Monday, July 03, 2006

What Say You--The American Revolution & Romans 13

Starting a new feature today on the blog--"What Say You?"
It will feature a question where opinions differ. Normally (but not necessarily), it will have some reference to Scripture as well. Divergent opinions are welcome (and, in fact, expected); all I ask is that discussion be kept civil.

Also, I am having trouble with internet at home, so I may not be available for a couple of days to provide responses.

In honor of Independence Day here in the US, my question is this: Did the American Revolution violate Romans 13?


Patrick Chan said...

Hm, that's a great question. I'll have to think it over.

Just a quick thought off the top of my head, though: isn't Rom. 13 addressed only to believers? If so, then the question might be better framed as were those believers who supported the American Revolution in violation of Rom. 13? However, if it's addressed primarily but not only to believers, then I'm obviously wrong.

Anyway, still thinking...

Gummby said...

Peter: I wanted to make the question as broad as possible to encourage discussion.

Also, was it too much to assume that this would be implicit, in that the Revolution was fought (in part) to secure religious freedom?

Anyway, I like your thinking, and your question is probably clearer than mine.

Even So... said...

Ask Adrian Warnock...

The Clinging Vine said...

Much as I love our country and celebrate the 4th, I don't think the revolution could be justified biblically.

Leaving England for America so as to be able to practice one's faith unhindered...fine.

But to take up arms and resort to violence because we didn't want to be under England's rule any longer?

That's a lot dicier, Scripturally speaking. Paul wrote "Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity" but since he sent Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, it's fairly clear temporal freedom must not be achieved via escape, much less violence.

Y'know, no wonder America has such a difficult time with "contentment", seeing as how the nation was born out of discontent. Contentment is an alien concept to us, on the whole.

Yet Paul tells Timothy "if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these."

Uh huh. Not even close. :^(

ThirstyDavid said...

I am exceedingly thankful for our independence, and in hindsight, we can see that American independence was part of God's plan. We can even say that it was his will that our revolution succeeded. However, that does not justify the rebellion.

It's much like the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Was it right? Of course not. Was it God's will? Absolutely.

Patrick Chan said...

Also, a few more thoughts from my decidedly undecided mind:

* Although I'm not 100% certain this is true as I'm not a political scientist or historian of either period, it seems that the late 18th century English government was essentially a representative (parliamentary) government in which the head of state's authority was derived from the representative body (and the monarch more or less a figurehead; head of state here refers to the prime minister, like today), unlike the 1st century Roman government, which was essentially a monarchy which merely paid lip service to representatives of the people, i.e., the Roman Senate. So the English government during this period seems to me to have been a government which consisted of representatives elected by the people, among which Christians, too, were at least ostensbily a representative part of the governing authorities or powers that be.

* I wonder if English law at this time allowed for rebellion against an unjust government, given what the English had gone through in Parliament's own rise above the monarch's authority during the 1600s, culminating in Charles I's execution in 1649? At least there's a precedent for it in the history of the English people. Although I don't know that precedent necessarily figures into anything, legally speaking, under English law.

* At any rate, in the particular situation of the American colonies, it does seem the British government itself was in violation of its own laws as far as disallowing the colonials representation in Parliament. Unless, for instance, those outside of the British isles were never allowed representation in the first place, or whatever.

* On the other hand, the Roman government under the Caesars was hardly a "just" and "righteous" one towards Christians. And Jesus required us to pay taxes to a government of which I presume was not exactly fair in how much it collected in taxes and in its taxation policies, or at least in its implementation of said policies.

* We might also ask, to what extent are Christians to be subject to the governing authorities? For example, are peaceful protests or marches okay? What about more socially disruptive acts of civil disobedience such as the Boston Tea Party? I ask in part because these actions eventually culminated in the American Revolution, so it's not as simple as saying American colonials, including American colonial Christians, were one day given the clear-cut choice to rebel or not rebel. Perhaps some could better foresee than others what was to come, but still, viewing it from their eyes, as one event led to another in the unfolding history, I don't think that they thought, big-picture like, "Is it right for us to revolt against the Crown?" so much as they thought "Is it right for us to participate in this act of civil disobedience, this protest or what not?"

* Another question that cropped up: assume that an American believer living in the year 1777 had not participated in any acts leading up to the American Revolution let alone the Revolution itself. However, given that his state had now signed and thus adopted the Declaration of Independence, and joined the rebellion, would it have been a violation of Rom. 13 for this believer to have disobeyed the newly founded government and remained loyal to the British Crown?

* Of course, Paul never framed Rom. 13 in terms of political ideas and concepts born out of the Enlightenment such as civil disobedience, social compact, divine right of kings, etc. Instead, the primary aim of Rom. 13 seems to simply be for Christians not to dishonor the gospel by seditious conduct. I.e., that Christians should not come across to non-Christians as rabble-rousers and that sort, but should rather live peaceful, quiet lives, bear good fruit in their conduct, love one another, etc. In other words, the primary context of Rom. 13 seems to me at least to be how to live a godly life rather than what to do or not do in political situation. This may not impact what we decide, if anything, per se, since they can be interrelated, but I did want to note it, at least for myself, so that I would not lose sight of the forest for the trees in case the discussion heads towards legal technicalities and such.

* Finally, there's Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than men." So that God deemed it good when the Jewish midwives disobeyed Pharaoh's command to kill the male babies, because, obviously, the Ten Commandments explicitly state that murder is wrong. So we must weigh one command with another. However, in another example, suppose you're a German Christian hiding a Jewish family in your home during World War II. Would it have been permissible to have "borne false witness" to Nazis seeking out Jews in your home?

Anyway, just a few more thoughts that crossed my mind. I'm obviously still thinking through much of this.

William Dicks said...

I would also be interested in what folks here think of what Francis Schaeffer wrote about civil disobedience in his book Christian Manifesto.

Gummby said...

Peter: some interesting thoughts.

If you have a little time, go check out John Piper's sermons on Romans 13 (there are four of them on this page). He seems to make the case that Paul is saying something political here.

MacArthur says something similar in his Study Bible:
13:1 be subject. This Gr. word was used of a soldier’s absolute obedience to his superior officer. Scripture makes one exception to this command: when obedience to civil authority would require disobedience to God’s Word (Ex. 1:17; Dan. 3:16–18; 6:7, 10; see notes on Acts 4:19, 20; 5:28, 29). governing authorities. Every position of civil authority without regard to competency, morality, reasonableness, or any other caveat (1 Thess. 4:11, 12; 1 Tim. 2:1, 2; Titus 3:1, 2).
MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Ro 13:1). Nashville: Word Pub.

The Clinging Vine said...

Taking the reverse position (i.e. the Revolution was definitely biblical) is Doug Wilson, who addressed this point at his blog this morning:

It's an interesting theory, but I fear my knowledge of history isn't sufficient to weigh its accuracy.

Patrick Chan said...

Oh, cool! Thanks for those links, I'll check 'em out right now. :-)

Patrick Chan said...

Um, oh, I should point out, my name is Patrick. :-)

(I actually get called Peter now and again in real life, too, which is kinda weird. Not sure why? Maybe the names both look and sound very similar or something to some people? Anyways...)

Dan B. said...

Well, I'm no historian, and though while a history major in college I have to confess that this particular question did not cross my mind.

I live here in Virginia, a state steeped in the history of Jamestown, the revolution and the Civil War. I did go and read Doug Wilson's response about today, and I'm not sure that I'm convinced by the argument. I'm not jumping to say necessarily that America was in the wrong, but the difference between the oppression of Rome (where, with some emperors, Christians were being persecuted and killed) and the oppression of England is somewhat stark.

It's true that England taxed the Americans--their goods, trade, and anything else that they could find. But to be objective, it was the British government that did, in part, maintain peace in the colonies against the Indians (again, no comment on the right or wrong nature of how that was handled) and create a stable government at the outset. The open nature of North America, seemingly vastly unsettled land--unleashed a free spirit in these settlers that developed over time (I agree with the commenters who have mentioned that this did not happen overnight).

I am not sure that I agree with some who would say that certain freedoms are God-given rights, especially owning property. There's nothing wrong with it at all, but I think the case Scripturally is often overstated as a "right." Especially in light of how we are to treat worldly possessions, but instead store up treasures in heaven.
I digress.

One thing is for sure. God ordained history to go the way that it did for His purposes, and I certainly don't know what He has in store for this country. But one thing I definitely agree with Doug Wilson on is this: Americans need to regain a sense of history.

Although, as a quick aside, I'd have to say thirstydavid's observation about while it might not have been right, it was indeed in God's plan.

Gummby said...

Um, oh, I should point out, my name is Patrick. :-)
And my name is mud. Sorry, Patrick.

I get called Mark all the time--even by people who've never met my brother. Weird.

Vine: I'll try to check out DW. Thanks for the tip.

Dan B.: Exactly right.

Oh, and thanks for the links.

Taliesin said...

If (and that is a mighty big "if") you could show that the colonies had become a legal independent body, then you could argue that they were defending themselves against an unjust invasion. I think this is essentially what Doug Wills is trying to argue, but I'm not convinced.

I think the Revolutionaries believed they had the right to revolt regardless of legal standings. The Declaration's main appeals are not to British law (if it appeals to British law at all - see next to last paragraph), but to natural law.

The heart of the Revolutionaries caused Richard Moosier to write: "The Revolutionary could no more admit a sovereign God than he could a sovereign king . . . Rulers henceforth rule only by the consent of the governed. The God of Puritanism, stripped of His antique powers, had no recourse but to enter as a weakened prince into the temple of individualism and there to seek refuge." (Quoted by Michael Horton in Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism) I think that's a good summary of the revolutionary mindset and how it changed American Christianity.

But, as others have noted, the Revolution was obviously according to God's plan. I'm just a little uncomfortable about celebrating though.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you are all missing the point. The Revolution was not a cause for Christ to try and create a millennial kingdom. According to the interpretation of Romans 13 that ALL governemnt is ordained of God then the moment the Americans rebelled against Englad and formed their own government they became ordained of God. The pastors who use this interpretation contradict themselves Becuase then that means that America's government was ordained of God Becuase " He ordains every power" Paul is actually just taking about Christians are not to be terroists for the cause of Christ just like the Jews at that time were doing. Attacking and shedding innocent blood. Pastors who quote against the American war for independence, use Nero the emperor during Paul's time as an example for this statement. Oh look how evil Nero was and the apostles never lifted a finger. To that I say nope they did not because Nero was only targeting Christians, he was matyring them. Nero was not attacking the Roman populous only the Christians and to that we must submit because a church must not use violence to resist persecution. Pastors though conviently forget to mention what happened to Nero. In his quest for power he started attacking and oppressing all of Rome Christian and non Christian alike and do you know what happened? The Romans drove Nero from his throne and Nero killed himself out of fear of what they would do to him if he was captured. Same thing with the American war for independence, Britain was oppressing all Americans Christian and non Christian, and just like the Romans we had had enough so we separated from England said we would like to stay but we are going to govern ourselves. The only reason we raised some violent and destructive behavior was for you to realize that you can not ignore our rights. So please let us stay together in unity but let us govern ourselves for both of our benefits. The king responded with more troops and violence. America resisted, it was for economic and just reasons to fight this war of defense. I never hear the pastors complain about England's multiple civil wars or Romes or Frances, but they want to complain against Americas very organized and civilized war for separation not revolution. A government is just an extension of the people that God has given the power to defend the rights of the people, and every time a government has stopped doing this the people from every religion and worldview unite toghether so they will not be completely and utterly obliterated by a tyrant and his foolishness. It is for the preservation of mankind, for survival, not establishing a millennial kingdom for Christ. The Church should not instigate rebellion or violent terrorism for the cause of Christ, but when the people of a nation unite against oppression there is nothing a king or any government can do to stop it, God has established law and order and a tyrant is nothing but lawlessness and people will always destroy them to bring order back to society. Government is supposed to be a terror to evil and a blessing to good, but when they become the exact opposite, the government should be afraid of the sword and governing authority of the people. Nero was only a terror to the Christians a small select group at that time but when he Became a terror to all the people of Rome they put Nero in his place. Attacking a evil governement should only be done when their is hope of success. When Paul wrote this there was no rebellion except for the terroist acts of the Jews whose size was just far too small to stop Rome . The church was the exact same way they had to accept the persecution because there was no war to change this. People need to understand this. This is the complexity and power of Romans 13