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Monday, November 14, 2011

Obedience to God May Mean Disobedience to Government

One of the central concepts of Christianity has been that no matter what governments or 'man's authority' says about certain issues, God is to be obeyed. This sometimes means blatant, outright disobedience to the dictates of governments.

Americans often forget that central aspect of the Christian life. We have had it so easy in a country that was founded on the principle of human freedom. So easy, in fact, that many modern Christians erroneously assume that it is always wrong to refuse to follow the law. They would equate man's law with God's.

But what if man's law is in direct opposition to God's law? What if Christians are forced to engage in disobedience to God in order to 'obey the law?'

In every instance, historically, Biblically, theologically, and spiritually, the Christian faith has taught that when man's laws interfere with Gods,' it is God who must be obeyed, not man.

A perfect example is found in Acts 5. Peter and the other Apostles had been jailed for preaching the Gospel. They had also been instructed upon their arrest that they were not to preach in the name of Jesus Christ. But in an act of divine intervention the Apostles were miraculously released from prison in a manner that defies all logical explanation.

It was then they proceeded to go straight to the Temple to preach in the name of Christ--the very thing they had been commanded by the local authorities not to do.

At that point the Apostles were hauled before the council where they were asked, "Did we not instruct you not to preach in this Man's name? But you have filled Jerusalem with this Man's doctrine..."

It was then that Peter laid out the principle that has guided true disciples of Christ for over 2000 years--"We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5: 12-29).

Human beings are not slaves to any man or any government authority. When government is wrong, it is to be disobeyed, period. Any person who would claim to be a disciple of Christ yet claim that he/she is 'unable to do God's will because of government restrictions' has good reason to question whether or not they are a true Christian at all.

Does this mean that Christians are to be lawless? Not at all. In those cases where governments do not require a person to act in disobedience to God, then the law should be followed in most cases. But when the law is contradictory to God's laws, or the principles set forth by the Christian faith, such as human freedom, then a disciple of Christ is obligated to disobey man in order to remain true to God.

This is the legacy left behind by Jesus himself and a host of disciples who were willing to pay the ultimate price for their willingness to disobey man--Peter, Paul, John, James, Timothy, Joan of Arc, John Hus, Sir Thomas Moore, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and hundreds of other martyrs.

The principle cannot possibly be any clearer. Nor can it be stressed enough in this era in which government increasingly views itself as God, with ultimate authority, to encroach on all of the God-given freedoms fought for by our forebears. Christians are obligated to send a clear message to government, that it does NOT have ultimate authority over us!