Non-resistance to the higher powers
By Steve Fair
Increasingly more and more Americans are expressing outrage with the actions of the federal government. The bailouts, stimulus monies, and a rapid move to socialism by the feds have some American citizens paying attention to politics for the first time in their lives. The more radical ones say it’s time for a second American revolution. Others preach patience and temperance and correctly state that Christians should be careful when rebelling against authority. They cite Romans 13, which states, “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.” The passage leaves no doubt that a sovereign God sets up kings, presidents, and every other elected or appointed official in office. When someone rebels against proper authority God has placed in their life, they are in fact rebelling against God. At what point, if ever, does a Christian question authority or resist the “higher powers?”
That same ethical dilemma faced early American colonists. In 1750, Jonathan Mayhew, the thirty year old pastor of West Church of Boston, delivered a sermon entitled, “A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers: with some reflections on the resistance made to King Charles I.” Just the title itself is longer than some sermons today. Mayhew delivered the sermon on the 101st anniversary of the execution of King Charles I, who was overthrown because of his tyranny and oppression upon the English people. Mayhew’s congregation still considered themselves loyal Englishmen. Many of them saw the flaws in their government, but chose to stay loyal to attempt change from within.
In the sermon. Mayhew dissected Romans 13, a passage of scripture that had been deliberately misinterpreted by the Anglican clergy to keep the colonists in submission. His expository sermon on Romans 13 was not emotion driven or political in nature but a systematic, studious verse-by-verse exposition of the passage. His sermon was an honest exegetic presentation of a passage that was very relevant to the culture at the time.
Mayhew said Romans 13 taught that, “common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not entitled to obedience from their subjects, by virtue of anything here laid down by the inspired apostle.” Mayhew went on to say, “The apostle’s argument is so far from proving it to be the duty of people to obey, and submit to, such rulers as act in contraditicion to the public good, and so to the design of their office, that it proves the direct contrary.” “It is plain the apostle Paul implicitly authorizes, and even requires us to make resistance, whenever this shall be necessary to the public safety and happiness.” Mayhew’s premise was that resistance is necessary when public officials (elected or otherwise) veer from the path of righteousness.
Has the modern federal government become full of common tyrants and public oppressors? It certainly seems that way. Are a large number of American’s federally elected officials acting in a way that is contrary to the public good? Few can doubt they are.
Even after Mayhew’s sermon, Christians in early America struggled with rebelling against Great Britain and the established government. Mayhew, himself cautioned Christians by stating in his concluding remarks in the sermon, “Let us learn to be free and to be loyal. Let us not profess ourselves vessels to the lawless pleasure of any man on earth. But let us remember, at the same time, government is sacred and not to be trifled with.”
Resisting government is not action to be taken lightly by any citizen, but particularly Christians. There are times while it becomes necessary to remind elected officials the government is subject to God- whether they recognize it or not.
So influential was Mayhew’s sermon that John Adams identified it as having, “great influence in the commencement of the Revolution.” Adams said, “The revolution was effected before the War commenced. The revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people: a change in their religious sentiments…. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American revolution.”
Is another revolution afoot? Certainly the opinions, sentiments and affections of the people’s hearts are changing in America! It’s not time to light the torches and get the pitchforks, but elected officials better take note that Americans are fed up with what is going on in Washington.
On July 4th, between 11am and 1pm, a “Tea Party” will be held at Elk Plaza- Hiway 81 and Elk Road- in Duncan, Oklahoma. The event is non-partisan and not sponsored by the GOP. The public is invited to attend. For more information, contact Jan Gaddis at 580.252.7000.