[Originally from earlier this year.]
I’ve watched Gregg Frazer debate other evangelicals on Romans 13, in particular two of my evangelical co-bloggers, Jim Babka at Positive Liberty and “King of Ireland” at American Creation. While I’ve learned from their debates, I, a non-Christian observer, notice some arguing from different premises. I get the impression that they believe in different kinds of orthodox Christianity, though all three ARE “orthodox” in their Christology. I would term Babka and KOI “moderate” evangelicals, who hold some beliefs that the more fundamentalist types (like Dr. Frazer) deem heretical. Both Babka and KOI, for instance, believe in Darwin’s evolution. And KOI has explicitly stated Genesis was an allegory and
that some of the verses used to prove an eternal judgment in a lake of fire are interpolations of the royalty of the time using religion to scare people into submission.
I have no proof other than the fact that the major religions of the world seem to have spread when the elite of that culture excepted it. I am suspicious that they pervert it to their own ends. I am afraid that Christianity may not be an exception.
Note, I have no problem with this kind of Christianity and were I to convert it would probably be to that kind as opposed to strict fundamentalist, verse and chapter citation that reads Genesis as a literal tale and believes Darwin’s evolution false. However, if those are the premises to which one holds, Gregg’s understanding of Romans 13 is the more authentic expression of evangelical-fundamentalism. Again, it’s ironic that David Barton appeals to so many evangelical-fundamentalist, strict verse and chapter quoters.
So when I observe Gregg debating them, as opposed to the more moderate theological types, I see them playing by the same (or a more similar) set of rules. And Gregg always does an effective job refuting them on strict, Sola Scriptura fundamentalist grounds.
For instance, on this thread, an evangelical-fundamentalist Rev. named “Joel Mark” tried to justify political rebellion on biblical grounds when he commented:
The simplistic platitude that rebellion against authority IS rebellion against God applies in some cases and not others. It’s not that simple in Scripture or in real life.
The church herself does not have as her main mission political rebellion or activism. Using the church for political reballion as if that is her main mission is wrong-headed. But Christians are legal citizens too and they have a right to participate in dissent and/or rebellion, in many various forms–depending on the context. Where one draws the line between dissent and rebellion is a subjective call. But a right understadnig of scripture does not lead to a mandate for some sweeping ban on all social or political dissent or rebellion on all believers in all circumstances.
Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt was more than dissent. It was a rebellion, a godly and just rebellion and God called Moses to lead it.
David respected Saul’s office as king but when David was de-throned, he allowed a civil war to dethrone his own son and get his throne back.
Jesus, on some occasions, rebelled against political, civic and religious aauthorities and they had the politica authority to have him killed unjustly for it.
The apostle Peter refused to submit to the command of the Sanhedrin to shut up.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer rose in rebellion against Hitler (even to articipate in an effort to assassinate him) and he did so rightly and bravely as a faithful man of God.
Martin Luther King, Jr, was a Christian who rebelled against laws and was in the right to do so.
There are Mao’s, Stalins, Hitlers and others in this world and God’s Word did not give Christians some free pass not to care or act on that concern to deal with such tyrannies.
I think that Christians have a legitimate option and even a responsibility in some cases to dissent and/or rebel in some ways against exploitative racism, oppression, tyranny, political deception, and injustice. In fact, unbelievers and others are harshly critical of Christians when they may fail to rise in the name of earthly justice.
While the earthly fate others is an acute concern for Christians, it is still not our main mission in the end to seek earthly justice. Our main mission remains the same: calling sinners to repentance and forgiveness of sins through Christ. Our ultimate citizenship is still in heaven. But the Bible allows for the role of the soldier (in fact it treats it honorably) and even the role of those in legitimate dissent of abusive authority.
It does not change my point to say that God sent the plagues. God clearly used Moses in the rebellious and defiant process of delivering the Israelites from political slavery and tyranny.
One of my points had to do with David and Absalom, not necessarily David and Saul.
I have read and studied all those biblical accounts for myself and it strains them too thin, in my view, to deprive them of their plain meaning in order to fit them into an agenda that calls for some universal legalistic ban on all Christians from any political rebellion or defiance or perhaps even dissent in all cases.
Jesus lived in a theocratic culture and when he defied authorities in the Temple, quite rebelliously, he was defying the ruling authorities of his time and culture sure enough.
With Jesus as our model, we see that there are times and circumstances for total submission to governing authorities and there are times for total defiance. He did not operate on some over-arching ban or mandate. He applied principles of God’s will to the need of the moment faithfully.
Jon wrote; “This deals with disobedience NOT submission.”
I see no moral or consequential discinction here. This seems to be a false dichotomy. To dosobey is to refuse to submit and to refuse to submit is to disobey–total compatibility.
Jon wrote; “The one time Christians are permitted to disobey civil authorities is when need to avoid committing a sin to do so.”
This is always the reason we would ever be permitted to disobey civil authorities.
Accepting the punishment may well be our fate for not submitting or not obeying civil authorities, but that does not speak to the notion of whether Christians should or should not do it in the first place.
And what follows is Gregg’s rebuttal on strict biblical grounds to every single point Joel Mark makes:
Joel Mark has conflated and confused a number of different terms and activities. He is quite right that Scripture does not mandate a sweeping ban on “dissent” – but quite wrong in suggesting that it does not ban “rebellion.” The initial problem, of course, is the suggestion that the two are the same thing or even in the same category.
By definition, “dissent” is disagreement; a “difference of opinion.” “Rebellion” is “open, armed, and usually unsuccessful defiance or resistance to an established government.”
In the American situation, King George had no problem with “dissent” – but he fought a war to put down “rebellion.” On the other side, one wonders why the Americans went to the expense and insecurity of rebellion if they could achieve the same by dissent. If they’re the same, they would have the same result, right? We have different words for them because they’re quite different. The U.S. Constitution says that the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended in times of “rebellion.” We continually have people expressing dissent (picketing, Tea Parties, etc.) – does anyone suggest that habeas corpus should be perpetually suspended? Did Lincoln send the Union army into the South when the southerners expressed dissent or to put down rebellion when they took violent action against Sumter?
How, exactly, is obeying an order from pharaoh “rebellion?” In Exodus 12:31, pharaoh commanded Moses to take the people and leave. Moses obeyed that order. There was no rebellion whatsoever. What swords were drawn? Who organized a rebellious army? Which verse talks of an Israelite army fighting its way out of Egypt? For that matter, what did Moses do besides speak the word of God to pharaoh and throw down his staff? God handled whatever coercion was necessary – as He always does when He wants a ruler’s authority over a people to end. The only One Who took action against pharaoh was God – and God outranked pharaoh in authority.
David was the king – Absalom’s false claim did not change that. David is identified as the king throughout the account. So, David did not rebel against authority – he defended his authority against rebellion.
JESUS NEVER REBELLED against ANY authority. He rebuked them and warned them and chided them – but he never attempted to overthrow them or even challenged their authority. If He had, they would have had REAL charges to bring against Him at his “trial” – instead of paying men to lie. Joel Mark’s statement is curious: he says that Jesus rebelled and then says that they killed him “unjustly” for it. If he were a rebel, His execution would have been just!
Peter and the apostles did, indeed, refuse to stop preaching the gospel – that’s “disobedience,” not rebellion. Disobedience targets a law; rebellion targets the authority behind law. We may have to disobey a law if it requires us to disobey God (Acts 5:29); but we are never to resist authority (Rom. 13:2).
To be in subjection is to recognize the legitimacy of the authority over you (it is legit whether or not you recognize it); to obey is to do what they say in a specific instance. One can disobey a particular command (because it requires disobedience to God) and yet remain in subjection by maintaining respect for the authority behind the law. It usually means taking the punishment (Daniel, Shadrach et al, the apostles).
Re Mao, Stalin, Hitler, et al: the emperor when Paul told the Romans to be in subjection to authority without exception – was NERO! He was so bad a ruler that a branch of theology says that he was THE ANTICHRIST. We are, of course, free to care and to act on that concern – but we are not free to disobey God in doing so. The most powerful action we could take is to PRAY to the sovereign God of the universe. Unless you know someone stronger? (Isaiah 14:26-27)
Unbelievers may well be critical of Christians refusing to take actions of which they approve, but God does not. Many first century Christians were martyred for that very reason; and Daniel went into the lion’s den; Shadrach et al went into the furnace. Our testimony to unbelievers is, in fact, tied up in our faithful subjection to authority, according to I Peter 2:12-15. We must not disobey God in order to gain the approval of unbelievers. We may certainly “rise in the name of earthly justice” in various ways – but rebelling against authority is not one of them.