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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE?

Dr. Allan Boesak, President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, wrote recently that the present evil, undemocratic system must be removed because it is "sin," a "heresy," and "blasphemy." He, therefore, is openly and illegally calling for a boycott of the October 1988 municipal elections because:

"One cannot be a Christian and support apartheid and one cannot be a Christian [and] not participate in the fight against apartheid.... This is a non-violent way of resisting evil.... A vote...is a vote against our freedom... [and] our democracy (his emphasis).” (1)

The SACC agrees with his goal of replacing the present regime with a democratic, equalitarian, unitary state. They also teach that acts of "non-violent" civil disobedience are essential to this "revolutionary" process. Before the state's Eloff Commission, Bishop Tutu explained how this works:

"You build up a process of disobeying on a massive scale, that will mean nearly all the laws in the statute book, so that this country becomes ungovernable” (2)

The SACC's Biblical justification for this civil disobedience process is 1) the example of the Apostles. They disobeyed the state when commanded to stop preaching, saying "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29); and 2) the contention that civil disobedience will bring in the shalom (peace) of "God's Kingdom!"

Ecumenical "Civil Disobedience" is a Sort of Pagan Chaos Cult
The Creator is "not a God of disorder but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33). In the Bible, He has revealed His basic Law-Order for the family (Eph. 5:22-6:4), Church (1 Cor. 14:40; 1 Tim. 2-5), and civil (1 Pet. 2:13f, Rom. 13:2f) governments. True shalom —peace, order, harmony — is always the result of obedience to that Law-Order for "there is no shalom for the wicked" (Is. 57:19f). "The wicked are praised" and "disorder and every evil practice" is the result of breaking this divinely revealed order (Pr. 28:4; Jam. 3:13f). It is for this reason that, "all things must be done in a fitting and orderly way" (1 Cor. 14:40). Satan is the Father of the revolt against God's Law-order (Jn. 8:44). His rebellion affects every area of life. There can be no neutrality. Either we are "practising lawlessness" as "sons of satan," or we are "sons of God," filled with the divine love which keeps God's Law-Order (1 Jn. 3:4f; Rom. 6:15f; Gal. 5:13).

Clearly, then, the SACC is not teaching humble obedience to God's Law-Order because they want lawlessness and ungovernability. Out of chaos — "the ashes of all that is called 'Pretoria,'" Dr. Boesak has said, will come a new order — "the New Jerusalem." Their New Order is not God's "New Creation" Order (2 Cor. 5:17; Is. 65:17) but a man-made order. Their "order" seeks to destroy the God-ordained order in the family, Church, and civil governments. For example, God created the father to be the servant-head of the home (Eph. 5:21f; 1 Tim. 2:13f), but they want "non-sexist" role-orders. God guarantees family-owned private property in the Eighth and Tenth Commandments but they desire a "non-Capitalist" state-controls-everything type of "order." God created ethnic and national boundaries (Dt. 32:8; Acts 17:26) but they want a "non-ethnic" unitary-state Order. God made Christ Sovereign of Heaven and earth (Ps. 2; Mt. 28:18f). They, however, want the demos [people] to rule [kratos] while ignoring the Law of God incarnate in Christ! Their "church," thus, is merely a modern variation of the ancient, pagan Chaos Cult which taught that only by destroying all rules and all order — by returning to a primal Chaos — can society be regenerated (3). God's wrath falls upon this "church."

Christ Forbids a Civil Disobedience Revolution
Christ's Kingdom reign does not allow for such a civil disobedience revolt. A revolution can either be "non-violent" using a massive civil disobedience campaign or it can be "violent" using the "armed struggle." There is little difference. Both use a carnal "sword." Jesus plainly said that His Kingdom is not revolutionary:

"My Kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my servants would fight. My Kingdom is from another place” (Jn. 18:36 — literal translation).

Although He could have called for "12 legions of angels" (Mt. 26:53), Jesus Himself forbade any use of the carnal "sword" to "bring in the Kingdom." "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword," He said (Mt. 26:52). The only sword Christian individuals can use is the "sword of the Spirit" — the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). In keeping with this, Christ refused to be made King in a "people's revolt." Why? Because the "people" refused to repent from their lawlessness and sin (cf. Jn. 6:15f! Instead, He clearly taught in The Lord's Prayer that His Kingdom comes onto the earth, from the reign of God in the Heavenlies, into the hearts and interrelationships of men who hallow His Name and humbly obey His will (Mt. 6:9f).

"Unless a man is born from above [by the Spirit of God], he cannot see [nor enter] the Kingdom of God." (Jn. 3:3-5 - lit. trans.)

Jesus never allowed His Church the lazy luxury of an instant revolutionary Kingdom. His Kingdom grows gradually over a long period of time. It transforms all of life as Christians diligently apply the principles of God's Law to every human relationship (5). Christ's reign certainly begins with transforming human hearts. However, it is not a pietistic, merely "spiritual" religion that has nothing to do with the state, education and the other areas of life. (This idea is the result of pagan heresies creeping into the Church) (6). On the contrary, the Gospel first radically changes multitudes of families, then it changes their whole society. The Gospel teaches men honesty, diligence, and respect for one's neighbour's land, wife, language, and self-determination. Only this "fruit of the Spirit," creates in a people the ability for self-government under God's Law without oppression. Liberty is a fruit of Spirit-disciplined Christianity (Gal. 5:1f; 2 Cor. 3:17).

Tyranny Comes From Civil Disobedience to God's Law-order
"My son, fear the LORD and the king. Do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden destruction..."
(Pr. 24:12f; 1 Pet. 2:17f).

The Bible does not teach that liberation is a result of a lawless civil disobedience campaign. No, liberty is a blessing upon a people who humble themselves, trust God and obey His Law — moral and civil (Dt. 28; Lev. 26; 2 Chrn. 7:12f).

"The righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us as we walk in the Spirit....Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty" (Rom. 8:4; 1 Cor. 3:17).

Calamity and tyranny is God's curse upon a people for their apostasy and rebellion. Christ came to "confirm the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them" (Mt. 5:17). His Word is the Rock that we must build upon to avoid the raging storms of God's just wrath (Mt. 7:24). Wicked rebellion only confounds the sin and therefore leads to even greater enslavement sent in judgment directly from God (7). "If you are willing and obedient [to My Law], you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword" (Is. 1: 18-20).

God Alone sets up Rulers and Removes Tyrants
"The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes....Praise be to the Name of God.... He sets up kings and deposes them"
(Dan. 4:17; 2:20-21).

God says that He alone sets up and removes "Kings." If a "king" is oppressive and does not rule in accord with God's Law, then God Himself will bring just vengeance against Him. Daniel applied this principle even to the pagan oppressor of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. He eventually repented, many don't (Dan. 4:24-27).

"Don't take revenge..., but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is Mine to avenge; I will repay....'" (Rom. 12:17-13:2).

It is not the individual citizen's responsibility to overthrow tyrants — let alone the Church. God Himself has always dealt with tyrants who violate His Law when His people begin again to obey His Law-Word and cry out to Him for justice (Lk. 18:1-8). This is the true message of the Exodus story. God liberated the Hebrews from a totalitarian, socialist state to be free under His Reign (Ex. 3:7f; Ps. 10:16f) (9). "He is righteous...and kind.... He is near to all who call upon Him...in truth. He will fulfil the desire of all who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will liberate them" (Ps. 145:17-20).

While suffering under tyrants who are breaking God's Law, Christian people must be disciplined in the wisdom of God's Word as it applies to all areas of life (10). They should be asking God for the power of the Spirit who alone gives the will to resist evil (Phil. 2:13f). Christians have been commanded to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26f, 9: 1f; Ps. 8). Therefore, they must be prepared and willing to take over the reins of power — in God's time. This is the clear message of Psalm 37. Bible-believing Christians should even now begin infiltrating and transforming every institution in accordance with God's Law-Word.

The Scripture Doctrine of Obedience to Authority
Contrary to what some assume, Christ's Kingdom allows for self-defence when obeying God's moral and civil Law. Christ commanded Peter to buy a sword for that purpose (Lk. 22:36-38). David's life provides an excellent illustration. When faced with Saul's oppression, 1) he protested [today, this may mean legal action], 2) he fled [emigrated] 3) he defended himself with sword in hand. Though David and his men carried the sword for self-defence against Saul's "thugs," David never allowed it to be used to overthrow the King. He waited for God's time.

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men....", "For there is no authority except that which God has established" (1 Pet. 2:13; Rom. 13:1).

As mentioned above, God has established three spheres of earthly government (i.e. civil, parental, and Church). All must be obeyed (Eph. 6:1f; Rom. 13:1f; Heb. 13:17). Therefore, revolt against any God-ordained authority is revolution against God.

"He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:2)!

Scripture Teaches Obedience to God's Commands, Not Civil Rebellion
Sometimes Romans 13 has been misused to force obedience to any command. However, this passage says that since all authority is derived from God, all earthly authority is strictly limited. The three God-created authorities have boundaries over which they must not step. Therefore, no earthly authority can command absolute obedience such as only God can demand. Because all three spheres of authority are derived from God, they must obey God and His Law in their area of responsibility. All are "God's servants to you for the good" (lit. trans.- Rom. 13:4). This means that a "ruler" must serve his citizens ["to you"] (Lk. 22:25f). In addition, every ruler must serve God and His Law ["for the good"] (cf. Ps. 2; Dt. 17:18). When the state enforces and the citizens obey "the good" (i.e. God's Law— cf. Rom.7:12f), the result is their good (11). Therefore, when an authority 1) oversteps its God-given bounds and usurps the authority of the other two spheres, and 2) orders citizens to do something contrary to the moral and civil Law of God, Christians are not obligated to obey. "We ought rather to obey God['s commandments] not man['s]," the Apostles said (Acts 5:29; 4:19f). Christians are first servants of God, then of man.

There is, thus, a time to obey God, not man. There is a place for true civil disobedience. The Bible is filled with illustrations. The Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh to save Israelite babies from abortion-infanticide (Ex. 1:15-16). Rahab committed treason when she hid the Israelite spies (Heb.11:31). Daniel and his friends in Nebuchadnezzar's court refused to compromise with idolatry (Dan 1, 3, 6). There are many more. God blesses men who disobey authority only when they must choose between obeying the clear command of God or the self-made law of sinful man. The SACC claims it is teaching this Biblical doctrine. However, they have equated a secular man-made religion (democratic humanism) with the Kingdom of God. They have replaced God's eternal moral and civil Law with the democratic "law of [a false] god" [humanity], they "receive the praise of [secular] men." Thus their so-called "obedience to God" is but a vehement self-righteousness. Their civil disobedience is an abomination to our just God (Lk. 16:15; 18:9).

Now is the Time to Obey
There is a time for anger; a time to obey and do good. Evil triumphs because Christians do nothing. Christians must overcome evil with "the good." If that may involve tangling with an authority, so be it (2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:13f). However, many Christians don't even exercise the vote they have to try to change things legally. That is actually rebellion, not Biblical faith! God commands us to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:24f). There is no escape from God-given responsibility!

"Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God [and His Law-order]" (13)

(1). South. Oct 20 to 26, 1988.
(2). Eloff Commission Report, 1984.
(3). Rushdoonv. Politics of Pornography and Law and Liberty.
(4). It will be perfect only we He comes.
(5). cf. Parables of Leaven (Mt. 13:31f). Mustard Seed (Mt. 13:33) and Growing Seed (Mk 4:26f); read: Ac 13:47; Is 49:6; Ps 22:27, 96:1f; Dan 7:14. 27; Hab 2:14; Amos 9:11-12 [Ac 15:16f]; Zech 2:11, 9:10, 14:16; Mic 4:1f; Is 11:1f; et al. I Murray, The Puritan Hope.
(6). Gnosticism, neo-platonism. Rushdoony. God's Plan for Victory and Escape from Maturity.
(7). Calvin Institutes Book IV, ch. 22.
(8). Paper #7.
(9). M Walzer, Exodus and Revolution
(10). Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law.
(11). God's Law (Rom 7:12, 13, 16, 18, 19, 21) and man's obedience to that Law are our good (Dt 6:18, 24; Eph 6:3; Ps 34:12f; 1 Pet 3:10). "Sin-evil" is disobedience to God's Law (Rom. 13:8-10; cf. 7:12-23).
(12). Are we suffering because we are not obeying?
(13).1 Cor 10:31.

Mark Kreitzer, November 1988.

Gospel Defence League
P. O. Box 587 Sea Point 8060
Cape Town South Africa
Tel/Fax: 021-510-6854



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