The Bible tells us to be subject to the governing authorities. Likewise, we must obey God rather than men. In this tension lives the Christian. Where do we draw the line between proper obedience and godly disobedience? Join us as we discuss this pressing issue.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 110

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Jesus Christ is our ascended King, the living head of the Church.  How do we understand the concept of Christ being the head?  Does headship also apply to government and family?  Join us as we discuss the Biblical doctrine of headship and its implications for our society today.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 64

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Does how the church is run have anything to do with the gospel? David Henkel of the Tennessee Synod thought so. Check out this episode for discussion of his “Carolinian Herald of Liberty,” his manifesto for his synod’s polity and practice to ensure liberty in church and state.

The history of the Tennessee Synod, written by Socrates Henkel, can be found here.

The collected works of David Henkel, including the Carolinian Herald of Liberty, may be purchased here.

A free scan of an old copy of the Carolinian Herald may be found on the Internet Archive here.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 46

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
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Does God’s Providence govern all things? Does the Lord simply know all possibilities or does the Lord’s hand extend to all of creation? Should these concepts frighten or comfort the Christian? A true understanding of the doctrine of Divine Providence does not lead to a practical deism, rather to a living trust that all things work together for good for those who love God.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 16

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It is a rare thing in the epistles of the New Testament that the apostles speak of Christ outside of the context of an admonition, and the reading for the Third Sunday in Easter is no exception.  Having reminded his hearers that they are a “chosen race” and a “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Peter 2:9), he exhorts them to seek after the will of God also in their worldly circumstances.

One such admonition is to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”  Obedience to government, therefore, is not an optional thing for a Christian.  However, it is worth noting Peter’s reasoning here.  Being a Christian only means being subject to one authority, that is, God.  Christians, after all, are a holy nation belonging to the Lord.  When a Christian is called to obey worldly authority, he does so because His Sovereign commands it.  As Peter says, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:15-16).  A Christian who is a good citizen, because God commands him to be a good citizen, thereby becomes a witness to the world.

Yet it is not enough to obey those authorities who do not sin against their position, the sort of authority that is easy to follow.  Peter exhorts servants to also obey “unjust” masters, because to endure sorrow for the sake of God is a “gracious thing” in His sight (1 Peter 2:18-19).  Christ here forms an example of what Peter means.  It is no blessing to be beaten for sin, but it is when one is beaten for doing good, as Christ Himself was.

Even under unjust authority, to which Christ submitted out of obedience to His Father and not out of any worldly claims, He did not return abuse for abuse.  He entrusted Himself to the just Judge of all men, willingly going to the cross and bearing our sins.  Through His wounds, we have been healed.  Through His death, we have been forgiven.  Christ never wavered in His trust of and obedience towards His Father even in a far worse situation than our own, and therefore He is our supreme example of living in the world as servants of the living God.

While this abbreviated reading seems to be assigned to the Third Sunday in Easter only because of 1 Peter 2:25 and its references to sheep and the Shepherd, it still informs us about what it means to be His sheep.  “Straying like sheep” here seems to mean those servants who were not patient under unjust masters.  Patience is, after all, a Christian virtue, no less than obedience.  Yet sheep imitating the Shepherd follow after Him in complete patience, knowing that even death now will give way to a joy which knows no end.

Peter also said in Acts 5:29 that “we must obey God rather than men,” and this only strengthens his point.  Even obeying earthly authority means obeying God rather than men.  There will be occasions when earthly authority must be repudiated, but Acts 5:29 is not a recipe for flippant insubordination.  The crosses which the Father lays upon us, even unjust masters, conform us to the image of His suffering Son.

Paul speaks clearly about the subject of government in Romans 13. All should be subject to authorities, because “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Pilate received the same answer from Christ: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

But what of the authorities themselves? What does Scripture have to say about them? And what implications does this have for a Christian understanding of government?

First, all authority stems from God, and no authority exists apart from God. The Lord may use various means to establish that authority, whether war or elections. The Church chooses Stephen, for example, and this choice is ratified by the disciples (Acts 6:1-6). However, the voice of the people can certainly be contrary to the will of God. Elections may in fact be sinful (Numbers 14:1-4; 1 Samuel 8:4-9). Therefore, it is not the will of the people which constitutes authority, but the will of God for His own purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7). This is especially important in our own day, since we have a tendency to regard authority illegitimate if consent is lacking. While the Lord willed it, Israel served the king of Babylon, and that authority was legitimate, even if limited (see, for example, Jeremiah 27).

A ruler is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). This may be to reward what is good, but it is frequently also to punish what is evil. The Law of God is written on the heart of all men, even if indistinctly (Romans 2:14). It is indistinct among those who do not have the written Law, because its fulness has not been revealed to them. The giving of the Law at Sinai means that some “have the Law” while others only do what the Law requires while “not having the Law.” In either case, the ruler serves to bring the wrath of God upon malefactors. He is an instrument in the hand of God. He carries out the Law, but does not give the Law. Even in monarchies, where the king is regarded as a law-giver rather than merely an executor, such laws may not abrogate the Law of God. The ruler, too, is a man under authority.

Paul uses a rather interesting word to describe this relationship between God and the ruler. In Romans 13:6, Paul says that authorities are “ministers” of God. Minister, in the English language, is somewhat vague. Paul uses the term leitourgos, from leitourgia, from which we get our word “liturgy.” A leitourgia in Greek refers to a public service of some kind. It may be the work of a citizen done at his own expense or a description of any kind of public duty. It came to be used in a religious sense, because the Greeks regarded their gods as recipients of public transactions. So long as the gods were happy, they would return the favor on behalf of the state. Christians borrowed the word in a generic sense to describe their worship, but casting off the pagan baggage that came with it. They were so effective in doing so, liturgy is used almost exclusively in a religious sense today.

That being said, Paul argues that an authority is a leitourgos, one who performs a liturgy. His public duty consists in being the servant of God, the avenger of His wrath upon evil, the rewarder of what is good. What this means, then, is that the ruler sits in a subordinate position to God. He has a public burden to carry out, and therefore sits under authority. A Christian who obeys the earthly king is not dividing his loyalties, but rather serving God through such obedience. Peter stating that “we must obey God rather than men” in Acts 5:29 is a recognition that earthly rulers frequently sin. They must not be obeyed in themselves, for that would mean participating in their sin, but rather God commands us to obey earthly rulers. Christians obey God when they obey men. They do not obey men in spite of God’s command (1 Peter 2:13-17).

This means, though, that it is not an idle question whether a ruler believes in God. The king who sins is sinning against God. The Scriptures are full of warnings for rulers, calling them to fear the Lord. One notable example is Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Nebuchadnezzar served as the instrument of God’s wrath upon His people (Jeremiah 25:8-9, for example), but Nebuchadnezzar also suffered the wrath of God for his sin and his boasting against the Lord (Jeremiah 25:12-14; Jeremiah 51:24; Isaiah 14:12-20; Daniel 4:28-33; etc). Thus, while the Lord will do as He pleases, the unbelieving king will suffer for his sin, and the nation may well suffer with him, just as Egypt suffered for Pharoah’s hardened heart (Exodus 7 ff.).