There are a number of passages in scripture addressing the believer's interaction with government/authority. Whether it be Israel's judges and kings, or the people of Israel in exile, or Christ in the Roman Empire, or Paul dealing with both Jewish and Gentile authorities. We will not use this space to try and address every possible response to authority, but rather offer an overview and guidelines.
The seemingly competing ideas at hand in this age are;
- Does the believer wholly submit to all governmental authorities as being ordained of God?
- Does the believer have the right and/or the duty to oppose wicked or unjust rulers?
Daniel is one of the greatest example of submitting to the authorities of man, while remaining faithful to God.
Daniel is, indeed, an interesting place to look. In Daniel and his fellow obedient Israelites we see those that clearly honor those in authority. Daniel says to King Darius, "Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever." Now, I believe there is a context to this usage, but be that as it may, Daniel is clearly honoring the King.
Of course, Daniel says this after defying the decree of the King to worship only him. So, we are able to see in Daniel both an honoring of the true God and an allegiance to him that was in authority over him. But be sure, Daniel and his friends openly defied the law of the land. They took the punishment willingly, but that does not negate their defiance of the King's decree for the King's decree was in defiance of the true God (especially for an Israelite).If I stood beside certain powerful American politicians and administrators, I would not scoff at their decrees, but I would surely tell them that they in defiance of God's word and will.
That's the crux of what I am saying. I'll acknowledge my superiors in the workplace. I submit to the establishment's rules. I'll follow the state governor's guidelines... except where they are in defiance of God's word and will. That is the crux of the matter. If my place of employment has a provision whereby I can protest a decision or policy, it is within my rights to do so.
I would thus suggest that the powers that rule us are not necessarily of God. They are part of God's permissive will (like my sin), but I would not conclude that God is complicit with their rulership or that it is his necessarily directed will. The Antichrist will be part of God's permissive will, but that does not mean believers will be required to submit to his rule. We are all familiar with the "mark" of the Antichrist and we all know defiance of taking this mark will come at a price. But, as we all know, it is God's will that this decree (and the other dictates from "Babylon") should rightfully be resisted.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
-1 Samuel 8:7
Was the placing of Saul as King over Israel God's will? No. It was only part of his permissive will.
Although I don't believe we have anything to do with Israel and God's will for the earthly kingdom, it still stands true that the seating of Saul (wrong tribe) and Jeroboam (wrong line) were allowed by God, but in no way could be seen as his will. David obeyed Saul in any way that was consistent with such required obedience, but he clearly defied the king when he was outside God's will.
When the army of Pharaoh was chasing the children of Israel, was it their duty to submit? Was it the Lord's will that they go back to Egypt as Pharaoh desired because it was Lord who placed him over his people?
As noted, in a representative Republic, power resides with the people. All power of rulers is derived from the will of the people. We have full recourse to oppose anything that defies God's will, God's word, or the restrictions placed on leaders by the Constitution.
Our rulers rule by "the consent of the governed" and I have rights delineated by the Constitution. I have local and state authorities which are independent of national authorities. Our situation is complex, but properly understood, the power of a Republic lies in its recognition of God-given rights, not in its authority to grant rights. This is the basis for the American ideal of government.
The very Declaration of Independence is a list of grievances against the King and even Parliament. It basis its argument on the notion that the "Creator" has gifted men certain "unalienable rights." Even in the Kingdom in Israel, the King was bound by certain unalienable rights of the people.
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.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved
US Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776, excerpts)
In the case of Daniel, note that the King was bound by his own decree. He was held to his own word. Daniel was bound to defy the King's word and the King was bound to enforce it. I have no issue with either. The executive branch must be bound to enforce the decrees of the legislative and judicial branches (in the USA). I am bound to defy that which goes against God's word, God's will, or the texts of the Constitution. I retain the right to defy an authority which steps outside its limitations (such as requiring police to have a warrant and probable cause).
The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women have a "right" to torture and kill their own babies. Divine will and rule says to me that I must oppose that decree. I must oppose it vehemently. From a purely terrestrial view, the Constitution recognizes no such "right" (and God has certainly not granted it as an unalienable right). As a citizen, I have a right to object.
We may delve deeper into the following aspect later, but for now, I will merely note it. Do we expect unbelievers to be obedient to righteousness? The short answer is "yes." When Paul lays out the progression of sins in society in Romans 1, the charge is against all. It may not matter if the unbeliever remains in unbelief, but the actions of the unbeliever may negatively impact others. Even though we expect them to be ruled by the flesh, we can still support laws which protect the innocent against the carnal acts of the wicked.
So, that leaves us with the question, how do I, as a believer, respond to wicked rulers? For me, that's a simple question in the American system. I am free to oppose anything through the Constitutional process. I am also free to oppose, and required to oppose, anything I deem contrary to God's will or God's word.
In part 2, we will step back into scripture, rightly divided, and look at some Biblical guidelines for this current Age.