‘If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).’
We live in an age of much unrest and civil disobedience. In many countries around the world people are making mass protests and some of them have been accompanied by acts of civil disobedience, even violent acts, such as in *Hong Kong.
**Extinction Rebellion is an organisation with a manifesto that supports “non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience” for achieving their aims of drawing attention to the issue of ***climate change on account of global warming, the consequences of which they claim will lead to the extinction of human life. They demand we take action now to reduce our carbon footprints before it is too late to prevent the catastrophe.
Is Civil Disobedience OK for Christians?
“Should Christians engage in acts of civil disobedience for achieving their aims?” And, “What can we Christians learn from the Bible that will help us with the answer?”
First of all we have to be clear as to the nature of our aims:
Clearly we are here for the purpose of glorifying (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Revelation 4:11) and enjoying God forever (Luke 2:10; Philippians 4:4; Revelation 21:3-4). Our desire is to do His will (Luke 11:2).
Having rehearsed our aims it is crucial for us to act in accordance with God’s laws for achieving them.
So is it OK for Christians to engage in civil disobedience?
Some Relevant Scriptures
As far as I can tell from the New Testament there is no record of any Christian who engaged in civil disobedience. On the contrary, Paul told the Roman church to ‘Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1),’ and, ‘whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God (V. 2).’ He went to say, ‘Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake (V.5).’
Our Example – Jesus
Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).” From this statement if would appear He accepted that the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans. We know He paid His temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27).
Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin and the high priest for claiming He was the Christ. On this count they accused Him of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65) and declared He was ‘deserving of death (V. 66).’
The chief priest asked Him “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replied, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:61, 62).” ‘Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be worthy of death (V.V. 63, 64).’
Jesus made no complaint. He did not resist and He did not disobey.
The same can be said of Him at the time of His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. The only resistance was that of Peter when he cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10). Jesus told him to put his sword into the sheath (V. 11), and He healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:51).
When Jesus stood accused before Pilate he asked Him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against You (Matthew 27:13, 14) ?”’ And he asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “It is as you say (Mark 15:2),” but to the accusations of ‘the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing (Matthew 27:12).’ Likewise before Herod ‘He answered him nothing (Luke 23:9).’
Once again, we find Jesus accepted all that was done to Him without complaint and without resistance.
Both Pilate and Herod found no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4,13-15; John 19:6). Pilate ‘found no reason’ for Him to be put to death (Luke 23:22), and he wanted to release Him, but the chief priest, rulers and the people (Luke 23:13) prevailed (V.V. 23, 24; Matthew 27:24; Mark 15:14, 15).
It’s interesting to note that Pilate never directly accused or charged Jesus of treason for claiming He was the ‘King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2),’ but wanting to pacify the crowd (Mark 15:15) he asked, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews (V. 12)?”
They cried, “Crucify Him (V. 13)!”
But Pilate found Him not guilty and not worthy of death. He washed his hands of the whole affair, and declared, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it (Matthew 27:24).”
Jesus died between two criminals: ‘one on the right hand and the other on the left (Luke 23:32, 33).’ Thus He was ‘numbered with the transgressors.’
He never once participated in acts of civil disobedience, but in the temple He ‘overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves (Matthew 21:12).’ He had every right to do what He did, since ‘One greater than the temple’ was there (12:6). He even made a whip, and justifiably could have used it (John 2:15); for the money changers had made His Father’s house of prayer (V. 16) into a ‘den of thieves’ (Luke 19:46).
Before going to the garden of Gethsemane He warned His disciples that He ‘was numbered with the transgressors,’ just as was prophesied by Isaiah (53:12) and it would be fulfilled (Luke 22:37). The disciples responded by saying, “Lord, look, here are two swords,” to which Jesus replied, “It is enough (V. 38).”
At the time of His arrest, Peter impetuously ‘drew his sword’ and cut off the ear of the chief priest’s servant (Matthew 26:51; John 18:26), but Jesus immediately healed it (Luke 22:51). Jesus had not sanctioned Peter’s violent resistance; instead He permitted Himself to be associated with it (John 18:4-8). By so doing He was yet again ‘numbered with the transgressors,’ but at the same time He Himself never transgressed.
On the contrary, Jesus preached peace (Acts 10:36) and love (Matthew 22:39) to ‘every nation, tribe, tongue, and people (Revelation 14:6).’ In response to aggression and violence He tells us we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). He Himself was punished for the sins of the world (John 3:16) and by dying on the cross He demonstrated His love for us who believe in Him (Romans 5:8).
Jesus confronted evil and the devil (1 John 3:8) and overcame them by peaceful means (Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:1-3, 10). He suffered (Luke 24:26; Hebrews 5:8; 1 Peter 4:1) in order that many may rise from the dead and live forever (John 6:51; 1 Peter 1:23).
His life was a perfect example (John 13:15) as to how Christians should live in obedience to His Father.
In His new world (Revelation 20:1) there will be no civil disobedience – only love, harmony and peace.
Jesus never condoned or engaged in civil disobedience. In fact He taught the multitudes (Matthew 5:1) ‘not to resist an evil person (V. 39),’ and ‘“If anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two (V. 41).”’
Jesus didn’t rebel against civil authority. He lived an exemplary life and preached the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and He gave his life (John 3:16) to bring His chosen people into His kingdom (John 18:36).
He has commanded us [believers] to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).’
So what profit is there in engaging in civil disobedience? As far as it is possible (cf. Romans 12:18) it is better to preach and practise the Word of God.
*Hong Kong Protests
***Climate Change Emergency