Steven M. Collins
Christian Rights and Citizenship
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AND CITIZENSHIP DUTIES
By Steven M. Collins
In most of American history, it was easy to be a Christian as Americans lived in a society which esteemed Christian values and beliefs. This author grew up in a small rural town in the 1950s when much of American society had an innocence which has now vanished. In the 1950s, children could play in city neighborhoods without parents being worried. Children could trust any “grown-up” if they were lost. Many modern social and cultural problems were unheard of and even hitchhiking was safe. Governments at all levels were relatively small and unobtrusive. How times have changed! In our modern times, how should Christians act as citizens of increasingly-secular nations?
Since that fateful day on 9/11 when the World Trade Center towers fell, Americans have accepted increased governmental intrusion into their lives and privacy in order to enable our government to stop terrorists who would take advantage of our “open” society to commit more mass murders against us. Our nation was founded to protect “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Since 9/11, the rights to “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have taken a back-seat to the need to first preserve and safeguard “life.” This has created a seismic shift in the concept of individual “rights” in American society, and Christians need to be mindful of the dramatic shift in the relationship between individuals and government which is occurring. Governmental concerns about security are clashing regularly with privacy concerns for citizens, and citizenship rights which were once taken for granted are now under pressure. It is time that Christians took a serious look at what the Bible says about the relationship between individuals and governments. Those who fail to do so could invite much needless trouble for themselves in future years.
I agree with those who assert that God gave the United States a very blessed form of government in our founding Constitution. The Bill of Rights, for instance, gave Americans unprecedented liberties which unleashed the creativity and self-enterprise of American citizens for over two centuries. However, America used to be a nation which largely respected God and the Bible as a source of Divine authority. As the amorality of evolution increasingly shaped and permeated American culture in the 20th century, society progressively became more sinful as “the fear of God” was de-emphasized. All kinds of crime and social pathologies have become commonplace and acceptable in our modern culture. This naturally has increased the scope and size of government in its effort to combat increased crimes and worsening social problems. How should Christians now relate to governmental authority when Governments are steadily less Christian and more secular in nature?
The Biblical Role of Government:
The Bible has much to say about governments and Christians’ responsibilities toward governments. This role of government was addressed by the Apostle Peter, who wrote in I Peter 2:13-17: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be unto the king as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers…Honor the king.” In this statement, Peter clearly instructed Christians to give respectful obedience to the laws of not only national governments but state and local governments as well. While America has no “kings,” Christians are instructed to “honor” (or respect) those who are in authority. Peter acknowledged the rightful role of human governments to punish lawbreakers who do harm to others in society. Peter wrote these words at a time when many Christians lived under the authority of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire could be very harsh and arbitrary, and some of its emperors were madmen by any modern standard. If the early Apostolic Christians were told to be law-abiding citizens in the Roman Empire, how much more should we be law-abiding citizens in modern democratic societies in which we enjoy many freedoms and exercise many civic rights?
Peter told Christians to “submit to every ordinance” of kings and governors. Let’s consider this instruction in light of what happened on 9/11 to place it in a modern context. Terrorists are evil-doers, and governments have a right (and duty) to try to apprehend them and stop their attacks. In our high-tech society, it is not surprising that governments will enact “ordinances” (laws and regulations) utilizing advanced technologies and modern data analysis techniques to identify and apprehend potential terrorists. Most Americans are now familiar with the airport security measures which have been implemented to stop terrorists from repeating the attacks of 9/11. These security regulations are hassles, to be sure, but the vast majority of the traveling public understands and accepts the need for them.
Of course, the above is just one example of governmental regulation. There are many government regulations (i.e. “ordinances”) affecting the lives of citizens in the United States of America (and all other modern nations). These regulations govern how we conduct commerce, earn a living, manage our property, interact with others, etc. There are many rules and regulations passed by every level of government and they are amended regularly as new officials are elected or appointed to governmental positions. Christians are advised by the aforementioned words of Peter to be obedient to such regulations. Let us examine some specific areas of government regulation and citizenship responsibilities in modern society. Let’s begin with the subject of taxes.
In all societies and ages, nothing is surer than “death and taxes.” Jesus’ society was no different, and one day he was confronted with the question of whether people should pay Roman taxes. This question was asked of Jesus in a political climate wherein the Jews of Judea resented Rome’s often-oppressive rule. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees gave Jesus the opportunity (and temptation) to become a “tax resistor” concerning Roman taxes. Jesus declined that temptation, stating rather: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” In making this statement, Jesus acknowledged that citizens have an obligation both to God’s Divine rule and to human governments. He did not quantify either obligation for his listeners, but his words confirm that both obligations exist. Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) so he would also tell modern Christians that they have the same dual obligation.
We must obey both the laws of God and the laws of our human governments. Since Jesus Christ directly applied this principle to the paying of taxes, modern Christians should pay their taxes honestly and on time. This would include income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, various license fees, etc. On one occasion, Jesus even arranged a small miracle so an appropriate fee could be paid to the authorities even though there was some doubt about whether the fee was due (Matthew 17: 24-27). In this example, Jesus “bent over backwards” to be sure governmental taxes and local fees were paid. Jesus never encouraged anyone to be a “tax resistor,” and Christians should not be duped into adopting such a foolhardy and non-biblical position.
In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul also told Christians to respect governmental authority and to pay their taxes. In verse 1, he states: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Revised Standard Version of the Bible). In verses 2-5, he warns that governments have the power to enforce their regulations and rules (more on this later), and tells his readers in verses 6-7: “For the same reason you also pay taxes…Pay all of them [the authorities] their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due…” (RSV). In Paul’s time, Roman taxes could include customs duties, transit fees, special assessments, etc. One such special tax or enrollment is mentioned in Luke 2:1-5. Roman governments sponsored massive construction projects and frequent wars, and the empire’s inhabitants were always subject to special tax assessments to pay for these expensive endeavors.
Jesus Christ, Paul and Peter all told Christians to pay their taxes. Modern Christians should heed these biblical instructions. Paying taxes is part of being a good citizen. If you want the government to protect you from foreign enemies, criminals and terrorists, to regulate and facilitate commerce and transportation, provide a safety net for you in times of misfortune, etc., then you should understand the need to pay taxes.
Are Christians free to dispute their taxes if they think they are too high? In the United States of America and other democratic nations, they may do so. All American citizens have Constitutional freedoms to disagree with a wide variety of governmental actions, proposed legislation, etc. However, such disagreements must be expressed lawfully. For example, citizens generally may appeal a property tax assessment which the citizen considers to be too high. One can hire a tax professional to determine if one can lawfully pay a lower amount of income taxes (the average person can easily be unaware of certain credits and deductions). Citizens may also contact their elected representatives at the federal, state and local level to urge them to amend tax laws to make them fairer or less onerous. When enough people do so in a democracy, lawmakers often make changes to tax laws as they realize they will not be re-elected to office unless they respond to voters’ demands. The key is that all such efforts must be done in a lawful manner.
Citizen Rights and Government Powers:
Paul had more to say about Christians’ responsibility to governments. In Romans 13:1-2, Paul wrote: “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 judgment” (RSV).
In writing these words, Paul did not say governments will always be fair, wise or righteous. Indeed, governments are staffed with people drawn from the societies they govern. If a society is more righteous and God-fearing, its governing people will tend to be more righteous and fair themselves. However, when a society becomes more sinful and ignores God’s Divine laws, one should expect that the rulers of such a society will also tend to become more unfair and unrighteous. In modern America, God’s laws are increasingly disobeyed and even mocked. In such an environment, governmental officials and citizens alike are becoming more sinful and Paul prophesied that this would occur (Romans 1:18-32, II Timothy 3:1-5).
Does the corruption of governing officials change a Christian’s obligation to obey the law? No. Paul lived under the arbitrary, and often corrupt, government of the Roman Empire and he still wrote Christians of his time to obey governmental authorities. The same applies to us today. Americans should be thankful that we live in a society which still enjoys freedoms and rights most other societies could not have imagined.
Paul continued in Romans 13:3-5: “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…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” (RSV).
Paul warns Christians to be law-abiding citizens for two reasons. One is the awareness that God expects us to be obedient to authorities, so Christians should obey the law for “conscience sake.” The second reason is the obvious acknowledgement that those who disobey governments’ laws risk receiving punishments from the authorities. This is as true today as it was in Paul’s time. It is simple common sense to avoid such punishments by being a law-abiding citizen.
Does this mean that everyone in government is always right? Of course not! We are all familiar with media stories of corrupt officials, miscarriages of justice, people who “are on the take,” etc. In the recent 2006 election, the Republicans lost control of Congress at least partly because of widespread corruption and influence-peddling. Media reports were full of scandals involving a congressman jailed for bribe-taking, another resigning for influence-peddling, and another resigning for sending suggestive mails to a young male page. The whole system of “earmarks” has received increased scrutiny because these “special deals” for lobbyists and associates of lawmakers corrupt the normal legislative process and inflate the federal budget deficit. State and local governments have their share of scandals in media reports as well.
It bears repeating that Christ, Peter and Paul told Christians to respect and obey government officials, pay taxes, etc. even when their government was the Roman Empire and its local officials were the servants of Caesar. Some Roman emperors were among the most evil and depraved men who ever lived and Roman government could be unjust, cruel and oppressive! If Christ and the apostles advised submission to the ordinances and laws of even the dictatorial Roman government, how much more should we be subject to our democratic governments today?
Instructions in Acts 5:29:
Many Christians are familiar with Acts 5:29 in which Peter states: “We must obey God rather than men.” This does state that if a direct conflict develops between obeying God’s laws or men’s laws, Christians must give the greater priority to obeying God’s laws. However, this passage is sometimes taken far out of context by Christians. It does NOT say that if a conflict exists between man’s laws and God’s ideal and perfect standards, one is free to disregard man’s laws. Acts 5:29 only shows that Christians are not required to obey the directions of human authorities if human authorities specifically command Christians to violate God’s laws! Acts 5:28-29 records that Peter and the apostles were commanded by the authorities to cease preaching about Jesus Christ, and since God had commanded them to do so, they had to obey God and continue preaching.
However, it is vital to understand this verse in context. Notice that Peter’s words in Acts 5:29 were addressed not to a conflict between God’s laws and those of secular governmental officials, but rather to a conflict between obeying God’s laws and submitting to corrupt religious authorities! It was the “high priest” and the “sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17-27) which told the apostles to stop preaching. Peter’s words were not addressing a conflict between the laws of secular authorities and the laws of God, but rather were referring to a conflict between the authority of God and the dictates of a “church government.” Applying Peter’s words to our modern society, Peter’s words require Christians to “obey God” instead of the leaders of a church government or church administration whenever there is a conflict between what God requires and what church leaders expect.
It is highly unlikely that any level of secular government will ever “order” you to directly disobey any of the Ten Commandments. When was the last time you heard a media report about a governmental official ordering you to kill your neighbor, steal from a grocery store or vandalize someone’s property? This author has never heard of such an instance in any Western society. Any such direct conflicts between the laws of God and the commands of human governments will be exceptionally rare! Christians should remember that the context of Acts 5:29 was a conflict between the laws of God and self-exultant religious leaders. That kind of conflict is not at all uncommon today, and it occurred more than once in the early New Testament Church. Not only did it occur in Acts 5, but also in III John 9-10 when a local religious figure named Diotrephes “wanted the preeminence” in a particular congregation and, because he had control of the administrative functions of that congregation, he “cast out” the people who insisted on obeying God instead of the prideful Diotrephes.
The American “Bill of Rights”:
American citizens are granted ten key rights in the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. But citizenship rights are not absolute. Consider just one of our American freedoms in the Bill of Rights. Is the “freedom of speech” absolute? Does God himself acknowledge any right to unlimited” free speech?” Of course not.
It has always been understood one could not yell “fire” in a crowded theater. There are laws against perjury, slander, and libel which are all injurious expressions of “speech” or types of “expression.” Consider the “freedom of speech” rights which God gave to the Israelites in his Theocracy in the time of the Wilderness wandering and during the time of the Judges. Did an Israelite then have absolute freedom of speech? Absolutely not! Those who exercised the “freedom of speech” to urge others to serve other “gods” such as Baal or Moloch were executed by God’s own order (Deuteronomy 13:1-10). Did the Israelites have the “right” to rebel vs. their God-appointed leaders? Korah, Dathan, Abiram, Absalom and others thought so in various biblical episodes. They all died as a result of their rebellions. God has never acknowledged a right for people to say whatever they want, whenever they want, etc. That kind of behavior leads to anarchy. Unless “rights” are exercised responsibly, they will eventually be curtailed.
One could say “but God is perfect” so who would want to rebel against him? Lucifer and apparently a third of the angels rebelled in spite of God’s perfection (compare Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12:4 with “stars” being a biblical symbol for angels). The Bible indicates that the very first act of “disobedience to government” was initiated by Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-14). In I Samuel 15:23, God equates rebellion with witchcraft. It is a serious thing in God’s eyes if people rebel against or disobey the authorities which are constituted by him (Romans 13:1-7).
On the other hand, astute readers will surely note that it was the American Revolution which birthed the United States of America. The Bible confirms that, on rare occasions, God does personally bless a revolution to accomplish his will. Those who have read this author’s book, Israel’s Tribes Today, understand that it was a direct fulfillment of Divine prophecy that the United States of America came into existence as an independent nation instead of being part of the British Empire. The British and American peoples, although closely-related, had a different prophetic destiny which required the American nation to become independent of the British crown.
A biblical example of God favoring a revolution is recorded in I Kings 12:16-24 when the ten tribes of Israel rebelled against the dynasty of King David and against union with the Israelites tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In this account, God told King Rehoboam via a prophet to let the rebelling tribes depart as this action was an implementation of his Divine will. Remarkably, King Rehoboam obeyed God and the separation began as a bloodless one. Examples of Divinely-approved rebellions are rare, and they are examples of God’s intervention to implement his Divine will in human affairs at key junctures in world history. The departure of the ten tribes of Israel from David’s dynasty had been earlier prophesied by God in I Kings 11:28-31, so this example clearly showed that God was intervening to fulfill his prophecy. Most rebellions recorded in the Bible were caused by the lust of the rebels to seize power for themselves, and they ended in disaster for the rebels (i.e. Lucifer, Korah, Dathan and Absalom). Christians should take heed from these biblical examples in their modern lives.
Paul and Roman Citizenship Rights:
The book of Acts reveals that the Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen and that he exercised and asserted those rights in order to travel and proclaim the gospel, avoid beatings from local officials, avoid an almost-certain execution, etc.
In Acts 22:17-29, Paul averted a scourging by asserting his rights as a Roman citizen. This account indicates that Roman citizenship was a highly-prized status with rights and privileges which others feared to transgress. Paul made known his status as a Roman citizen just as he was about to be scourged, but that citizenship status was so honored that the centurion that was going to scourge him declined to do so and told his commanding officer about Paul’s status. The commanding officer had purchased his Roman citizenship “with a great sum,” but Paul was a Roman citizen by birth. Because he asserted his Roman citizenship rights, Paul’s scourging was cancelled.
On the other hand, Paul and Silas submitted to a beating and made known their Roman citizenship to their captors only after the beating. The officials who had ordered the beating “feared when they heard that they were Romans.” The offending officials wanted Paul and Silas to quietly “go away,” but Paul and Silas insisted the officials personally set them free and bring them out of the prison. The respect for Roman citizenship was so great that the officials complied with Paul’s request. Interestingly, this account indicates that that Paul and Silas were both Roman citizens.
Acts 23:12-35 relates an account where Paul’s Roman citizenship rescued him from a plot by 40 conspirators to kill him. When this plot was made known to a Roman commander named Claudius Lysias, he arranged for two centurions and 470 Roman soldiers to escort Paul safely to a Roman Governor named Felix. Claudius Lysias, mindful of protocol, informed Governor Felix that he had taken this protective action because Paul was a Roman citizen (verse 27). Governor Felix questioned Paul about his Roman province of origin to be sure Paul’s claim to citizenship was valid. Paul was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3, 23:34), the capital of Cilicia, and the location of Paul’s birth had conferred Roman citizenship upon him.
Paul later “appealed to Caesar” in Acts 25:6-12, 25 to extricate himself from an increasingly dangerous situation. It was his right to do so as a Roman citizen, and it resulted in Paul being transported to Rome. Since Paul utilized the appeals process of the Roman legal system, it follows that Christians may also utilize the legal system of modern nations if they need to do so. However, Paul made one notable exception to this right. In I Corinthians 6:6-8, Paul specifically wrote that believers should not initiate lawsuits against fellow Christians.
It may also be inferred that it was Paul’s Roman citizenship which enabled him to travel so freely around the Mediterranean realm of the Roman Empire and to speak openly in many locations. Paul asserted whatever rights Roman citizenship conferred upon him, so Christians may freely exercise whatever citizenship rights are conferred upon them in their respective modern nations. Paul’s Roman citizenship did not include the right to vote as the Roman Empire was not a democracy. However, since modern Western democracies do allow their citizens to vote for their national, state (or provincial) and local officials, there is no biblical reason why modern Christians should not exercise the right to vote and participate in the process of selecting their elected leaders.
In Acts 6:1-6, some form of voting was used by the early New Testament Church to select congregational officials akin to modern deacons. The apostles declined to appoint such congregational officials, and told the local laity to select the deacons. There had to be some kind of a majority-opinion process among the congregation to result in the selection of the seven men recommended, who were then confirmed by the apostles in a “laying on of hands” ceremony. It must be noted that these seven “deacons” were selected by the majority opinion of the congregation; they were not arbitrarily selected by the apostles or ministry. Given that people were allowed to select some of their own leaders within a congregation, it follows logically that this same process of selecting leaders within a community, state or nation is also consistent with biblical standards.
The Bible even indicates that the democratic process of selecting leaders by voting was prophesied to occur. Jeremiah 30 is a prophecy about all the tribes of Israel in the latter days of this age (see verse 24). Jeremiah 30:21 states that “their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them…” (Emphasis added.) This remarkable prophecy indicates that all the tribes of Israel will be found among the democracies of the “latter-day” nations as it is only democracies which select their nobles (local officials) and governors from among the people. Since democracies require the selection of elected officials by voting, and since Jeremiah 30:21 confirms such an elective process would be God’s will for the nations of the tribes of Israel in the latter days, it follows that Christians may participate in elections in which they are eligible to vote.
You are Your Brother’s Keeper:
Jesus Christ told Christians in Matthew 19:19 to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Christ’s instruction repeated an earlier command that was given in the Old Testament in Leviticus 19:18. Indeed, while the first four of the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20 define the correct way for mankind to relate to our Creator, the last six commands define the actions which constitute “loving thy neighbor as thyself.”
Exodus 20:12-17 state that the correct way to “love thy neighbor” is to: (A) honor your parents, who gave you life, (B) do not kill your neighbor, (C) do not steal from your neighbor, (D) do not commit adultery with your neighbor’s spouse, (E) do not lie or give perjured testimony about your neighbor, and (F) do not covet or lust for anything that belongs to your neighbor. These commands embody the traditional responsibilities of most human laws which require citizens to respect the life, rights and properties of other citizens. No Christian should have any problem obeying secular laws based on these principles in any modern society.
The book of Proverbs has many illustrations of how one should implement these principles in one’s day-to-day interactions with others. Some Christians mistakenly think Jesus Christ came to do away with Old Testament laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christ plainly stated in Matthew 5:17-18: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets…” In Matthew 5:21-28, Christ not only affirmed the Ten Commandments, but he also made them more binding. He stated that his followers should not only obey the Ten Commandments (he cites two as examples) in the letter of the law, but must also avoid even the thoughts that could lead to breaking the Commandments. Christians should, therefore, be obedient to the Ten Commandments and be honest in all their dealings with others.
In terms of citizenship responsibilities, Christians should willingly cooperate with local authorities in helping to promote law-abiding practices in their communities. Romans 13:9 cite the Ten Commandments as an underlying reason why Christians should be obedient to lawful authorities (Romans 13:1-7).
One example in the book of Esther shows that those who serve God should actively assist the authorities to prevent a crime in the event that one learns of a criminal deed about to be perpetrated. Esther 2:21-23 relates that Mordechai, a righteous Jew, overheard a conversation in which plotters were planning to assassinate the king of Persia. Mordechai (and Esther) dutifully reported this matter to the authorities and the plotters were executed. This account shows that Christians should assist authorities in whatever way they can to prevent crime. In this example, Mordechai and Esther saved the life of a king of the “gentile” empire in which they lived. How much more should Christians today act to assist governmental authorities in the execution of their duty in modern nations where citizens and officials are members of the same nation?
It is unlikely that you will have so dramatic an opportunity to save a national leader as did Mordechai and Esther, but you can certainly “be your brother’s keeper” in such more likely instances of calling the authorities to report a traffic accident where assistance is needed, to report a crime if you see one in progress, etc. You can also be a good citizen by doing something as simple as watching over a neighbor’s house while they are away on vacation, etc. If you live in a city which has a “Neighborhood Watch” program, you can call your local police department to participate in this program where “neighbors help neighbors.” This author has been a part of a municipal Neighborhood Watch program for years, and enthusiastically recommends it to others. It is an excellent way to make a positive contribution to your local community.
In spite of the above biblical declarations and examples, some people think that they should have no dealings at all with authorities who are part of the “worldly system.” This viewpoint is easily refuted by examining the account of Mordechai more closely. Mordechai’s action in reporting a planned assassination attempt saved the life of the king of the Persian Empire. This king was the head of the empire depicted in Daniel 2 as the “breast and arms of silver” in a succession of major worldly empires which would be present in human history. Mordechai himself was later exalted to be a top administrator in the Persian Empire (Esther 8:1-2, 9, 15 and 9:4). The prophet Daniel was made “ruler over the whole province of Babylon” by King Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of the Babylonian Empire, which was the “head of gold” in the series of worldly empires portrayed by the great image in Nebuchadnezzar’s own dream in Daniel 2. Ezra and Nehemiah acted in official capacities in the Persian Empire (Ezra 7:11, Nehemiah 2:1). Paul was a Roman citizen, as noted above, and the Roman Empire constituted the “legs of iron” in the prophecy in Daniel 2. Paul was, no doubt, very aware of how oppressive and arbitrary the Roman Empire could be, but he still exercised and asserted whatever citizenship rights were granted to him by virtue of being a Roman citizen.
Based on these biblical examples, those who serve God today may also exercise and assert whatever citizenship rights they may have in their respective countries. Those of us who live in the United States of America (or other democracies of the Western World) enjoy particularly high levels of citizenship rights by any historical standard. Righteous biblical personalities served in governmental offices in ancient Israelite and gentile kingdoms and empires, and since Malachi 3:6 states that “God does not change,” Christians today should also feel free to serve in official capacities in governments today if the opportunity presents itself.
This author is aware that a few people mistakenly cite the Bible in adopting extreme forms of disobedience and noncompliance with the laws of governmental jurisdictions. This attitude is sometimes characterized as becoming a “sovereign citizen.” What this term means is unclear, but the term can be a semantic refuge for those who don’t want to cooperate with governmental regulations of any kind. It is both unbiblical and unwise for any Christian to adopt this radical viewpoint. People who mistakenly adopt this stance are especially likely to attract the very governmental scrutiny which they are seeking to avoid. I am mystified by anyone who thinks the Bible gives them a right to refuse to get social security numbers, pay taxes, obtain a driver’s license, etc. Instead of opting for a life of trouble and stress by seeking to become a “sovereign citizen,” I urge all Christians to follow the biblical commands cited above and be compliant with governmental regulations (i.e. be “law-abiding citizens”) in their nation and in their communities.
Those who are tempted to adopt an extremist or uncooperative attitude toward governments should consider a biblical warning in I Samuel 8. After centuries of living in a Theocracy in which God’s laws were administered by a system of Judges, Priests and tribal elders, the Israelite tribes demanded a king. Samuel, God’s appointed “Judge” at the time, was told by God to let the people have a human king. However, God warned the people that in demanding a human king, they were rejecting God as their king (I Samuel 8:7). God told Samuel to warn the Israelites that their human kings, not God, would henceforth be responsible for enacting and administering the laws of their society.
In I Samuel 8:9-18, God warned the people via Samuel that the human kings would impose harsh taxes, establish a bureaucracy to implement the king’s will, assess labor quotas on the people, etc. God predicted, accurately, that the people would eventually “cry out” because of the oppressive rule of their human leaders, but God warned them that their decision to choose human leadership instead of God’s leadership was not reversible. From that day on, the Israelites (and their descendants) would be stuck with whatever human governments they had, for better or for worse. In verse 18, God pointedly said he “would not hear” the people in the future when they pleaded for a return to his Divine rule. This event occurred circa 1040 B.C. (the date given as a chapter notation in some Bibles). From that time forward, the Israelite tribes and all their descendants have been Divinely required to live under whatever human governments existed in their respective generations. This has included good and bad Israelite kings, foreign kings who held them in dominion, and elected and appointed officials in modern democracies. While Christians may certainly look forward to Jesus Christ’s return and pray “Thy kingdom come,” their current obligation is to live lawfully under their current forms of human governments.
We have no Divine guarantee that our liberties in America (or any other nation) will remain in effect from now until the return of Jesus Christ. In times of war and national peril, governments can and do assert extraordinary powers. Those who foolishly demand maximum individual liberties in such times are likely to find themselves having no liberties at all! Paul warned in II Timothy 3:1 that “perilous times” would exist in the latter days at the end of this age, so we can expect individual liberties to remain under pressure. If another major act of terrorism occurs on American soil, more individual rights could be tightened. Christians should remember the words of Jesus Christ, Paul and Peter that we are to obey the regulations of government. We do not know what the future holds, but you can be sure that the words of Jesus Christ, Peter and Paul to obey governmental authorities will remain in your Bible. They will always be there for Christians to obey. Many biblical examples also show that Christians are free to exercise whatever citizenship freedoms are granted to them in their respective countries. For this reason, Christians should exercise their citizenship rights, and give thanks to God for those rights. Paul’s words in I Timothy 2:1-2 also indicate that it is appropriate for Christians to pray that God will allow these citizenship rights to remain in effect.