The Biblical Case For Civil Disobedience

“As Christians, we have the ability to change our Government by voting; we are not to be blind followers of leaders. While we are to follow the law of the land, we are bound to a higher law – the law of God.”



Rev Stephen Brooks explains why Christians should obey the Government, and the biblical basis for civil disobedience


At a time when the British Government is pushing through reforms to allow gay marriage, and a senior police officer, Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, is found guilty of misconduct in public office, the Apostle Paul’s instruction that it is the Christian’s responsibility to submit to the government is a bit difficult to stomach (Romans 13:1-7). Although the Scripture is quite clear in some cases, this can be a difficult section of Scripture to accept, and the application can be difficult.


It’s one thing to submit to godly rulers, it’s quite another to submit to godless leaders. The only way we can, is to understand that God is the Authority behind the authority. Proverbs 21:1 states, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.’


In the Scriptures, there are three divinely appointed institutions, with established authority structures:
• First is the Church, as birthed in Acts 2
• Second is the family, as described in Genesis 2
• Third is human government, as instituted in Genesis 9


All authority rests with God. When Pilate was threatening Jesus with execution, in John 19:10-11, he asked Jesus, “Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.”


Those in Government are God-ordained; that would include a David Cameron, a Barack Obama, as well as an Adolph Hitler, or even a Saddam Hussein at the other end of the spectrum. This is where the difficulty comes: understanding that these (latter) types of people also have their authority given to them by God. How can God allow these types of people to rule? I don’t know. After a continual rejection of His rule, He possibly allows the despots to rule, to show the people the alternative, maybe even as punishment for turning away from Him.


This is quite clear in the case of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. The king had a dream of a statue, which represented the empires of the world that would rise and rule. In Daniel’s interpretation, he says, “And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21).


Paul is calling us to a profound obedience to secular government. Paul wrote this while Nero was emperor, at the height of depravity in the Roman Empire. Among other actions, he had his own mother murdered; he ordered the murder of his first wife, after he fell in love with another man’s wife; he also had Christians killed as scapegoats, after the fire that burned down much of Rome was blamed on him in 64 AD. Indeed, the Roman government imprisoned and, years later, killed Paul as well, yet Paul said Christians should obey and honour its officials! Jesus made a similar statement when challenged by the Pharisees about paying taxes in Matthew 22:19-21, ‘“Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”’ In that statement, Jesus validates human government, but also establishes its limits. Caesar has his image on certain things – the outward things – and they are to be rendered to him; God has His mark on man – on the inward things – and those belong to Him.


If we refuse to obey these authorities, we are rebelling against God and what He has established. We must respect the office, even if we do not respect the person in that office.


As Christians, we have the ability to change our Government by voting; we are not to be blind followers of leaders. While we are to follow the law of the land, we are bound to a higher law – the law of God.


If human law should ever violate God’s law, we can disobey if it is commanding us to do something God forbids, or if it is forbidding what God commands. Let me stress: civil disobedience – not aggressive or violent – and if that results in our arrest or punishment, so be it.


In Acts, when Peter and John were forbidden to preach in Jesus’ Name, which Jesus commands them to do, they respectfully disobeyed and were told by the authorities, ‘“Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this Name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” But Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men”’ (Acts 5:28-30).


In England, free speech has largely ended whenever it comes to strong public criticisms of the gay lifestyle and of radical Islam. They call the Bible truth ‘hate speech and bigotry’. We are called to obedience to the authority of human government; more than ever before, we need to find the right balance between respecting our human governments’ laws and leaders, and preaching an undiluted Gospel to the world.


Rev Stephen Brooks is National Development Manager for Excell 3. Visit for more details

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