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Ask A Pastor: Should the church enforce government obedience?

Question

Why do we obey the government? And is it the church’s job to enforce obedience?


Answer

Honouring and being subject to the government is clearly a biblical principle: Exodus 20:12 (the fifth commandment), Romans 13, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:17, and 2 Peter 2:10. This obedience is defined in Titus 3:1, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.”


However, obedience to God-given authority is not an unconditional or a ‘blind’ obedience. Ephesians 6:1 establishes that we are to ‘obey in the Lord’. Although this is written in the context of the relationship between parents and children, it applies to all authority relationships. Those in authority also have the responsibility to ‘not provoke…to wrath.’  We are commanded to obey authority and the laws they enact as long as they do not contradict God’s Word. Doing this honours God and those in authority.


As a consequence of the fall, authorities have made laws that contradict the Word of God. In situations when authority become workers of evil, we are not supposed obey laws that are contrary to God’s Word. However, we must take care to biblically discern that such a contradiction is clear and not simply our own fallible judgement. In fact, whenever we must disobey human authority, it should be a matter of sadness and grief. Furthermore, we need to be ready to submit and honor authority by boldly stating our case in dialogue or in court before the judicial authority, and if we are incriminated, then we willingly bear the consequences for the sake of Christ. Consider how disobedience to unbiblical laws was also honoring to God and the government in Exodus 1:17, Daniel 3:16-18, 6:10, and Acts 4:19, 5:29 and the surrounding contexts.


Regarding the second part of the question about the church’s job to enforce obedience. From the texts quoted earlier, even from prison Paul very clearly instructs the churches and leaders of the church to disciple the flock in obedience to God-given authority in all things lawful. Therefore, the church does not enforce obedience to the laws of the land, since that is not the church’s authority. However, elders do have an obligation to require obedience to God’s law including the fifth commandment and to disciple their members in all aspects of life and even discipline members who blatantly and defiantly live lives contrary to God’s law for their spiritual well being. Remember the promise of the fifth commandment, “that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”

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