June 22, 1993
“They’ve gone too far... I don’t care what the government says or the law is, this is wrong and I am going to do something about it.”
People worldwide often express displeasure about the way their country is being governed. Outrage at injustice or perceived injustice leads to action from peaceful protest marches to full-scale riots.
Civil disobedience has become almost a daily news item. Workers such as teachers, farmers and civil servants, march in protest, as do those denouncing war, abortion, and the slaughter of baby seals.
The dictionary defines civil disobedience as, “refusal to obey government commands or demands, especially as a nonviolent (and usually collective means) of forcing concessions from the government.”
Sometimes protesters believe it is necessary to oppose laws to gain attention to their cause but what starts out peacefully turns into violence. Citizens who normally abide by the law find themselves hurt and hospitalized, or in jail, without sympathy, and sometimes without much public support.
Does civil disobedience really help? If so, when does it cross that line between a productive activity and one that incurs negative results? It depends on the reason for it and how productivity is defined.
In the early church, Jesus’ apostles stood against their political leaders and refused to obey orders given to them. They were preaching the Gospel and telling others that Jesus Christ had been crucified for our sins, buried, but rose again the third day. The Jewish authorities (allowed by the Roman government to rule their own) were not pleased so tossed them in jail for a night then ordered them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4).
If read in context, Peter and John did not have an attitude of rebellion against the governing authorities. Their simple answer was not given in defiance. Instead, they wanted the matter to be judged by those who arrested them, the leaders who knew the laws of man and of God. What did they think fair and right?
That time it worked. The Sanhedrin threatened the apostles but let them go. The same response may not have secured a release if the governing body was unconcerned about God’s mind on the matter.
What about governments whose ideas and laws are immoral or unjust and who defy God? This is where a Christian must be very careful to know their Bibles and their own hearts. The Bible gives no indication we have a God-given right to oppose laws that DO NOT contradict the laws of God. For instance, a civil law may forbid obstructing the entrances of public buildings. Since Scripture does not specifically command Christians to place themselves in public doorways, anyone who does it can expect to be fined or jailed, no matter why they did it.
In fact, the Bible commands Christians to obey authorities over them because God establishes authorities to punish evil. Governments are His agents. Anyone who defies kings, civil agencies, and the laws of the land may also be defying God.
History records Christians who lost their lives because they trusted God and stood against authorities. This doesn’t mean they were out of the will of God. In fact, God commends and rewards those who are persecuted and martyred for doing right.
Others, sad to say, have not trusted God in their disobedience to authority. While they may have won their case (humanly speaking), they stepped out of fellowship with God by disobeying Him. They lost more than they gained.