One of the hardest boundaries for Christians to even consider is at what point they would be willing to break the law. Christianity from its beginning has taught and practiced submission to governing authorities. Jesus and the apostles teach us that taxes are to be paid even to an immoral government (Matthew 22:16-21, Romans 13:6-7), respect is to be given to those in authority even if they are abusing their authority (Acts 23:1-5, 2 Peter 2:9-10), that we should pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), that the government is serving God even though some of them persecute Christians (Romans 13:1-7), that we are to obey them even though their laws are manmade (1 Peter 2:13-17, Titus 3:1-2), and that the only time we should refuse to obey is when we are commanded to violate God’s commands (Acts 5:27-29). It is determining the point at which disobedience becomes the appropriate response that would please God that often causes us difficulty.
I sat with some young men in a high school/college age class and tried to get them to ponder that line in their lives. Some of them were in the military at the time, so as we talked about the wars in the Old Testament and the soldiers who crucified Christ, arrested the apostles, etc. I asked them where they would draw the line to disobey a command from a superior officer. They were totally stumped. The thought had not occurred to them before. We talked about the Nazis in Germany and how they were expected to arrest and execute people who had been their friends, neighbors, and even family. With some of the problems that have come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I believe there were some young people who should have considered those limits before they went. Some things that were done were more peer pressure than commands (and that topic deserves a book of its own), but how far is to far. Were the soldiers who crucified Jesus excused from guilt because they were just following orders? What about police working under a corrupt system, does that excuse them? What about employees who are asked to lie, cheat, steal, etc., do they have to do as they are told?
The problem that can arise from teaching respect for authority is that sometimes people are not taught the limits of that authority. People will say things like: “I didn’t have a choice.” or “They made me do it.” or “You would have done the same thing.” to try to justify what they have done. The fact is there is always at least one other choice, it just may be unpleasant. You may lose a friend if you don’t go drinking with them. You may lose a job if you refuse to be dishonest for them. But do you really want to work for someone who cheats others? Do you think they won’t cheat you, too? You may even lose your life if you refuse certain people at certain times, but isn’t it better to die with a clear conscience than to live knowing that what the devil said falsely about Job could be said truthfully about you. Remember Job 2:4 “And Satan answered the LORD, and said, ‘Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.’”
Government has authority in our lives, but it does not have unlimited authority. We need to understand the limits that God has placed on other authorities in this world. Parents, husbands, elders, masters(employers), and, yes, even governments have been limited by God’s spiritual law. The thing is that while God’s physical or natural law cannot be broken without immediate consequences(Disregarding the law of gravity and walking off the roof will bring pain and possibly death depending on the height of the roof.), His spiritual laws can seemingly be broken with impunity. The fact is many of the authorities mentioned above routinely disregard God’s limits and overstep the boundaries of their authority, but not with impunity as it seems. God is keeping score and He will hold them accountable for what they have done and how they have abused the power they have been given. He also expects us to do what is right even when others are not even if those others are in positions of authority. He even expects us to do what is right when those in authority over us allow, encourage, expect, endorse, promote, or even command disobedience to God. He expects us to obey and not try to find loopholes, make excuses, or compromise.
So, where would you draw the line? If tomorrow they passed a law that said we had to stop worshiping God and start worshiping the presidents on Mount Rushmore, we quickly say, “Of course not, we will worship God!” But it doesn’t usually work like that. The fact is our government is continually taking more authority for itself and pushing churches and Christians farther away from their God ordained position and authority. The Jewish leaders were not telling Peter and John to bow down to an idol, or not to have church services, or that they couldn’t worship God in private; they told them not to be telling others about him in public. The military is doing exactly that with new regulations that are being prepared for military personnel. There are already rules in most government organizations that forbid ‘proselytizing’. In talking with government employees that I have known I found that they had been told that they can’t talk about God on the premises, even on breaks, at lunch, or before or after work hours. Starts to sound quite a bit like what the rulers in Jerusalem told the apostles. So what has our response to that typically been? Compromise, kowtow, submit! I am not talking about hounding someone who is not interested in listening and following them around trying to tell them one more verse while they are trying to get us to leave them alone. Schools also have these kinds of strict policies in place. One substitute got in trouble because he gave a student his own Bible after the student asked him questions about it.
What if a church that provides shelter for someone in need is told that they can’t discriminate against people living in sin. Do they have to let the unmarried couple or the homosexual couple have a room? How long before a church is sued because of something ‘offensive’ that is on the church sign. What about in states where homosexual ‘marriage’ is allowed, and a church refuses to let one of these couples use their facilities? There will be lawsuits. There already have been against private businesses that refused to participate in providing service for either cakes, flowers, photos or venues for homosexual weddings or providing accommodations in your house because of the business owners religious convictions.(these links are to news sites that document the events and we are not responsible for the content of those ) What will we do when a preacher is arrested for hate speech because he said that something, anything, was a sin, or spoke out against a false religion? What about a church that loses its nonprofit status for preaching against abortion or homosexuality or some other hot button moral issue.
You see the first step is not ‘bow to the idol’, the first step is eat the king’s food and enjoy his favor. Long before Daniel and his friends were cast in lions’ dens and fiery furnaces they enjoyed the favor of the king and were trained at his expense and fed on his dime. They were seduced by the benefits first, but they didn’t fall for it. The problem in America is that too often we have fallen for the government favors. It is hard to bite the hand that feeds you, and with the special tax benefits, exemption from certain regulations, etc. churches have been lulled to complacency and many may not wake up before it is too late. Daniel and his friends refused the king’s meat and that gave them the courage later because they had won that battle with Satan. If they had compromised on the meat, chances are they would have compromised on the prayer and the idol as well.