A biblical look at "Submission to Authority" was planned as one post but is being stretched into three:
February 4: Submit to Bad Government?
February 11: Obedience or Submission?
February 18: Balance in Marital Submission?
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Since the Bible says submit to governing authorities, what do you do when government is bad?
How much of government is truly good? All authority is comprised of sinful humans who err, and are sometimes downright bad.
There are three areas of authority mentioned in Scripture—government, church, and family. The same principle generally* applies to all three—obey authorities unless they command what God forbids or they forbid what God commands.
That principle harmonizes two contrasting Bible passages:
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... For he is God's minister to you for good.
~ Romans 13:1,4 (NKJV)
Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"
~ Acts 5:29 (NIV)
The three authorities are separate and independent, as long as they don't violate another realm of authority. For example, parents have authority to use corporal punishment on their children. But if they become abusive and violate criminal laws against assault, the government exercises authority over the parents. On the other hand, if one level of government violates parental rights, parents may appeal to a higher level of government.
Likewise, separation of church and state does not mean that religion may not influence government, but that church and government recognize the separate areas of authority that the other holds.
It may be helpful to remember that Paul wrote the above passage to the Romans—Christians living right under the nose of a pagan emperor. Paul well understood that he directed submission to bad government—but only when obedience was not sinful.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh...
~ 1 Peter 2:18 (NKJV)
We hope for morality in the authorities over all three areas, and that they rule rightly because they are good, or at least because they have fear for their accountability to God. When authority asks something of us we don't want to do, we have several options:
– Submit quietly when a matter is not worthy of dissension, for the sake of peace and order. Regular contention over trivial matters reduces our credibility when we must speak up over a more serious matter.
– If a matter is worthy of the effort, wait for the right time, and then respectfully request dialogue and/or make an appeal, being prepared to provide additional information or perspective which gives an authority reason to reconsider.
– If such dialogue is unsuccessful, carefully and prayerfully consider if the matter rises to the level of justifying disobedience, with or without appeal to another authority—including God. Disobedience to authority always risks consequences, and we have no way of knowing how far suffering might ultimately extend.
... But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.
~ 1 Peter 2:20-21 (NKJV; full context: 1 Peter 2:13-21)
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© 2011 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.
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