How Do We Exercise Freedom Of Religion While Respecting Government Authority?

By: Tia Johnson 0 Comments   3/19/2012

Disappointment dominates a Christian's look at government some days. We shake our heads as God's wisdom is seen as old-fashioned and Biblical values are tossed as so. What's a Christian to do when government seems to be leading its nation into a black hole? 

Those of us who are continually frustrated with our governing rulers may benefit from remembering how the first king came to reign over Israel.

Near 1200 B.C., well after Israel had reached the Promised Land, the elders of Israel were dissatisfied with their status and wanted a king like other nations had. "Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations," they said to the prophet Samuel.

God was not happy with their request. "...they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them," God said. So God spoke through the prophet Samuel, warning the people what would happen if they had a king like all the other nations.

In short, God said that a king would require the use of their best resources (animals and produce). He would take their children and appoint them as servants for his governing purposes (to cook, ride chariots, etc.). "...And you will be his servants," God said, "And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves..."

After hearing this, the people continued to demand a king, reasoning, "that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles." So, God gave them a king.

If only we could live in the time when God was our governing ruler and the one we depended on to fight our battles with other nations. Although, He certainly has not abandoned us. He has graciously granted wisdom when kings have sought it and has displayed the power of His hand in battles throughout human history. How great is our God, that even though His people rejected Him, He continues to provide when they cry for help!

It seems obvious through this passage, though, that human kingship was not God's original desire for His people. However, scripture is also clear that God has placed those authorities in place. The first two kings- Saul and David- were chosen through Samuel with God's guiding hand. These kings, obviously frail humans, did not always lead the people correctly. They made common sense mistakes and followed sinful temptations.

We might struggle with some of these same types of poor choices in our current governing rulers. Yet the Bible is very clear that we respect and pray for them. Even Jesus encouraged paying taxes when they are due. And Romans 13 is very clear about respecting the person and the law placed over us. After all, a king or president does not take their station unless it's okay with God.

Modeling respect is difficult when we disagree with our authority figures. We may not like paying higher taxes, for example, nor may we like the command to send troops here or there. But these issues are merely dislikes; they are not causing us to sin. We may certainly voice our opinion, but we must also submit to the decision made.

However, situations exist in which our respect for our governing authority might cause us to sin before God-- a nurse who is mandated to assist during an abortion procedure, for example. In explicit cases such as this, when it seems we have to choose whether to obey God or man, the decision is obvious. God is our final authority in all matters, and when His word conflicts with a lesser authority, our choice to obey God reigns over our choice to respect authority figures here on earth.

Perhaps Daniel is the best example of being submissive to government yet breaking the law when appropriate. When the nation he was subject to expected him to eat foods which were against his Jewish faith to consume, he did not compromise. When an edict was issued commanding that he pray to man, Daniel continued to openly pray to God. Daniel was one of the best and most favored politicians in his nation. Scripture describes him as "faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him." Yet when his job conflicted with his God, he knew where to stand. And God stood with him, even in the lion's den.

Cases which demand that we stand up and defend our God and our faith have sprung up routinely in history, although it seems to be happening more often in the U.S.A. now. Students battle daily to exercise their freedom of religion on campuses. Pastors have been eyed at for culturally controversial messages given at the pulpit. Families have been questioned for making faith-based decisions that appear shocking to the rest of the world.

Thankfully, citizens have fought where they must and challenged the rule of our authority figures when appropriate. Priests have sued Barack Obama for his insistence that religious groups comply with his policy. Pastors in New York City have stepped up to lobby against a city law unfairly targeting churches. Thank God that we are exercising our ability to defend our religious freedom!

Yet this must be done respectfully, with love and firmness. As Jim Daly said, "When a blind man steps on your foot you don't get angry, and we often forget that these people are spiritually blind." Although we may not rudely yell at a blind man standing on our toes, we will certainly make a strong case insisting that he remove his foot! This same approach must be used when defending any aspect of our faith with others.

Thank God that in the U.S.A. we can be actively involved in our government. We can run for office, or at the very least, write our politicians. We can organize groups of people to rally a message at the Capitol. We can peacefully and legally show our protest or our support over a decision. Yes, praise God!

Let's not take that for granted and be involved where we can.

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