Civil Disobedience and the Bible PDF Print E-mail

At a meeting of clergymen (many of whom were from Europe) in a church hall in Rondebosch in 1985, it was decided to start a programme of mass recruitment of “politically aware” Christians who would be willing to be trained and used to commit illegal acts. The stated purpose was “to make this country ungovernable” by mass civil disobedience. 

One of the lecturers stated that the first phase of active resistance against the South African government had been conscientious objection, which was designed to undermine the defense of the country. The second phase now was conscientious civil disobedience, which would make South Africa ungovernable and ripe for the final phase, which would be “a just war which will end this unjust rule.”
All the ministers were encouraged to preach to their congregations that their Christian duty demanded that they“disobey the unjust laws of this unjust government”. It was further decided that church funds would be used to pay for the fines of those involved in mass illegal actions. These acts of civil disobedience were to follow on from the Day of Prayer for the downfall of the government. 

Does the Bible support civil disobedience? Or prayer for the downfall of the government?

“Fear the Lord and honour the king. Have nothing to do with those who rebel against them.” Proverbs 24:21 

“Those who forsake the Law praise the wicked, but such as keep the law contend with them. Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all.” Proverbs 28:4–5 

“One who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Proverbs 28:9 

Jesus emphasised that civil authority is delegated by God when He said to Pilate: 
“You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11 

The Apostle Paul wrote: 
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.” Titus 3:1 

“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. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.” Romans 13:1–5

It is worth noting that Paul was led by God to write that Scripture during the reign of a particularly ruthless pagan government (that of Nero), which was even persecuting the Church!

Like Daniel, or Joseph, Christians are to serve God worthily within the framework of any system of government under which he is called to live. Joseph rose to be the prime minister of pagan Egypt without compromising his faith and was mightily used to save the Hebrews from starvation. Daniel fearlessly testified to God’s power and sovereignty within the pagan courts of Nebuchadnezzar, Belchazzar and Darius, rising to the highest levels of government. 

“The Most High rules in the kingdoms of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.”Daniel 4:17 

God raised up Pharaoh (Romans 9:17); Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1 – 4) and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:37 – 38). Even Pilate received his position by God’s perfect, sovereign will and design (John 19:11).

Hence Jesus taught: 
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Mark 12:17 

This teaches our dual responsibility. As citizens, we are responsible to obey the laws of the land, pay taxes and defend our country. As members of the Church, we are responsible to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, obey His Commands and seek first God’s Kingdom. 

Only if the state forbids obedience to God may we say with the Apostle – “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29. When the state forbids prayer to God (Daniel 6:6 – 13), forbids evangelism (Acts 5:40 – 42), or commands us to worship false gods (Daniel 3:12 – 18), then we must say: 
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” Acts 4:19

So then, with the exception of matters of worship and evangelism, Christians are commanded to:
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” 1 Peter 2:13 – 14 
What then, are we to think of people who incite civil disobedience, riots, strikes and unrest all in the name of religion? 

“Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath.” Proverbs 29:8 

When we pray for South Africa, let us remember God’s promise in the Scriptures: 
“If My people who are called by My Name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Dr. Peter Hammond 
Christian Action Network 
PO Box 23632 
Claremont  7335 
E-mail: www.christianaction.org.za

 
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