Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
Bookmark and Share

The Bible's Message to "Protestant" Rioters

Martyn McGeown


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 Catechism 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."