I don’t present myself as a Biblical scholar. But I do study God’s Holy and truthful Word quite often for my own betterment, and particularly when preparing articles for this great digital newspaper, The Times Examiner. One of the parts of His Word that I am confused about is the first seven verses of Romans 13. I find it perplexing when trying to equate what my pastors over the years have told me that it meant, versus what I’ve been convinced it really means, based on the teaching of other pastors.
For many years my focus, rightly or not, has been on doing what I can (with large numbers of other Americans) to preserve the Constitutional Republic bequeathed to us by our Revolutionary Founding Generation via our Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution, so that the freedoms that they envisioned for their descendants, us, will be preserved as intact as possible for our descendants, and on and on unto the farthest generations, until our LORD and Savior returns.
Part of one verse in the Book of Hosea has always bothered me: Hosea 4:6—“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”. The Prophet Hosea wrote those troubling words ca. 755 B.C. to 725 B.C. I’m troubled because it would appear that mankind refuses to learn from the truth of that one sentence from God’s Word, for without doubt many people have been “destroyed” over the past 27 centuries because they lacked the knowledge that might have preserved them as cultures or even as individuals. As the great 18th Century British statesman, Edmund Burke (1729-1797), taught his countrymen: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”; and as the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952) reminded mankind: “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it”---over, and over, and over again, because mankind always seems loathe to apply the lessons of the past to its present. That certainly seems to be the case with modern-day Americans.
I’ll not quote the entire Romans 13:1-7 (the pertinent verses) here, so please read them again before you peruse my thoughts. I’ll quote just a portion of verse 1: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…” (N.I.V.)/ “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (AKJV). Although I confess a certain fondness for a modern English version of God’s Word, the NIV’s translators’ conclusion that Christians “MUST submit themselves to the governing authorities…” has me troubled. The KJV tells us that Christians are to be subject to “the higher powers”. Are those “higher powers” to be considered as our “governing authorities” (our elected or appointed politicians), or has the NIV deliberately muddied doctrinal waters?
Now we must begin to walk a “fine line”, as the old saying goes, between what God’s Word seems to teach (or what we’ve been told it teaches), and what we have always accepted as our historic and American-centered constitutional liberties. I have great difficulty in accepting the NIV’s apparent contention that we must always “submit” to human “governing authorities”, because God’s Word does tell us that there are times when “governing authorities” should NOT be obeyed:
ACTS 5:27-29---“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council (the Sanhedrin), and the Chief Priest asked them, saying, did we not straightly command you, that ye should not teach in this (Jesus’) name? And behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and ye would bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the Apostles answered and said, WE OUGHT RATHER TO OBEY GOD THAN MEN.” (1599 Geneva Bible).
So just what does the word “power” or “powers” mean in this context? To my mind the “higher power” for Americans means the freedom established as our NATURAL, GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS and codified by our Founders within the U.S. Constitution. In the U.S., that venerable document really is OUR RULER! (Or at least, it is supposed to be). Elected or appointed officials are to be “obeyed” ONLY if they adhere to, obey, and respect the U.S. Constitution. In essence IT—our U.S. Constitution-- is our “king”—IT is our “governing authority”—IT is our “higher power”! Is it not? The Constitution is a listing of “negative rights” regarding what the “governing federal authorities” may NOT do to “we, the people”. It is a warning, supposedly reinforced by an honorable and independent judiciary (which may have existed in the past), that the people that comprise “government” may NOT run rampant and rough shod over “we, the people”. (Well, that’s the way our Founders intended government to behave, even if it often violates those Constitutional restraints in our day). It is also a warning that, if the people who constitute our government act contrary to that document (and contrary to the admonitions listed in the rest of Romans 13:1-7), then “we, the people” have the right and the authority to replace them and elect people who WILL adhere to our Constitution, which IS “we, the people’s” governing authority!
When God’s Word was inspired by the Holy Spirit and written down by men long ago, kings, emperors, tyrants, warlords, tribal chiefs, and brutal force were the “governing authority”. There was no such thing as a written constitution to chain down the evil impulses of men. When our Declaration of Independence was boldly proclaimed in 1776 there were no “Americans” rebelling against King George 111. What we had then were British subjects rebelling against a power-mad sovereign, as all kings were then. The Tories and Royalists (including many colonial Christians) upheld the false precept (based perhaps on their misunderstanding and faulty teaching about Romans 13 at that time) that the King ruled by the “Divine Providence of God” (the “Divine Right of Kings—an evil and erroneous doctrine). Their conjecture was that anyone who rebelled against God’s “agent on earth”, the king, was rebelling against God. As might be expected, the king and his toadies in Parliament and the Church of England agreed.
Our Founders, despite many reservations, slowly came to believe otherwise. They realized that a countering argument had to be formulated against the belief of a third or more of their colonial fellow citizens. Thus they laid out their arguments and principles in our Declaration of Independence that each person on earth (and surely within the several colonies), had been given by God certain natural (unalienable) rights. They believed that their contentions against their Tory or Royalist fellows were logical, because NO government—i.e. NO monarch—and by inference NO President, NO Chancellor, NO Prime Minister, NO Representative or Senator, NO Governor, NO State Legislature, NO City/County Council, NO Mayor, could possibly act as God’s agent on earth IF they denied those “natural rights” that had been given to men, from the beginning, BY THEIR CREATOR! Although the history of mankind up to that point in time was one of fear and terror-inducing brute force applied in varying degrees by the “rulers” of a country against the citizenry, the concept of natural or “unalienable” rights was never abrogated—it was only held prisoner by ruthless earthly powers until our Founding Generation released it from its age-old prison (of course, this concept was discussed by English political philosophers before them, from whose wisdom our Founders benefitted). While “natural rights possessed by mankind” was a revolutionary concept in those days, we know that our Founders were correct. At least I believe they were.
It seems strange to us, in the present, to reflect that perhaps only one-third of the colonists in British America (if that many) supported our Founders, as they tried to make the case that their cause was righteous. It was a revolutionary concept that kings and governments were not the ones who “granted” rights, but were there to defend those rights that God had already given to mankind long before. This was a unique blow for freedom up to this time in history, and our Founding Generation proclaimed a truth that has benefited mankind, even while vexing tyrants, ever since.
Government Officials Are Not the Ultimate “Governing Authority”!
With no intention of “rewriting” God’s Word, and for illustrative purposes only, I’d like to present a “version” of Romans 13:1-7, written by my acquaintance, Pastor Chuck Baldwin, that I believe teaches the truth of what Americans, living in a Constitutional Republic, with no dictatorial “king” to rule over us, should consider to be our “governing authority”:
“Let every soul be subject unto the U.S. Constitution. For there is no Constitution but of God; the Constitution that is ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the Constitution, resisteth the ordinance of God…. For the Constitution is not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the Constitution? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For the Constitution is the minister of God to thee for good….”
Perhaps you get the concept that Pastor Baldwin was so correctly (to my mind) formulating. Agree or not, it solves the confusion of divided loyalty caused by different pastoral interpretations of Romans 13:1-7. The U.S.A. has always been referred to as “a nation under law”. Well it is, and our “law”—our “governing authority”—is our precious U.S. Constitution, the oldest written constitution on earth. IT, and NOT a president or a congress or a judiciary or a governor or a mayor or a city/county council is our “higher power”. There is not now, nor ever was, such a valid doctrine as “The Divine Right of Kings”, (or the Divine Right of Presidents or Prime Ministers or Chancellors or Emperors or any number of political or ecclesiastical tyrannical ruling authorities who terrorized this planet virtually since time began). We Americans must never forget that! And we must always abide by the principle that we who live under the protection of that “higher power”—the U.S. Constitution, have NO duty to obey the dictates of our elected governmental authorities EXCEPT to the extent that THEY obey and abide by that same “higher authority”—and willingly chain themselves to its authority over them! “The powers that be” may still try to exert their political wills over “we, the people” by various means (political harassment, IRS intimidation, legislative tyranny, or actual brutality), but those actions are just the tactics of men, utilized to exert their DESIRE FOR POWER AND CONTROL over all the rest of us, whether we like it or not.
To repeat: In the normal course of governmental interactions with “we, the people”, the power and coercion of those who temporarily rule over us may be used against us, to our detriment, if we resist government’s illegal and unconstitutional actions directed against us. It is then, and only then, that we as free people (hopefully) must decide our future course of action—to accept our government’s illegal dictates over us, as long as their illegalities are “bearable”—or to take the course that our Revolutionary Founding Generation took, and forcefully “alter or abolish” our government and establish a new one that better serves our visions of liberty. If the trend toward bigger and more dictatorial leftwing ‘progressive’ (and increasingly repressive) forms of governing follows the course that apparently half of our citizens appear to desire (and that may be an unprovable assumption), in their mal-educated ignorance fostered by the so-called ‘main stream media’ and so-called universities of higher (socialist) learning, that choice may come upon us sooner than we think.
We Americans who have not succumbed to the “siren songs” of soothing collectivism proclaimed by our mostly despicable and scurrilous ruling class in Washington, D.C. and many State capitals, must put forth a maximum effort to help to educate—or perhaps ‘re-educate’—our fellow citizens, to help open their eyes and dissipate their brain fog that has been purposely induced upon them for their entire lives by those societal entities that they’ve known and trusted. Always keep Francis Bacon’s (1561-1626) wisdom in mind: “Knowledge itself is power”. It will be a formidable task to convince our fellow citizens that they’ve been “duped” for so long, but duped they have been. Be gentle with them, as they are brought out of their years-long political comas, and rejoice with them when they see, perhaps for the first time, the true light of liberty that all Americans once knew.