In London quite recently there have been orchestrated student demonstrations against the Government, and these demonstrations turned violent.
Millions of pounds worth of damage resulted, and not a few injuries to the police and others. Some had the audacity to threaten members of the royal family as they travelled to a function. The royals were shaken but not hurt, and their vehicle damaged.
What should a Christian’s attitude be towards this?
Fundamentally, a Christian should never take part in a riot or violent demonstration. Exodus 23:2 commands: ‘You shall not follow a multitude to do evil’. The God of the Bible is a God of law and order; the opposite of order is disorder and chaos.
When law is rejected, lawlessness ensues; and lawlessness brings misery in its train and incites the wrath of God.
The Bible enjoins obedience to and respect for lawful authority, whether this is invested in parents, teachers, employers, the police or government of the day.
Almighty God himself is the ultimate authority. He rules and governs the universe, yet also delegates his authority to human beings, for the benefit of society.
Rebellion against lawful authority is, therefore, a spiritual issue, for it is actually rebellion against God. The commandment ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right’ (Ephesians 6:1) is more than a matter of children’s physical welfare. It is to teach them to honour and obey all authority – ultimately, God, who is our Father in heaven.
The apostle Paul lived under one of the most tyrannical governments in world history. The Emperor Nero persecuted Christians just for being Christians and was eventually responsible for taking Paul’s life. Yet the apostle, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, taught that all Christians should obey the government under which they find themselves.
His classic statement on this is Romans 13. Here he writes: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.
‘For rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.
‘But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience’.
So the Bible’s teaching on this is crystal clear. God has appointed the government of the day; rebellion against it is rebellion against him – which is the height of audacity and folly.
Rather than getting on our feet to protest against the Government, the Bible would have us get on our knees to pray for it; to pray that it would rule in a way pleasing to God, restraining evil and promoting good (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Yet while civil rebellion cannot be a choice for the Christian, there is one exception to this rule. If a government commands us to do something clearly contrary to God’s Word, the Christian has no option but to obey the higher authority, God himself, no matter what the earthly consequences may be.
In Acts, we read that the apostles were forbidden to preach the gospel by the religious authorities. What did the apostles do? Luke records, ‘Peter and John answered them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:18-20). And a little later, Peter affirmed the principle, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).
Likewise, early Christians were required to pay homage to Caesar and offer incense, saying, ‘Caesar is Lord’. Their conscience forbade such idolatry, since only Jesus is Lord, and their refusal to bow to Caesar resulted in many being martyred for the faith.
Apart from such exceptions, no matter what we think of individual politicians we are to obey and be prayerfully concerned for them. Our ultimate obedience is to the Most High God, who is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Psalm 92:1; Revelation 19:16).
Governments in this fallen world will only be perfect when sin is eradicated. This will only happen when the Lord Jesus returns, to reign for ever.