The Bible's Message to "Protestant" Rioters
Following the mayhem on Ulster's streets in summer 2005, we
need to be reminded that it is the Christian's duty to
submit to the State, even to a wicked state, which
persecutes the church. That was the kind of state to which
the apostles enjoined submission.
The Scriptures teach
that all civil authority is ordained of God (Rom. 13; 1
Peter 2:13-14). To today's Ulster ''Protestant'' they would
say, submit yourself to the Queen, the prime minister, the
police and all other delegations of authority through
which they rule over you (including the parades commission),
even if the aforementioned authorities make unjust and
foolish decisions. The Heidelberg Catechism says we
should "patiently bear with their [the government's]
weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern
us by their hand" (A. 104). The Westminster Larger
forbids "contempt of, and rebellion against" the civil
authorities and "cursing, mocking and all such refractory
and scandalous carriage [against them]" (A. 128).
Nero, a monstrously wicked Roman emperor, was "ordained of God" (Rom.
13:1), as was that tyrant Pharaoh whom God "raised up" (Rom. 9:17). All
such wicked men will give account for their rule to King Jesus on the
Last Day. God even ordains the kind of government there will be: whether
a democracy, or a dictatorship. God decides who is elected. Even men who
come to power by deceit, violence or other forms of wickedness (such as
Nero) are ordained of God. God will judge them for their wickedness, yet
He still sovereignly raised them up.
Christians must also submit to their employers (I Peter 2:18). James
describes the Christian workman who, instead of resisting his
unrighteous employer (5:4-7), cries unto God (5:4) and is enjoined to be
patient (5:7). Christians are not permitted to rebel against these
authorities, with road-blocks, strikes, or civil rebellion of any kind.
Christians do not have the power of the sword, the state does (Rom.
13:4). Our weapons are not carnal (II Cor. 10:4).
A Christian may, however, disobey the powers that be, but that
is only when the state requires the Christian do something forbidden by
the Word of God (Acts 5:29). Then the church disobeys that order, while
remaining submissive, suffering persecution if God wills, committing her
way to Christ, who alone gathers, preserves and defends His church. Even
in disobedience, the Christian must display the submissive, meek and
respectful attitude to the God-ordained authority that characterised
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan. 3:16-18).
The Christian ethic is not to insist on one's own way but to do good
and suffer, but never as a murderer, or a thief or as an evil-doer (I
Peter 2:20, 4:15). Peter would not have excused the behaviour of
rioters, and Paul warned that those who resist the civil powers "shall
receive to themselves damnation" (Rom. 13:2).
Surely this is the spirit of Christ's teaching in passages such as
Matthew 5:39-41: "Resist not evil ... let him have thy cloak also ... go
with him twain."