My annual repost of A nation born of rebellion against God ....
in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to
dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and
to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station
to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent
respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the
causes which impel them to the separation.
these words, the Declaration of Independence begins to list the
grievances suffered under the despotic rule of King George over the
English colonies in America. After a lengthy list of grievances, the
Declaration declares that the colonies are no longer under the rule of
England but are instead free and independent.
words. Solemn words. Words that, at least until recently, were taught to
all schoolchildren and words that are part of our American lore. I am
in awe of the power and eloquence of the Declaration and the subsequent
Constitution that at one time was the law of the land in America. So
that is great, we all agree that America is swell. So what is the point?
Here is where I am going with this: Are these statements in the
Declaration of Independence the founding words of a Christian nation, a
country founded on "Judeo-Christian" values?
Simply put: No.
Why in the world would I say that?
Because America was birthed by an ungodly act of rebellion against authority.
Yikes! Stay with me here. This is a long one but I think it is important and thought provoking.
This post is not intended to bash America. I would not choose to live anywhere else
in the world unless I was led to do so in God's providence. I love my
country, in fact I love my country more than may be healthy as a
Christian. I am also not saying that the founding fathers were wrong or
that the end result is bad. Clearly America has been a force for more
good than ill in the world. This statement is intended as a wake-up call
to the church. Evangelicals must remember that being an evangelical
Christian must of necessity take priority over being an American. I hear
lots of lip-service to that effect but practically speaking our
American upbringing impacts our doctrine and practice in some troubling
ways. There are no special secular nations, even ones where the founding
is full of religious overtones. I think this is important because there
is such a blurring of the distinction between the church and America
that it sometimes seems as if we are evangelists for American culture
more than witnesses of the risen Christ. So if you will, please indulge
me for a few minutes to explain why I would make that assertion.
core issue here is one of submission. Submission gets a bad rap in the
church in America because it is either tip-toed around or it is used as a
club. Americans don't like to submit to anyone for any reason. The
Founding Fathers decided that at some point they no longer wished to
submit to King George, to pay his taxes without representation. I think
most historians would agree that King George was a poor ruler. So it is
little wonder that the colonies eventually revolted. The question we are
pondering here is a dramatically different one: Is our submission to
authority based on the worthiness of the one in authority? That is an
important question because we are called on to submit all over the place
in the Bible, a subject we looked at yesterday when the church
Let's take a look at what the Bible says about submission to authorities and it says a lot.
The first place I want to look is at the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus.
them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be
ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling,
to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus
Paul is somewhat vague here. He exhorts Titus
to remind Christians to be submissive to authorities. Who these rulers
and authorities are doesn’t get much clarification but I certainly think
that Paul is at least implying governing officials. The following
sections of Scripture reinforce this idea quite powerfully.
Next we have a powerful statement from the lips of Christ Himself. Pay careful attention here.
entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?”
But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not
speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and
authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no
authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.
Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John
Here is Christ, mere hours away from His
death on the cross, telling Pontius Pilate that he has no authority
(including the authority to condemn Christ to die) except that which he
has received “from above”, i.e. from God. Stop and think about what
Christ is saying here. Pontius Pilate received his authority from
Caesar. So by proxy Caesar has been granted the authority by God
to put Jesus Christ to death. I can’t overemphasize this point that the
most unjust and tyrannical government ever faced by Christians was given
its authority directly from God and it used that authority to crucify
Christ and persecute the church for the next three centuries. Roman
Emperors like Nero and Caligula make King George look like Mr. Rogers in
comparison. Ponder that as we move forward.
look at what Peter wrote regarding this issue. I think this is important
as well because this is not a “Paul-only” doctrine. It is something
found in the words of Christ and Peter as well as Paul. Just once in
Scripture should be sufficient but for purposes of staking a position I
think it adds even more weight when there are multiple sources.
subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be
to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish
those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will
of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of
foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a
cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love
the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
Please note a few things here. Be subject to every
human institution, emperor and governors. Not to be subject to only the
just rulers or those you voted for. Remember again as a frame of
reference that when Peter says “emperor” he must be referring to Caesar
and when he refers to “governor” that likely refers to men like Pilate.
Verse 17 is especially telling; we are to honor everyone, love the
brotherhood, fear God and honor the emperor. Honor Caesar? Absolutely.
Next up is Romans 13, the seminal passage on human governing authorities.
every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no
authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by
God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has
appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a
terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one
who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his
approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be
afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant
of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but
also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes,
for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue
to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom
honor is owed. (Romans 13: 1-7)
There is no authority other than those God has instituted.
That would obviously include the Roman empire and of course the good
ole United States of America. Wouldn’t it similarly include Nazi
Germany? The Stalinist Soviet Union? Castro’s Cuba? North Korea? England
under the reign of King George? Lichtenstein! All of the above.
So Paul is saying that by resisting the authorities placed over us, we
resist God and bring judgment upon ourselves. We are to submit and pay
taxes, whether we consider them just or not.
what precedes Romans 13, keeping in mind that the chapter breaks are not
in the original. What Paul wrote right before this passage is vital to
understanding Romans 13: 1-7.
those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with
those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one
another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise
in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do
what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends
on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but
leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I
will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry,
feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing
you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 14-21)
is important to remember. Christians in Rome would be facing
persecution just as Paul himself, a frequent guest in prison cells, was
subjected to. In the face of such injustice, the natural response as an
American is to overthrow the scoundrels, the whole refresh the tree of
liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots thing. Paul is saying
just the opposite and we must consider the end of chapter 12 and the
beginning of chapter 13 as one continuous thought. Is the government
unjust? God will judge that nation. Are the rulers despotic? God is the
one who will avenge their injustice, either immediately (see the death
of Herod in Acts 12: 20-23) or at the Judgment seat. “Don’t tread on me”
is not a concept that would be understood by Paul.
is the overarching message here? It strikes me that God is sovereign
over all nations, not just Western democracies but all nations, and that
God will judge those nations. We all understand this and accept this,
at least in theory. Submission is an easy topic to talk about but when
you apply it as a practical matter, it gets messy and sometimes flies in
the face of certain ideals that we hold dear. This issue is one that is
easily turned from “Scripture says” to “Well, I think”.
that brings me back to my original point. Was the founding of America a
“Christian” action? I have to say “No”. No matter that the lofty ideals
espoused by the Founders sound pleasing to our ears or that we can
argue that no secular nation on earth is a better one. The notion that
America was once a “Christian nation” and needs to return to that state
is demonstrably false because the very founding of America was done as
an act of rebellion against the very authorities that God had ordained.
I missing something here? Is there anything in the New Testament that
would lead a follower of Jesus Christ to think that we are called to
overthrow unjust rulers? Should we pray for our leaders? Well certainly
we should and that is perfectly Biblical. Should we take up arms to
overthrow them? Absolutely not, not even if they force high taxes on us
or unjust laws. Not even if they persecute the church and not even if
they put Christians to death. God will avenge, not us and we are never
called to return evil for evil, even when we are sure that our cause is
right. We shouldn’t turn to George Washington and Patrick Henry to form
our beliefs regarding human government. Our model for how we should
relate to the government is found in Scripture, in Paul and Peter and
most especially in Jesus Christ.