Is it ever justifiable for Christian people to be involved in the overthrow of their government? Many of you will be quick to point to Romans 13 and say, absolutely not! According to Romans 13 we are supposed to submissively tolerate anything our government does, no matter what! I wonder how many of you pious people would favor surrendering America back to the Crown of England because if we follow your line of logic that would be the only Christian thing to do!
Christian American leaders overthrew their government and when declaring independence, they wrote and signed these famous words…
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident...
Let's make note of a few assumptions they were working with at that time. Do you see that word "when"? Notice how it does not say "if". They believed revolution was inevitable. Then notice the word "necessary" …not only did they believe revolution was inevitable, they believed times would come when revolutionary overthrows of government are essential and needed…they believed they would become necessary!
There is no doubt that they thought like that, but were they right? Can that position be justified in light of Scripture? Should Christians agree with a sentiment like that? Here are a few relevant passages we need to be mindful of before answering a question like that:
Romans 13:1-7 ESV
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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Acts 5:29 ESV
But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men."
1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV
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.
Daniel 2:20-21 ESV
Daniel answered and said: "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding
Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ESV
"You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you."
Certainly, there are many other passages that we can look at, but these five are important. The first thing you will see, as we have pointed out repeatedly on this page, is that God ordains human government. Also notice that not only is disobeying government an option, it is a requirement when submitting to government causes one to disobey God. We also see that God does cause kings to rise and fall, God is directly involved in uprisings and overthrows. And lastly, God commanded His people to appoint their rulers (later on He allowed them to have a king to rule over them just like the heathen nations had, but that was a concession, it was not the first form of government God created).
You will also note in these passages and other passages like these, that God specifically defines what legitimate, appointed government is, and by logical deduction, what legitimate government is not. We don't have to guess at this, we know for sure what the traits of valid government are and what the traits of usurping, unlawful, imposter government are. A "God appointed" government is not a terror to good conduct. Those who do good receive the approval of God appointed government (not oppression). God appointed government is God's servant for our good, it is an avenger of God who carries out wrath on wrongdoers (not on lawful citizens). Governments sent by God punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. Governments are forbidden to judge with unrighteous judgment, to pervert justice, to show partiality or to accept bribes. A God appointed governmet will follow just one thing, ultimately...justice. We see all of these identifiers in the verses above.
While every human government is comprised of sinners, none are perfect, there does come a point when a government no longer functions at all by the standards God has for them in the Bible. They become a terror to good conduct. They pervert justice. The carry out wrath on lawful citizens. They are bribed and paid for. When it is obvious that a government is no longer resembling the way in which God defines His appointed government, then their authority is forfeited. The authority given to rulers is a trust, it is not a right. No person has the right to rule, no regime has the right to govern. They stand as minsters of God, they derive their authority from God and can be replaced when they no longer serve Him according to His standards. This is true of every minister of God, it is no less true for kings, governors, presidents, chiefs, khans, sultans, shahs and kaisers. They can be rejected and replaced when they reject their role as God's servant, and the people can rise up and force them out with violence if needed in order to install governors who will serve God and the people justly. Christians revolt in an effort to establish a Godly leadership in government. Christians never revolt in order to do away with government as an institution.
We will stop right here, for now. You should notice we have not described the sinful threshold needed to be reached to justify revolution. Obviously, no government is perfect because none of the people running it are perfect. Every government sins because people sin. So, at what point can the people be sure that they are justified to actually rise up, or in other words, how much sinful government should Christians peacefully tolerate? We will unpack all of that next time, for now let's just leave it suffice to say that the concept of revolution is not unBiblical and such action may be necessary at times.