Obey God Rather Than Man No. 2

When a state or a government de­mands that its citizens recognize the state as supreme in matters of conscience, and that it be obeyed, regardless of the right or wrong of its demands, it usurps the place of God and be­comes an oppressive power.

I.H.E. is editor of the Ministry.

The church of Christ is an anomaly in the world. Physically it is a part of the world, and has to do with ma­terial, natural things; but its heart and all its affections are not of the world, but are given to God, a spir­itual Being who absorbs all that is valuable and precious in man. The Christian cannot divide his affections. To him the spir­itual kingdom established in his heart is so much more highly esteemed than any earthly kingdom that he refuses to set his affections on this world. Yet he cheerfully pays tribute, and obeys all governmental laws that do not contravene his loyalty and love to God.

When, therefore, a state or a government de­mands that its citizens recognize the state as supreme in matters of conscience, and that it be obeyed, regardless of the right or wrong of its demands, it usurps the place of God and be­comes an oppressive power. When the state attempts to control the consciences of men in spiritual things and in obedience to God, it exceeds its prerogatives, and enters into the realm where each citizen must decide whether he will obey God or man.

One good thing about the war question is that this controversy has been settled by the word of God, and settled right. Christ lived on earth in troublous times; the state was supreme un­der Roman domination. The Romans per­mitted the Jews a good deal of liberty, because that was the easiest way to keep the peace. Those who asked about paying tribute did not really desire light on the question. They asked the question to involve Christ. If He said, "Yes; pay tribute to Cmsar," the Jews would condemn Christ. Should He say, "No; pay no tribute to Rome," then Cmsar would take offense. Christ's answer met their cunning, and sent them away confounded.

And it has been an answer for devout Chris­tians for all time. The Christian has a dual duty—one toward God and another toward worldly powers. God's requirements never in­ fringe on the legitimate claims of Caesar. Neither has Caesar the right to infringe on the demands of God. The two realms must ever be separate and distinct. It was so understood by Christ when He said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Csar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

In apostolic times the high priests had im­prisoned the apostles who were in Jerusalem, and the Romans left the Jews somewhat free to carry on their own religious rites and wor­ship. While under Roman jurisdiction the religious rulers of the Jews had forbidden the apostles to speak about Christ in the temple. Because the disciples had disobeyed and taught in the temple, they had arrested some of the apostles and put them in prison. An angel came and opened the prison doors, and brought the apostles forth, saying, "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." Now, that preaching was forbidden, and was the offense for which the apostles were imprisoned. A council was called and officers went to the temple and brought the apostles before the council, saying, "Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men." Acts 5:20, 28, 29.

To the early church this did not mean dis­respect to earthly governments, but it meant that when earthly governments required of the Christian what God forbids, each Christian must choose whom he will obey. Peter de­clared, "We ought to obey God rather than men." The New Testament exhorts the church to be obedient to earthly governments. Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

"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. Who­soever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he . is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath unto him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be sub­ject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending contin­ually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." Rom. 13:1-7.

To Titus, a Christian pastor, Paul wrote: "Put them in mind to be subject to principal­ities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work." Titus 3:1.

In all civil requirements by the state the Christian cheerfully obeys when those require­ments do not contravene his duty to his God. The Christian, like his Master, is ever ready to do acts of mercy in ministering to the sick and afflicted; cheerfully he cares for the wounded and dying, he feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. In war and peace he does all this as a service to his Lord and Master. But to take human life is contrary to the law of his God. Nor is it because he is a coward or filled with fear that he cannot kill his fel­lows; but because he owes an allegiance to God that is more to him than this mortal life, for to him it means eternal life or eternal death:

The church has always had to suffer, and yield its physical bodies to the state, when the state encroached upon personal religious lib­erty; but the state has no divine right to enter the realm of conscience and usurp the place that God claims as His own. The genuine Christian can suffer, he can go to prison, he can die; but he cannot allow any earthly power to usurp the loyalty and devotion that he owes to God and has pledged to Him. The state has a right to financial support and to loyal service from all Christians in all things civil that God approves. The Christian is ever willing to do helpful service for the sick and wounded. But when the state would control in the realm of con­science, and demand from Christians service forbidden by God, it exceeds its authority.

The question, "Can a Christian become a soldier and fight, killing his fellow beings be­cause the state demands it?" is a moot question with many. The true Christian can never fight his fellows for personal ends. All wrongs that he is caused to suffer, he endures. He does not kill or murder his fellows. His loy­alty to God will not allow him to revenge him­self in any way, regardless of injustice or severe personal injury. Christians are charged: "Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Rom. 12:19. In the early church it was thought that followers of Christ should be separate from the world, and they did not voluntarily join the army. They endured all kinds of persecution, and even suffered death for their faith, but they would not take life.

When Constantine outwardly accepted Chris­tianity, he did so as a converted pagan general. Later he persuaded Christians to fight in his army. From then on professed Christians were less and less conscientious; and the more worldly the church grew, the more willing to join the government in war did she become. Later the church under the Papacy promoted wars, and not only fought against pagan and heathen peoples, but also carried on wars in the name of the church to exterminate heresy and to make herself supreme. No one can look to pagan Rome, nor to the Papacy, as a pattern of true piety or as an example for Christians to follow, notwithstanding many noble examples of deep personal piety and godliness.

The Christian is a citizen of an unseen coun­try, whose King reigns in the heart. His citi­zenship is in heaven, and he looks for a "city . . whose builder and maker is God." He recognizes earthly governments as ordained of God to punish evildoers; but he is unable to obey laws where obedience compels him to break the moral law of his Creator.

Undoubtedly the conflict between the state on the one hand and the true people of God on the other, must ever have conflicting views of the duty and the rights of the Christian. The state generally believes in war, and often in conquest; the Christian believes in obedience to the state for the good of humanity, and is cheerfully obedient to all that the state re­quires when he is permitted to worship God as he understands the Holy Scriptures to teach. But he does not believe that he can be a Chris­tian and take human life. To him this is a matter of conscience. In this realm the state has no divine right to interfere. "Render there­fore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

I. H. E.


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I.H.E. is editor of the Ministry.

July 1935

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