So, when are Christians allowed to grab the pitchforks and storm the castle? In our last installment we clarified that times will inevitably come where such actions are warranted, the obvious question is "when"? At what point has a government become so abusive, so corrupt and so dangerous to the people that it must be overthrown?
This question is a big deal for everyone to think about, it's a super big deal for Christians who take the Bible seriously to think about. When the Apostle's Paul and Peter commanded Christians to be submissive to government, they were writing to people being governed by ruler's who were hostile to Christians. Eventually these hostile rulers began to throw them to lions, and while things were not at that point when Paul and Peter wrote, clearly things were heading that way…and they knew that. In fact, Jesus Himself told them what awaited them, and yet they still wrote in strong and clear language that we are to assume a submissive posture before government. But, as we wrote last time, that is not an endless submission, or an unqualified, unconditional submission. It is, however, always the initial Christian disposition and desire to be submissive to ruling authorities. And since that is our assumed relationship with the government, any thought of revolution should give every Christian significant pause.
And it gave the American patriots who founded these United States great pause indeed. Students of history will confirm for you that none of them rushed to declare independence, and certainly none of them rushed to war with England. They agonized with the British, appealed to them, petitioned them over and over to address their grievances. By no means were they quick to revolt and none of them started off with a desire to separate from England. What ended in revolution started off as seeking recourse and nothing more. They acknowledged their hesitation and understanding of the gravity of what they were doing when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence these words:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
They're saying "this is a real big deal" and "we understand it's a big deal". People are disposed to suffer for as long as possible, rather than to revolt, why? Because revolution is a painful thing! Even if victorious the sacrifice, the agony and the death are heavy tolls to pay and people should not be willing to pay it over "light and transient causes". Amen to that! It might seem adventurous and romantic to revolt in the movies, in the real world it brings misery no matter the ultimate outcome. Oh, and it might be sinful as well, depending on the reason for revolt
Yet we must still answer this question, the same question the founders had to answer...how much sinful government should we tolerate? Or, when do we stop tolerating abuse? How do we know when it's go time? How can we have inward peace in revolting against a government? Where is the line?
Of course, as in all questions about moral action, the Bible must guide us. Last time we referred to the following passages: Romans 13:1-7, Acts 5:29, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Daniel 2:20-21 and Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and so we will remained focused on them here.
These passages define what God "appointed" or "instituted" government is and what our relationship to that government looks like. Any government that does not look like what is described in the verses above is not (or has ceased to be) God "appointed" or "instituted" and is therefore illegitimate. So, the answer to our question is that it is only justifiable for Christians to grab pitchforks and storm the castle when a regime is not God appointed. God appointed and instituted government must be submitted to. Government not (or no longer) appointed by God must be overthrown so that God appointed government may be established.
How do we know if a government or regime is (or has become) illegitimate? Well, take the Biblical descriptions of God appointed and instituted government in the above linked verses and flip them in order to find out.
Illegitimate, Unappointed, Not-God-Instituted Governments:
Are a terror to good (Godly) conduct
Do not approve of good (Godly) behavior
Do not serve or minister for God (it functions as if it were God)
Do not serve the people's good
Bear the sword in vain (unjustifiably)
Carry out wrath on the law abiding (good) people
Punishes those who do good (the Godly) and praises those who do evil (the ungodly)
Uses unrighteous judgment
Shows partiality (multi-teared justice system)
Does not follow justice
When a nation is ruled by a government defined like this those people can be sure God did not appoint it or institute it and it ought to be torn down, allowing a God appoint government to take its place.
Governments like North Korea, China, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Sudan, Yeman, Myanmar and about 40 other governments are all prime candidates for revolution. They meet the Biblical criteria for disqualification and anyone working to overthrow these regimes are doing God's work without a doubt.
In these politically radical times here at home I get asked from time to time if the United States government needs overthrown. Do we need to have another 1776 moment? I'll tell you the same thing I said back during the Obama regime…no. Not if you are talking about taking up arms and actually fighting our government, absolutely not. And I don't believe we are near that point either (although our government does meet at least two of the above listed disqualifiers such as showing partiality with a multi-tier justice system and accepting bribes). If we were anywhere near the point where taking up arms against our government was necessary, I wouldn't be free to write such things on this blog and you wouldn't be free to sit there and read it.
Of course, you and I could sit down and list out many evils which mark this nation. True evils such as abortion which must be confessed and repented of, there is no doubt. Sins which will cause the judgment of God to continue to fall upon us. But even with that being said, I am not being terrorized by the government for preaching the Gospel like my brothers in North Korea and China are. I am not being hit with wrath from the government like my brothers in Saudi Arabia are...and neither are you. That day may well come. The day may come when the United States government begins to shut down churches, arrest preachers, confiscate guns, ban Bibles and force abortions. And if it does come I'll be ready to unload all my ammo on them in response. I'm prepared just as our founders prescribed and I hope you are as well. But we are not there yet. Right now we are engaged in what Alex Jones has called the "infowar" and let's pray it stays that way.
Nobody should hope for violent revolution, because things must be dire before it can be justified Biblically.