Civil Disobedience

It was during the ruthless reign of the godless emperor, Nero that Paul wrote “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves…for rulers are servants of God…” (Rom 13:1-7). It is similar to what Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him…” (1 Pet 2:13-17).

Civil disobedience is the intentional act of disobeying man's law when this would put us in direct disobedience to the clear command of God. The only justifiable reason for Christian civil disobedience is to follow God despite the rule of an ungodly authority, for "We must obey God rather than man" (Act 5:29).

Rebellious anarchists consider they are at liberty to disobey authority whenever they feel personally justified in doing so, while the opposite view is that of loyalists who consider full compliance, no matter what the command. Both these stances are not Biblical.

The Bible upholds biblical submission, with a Christian being allowed to act in civil disobedience to the government if it commands evil, such that it requires a Christian to act in a manner that is contrary to the clear teachings and requirements of God’s Word. Examples in the Bible of this response include: the Jewish midwives who did not kill the

This is only permitted if it is against divine directions 

baby boys as ordered (Ex 1:15-21); Rahab not handing over the Israelite spies as ordered (Josh 2:3-15); Saul’s son Jonathan was to die because of his disobedience, yet as he had not heard the order, the other soldiers spared his life (1 Sam 14:45); another act of defiance of the ruling authority was when a God fearing man hid 100 prophets from the murderous intent of queen Jezebel (1 Kgs 18:13); the three Jewish men refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Dan 3:18); Daniel continued to pray to God in spite of the royal decree not to do so (Dan 6:7,10); Peter and John refused to stop sharing Jesus, and even prayed for increased boldness to teach about Jesus which brought another rebuke when they defied the orders to keep quiet about Jesus (Act 4:18-21,29, 5:28); the Christians during the reign of the Antichrist will refuse to worship the image (Rev 13:15).

Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands, yet aware there will be repercussions that must be accepted as a result. The early Christians didn't resist imprisonment, abuse or even death. We should not place personal safety, viewpoints and well-being above state law, nor disrespect government officials intent on violating our rights, knowing we are not guaranteed safety or prosperity in this world but persecution, hate and martyrdom for some (Lk 21:16; Jn 15:18-20).

Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders and for God to intervene to change any ungodly path they are pursuing (1 Tim 2:1,2).

The Roman creed stated, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and this is the basis of the accusation levelled at the Christians, “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Act 17:7). Refusal to worship the emperor (a declaration of allegiance) could result in imprisonment, and even death. The Christians recognized Jesus as Lord (fulfilling God’s command to worship Him only), with the promise, “If you confess with your mouth, ’Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved…” (Ex 20:3-5; Rom 10:9,10). The Bible instructs us to honour, but not worship anyone, including the emperor/king (1 Pet 2:17).

God’s laws are always rational, since He is a perfectly just, wise and omniscient lawgiver. Human laws, though, will be imperfect in their reasoning when they deviate from God’s perspective. Being directed either by God’s commands or human reason laws must be for the common good, and morally right, promoting people’s wellbeing and virtuous actions

We can never legitimately disobey God’s laws

while curbing what is evil. These laws must come from an authority that can rightfully command the governed community and enforce obedience, with penalties for disobedience. Anyone who has seized political power by illegitimate means and holds power by corrupt means, rules for their own benefit (and not the people’s), cannot rightly issue laws or coerce obedience to them. Also, nobody can be held responsible for breaking a rule, unless the rule has been adequately made known, however our conscience is a good gauge of what is acceptable for the common good.

As believers we are citizens of heaven having exchanged our worldly rights for submission to God, our heavenly master and His plan for us (Phil 3:20). Our duty is to love God and worship Him alone, love others, and spread the gospel (Mic 6:8; Mt 28:19,20; Mk 12:30,31).

God’s law always morally obligates us to obey, similarly when a human law commands us to do what is morally right, we are morally obliged to obey it. With issues where God has not given specific direction, we are to obey the ruling authorities. But, when a human law commands what is morally wrong, it fails to be truly a law and we are no longer morally obliged to obey.

Balancing godly submission against civil disobedience (which may result in inconvenience, hardship, persecution, and even death) in a Godly manner is a powerful witness for the gospel. The early believers were commended for their response “joyfully accepting the confiscation of your property” knowing better things awaited them in eternity (Heb 10:32-34). We should not cry ‘foul’ to every perceived violation of our rights, but only to those that are clearly contrary to biblical truth. Even when obeying the law, that does not mean we cannot work for its repeal by working within the system.

Thus, any response of civil disobedience should be limited to that of only breaking human laws that contradict God’s. However, for those that consider they must protest and stand against an issue (that is not contrary to a command of God) they should first ask, is it more harmful to the common good if they follow or break the unjust law? Then only take action if the outcome will be less evil and cause less harm than the outcome of the unjust law itself.

See also: conscience, consequences, demonstration, freedom of speech, honour, mandates, persecution, protest, response, responsible/responsibilities, revolution, rights, submission.