What If I Disagree with Government Policies?

What If I Disagree with Government Policies?

What If I Disagree with Government Policies?

The Bible offers guidance on what it means to be subject to earthly authorities established by God, and to give to Caesar and to God accordingly.

Despite some studies suggesting that many people in Singapore—and elsewhere—are politically apathetic, many of us are genuinely concerned about social issues and current affairs that affect our everyday lives.

We just have to listen in on conversations with family and friends, and we’ll hear many animated (and sometimes heated) discussions about the programmes, policies, and laws being enacted by the government. And, of course, there’ll be lots of criticism and disagreement.

Whether it’s the decision to build casinos, timing of rises in GST, or censorship laws, there will be some who do not think that the government is doing the right thing, or could do things better.

So, we may ask today, what happens if we disagree with a policy or decision taken by our government? How should we respond if there is something that goes against our moral or spiritual stand? What does the Bible say about such challenges?

Not surprisingly, Scripture covers this issue in some detail. In fact, the dilemma we may face today is not far from what the disciples of Jesus faced in the first century.

Some of the first followers of Jesus lived in anticipation of a divine takeover of the world. Imagine their wonder and confusion, then, when they heard Jesus saying that they owed a pagan emperor their money and respect! 

In the days just prior to Jesus’ execution on a cross, that’s exactly what He told them.

When a group of religious leaders asked Jesus if Jewish citizens should pay taxes to Caesar, He gave a startling response. He asked his audience to look at two sides of a Roman coin and said:

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

The disciples anticipated political liberation. Shockingly, Jesus taught His followers to respect even a pagan ruler. Why? Because—and this was probably an even more shocking idea to them—God had put them there.

Why God Establishes Human Authority

When Paul wrote to followers of Christ in Rome, he began by declaring Jesus to be Lord (Romans 1:1-4). Roman officials might have interpreted that as a subversive challenge to the authority of Caesar. But then, Paul also wrote:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Paul lived in the shadow of the reigning Caesar who did not recognise God’s authority. So why was he asking followers of Christ to give Caesar honour that belongs to God alone? Why did he use the words “be subject” and “submit” when emphasising our duty to government (Romans 13:1, 5)?

The apostle did this because leaders, secular or pagan, deserve the kind of law-abiding compliance that God-given authority merits.

Paul didn’t tell us to honour our leaders because we agree with their personal character or public policies. Rather, we are to do so because God instituted the government to restrain lawlessness.

We just have to look at the Old Testament book of Judges for an illustration. This book is a sordid account of assassinations, genocide, power grabs, sexual abuse, and shattered families—the tragic result of government that is either too loose-knit or non-existent. 

Because of this vacuum of restraint, the writer of Judges grimly concludes: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

That is why civil authority is needed to act on God’s behalf: to maintain order, uphold justice, punish wrongdoing, and restrict violence (see Romans 13:4–5).

Laws against murder, rape, robbery, vandalism, bribery, and fraud reflect God’s value on human life and personal property rights.

The apostle Peter, too, emphasised that the Caesars of the world are part of God’s provision to protect the public interest. By living a law-abiding life, he noted, followers of Christ reflect well upon God and show that they are not using religion as a cover for scandal (1 Peter 2:13–17).

Scripture reveals some biblical principles Christians can keep in mind when they may not agree with their government or specific policies.

Honour Human Authorities

Like Paul, Peter encouraged his readers to represent Christ well, saying: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17).

But, we may ask: If submitting to the authorities is about honouring the office of a government official, can we do it without respecting the person who fills it? Is that what Jesus and the apostles had intended—for us to respect and honour positions of authority, and not individuals?

In addressing this question, we need to keep in mind that Paul and Peter were writing to people living under the authority of emperors—emperors who were punishing Christians for refusing to give them the honour that the Christians believed was due only to God.

Paul knew what it meant to face leaders who exercised religious and civil authority unfairly (Acts 22:30–23:5). In fact, when he wrote his letter to Titus, he had been wrongfully imprisoned for his faith. 

Yet, despite this deep personal injustice, he firmly upheld the principle that leaders should be respected. He instructed Titus to remind followers of Christ “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:1).

Being subject, then, also includes respecting the people in positions of government.

But what if a government tells us to do something that we feel is completely against our Christian faith?

The Scriptures make it clear that respect for leaders does not mean unqualified compliance.

The New Testament apostles showed us that there are times when we appeal to the higher authority of God. When the Jewish rulers forbade Peter and John from talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles responded: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

These apostles were not criminals. Rather, they were living in the spirit of Daniel, who centuries earlier had refused to comply with government-enforced idolatry. For his courage, Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den. 

Yet, Daniel’s gracious but courageous response to this injustice clearly shows that he did not have issues with authority. When he emerged unscathed from the lions’ den, he said to the king:

“May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:21–22)

When we have issues with our government, we would do well to consider the way Daniel respectfully resisted King Darius.

The courage to comply with God’s Word rather than obeying man is one thing. Dishonouring our leaders is another.

Daniel and David chose to show honour while respectfully dissenting and disagreeing.

For example, when’s the last time you prayed and gave thanks for leaders—including those whom you disagree with?

Obey imperfect authorities for the sake of conscience

Some of us may think: How can we obey authorities who are godless and sinful? It is worthwhile to remember, however, that civic leaders can be unwitting servants of God. 

Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote: “Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:2). There may be situations where even pluralistic, pagan systems provide important infrastructure and social order. Even tyranny can be better than no law at all.

With such wise considerations in mind, Paul told the Christians who were citizens of the Roman empire:

“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:5).

Paul’s point is that when weighing whether or not to disagree with the government for the sake of our conscience, we must also consider how we are to respond to an institution that has been ordained by God.

It is an exercise in balance and perspective, requiring careful wisdom.

It would mean, for example, figuring how we can submit to authorities even though we disagree with their policies and actions?

To be sure, it can be challenging to determine the right balance on what we owe the government, in terms of respecting due process and authority. Our need for social accountability and law enforcement must be tempered with an awareness that governments—like all human institutions—will fall short of the purposes for which they were established.

In times of dilemma, we can look to the historical perspectives and wisdom of the Bible for guidance. Two familiar statements comprise the scales on which our considerations of faith and state must be weighed:

  1. Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mark 12:17)
  2. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

These words, from Jesus himself and the apostle Paul, are the twin pillars that uphold the overarching truth of our dual citizenship.

We must know what belongs to God, and we must know what God has entrusted to the state.

We are citizens of the kingdom of God as well as the nation or state in which we live. The challenge is to ensure that we are not giving to the state something that belongs only to God—and to God what He has entrusted to Caesar.

Adapted with permission from Discovery Series Citizens of the Kingdom: Responding to Government as Christians © Our Daily Bread Ministries.

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