let the discussion begin

Because of the risk of this subject dying off (It seems like it already has), I’m going to skip to some of the more controversial Bible passages that will hopefully create a bit of discussion. Discussion always, always helps me write better. I’m going to still try and do my best to keep extremely focused on just one passage and one thought on that passage at a time. We will do well to keep our comments and dialog to just that passage and idea (obviously we’ll end up referencing other passages in our arguments though). So, here goes Romans 13.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
This is the first verse of the primary passage I hear cited in reference to why we should support the war. The argument I think is that quite simply God has put our president in place and therefore if our governing authorities call for something we should submit (support) it. To a large degree I find no disagreement with this argument. The struggle with this type of thinking for me comes when I start to think about who “Everyone” entails. That means an Iraqi Christian, if called to join the armed forces under Saddam, should join, and support the cause of the governing authority above him. That means the Nazi German soldier’s where simply following this same Scriptural reasoning when they begin killing the Jews. That means if the authorities in this country have deemed abortion as an acceptable practice, Christians should stop protesting Abortion Clinics and instead should be supporting them.

I find difficulty with that train of thinking and I’m sure others do as well. I’m not trying to belittle anyone, or build a straw man case for those who use Romans 13 to support the war, I’m just sharing what I have difficulty with, and I’m wondering how one reconciles those things in their mind.

4 thoughts on “let the discussion begin”

  1. Fair enough. Although it’s dangerous to pull one verse and make it the basis for a claim about what the Bible teaches, I think that Ariah has summed up the main argument fairly well. What I would add to that, however, is that we are ALWAYS responsible to God first and everyone else after that. That is, we are subject to our leaders authority only when it does not violate God’s commands. This isn’t a new concept – I’d say that’s how most of us feel about our parents (“Children obey your parents, in the Lord, for this is right” –Eph 6:1), our pastors/elders (Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true –Acts 17:11), our bosses at work, etc.

    The fact that we are first under God’s authority and then under man’s, doesn’t change the fact that God has placed that (sometimes evil) authority over us. I think that He’s done so for a reason, although that’s really a different discussion. It does, however, affect how we are to respond to that human authority. We are to be like the Bereans, testing their words, teachings, and commands, to see if what they are teaching holds up with what God has taught.

    I don’t think I’ve said anything too controversial so far (please let me know if I have) but my point is simply that we are to obey our leaders except when it is in violation of God’s commands. Therefore, talking about bad leaders will not do anything. To convince me that we (Christians) should necessarily be pacifists, you will need to convince me that all war is contrary to God’s commands.

    The point about the Iraqi Christian was interesting and it is something that I struggled with under President Clinton’s authority. I didn’t appreciate his morals or how he was running the country, but as a citizen, and especially as a member of the military where he was my Commander in Chief, my job was to serve under his command, implement his policies and to do it willingly (which was my biggest struggle). I think that an Iraqi Christian, though, has a strong claim that what Saddam was doing (genocide of the Kurds, establishing a clearly anti-Christian religion as the basis behind the government, killing Christians for their faith…) was not in line with God’s commands. He is therefore not only allowed to, but obligated to disobey. And that’s where MLK Jr’s brilliant model comes in.

  2. The thing about being in a democracy is that by having the power to change authorities, we are the authority. There are definitely limits to that authority, and appropriate channels through which that authority can be exercised (and that the authorities have provided for us to do so).

    My point being that by exercising our rights to protest the war, abortion, or whatever, we are not necessarily in rebellion against (read: not in submission to) the authorities. If we choose to protest things in a way that is illegal, then at that point we become out of submission.

    A second point that I would like to add is that as Christians, we do seek justice. However, we seek justice that comes from a heart that loves God and loves our neighbors. The fact that certian wrongs are permitted by law decrease our opportunity to seek what’s right. And similarly, because certain wrongs are prohibited by law does not decrease our obligation to seek the type of justice that I mentioned above.

  3. Richard,
    You’re absolutely right in everything you said. You are (anyone is) more than welcome to peacefully, legally protest the war. In fact I believe this so strongly that I’ve sworn to be willing to place myself in harm’s way to defend your (everyone’s) right to do that. It’s a personal decision and I understand that not everyone supports armed conflict. No problem.

    The argument Ariah is making, though, is that as Christians, NO ONE should support armed conflict. That’s the point I’m trying to contend. The fact that it’s ok to not support the war doesn’t mean that it’s not ok to support the war (if that makes any sense).

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