Over the years I have heard several sermons preached on Romans, chapter 13, and the Christian response to that portion of God's Word. Most of what I have heard has advocated blind, unquestioning obedience to government, no matter what the situation might be. Since most Christians today, not having been taught to think critically, reason that government is the "lawful authority" they next reason that they are bound to obey it in all instances no matter what. Suffice it to say that I disagree. I do not advocate revolution and I do not advocate overthrow of the government, rather I advocate that we look anew at what Romans 13 really says.
Romans 13 is a statement that declares the limits of government. It sets out the proper role of the magistrate as God's minister. In other words, the magistrate should only be doing what God allows him to do within the limits of his office, and for him to go further than that is usurpation.
Pastor Steve Wilkins of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana has noted: "If you think Nero was pleased to read Romans 13, think again. Romans 13 is a declaration of the proper role of the civil magistrate [i.e. that he is a 'minister' of God] - this was viewed by Nero as high treason. He was not encouraged by Paul's instruction [if he ever read it.] Paul is in fact bringing a scathing indictment against the Roman emperor and the divine state [i.e. he contradicts every claim made by the Roman state.] Jesus did the same when He said 'Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar's, BUT render unto God the things that are God's. This was a treasonous statement given the divine claims of the Roman emperor, who believed nothing belonged to any God apart from himself."
Pastor Wilkins observed that the Christians did not promote bloody revolts against Rome as did some, including apostate Jews, rather they did something else that was, in the long run, more devastating to Rome. They preached the Word of God and told men to repent of their sins and to trust "in the only name given among men whereby they must be saved." And that name was Jesus Christ. However, even that was considered treasonous, considering that the same claim was made by one of the early Roman emperors. Romans 13 points out that the state isn't God. It points out that the current ruler in any State anywhere is not God on earth. The ruler has to be limited in his authority and, according to God's Word, strictly limited in his power, given the propensity of human nature to always grasp for more power than is allowed. The ruler's authority is limited and the obligation to obey him is also limited to those areas where he rightly exercises his God-given authority. Pastor Wilkins has said that: "Any covenant head who rebels against his God-ordained position may be lawfully opposed [always and only, however, in lawful ways - i.e. no sinning against him - which rules out lawless revoltion."
It would seem that today, in light of where government, especially at the federal level, has taken us since the advent of the Lincoln administration, we should begin anew to consider the implications of Romans 13. What would Romans 13 have had to say to the actions of the Lincoln administration, had anyone at that time thought to ask the question? Truly, at that point, the federal government went well beyond the limited scope of what its activities should have been. Lincoln claimed that he did what he did to "preserve the Union." However, given the nature of how the federal government was set up and the restrictions placed upon its powers by the Constitution, did he go beyong the scope of the powers allowed? In no place in the Constitution was secession mentioned as being illegal, yet Lincoln moved to combat secession by invading the Southern states and terming their lawful secession as a "rebellion" which really is was not. The Southern states did not attempt to depart from the Union through lawless revolution, nor did they attempt to overthrow the federal government in Washington. All they did was, in their respective states, to vote to secede and depart from the Union. Of course, since the South paid the Lion's share of expenses for the govenrment via the tariff, while the North got most of the benefits from that, Lincoln could not have been expected to let them depart in peace. The money interests in the North that got Lincoln elected would not have been happy with him, so he had to do something, even if it was unlawful, given the limits of his authority, both federally and what was God-ordained. In the War of Northern Aggresion, Mr. Lincoln was the real revolutionary, not the South.
And today, we are faced with a situation where our federal government, in the name of "fighting terrorism" has usurped even more of our rights, has exceeded its constitutional authority by leaps and bounds, and has left the God-ordained limits on government somewhere back in the dust!
Rather than trying to understand this and to point it out, most Christians have defended and cheered the Bush administration on as it gobbles up what little remains of our personal liberties. It would be an interesting and worthwhile study to check out, from the Lincoln administration up to the present one, where the federal government has gone way beyong what Romans 13 allows for it to be doing. Does the State today consider itself to be divine, God walking upon the earth? While our federal officials don't come out and blatantly make such a statement [yet] it seems more and more that this is the way they think and act.