If there is one common theme from our post-church Q&A last week, it’s that submission to authority is hard. I don’t know about you, but I found myself challenged by the questions asked and encouraged by the revolutionary attitude we are called to adopt as Christians.
If you were not able to tune into the post-church Q&A, we were discussing the issues that come up over Romans 13:1-7. In the sermon, we saw what offering our lives to God in true worship (Romans 12:1) looks like submission to our God-given government. As Jonty said in the sermon, our attitudes to government tend to be shaped by either rebellion or resignation. Hatred or cold apathy. Instead, as Christians we are called to revolutionary, worshipful submission, and that can be hard! So after the sermon we spent some time discussing a few of the questions that arose from this passage. Two topics helpfully summarise the discussion.
1. Rebel vs revolutionary attitude
In the sermon we saw that our basic instinct should be to submit, because God is the one who establishes government. In the Q&A, the questions focused more on the hard exceptions - when is it ok to disobey? Should we always say yes to the government? What if we lived under an authoritarian regime? What these questions all show is that there is no black and white answer of when to obey and when to disobey. What is important is our attitude. Naturally, we are all rebels. We do not like authority and when we disagree with those in power, we either lash out or begrudgingly obey.
But instead of a rebel attitude, we looked at what a revolutionary attitude looks like when the government appears to do wrong things. Jesus didn’t come to rebel against the authorities - in fact he submitted to them all the way up to his death. He submitted not because he agreed, but because he knew that his Father was in complete control. Jonty reminded us of Jesus’ words to Pilate in John 19:11: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above”. As Christians we know the God whose complete power extends over the rulers of our world. This enables a revolutionary attitude because we can look our leaders in the eye and say, ‘I will willingly obey’, knowing confidently that their authority has been established by God alone (Romans 13:1). This means our respect and submission to authority is rooted in a respect of God’s sovereignty in placing them there. There absolutely is a place to protest and to pursue change when injustice is done. When governments are failing in their duty to do good and punish wrong we should stand up to that failure. There will be occasions when we need to disobey human authorities if they are calling on us to disobey God. But never as a rebel, rejecting authority as if it were a bad thing to be thrown off. Always as a revolutionary, submitting to God our King as the rightful King. So submit to authority as far as it is possible. And submit ultimately to God.
2. The role of the church in politics
Other questions focused on the role of the church in politics. For me, this really clarified the difference between what individual Christians are called to do, and what the church corporately is called to do. As God’s church, we are called to make disciples of all nations, to teach and proclaim the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). That is the mission of the church. We will care about social justice and the right use of authority but it will not be our primary mission. On the other hand individual Christians may have all sorts of burdens and opportunities to engage and be involved in social justice or political power. We should be encouraging and equipping one another to living and speaking for Jesus wherever we find ourselves. It is a wonderful thing for Christians to be involved in politics and government, making his gospel known and seeking to implement policies that honour Biblical truths. And we can and should always pray for our leaders and for Christians in politics (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
There is lots to think about when it comes to submission to government and how we live as good members of society. Here are some tips for further reading: UCCF’s Politics Network and Christians in Politics.
I hope this has refreshed your memory of our discussion after church. And if you could not make it, I hope this has given you a helpful summary of our discussion. Let’s get on with submitting to and praying for the authorities that God has put in place!