Church and the Government

  • Acts 5:29 “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

Have you ever read the Christian classic, “The Pilgrims Progress”? “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is a fictional allegory of the Christian life. “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was the first novel printed in English, has been translated into more than 200 languages, has never been out of print, and at one point was considered second only to the Bible in popularity/influence. The writer of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was John Bunyan. The Christian novel was written by Bunyan when he was in prison. John Bunyan was sent to prison because he dared preach without being licensed. Like John Bunyan, many believers over the centuries have been persecuted for their stand on God’s Word.

There are times in life when Christians must choose between obeying God or obeying men. Most of the time, though, we are commanded by God to obey our authorities (Romans 13:1-7; I Pt. 2:13-18).

  • Romans 13:1 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
  • I Peter 2:13 “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;”

Notice from these two verses that the Christian’s reason for obeying their human authorities is because of their submission to God: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”; “…for the Lord’s sake….” Our Commander-in-Chief commanded us to obey “every ordinance of man.” The only time we are to change on this command is when our human authorities (lower than God) cause us to disobey our Commander-in-Chief (the Ordainer of all authority).

Most of the time man’s guidelines, rules, regulations, and laws do not contradict God’s Word. Obeying the speed limit, for example, does not make you disobey God, therefore, you are obligated by God to obey man’s law. Sometimes, though, man makes laws that require believers to contradict God’s Word. During those rare occasions, Christians must “obey God rather than men.” In Dan. 6:10, Daniel obeyed “God rather than men” when he continued to pray openly to God. For Daniel to have to pray to a man instead of God was obviously against God’s Word. In Dan. 3:12, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah obeyed “God rather than men” when they refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. For them to bow down to a false idol was obviously against God’s Word. In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles obeyed “God rather than men” when they continued to preach the gospel of Jesus. For the apostles to not be able to preach Jesus was obviously against God’s Word and Jesus’ command.

One time a certain believer argued with me that Peter and the apostles were before the Sanhedrin not the government when they made the statement in Acts 5:29. Therefore, this believer reasoned that Peter and the apostles were always obligated to obey government. However, God’s inspired Word does not say “obey God rather than” the Sanhedrin. God’s Word says “men.” The principle is clear. “Obey God rather than” anyone’s commands that contradict God.

This all leads to the title of this article, “Church and the Government.” If a church is commanded to close down because they are selling illegal drugs, that church obviously should close down. They have disobeyed God and men. If the church, though, is commanded to close down because it is preaching the unadulterated Word of God and not preaching a government-sanctioned, rewritten “bible”, that church is not obligated to obey “men.” That church will suffer grave persecution, but that church is in the right in the eyes of God.

Let’s make this very clear. God’s commands are to be obeyed unless God gives command to do something else. For instance, the Jews in the Old Testament were commanded by God to only eat certain animals. In the New Testament, though, God gave a new commandment allowing the eating of all meat if it is received with thanksgiving (I Tim. 4:3-4; Acts 10:12-13). If you now forbid the eating of certain meats, you are disobeying God (I Tim. 4:1-4). However, the adjustment of this one command from the Old Testament does not mean the entire Old Testament is to be disobeyed and disregarded. I repeat: God’s commands are to be obeyed unless God gives command to do something else. So, if believers are commanded to stop assembling together for whatever the reason the government may give, believers should obey only if God the Chief Authority gave command in His Word to stop assembling for the government’s reason. Otherwise, “obey God rather than men.” This is clear truth that every believer must follow. Even if many, including believers, turn against you, you must “obey God rather than men.”

  • Acts 4:19 “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”