To get context for this article, please read Romans 13:1-7.
The United States is currently facing questions about the role of civil authority (government) in the lives of its citizens. The questions are not new. People of the United States like debating the extent to which government is involved in everyday life. The debate should continue, if done with respect and civility. It is a good thing for the citizens of a country to ponder the civil authority they have chosen and to critique that selected authority. It is especially important for the Church to think about authority. But for the Church to engage in such an endeavor, she must turn to the Bible for guidance.
What does the Bible say about civil authority? What is God’s intent for government? These questions are complicated and asking them risks hard thinking. The answers I present are not designed to be exhaustive. I bring up and address the subject with the hope that Christians will be stimulated to think.
The Biblical Reason for Government
God ordained and established civil authority after the fall of mankind. With man’s rebellion against God came an infection which has since spread to all the world’s population. The main symptom of this infection was a propensity to continue rebelling. For example, when God told mankind to love their neighbor, mankind responded by hating their neighbor. Because of this natural bent toward harming each other, God established an authority on earth over man. That authority has had its hands full ever since.
The Biblical Role of Government
Civil authority is a servant of God which implies it is a servant of the people. How does it serve? Government serves God and man by keeping mankind’s nature (the nature to rebel) at bay. The way in which government does its job is simply explained but is implemented with great difficulty. Civil authority serves God by rewarding good (moral) behavior and avenging bad (immoral) behavior.
What is moral behavior? In a succinct definition, moral behavior means loving your neighbor. How do we love our neighbor? To love our neighbor, we must do no harm to our neighbor. Instead, we seek what is best for our neighbor.
So how does a new creation view civil authority? A Christian must be for civil authority. This is because God endorses government as a minister to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. God’s endorsement of civil authority is not an endorsement of any immoral action of government. Neither should the Church blindly nor unconditionally endorse every action of civil authority. When government fails to protect and uphold moral laws, the Church has a responsibility to keep civil authorities accountable.
Keeping civil authorities accountable cannot be done through immorality. Citizens cannot confront evil in their rulers by committing evil against their government. Both rulers and the ruled must abide by the law of love. Failing to submit to government as a ministry of God is as unbiblical as failing to call out the immoral actions of government.