Tidings for Tuesday

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. Romans 13:1

An American organization called Institute on the Constitution has an unusual – and typically American – take on today’s text. David Whitney, senior instructor for IOTC,insists that when a person who holds a position of higher power is in violation of the laws of God, that person is no longer considered to be a higher power that is ordained of God. Whitney claims to get such a definition from 1 Peter 2:13-14: ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well’. Whitney insists that when a ruler or leader stops punishing evildoers and praising those who do well, ‘we conclude that when a ruler commands in violation of God’s Law, we have no obligation to obey them for at least in that specific instance. They are not the ‘higher powers’ God is referring to in Romans 13:1′. Whitney also points to the example of the midwives of Egypt who God blessed for disobeying Pharaoh’s command to kill the male babies of the Israelites. This IOTC pastor makes a good argument. But is it good enough?

Consider the response from the apostles who were brought before the high priest for preaching the Gospel in the temple in the early days after Pentecost: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’. These men had a clear mandate from God to preach the Gospel. This they did. And for this they suffered. Take note that the apostles did not challenge the high priest’s overall authority. All they did was defend their own actions by pointing out that God’s authority for them to preach was greater than that of the Jewish leaders commanding them not to preach. We have a modern day example in the Ashers Bakery case in Northern Ireland. The bakery owners, the McArthurs, who are Christians, refused to decorate a cake with a slogan promoting gay marriage. In an obvious case of persecution, a homosexual man sued them for discrimination. Judges ruled against the McArthurs until the UK’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously in their favour. This was a case of Christians defending their own actions, not challenging the government’s authority. This, I believe, is to be our approach.

When it comes to our divine commission – ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature’ – Mark 16:15 – we are within our rights as Christians to challenge any who would refuse us. The same goes for anything that God has commanded us. For example, immoral or dishonest behaviour of others, including rulers, is not our business, but we must not engage in such behaviour ourselves, regardless of whether the government has ‘legalized’ it.

Although the powers that be are ordained of God, we should obey them, but only where doing so does not violate the laws of God. – Jim MacIntosh

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