“Doesn’t your book have something to say about obeying the authorities?”
It was the oft-repeated way of reminding the pesky Confessing Church in Germany that heaven smiled approvingly on Nazi practices and that to rebel against der Fuehrer was to oppose God himself. The biblical case for compliance was airtight as far as Reich “theologians” were concerned, for the Apostle Paul declares in Romans 13, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established …
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
There you have it. Unconditional submission is a biblical command. Any who insist on rebellion will bring judgment on themselves from God or the Reich, not that there’s a meaningful distinction. If you do what is right (i.e., what Nazi leaders demand) you have nothing to fear. Hitler and those working under him are God’s servants, appointed to bring order and justice to society by rewarding good Germans and punishing those deserving. It’s all right there in verses 1-5.
Except that it’s not.
Thoughtful Germans asked: What if Paul’s commands were not intended to be unconditional? What if they were intended primarily for those living under rulers who were at least minimally concerned with justice and fit Paul’s description of those who praise and reward what is right (vs. 3) and punish what is wrong (vs. 4)? What if Paul, living under Roman rule which had not yet begun to persecute Christians, intended his words to be taken as general instruction, recognizing that exceptions would surely exist? What if he did not intend to exclude the possibility of usurped authority, which would on that very basis need to be resisted. Had governing officials commanded Paul to do evil, he would have locked arms with the other apostles who once stood before the Sanhedrin and declared, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Of that we can be sure.
Do you know anyone who treats with scorn the memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller? Can you find an Evangelical who fails to admire their defiant courage? Where are the pastors who regard them as having stood opposed to God himself and the good work he was doing through his servants, Hitler and Goebbels? You’d sooner find a hipster at a honky-tonk. But some of our contemporaries who esteem the Confessing Church for their sacrificial resistance in the face of a diabolical evil, nevertheless embrace an interpretation of Romans 13 practically identical to that which Bonhoeffer and company rejected as Nazi propaganda.
Space doesn’t allow mention of even a fraction of those who became our heroes, not in spite of their defiance toward civil authority, but precisely because of it. From the Bible alone, consider Moses, Rahab, Hushai, Zadok, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Peter, James, and John. There is a time for the Christian to cross his arms, fix his jaw, and stare evil in the face with unyielding determination to resist its demands, come what may. That time is now.
Our would-be king, Barack Obama, recently issued a royal decree that schools must allow boys and men to invade girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. His unconstitutional edict is immediately recognized by anyone with even a scintilla of moral sense as an outlandish evil — a brazen and obscene violation of innocence and nature itself. May I remind you that, according to the system of government God has established in these United States, authority rests in the people, flowing from us to our elected officials. How much more, then, can we take confidence that heaven smiles approvingly on the resisters! Therefore, the answer of every decent soul in society is a collective, resounding, and inexorable NO! Stick that in your Romans 13 and smoke it.
Image:Barack Obama via photopin (license); CC BY-SA 2.0; Gage Skidmore