the Calvinists evolved the Lutheran argument, and upped the ante, making possible the American Revolution.
Written by Kelly OConnell.
CLICK HERE for The Right to Resist Evil Leaders: Part 2 of 3.
CLICK HERE for The Right to Resist Evil Leaders: Part 3 of 3.
To answer the question when is civil disobedience justified by GOD.
We must first look at the Bible in which the principle of submitting to authorities comes from. What was the intent of the Scripture refereed to saying in Romans 13;
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ORDAINED of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But 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.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Notice the context is one of Higher Powers who DO THE WILL OF GOD! keeping order in society in order to create an environment where the WORD OF GOD can be spread and taught. In most cases the Romans where the only thing keeping the Jewish Hierarchy from rounding up the Christians and slaughtering them all as did the Writer of this book before HIS conversion.
He Himself DISOBEYED authorities over Him on a regular basis both religious and civil including the Emperor HIMSELF. For which HE paid with HIS life as did most of the other Apostles. Each and every time Those authorities commanded something in position to the commands of the SUPREME Authority JESUS.
When a police officer breaks the law He has sworn to uphold does HE still have the authority from HIS POSITION behind HIM. Can HE demand you to murder, rape, steal, and prosecute you if you disobey?
Can any government demand you surrender rights given to you by GOD and Have GODS support in enforcing those demands?
Who gave Men free will?
Why did GOD want us to be free to chose to obey HIM or Disobey HIM with out immediate and severe consequences?
Like being eaten by worms, struck down on the spot, in any manner of ways we see of some in the bible who GOD Himself punished.
Why then would HE want us to become robots or slaves to men when HE didn’t want us to be unwilling slaves, or robots to HIM?
He wants us to prove what we love and respect! HE gives us the freedom to do so with out immediate consequences so HE can see whats really in our hearts! Anyone who teaches you to obey any government or religious authority with out question is asking you to become an IDOLATER!
Just Like Daniel Meshack, Shadrack, and Obednigo who wouldn’t Bow or stop praying to the King! TO VOLUNTARILY OBEY IS WORSHIP (showing respect for and idolizing by obeying)!
As the scripture says I will have Obedience and not sacrifice! VOLUNTARY OBEDIENCE IS WHAT GOD HAS ALWAYS WANTED FROM MAN!
Obedience that comes from us sharing His values, principles, and priorities!
We can be like the Germans who became willing and unwilling accomplices in the Holocaust. Or we can be like JESUS, and the rest of the apostles including the author of the scripture! The apostle Paul who many of our ignorant religious leaders want to quote with out understanding what He was really trying to say!
Know this the federal government has been for some time trying to recruiter pastors and religious leaders to keep you in line and get you to surrender your free will, guns, children, and lives. They will quote scripture to do it just like the Pharisees did as an excuse to kill JESUS.
They are wolves in sheep clothing and care nothing for the flock for they have always been Hirelings!
They are blind leaders of the blind! Don’t follow them into captivity for that is where they are going and leading!
ARE ALL GOVERNMENTS APPROVED OF GOD? DID GOD RAISE UP HITLER? IS CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE BIBLICAL UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCE?
Principles of a Just War
Jesus Christ was not a pacifist and it is sometimes necessary to respond to evil with force. But why and when is force right and when is it wrong? Through the Bible there are several key principles to answer this question.
The right to life. All through the Bible it is assumed that individuals have the right to life. For instance, Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” The reasons we cannot murder is because God says so. But the reason he says so is because he has given us the right to live. This right to life implies the right to self-defense. If we should not be murdered, then we are justified in preventing someone from killing us. This is shown throughout the Bible.
Capital punishment. For various terrible crimes and sins, only death is a sufficient punishment. God himself instituted capital punishment. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:12). Consistent with the principle of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 23-25), only a murderer’s death can satisfy the demands of justice for murder. Capital punishment is also the just penalty for despising authority (Deuteronomy 17:12), rebellion (Deuteronomy 21:21), and kidnapping (Deuteronomy 24:7).
It makes no difference in principle whether an individual, or an army, or political leaders are guilty. If a man is guilty of a capital crime, he should die at the hands of an executioner. If any army is guilty of a wide-scale crime, they too should die, at the hands of an opposing army if necessary. If our leaders are corrupted to the extent of imposing tyranny upon the people, then they should be forcefully overthrown and replaced by a legitimate government.
Resisting tyranny. This idea of resisting tyranny is common in the Bible. Clearly we should not resort to force when mere possessions are at stake. High taxes and the like can be endured and do not warrant the taking lives. But when leaders are responsible for murder, deny civil liberties, and generally impose a draconian regime upon the people, then we should disobey, resist, and rise up to fight.
In Exodus 1:15-22 the king of Egypt ordered that all newborn boys be killed. But the Hebrew midwives did right by disobeying and sparing the innocent babies. As we said previously, the book of Judges is full of accounts of leaders raised up by God for express purpose of delivering Israel from the hands of tyranny. Read about Ehud (Judges 3), Deborah (Judges 4), Gideon (Judges 6- 7), and Samson (Judges 13-16). These people are commended for their faith in the New Testament because they responded to God’s calling to fight against tyranny (Hebrews 11:32-34).
Justice not revenge, collective not personal. Paul the apostle wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17). We must always be motivated to do what is right. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). By all means we must seek peaceful resolutions. “Do not take revenge my friends” (Romans 12:19).
We are not to get even with an evildoer nor are we to take justice into our own hands. But it is not evil or vengeful for people to individually defend themselves or to collectively exact just punishment.
Obeying authority. Since the Bible is the inspired word of God, we must follow its commands and principles. We must take seriously the concept of just war taught explicitly in the Old Testament and implicitly in the New since the Bible is consistent in its moral precepts. Since Jesus was not a pacifist, we cannot say that christians renounce all armed conflict. And while force should be a last resort it is sometimes necessary for self-defense and to resist tyranny.
This leads us to the all important idea of authority. Who is in charge. What must we obey? When is resistance justified? “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matthew 28:18).
All legitimate authority rests in the Lord Jesus Christ. All earthly authority is therefore derived and limited authority. Christ gives parents the authority to raise children according to his principles (Ephesians 6:1-4). But we have no authority to abuse our children or lead them astray. He gives ordained leaders of the church authority within the church, but they are accountable to Christ (Hebrews 13:17). They also have no authority to abuse or lead astray Christians. Likewise, he gives authority to governments to maintain law and order, not to abuse citizens or to perpetrate evil.
Consider Romans 13:1-5 which is perhaps the most important biblical passage about the authority of governments. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). In America, the highest governing authority is the Constitution, not elected officials who are sworn to uphold and defend it.
“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:2). Violating Constitutional liberties is rebelling against God, whether it is done by a criminal or the politicians. Thus, when elected officials break their oath to uphold the Constitution, it is not the patriotic citizen who is in rebellion, but the governing official!
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you” (Romans 13:3).
“For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, and agent of wrath to bring punishment to the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). God intends the government to do good by maintaining law, order, and justice. When the government systematically punishes the upright citizen and commends wrongdoing, it is no longer serving God’s purpose.
“Therefore , it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience” (Romans 13:5). Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority and the Constitution is the real governing authority. If we are submitted to Jesus Christ and committed to Constitutional liberties, then our conscience demands our resistance to unconstitutional authority which is no authority at all.