Should Christians and Pastors Obey or Disobey Unfair Laws [Romans 13 and Shutting Down Churches]

Craig Huey Current Events, Faith, Government, Congress, and Politics 12 Comments

Across America, pastors are disobeying the law and opening up their churches.

And across America, Christians are disobeying laws to have home Bible studies to minister to the broken and hurting. And yes, to attend church.

Some have said to me that disobeying government orders to shut down Sunday church services and other gatherings of believers is a violation of Romans 13.

They’re very concerned that these specific pastors and churches are violating a scriptural principal.

I’d like to take a brief look at this controversial issue.

Anyone who studies Romans knows how controversial it is. Books have been written about it. Many studies have been made on it.

When I was a singles pastor, I took three years to go through the book of Romans…word by word, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.

I had more people attending Romans chapter 13 than other portions of the book of Romans. (Incidentally, the most popular, packed-out exposition was on predestination.)

The issue of Romans 13 and obeying authority has been something that throughout church history Christians have struggled with.

Let me put this into perspective.

When we take a look at the Bible, we see throughout scripture those who disobey unfair and unjust government commands.

  • Moses disobeyed the Pharaoh as we see in the book of Exodus.
  • Paul was constantly in jail because he was violating customs and laws that interfered with spreading the gospel. He lost his life because of it.
  • Peter was told by the authorities to cease teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus. He said to those in authority over him, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

After being arrested a second time and questioned about his disobedience, Peter declared emphatically, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

We see it with Gideon, Ehud, Jepthah, Samson, and Deborah – all were charged explicitly by God to resist the rulers who were practicing injustice against the people and interfering with God’s people.

We see it in church history with Martin Luther and John Calvin.

We see it in those who fled oppression throughout the world and came to America.

We saw it in abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman who defied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by helping slaves escape from the south and flee to northern states.

We saw it in Corrie ten Boom who hid and protected Jews from NAZI government forces in Germany – and lied to NAZI officers when they came looking for Jews.

We saw it with Martin Luther King, Jr. standing up against the oppression of people simply based upon their skin color.

Go back to the American Revolution. In the American Revolution, Christians were often divided, but we were fighting for our freedom against oppression.

That’s where Patrick Henry said:

“Is life so dear or peace and safety so sweet as to be purchased at the price of slavery?”

Were all these examples violations of scripture? No.

Those who say Christians are in violation of scripture if they are opposed to today’s tyrannical government officials telling us not to worship are not considering the entirety of God’s word. They are reacting in fear of man.

“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Proverbs 29:25)

When we look at Romans 13, we need to understand that the principle of being in subjection to governing authorities has to be balanced with the rest of scripture.

When we see God opposing injustice and resisting oppression and abuses of government authority, is this a contradiction of Romans 13? No, it isn’t.

We cannot give up human rights and our Constitutional rights for human safety or for pure obedience to government.

Those pastors and Christians who say we must obey the governing authorities and simply be obedient no matter what they say are ignoring all the Christians who rose up against Nazi Germany, who rose up against the Soviet Union, who are rising up against Communism in Venezuela and in China and in Cuba.

They are seeking freedom and they are seeking liberty based upon something greater than the dictatorial actions of those in leadership.

When the Bible says we should submit to every ordinance of man and be subject to the governing authorities, we cannot pull this passage out of context and ignore the whole counsel of God.

We cannot choose to obey Romans 13 while at the same time disobeying Hebrews 10:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

What do you think? Email me at [email protected].

Comments 12

  1. Thank you for this! I have been really struggling with my church continuing to follow the authorities and not open. And continuing to preach about following the rules of government and cooperation.

  2. The Worship of God MUST always come before the obedience to government. As most democrats do NOT follow God’s Word and they choose to live in un-godly fashion, we can only reason that their man-made orders are NOT of God. We have the right to worship, as our Constitution says–Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The 1st amendment gives us the right to free exercise of religion.

  3. I believe it’s very simple. The government is not asking the pastors to close down the churches for good, they’re asking places of LARGE gatherings to close until they can get control of the virus which has caused many deaths. It needs to be stopped. I’m a true believer in Jesus Christ and the thought never crossed my mind that the government was trying to condemn the church in some way.
    Due to the circumstances, everyone’s life is different right now…..the churches will reopen again, but now we need to find other ways to worship, fellowship and encourage each other….God understands. In the case of the COVID 19, the government is acting on behalf of ALL of us….So, Submission to the Authorities in Romans 13 needs to be adhered to. God Bless

    1. @Judy Rogers
      Your interpretation of Romans 13 is NOT the final word on the matter since there is ample evidence from even Paul’s life where he was in open defiance of government edicts which flatly contradicted the commands of God. You are simply cherry picking one passage out of context and ignoring the entirety of what Scripture has to say by way of direct command, approved precedent, and necessary inference.
      If we took your interpretation as being accurate–which it isn’t–then we would have to say that the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 were sinning by disobeying the edict of Pharaoh to destroy all the male Hebrew infants, that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were sinning by disobeying the edict of Nebuchadnezzar, that Daniel was sinning by disobeying the edict of Darius. According to your interpretation, Peter and John were sinning by defying the Sanhedrin’s edict not to preach in the name of Jesus.
      So look at Hebrews 10:24-25 which commands believers to assemble. There is no exception clause which suggests that if a human government decrees churches cannot meet [no matter what the government’s supposed justification is for such a decree], that believers are thereby exempt from obedience to the revealed will of God. Therefore the command of God for believers to assemble in person supersedes any mere human edict. And, no, watching a minister deliver a sermon via a livestream on youtube or facebook is no more an act of obedience to the commandment of God to assemble together than watching Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Robert Shuler, or any other televangelist on TV was 30-50 years ago.

    2. The government is NOT prohibiting churches from meeting because of safety concerns. If that was true then Costco and Walmart would be closed, too. Watch the documentary with Trevor Loudon called Enemies Within.” It will help you understand what’s really going on here.

    3. Not to the extreme. We have been trained for years by our educational system to trust the idol of “science” and to educate sin out if people. Both have been proven wrong many times but seldom admitted. The virus is exaggerated to control people, to cause us to give up freedom to be “safe”. I have been to the Emergency Room twice with my husband’s severe nosebleeds and there were no other patients there, except an injured child. Yet the doctor offices are closed to service to save room for virus patients yet ER told he he could die from his bleeding but doctor won’t see him. If he dies, it will be blamed on him he virus. Strange times. Share the Gospel out

  4. I agree! However I see this virus as something quite different than what we have faced in the past. While some of the state governments may be imposing tyrannical restrictions on freedom to gather to worship, the purpose is to save lives from a sickness we still don’t know much about. I have heard some say that Christians who insist on meeting at church are being selfish, putting other people at risk of getting sick and dying. They are not willing to “sacrifice” their rights for the sake of others as Jesus did for us.
    I’m not saying I totally agree with this thinking, but it is something to consider. Perhaps in the beginning of the pandemic this made sense, but now with all the questions about the accuracy of the numbers and data? It’s very confusing.
    I personally would like churches to open under the CDC guidelines. I think we can as Christians be respectful and courageous at the same time!

  5. Churches need to open. There is a reason that they have been deemed entertainment like Disneyland and not essential like the Red Cross. In California the Morongo Casino and strip clubs are open so this is definitely not due to the virus. This is due to authorities who have an agenda against the church and what it stands for. You can social distance in a church with gloves and a mask if you want just like you can in the grocery store, Target and Walmart. We are not to forego the gathering of the saints and it is time we get back together for Worship, fellowship, prayer and the Word of God!!!!!
    Amen to all that Craig Huey had to say as he quoted the scriptures. Real truth and not what we are getting on the fear mongering news everyday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *