On Obedience to the State (Part 3)

Given today’s headlines, the question fairly shouts itself into our world: What is the proper relationship between the Christian and the State? Why is this so urgent now, just at this moment? Are Christians directly told to obey the authority of the state?

In my last two posts on this topic, I explored whether or not Daniel’s or David’s life support the proposition Christians should obey the state unless the law in question directly contradicts a specific command. After a close examination of the interactions between David, Daniel, and the states under which they lived, we can see they really don’t support this proposition at all.

But can this idea —that Christians should obey unless a law directly contradicts a command from God— hold up in the light of reason? In other words, is this actually even a reasonable standard of conduct? Let’s take one commandment that almost everyone agrees is binding on modern Christians as an example —to spread the Gospel of Christ— and see how it would work under this rule.

Suppose you live in a state where it’s fine, according to the local laws, to talk to others about the Gospel. But you happen to live on the border of another state that doesn’t allow those who live within its borders to try and convert others to their religious belief. Now suppose your next door neighbor is arrested for preaching the Gospel, for trying to convert one of his friends to Christianity.

Should you step across the line to help this brother out?

There doesn’t seem to be much justification for doing so under the proposition under question. After all, the government hasn’t given you a command not to spread the Gospel —you’re not subject to the laws of the state that doesn’t want anyone trying to proselytize. The idea that I should only object, or fight, or disobey, when the state tells me to disobey God is first of all, then, radically individualizing.

And what if the state tells me that it’s okay to witness in the gym, but not in the library? Should I only object in the library? Should all the Christians go to the library to witness there, to make the point that this particular intrusion on spreading the Gospel is contrary to what Christians will stand for? How can we judge such a case?

Finally, what is the set of laws that God has given that Christians should obey? If we believe the Mosaic Law is the rule of life for Christians, then we would be justified in rising up against the state for not allowing us to build a Temple, or for not taking precisely thirty-three percent of our income (the total of the various tithes), or…

No, none of this stands up to a reasonable examination of the way in which we must actually live, the way in which we must interact with the state in day-to-day life. The idea that we should only disobey when the government directly orders us to disobey God is too narrow by far —it leaves no room for general action in concert with our persecuted brothers and sisters. It’s not nearly as clear and forthright as it appears to be on the surface.

Given these things, and our inability to find support in the Scriptures for this line of thinking, we need to abandon it altogether, and search for some other way of describing the relationship between the Christian and the state.

And that’s where we’ll head in the next post.

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