My heart is grieved by the growing discontentment, hostility, and anarchist attitudes by those who profess the name of Jesus Christ in America. As our nation grows more hostile, American Christians must grow more patient, longsuffering, merciful, and compassionate.
As American culture grows more belligerent, we must grow more eager to speak the truth in love and more boldly to proclaim righteousness and the Gospel of Peace.
As civil magistrates grow more intolerant of Christianity, more pluralistic in their views of religion, and more subjective in their rule of law, Christians must grow more in our prayer life petitioning God on behalf of our leaders, that they would be saved by Christ and enable us to live quiet lives.
Instead, professing Christians seem to be growing more belligerent, more disrespectful, more angry toward pagan society and less tolerant and less submissive to governing authorities. And, it seems, we are praying less as demonstrated by the growing hostility and lack of respect for our leaders in government.
So what is going on? As I mentioned in The Law of Nature Is the Law of God, having a wrong view of God’s Law can have severe implications. Additionally, wrong views of how God rules over the nations and how Christians should live in pagan societies can also have severe implications. These wrong views are all related, and, I believe, are responsible for the unbiblical attitudes and behaviors we are seeing among professing Christians today. More than ever, American Christians must stand out from the crowd, demonstrating we belong to God and are citizens of His kingdom.
This article, then, will address the Christian’s duty to submit to governing authorities, and serve as an admonishment to those who are going down the wrong path.
The Rotten Fruit of Dominionism
Let’s consider the rotten fruit of a theology that teaches the Mosaic law is not only still binding, but is binding upon nations to whom it was never given. Moreover, this theology teaches the church has a cultural mandate to redeem or Christianize every fabric and institution of society. Christian Reconstructionists (reformed) and Kingdom-Now Dominionists (charismatic or New Apostolic Reformation) share this common thread. Both have postmillennial views of the kingdom of God, and both want to establish a Christian society.
When one believes the only biblical laws for a nation are those found in the Mosaic law, or when one believes a government is illegitimate when it does not enforce Mosaic law, it can lead to a disposition of not respectfully submitting to civil authorities. Moreover, it fundamentally denies God has sovereignly placed the Christian under all civil authorities, and it can lead to positions that demand resistance and promote violence in the name of justice. Take for instance, Matthew Trewhella, pastor of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One must consider whether Trewhella is even qualified for ministry given his rebelliousness and how outsiders look upon him in light of Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:7 (demonstrated here). In any case, his message titled, “Tyranicide – To Kill a Tyrant“, Trewhella states around minute 24:
Everyone innately knows that it’s an honest and just thing to depose a tyrant…everyone knows it’s a just and noble thing to do, except of course the effeminate, the culture in which we have in this nation now after much conditioning by the media in our country, and the government schools. And also it doesn’t make no [sic] sense to your average butt-faced Christian who’s been raised in American 20th century Christianity, now 21st century Christianity, because they have no idea “[sarcasm] how could killing, how can anything other than love, have anything to do with God?” Right? Am I right? Of course I’m right. It’s the state of Christianity we live in. But anyone who hasn’t been ruined by those two things – rotten American Christianity or American culture…knows perfectly well it’s honorable and just to kill a tyrant. [bold emphasis added]
Trewhella asserts that killing tyrants is somehow a matter of the law of nature, as if it is a work of God’s Law written to the heart of every man. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and in fact, asserting such is calling God a liar. Anyone who takes up the sword to carry out revenge will die by the sword, as God considers this murder. Jesus affirmed this when Peter sought to kill the servant of the high priest (Matthew 26:51-52). Such a murderer deserves not only capital punishment by the state, but eternal punishment in hell under the wrath of God. Nevertheless, Trewhella determines it is “honorable and just to kill a tyrant.”
Beginning around minute 44, Trewhella states:
But that’s [the homosexual agenda] what they want to push upon our nation, that’s what they want to legalize in our courts, within our statutes, make normal within our media, and the men allow it. The effeminacy in this country is sick. The dumbing down that men have been influenced by is pathetic. It’s time for men in this nation to raise up and start killing some tyrants. Plain and simple. [bold emphasis added]
Based on the above, Trewhella is referring to any politician, including the President of the United States, who endorses and promotes the homosexual agenda, and he is suggesting they should be assassinated.
Addressing one last statement by Trewhella at the end of his message, he considers a passage from Judges 3 and twists the Scripture to justify the killing of tyrants. In the passage, it was God who raised up Ehud to deliver Israel, who had been in captivity under the Moabites for eighteen years. Ehud did in fact kill Eglon, king of Moab, but this was the Lord’s doing and resulted in Israel overtaking the Moabites to bring the land into a period of peace. In no way does this justify or give precedence for private citizens to assassinate kings today. But Trewhella teaches otherwise, and ultimately believes private individuals can kill unjust rulers:
Now was this well done or evil? [Ponet] adds: “Indeed the deed is so commended in Scripture that the Holy Ghost reported Ehud to be a deliverer of Israel. But note by the way the text does not say that Ehud…was sent by the people to kill the king, nor that he told them what he intended, for by that means one Judas or another would have betrayed him” In other words, “loose lips sink ships”. And so he didn’t gather a bunch of men together and say, “now let’s have a council about this, we wanna execute King Eglon.” ‘Cause he knew if he did, he’d be dead even before he got the chance. He just took it upon himself.
So, Ponet goes on and says, “So should he been drawn, hanged, and quartered for his enterprise? As all conspirators have lost life, hand, and goods for their conspiracy. The Scripture only says that Ehud (being a private person) was stirred up by the Spirit of God). That’s all it says, he was stirred up by the Spirit of God.” Again he wants to point out that he was a private person; he wasn’t some government official, because he believes in deposing tyrants is beyond the lesser magistrate doctrine. He believes that individuals, even the people as a whole themselves can rise up and oppose and depose a tyrant – the unjust rulers. [bold emphasis added]
Ironically but not surprisingly, Trewhella ends his message after disparaging the notion our daughters should be drafted into the military, yet he uses the story of Jael in Judges 5 to justify his suggesting the women in his own church might need to take up the sword against tyrants.
The discerning Christian will immediately recognize that one who preaches it is biblical and dutiful for private citizens to assassinate tyrannical kings in the name of justice would also promote other forms of violent vigilantism in the name of justice.
Trewhella’s wicked doctrines are the very teachings that lead Eric Rudolphs to blow up abortion clinics, or Scott Roeders to murder George Tillers in the name of God. Is it therefore any surprise that Trewhella is an associate of the terrorist organization Army of God at least by virtue of his signing this document, which advocates and affirms defending preborn babies with violence? Or is it surprising that Trewhella would memorialize Paul Jennings Hill, who studied under theonomist Greg Bahnsen at Reformed Theological Seminary, days after he was executed by lethal injection for murdering abortionist John Britton and his bodyguard?
Now, considering Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion and pro-homosexual president in American history and considered a tyrant by many right wingers, is it too far-fetched to consider how someone under Trewhella’s influence might attempt to assassinate such a president and call it just? I think not, and Trewhella and his ilk would praise him for it.
If the reader is a dominionist, you might be accusing me of using Matthew Trewhella as a rather large straw man to misrepresent your view. Well, my only response to you is – why are you endorsing and sharing his material, if indeed you are?
Why are so many dominionists following Trewhella and endorsing his work, such as Bojidar Marinov who is a contributor to the Christian Reconstructionist organization The American Vision, or Doug Wilson who is a well-known theonomist? How can Trewhella be invited to events hosted by Abolish Human Abortion or by state legislatures to promote his version of a lesser magistrate doctrine? Even if they are ignorant of Trewhella’s militant activism, it’s because they share in common a wrong view of God’s Law, how He rules over the nations, and how Christians should live in pagan societies.
While there may not be many Paul Hills who carry out their murderous deeds, there is an increasing amount of Matthew Trewhellas, and they all appear to share a common, false view of God’s Law and the Christian’s duty in pagan societies. Let’s now contrast biblical instruction of Christian submission with what is commonly seen among dominionists, the religious right, and American right-wing culture warriors.
The Duty of Subjection to Civil Magistrates
Chapter 24.3 of the 1689 LBCF states:
Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake; and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. ( Romans 13:5-7; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 )
As I demonstrated in God Rules Over All Civil Magistrates, God alone sets up kings and removes kings. There is no government that has ever existed or will ever exist that God did not establish. Therefore, the Christian must subject himself to the government as unto God. Dr. Sam Waldron notes in his Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith:
Note there is no precedent for a Christian displaying a belligerent, rebellious attitude towards civil authority in the Bible. Peter’s response in Acts 4:19 is remarkably tame, when it is compared with the belligerence of certain segments of professing Christianity in our day. There is an instructive example of such belligerence. It is that of Paul in Acts 23:1-5. There, however, Paul quickly apologizes, even though he was provoked to it by a miscarriage of justice! Belligerent attitudes and deliberately and unnecessarily provocative behaviour are never appropriate even when Christians must decline obedience (289-290).
Modern examples of what Dr. Waldron is speaking to might include professing Christians provocatively “defending their rights” through police checkpoints or open-carrying semi-automatic rifles just to stir up reactions and provoke a response from police. They often record these incidents on Youtube, ready to be shared by Patriot Joe Christian to all of his social networks. What happens next? Patriot Jim Christian vents his disgust and anger toward what he perceives as a growing, hostile police-state. Regardless of how many abuses there might be by those authorized to bear the sword, these Christians are way off-base in their attitudes toward civil authority and exhibit the attitudes of the world rather than that of Christ.
In contrast, Christians are called to a respectful submission to authority. In one of the best messages I have heard on the subject, my own pastor Andy Dunkerton presented a portrait of the model Christian citizen in his sermon on 1 Peter 2:13-17, which says:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Pastor Dunkerton poses the question:
Since we are pilgrims/exiles in a hostile world, as citizens of heaven, how shall we then live?
1 Peter 2 answers the question clearly: in humble and respectful subjection to every human institution, as servants of God, honor all, including the God-appointed king of the land, fear God, and love the brethren. Simple right? Perhaps, but, admittedly, not so easy to live out.
Our flesh is bent toward discontentment, hostility, complaining, and feeling threatened that our earthly possessions will be taken from us. But as new creations in Christ, we are to put off these things that represent the old man, and put on the new man that accords with godliness (Colossians 3:1-17). The Christian citizen, therefore, is to render a willing, respectful submission to human government. But, if one submits out of obligation or begrudgingly, or with an attitude of disdain from the heart, that really isn’t a true, biblical submission.
Our disposition toward governing authorities must not be characterized by complaining, cynicism, or doubt. Our posture must be one that honors all who are in authority, and as Titus 3:2 reminds us, we must not speak evil of anyone and must show perfect courtesy to all people. That would include President Barack Obama, dear reader. Remember this every time you are tempted to opine how sick Obama makes you.
You might say, “but look what Obama represents! Look how he is destroying this country! Look at how he promotes the homosexual agenda and the murder of children in the womb!”
Or, “look how militarized the police are becoming! Look at the industrialist military complex! Look at all the government intrusion! Look at all of these taxes! Look at how they spend our money! Look at how they’ve removed the Ten Commandments! And Christmas trees! And the baby Jesus!”
Ok, but what does the text say? Submit, honor all, and speak evil of no one. Rinse and repeat.
Yes, there is a time to speak out against the evils of our age, but there’s also a godly way to do that. Sadly, many American Christians are more concerned about “defending their rights” than representing Christ in all humility. We look just like the world in all of our complaining, when we should be standing out from the crowd, graciously submitting to authority as those who belong to another kingdom.
Do you know who revolts, disobeys, and constantly complains? Unbelievers who refuse to submit to God, and Christians bring reproach on the name of Christ when they follow suit in their defiant attitude towards authority. Perhaps if we did not interpret Scripture through Red, White, and Blue, we would better understand our responsibility before God to honor those in authority and respectfully submit to them no matter how we view their conformity to biblical principles.
Consider John Calvin from his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
all princes, by whatever means they have so become…that of whatever description they may be, they derive their power from none but [God]…even an individual of the worst character, one most unworthy of all honour, if invested with public authority, receives that illustrious divine power which the Lord has by his word devolved on the ministers of his justice and judgment, and that, accordingly, in so far as public obedience is concerned, he is to be held in the same honour and reverence as the best of kings (Book IV, Ch. 20.25). [bold emphasis added]
Calvin also states:
Let us not doubt that on whomsoever the kingdom has been conferred, him we are bound to serve. Whenever God raises any one to royal honour, he declares it to be his pleasure that he should reign…this being confessed, nothing remains for us but to serve and live (Book IV, Ch. 20.28). [bold emphasis added]
Contrary to the monstrosity that is Matthew Trewhella’s view, Calvin asserts:
Although the Lord takes vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given but to obey and suffer (Book IV, Ch. 20.31).
Our subjection to rulers is not contingent upon our perception as to the legitimacy of rulers, for all rulers are instituted by God without exception, so all rulers are legitimate. Furthermore, regardless of the unworthiness of any ruler, every one is due honor, every Christian must obey and serve respectfully under said ruler, and if any Christian should suffer by the hand of the unjust ruler, let the Christian suffer well to the glory of Christ. Vengeance or revolt of any kind no matter the injustice of a tyrant is never permitted for the private Christian citizen. That subject will be taken up in detail in a future article.
Submitting for the Lord’s Sake and for Conscience Sake
In three different epistles, we are told to submit to governing authorities. We already saw this in 1 Peter 2:13,
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,
Now consider Titus 3:1:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
Paul writes the same in Romans 13:1, also reminding us all authorities are instituted by God:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
In the very next verse, Paul warns:
Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Paul then explains what the purpose of government is:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Because of this, one must be in subjection to authority to avoid God’s wrath and for the sake of their own conscience:
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience (v. 5).
When men like Paul Hill are executed for killing abortionists, it is because the Hills of this world are murderers, and God demands their life as an execution of justice. It is never lawful for a private Christian citizen to take the law into their own hands. Instead, Christians can and should speak out against such evils as abortion, we can and should declare righteousness and warn of the wrath of God, and we must proclaim the truth of Christ that sets captives free from sin. The contrast between Paul Hill and the Christian is precisely what Peter is addressing in 1 Peter 2:18-20:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Paul Hill was not a martyr. He got exactly what he deserved for the murders of Britton and Barrett. Martyrs are Christians who suffer for righteousness sake, like for refusing to renounce the name of Jesus or for being caught with a Bible in communist countries. Suffering for righteousness also includes being thrown in jail for preaching the Gospel, or being hated for speaking the truth, or being slandered for good conduct. Peter has something to say about that too:
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17).
Don’t be called an evil doer because you do evil like rebelling against government, but because you do good to tyrants and slanderers that they will have ashes dumped on their heads and be proven false by your good testimony.
How many times did Jesus begin a rebellion against Caesar? How many times did Jesus refuse to pay taxes? How many times did Jesus complain about civil authorities? How many times did Jesus seek vengeance against those who abused Him and slandered Him? How many times did Jesus threaten to assassinate a tyrant?
Well, let’s see:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
Jesus thus responded to Pilate in John 18 because as Paul explained in Ephesians 6:12-13, neither our war or our weapons are of this world:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
What kind of example are you leading? Is it more like Jesus’, or more like Matthew Trewhella? Is it more like the Apostle Paul’s, or more like Alex Jones’? More like the martyr Stephen, or more like Ann Coulter?
Christian parent, are you raising your children to hate and resist authority? What kind of example are you setting for them? Do they always see you complain about your taxes, writhe with disgust on how much you detest President Obama, vent your frustration about police, or break laws that you disagree with? Or do they see a humble and meek spirit, one that does not compromise truth but respectfully voices opposition to evil, prays for those in authority, and desires to see their leaders come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? It’s either or; it can’t be both. Remember, whatever you expect them to do in submitting to you as their parent, they may do so only to the extent they see you demonstrating humble submission to those in authority over you.
We bring reproach on the name of Christ when we look just like the world in our griping and complaining. We look just like the world when we have a spirit of hostility and rebellion, instead of a spirit of honor and respect for our leaders.
If we are going to suffer, let us suffer for doing good. Let us suffer for obeying God rather than obeying man. Yes, there is a time when we must resist authority, but only when such times demand we disobey God. But as Pastor Jim Savastio admonished in his needed sermon The Christian and the Civil Magistrate, there is far too much discussion on civil disobedience and not enough about civil obedience. The latter is the biblical pattern, and we must get it right before we can discuss what exceptions there might be.
Nowhere in Scripture are Christians ever persecuted for social activism, but always for preaching the Gospel or for just being Christians. Our duty as Christians is to submit to all governing authorities to the glory of God, so long as governing authorities are not demanding us to sin. There are no exceptions, regardless of how wicked the government has become or what kind of tyrant is in office. God put them there for reasons known to Him, and it is our duty before God to respectfully submit. We are then in a position to bear witness of the life-transforming power of Christ in us, and also to suffer for Christ’s sake in the appointed time. We then bring glory to God, not in any self-deluded obligation to resist or depose tyrants, but in fearing God and honoring all authorities from the least to the greatest.
In closing, dear Christian, consider whether your attitude, actions, and speech are like the world, or like one who is a citizen of heaven? Is it like one who is of the world, or is it like one who is a pilgrim sojourning in the world? Does the world see that you are just like them in their complaining, discontentment, disdain for authority, hostility toward those in opposition with a spirit of rebellion, or do they see one who is meek, humble, respectful, virtuous, upright in speech, not vengeful toward anyone, not speaking evil of anyone, who honors all people, and who is submissive to those in authority, just like Jesus? These are important questions to reflect upon. I recommend reading Philippians 4 that you might hesitate to complain about the government or your circumstances.
If you find yourself acting more like the world, you need to examine your hermeneutic and how it may lead you to such unChrist-like dispositions. And, if you have been supporting men like Matthew Trewhella, stop. Don’t fall into the devil’s snare by falling into Trewhella’s seductive trap that calls for violence against evil doers, whether they are abortionists or abortion-supporting presidents.
Next time we will consider just how we can stand for righteousness as citizens of two kingdoms, and how we, as pilgrims, can be a blessing in the land God has ordained for us to dwell under the leaders He has put over us, whether they be noble or tyrannical.
Be sure to listen to Pastor Dunkerton’s sermon and Pastor Savastio’s sermon linked above, as well as the following from Pastor John MacArthur:
For further reading on why vigilante justice against abortionist is wrong, see Al Mohler’s article, A Wicked Deed in Wichita – a Test for the Pro-life Movement