Many debates have been started over two verses of scripture in the Holy Bible which describes, what seems to be, a pretty straight-forward command. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).1
Think about it. If someone tries to inflict harm upon another person, or robs a bank, or sets your home on fire, then we can understand why God expects a government policing agency to keep peace and punish wrongdoers. The United States, as well as nearly all world countries, have such agencies in place to help its citizens, so being subject to authorities seems like good biblical advice. But not all governments are righteous, so does this scripture always apply?
What About Bad Government?
Governments sometimes pervert use of this scripture for their own agenda. Adolf Hitler, with the pre-Nazi clergy, used their own perverted interpretation of Romans 13 “to justify Christian non-involvement in government and their non-resisting subordination to tyranny.” This opened the door to genocide, where millions of Jews were slaughtered, and paved the way for absolute evil to subjugate the entire nation of Germany.2 It is often said, give a government a little bit of power and they will soon take a lot more!
In the United States, there has been a more recent development, to use the clergy and other religious representatives as government agents, assigned to help facilitate taking your constitutional rights away. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recruited around 30,000 (or more) church ministers in order to form a ‘Clergy Response Team’. This training is not reported in the main-stream news media and those pastors, ministers, rabbis, priests, and others attending the training are expected to teach their congregations that they must obey the government if there is a declaration of martial law, property seizure, gun confiscation, or forced relocation. Using scripture from Romans 13, and other tactics, they are to make it clear to their congregations that the government’s actions are ‘for their own good.’ Attendees to these FEMA training sessions are forbidden to publically speak about the program.3 (To view an actual 33 page FEMA training document for church ministers, see the author’s note in References & Notes at the end of this article.)
Its All About the Money
Why would church leaders do such a thing? Well, it all has to do with money. Concerning the tax laws relating to church corporations, once a church accepts the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) organization requirements for tax exemption [IRS code section 501(c)(3)],4 they have a new “higher authority” to obey — the IRS. Of course, then the government guarantees a tax exemption without any further questions. Before the mid-1950s, most churches were not registered as IRS exempt corporations, but today they are in the minority.
However, if your church is a ‘501c3′ corporation, it may “[neither] freely support or oppose ballot initiatives, nor may it support or organize petition drives, letter writing campaigns, telephone trees, etc. It may not freely produce or distribute political materials which attempt to affect a political change through the legislative process. It may not freely support seminars or educational programs which promote a lobbying effort. All such matters are restricted, controlled and severely limited by the IRS 501c3 code.
“A ‘501c3′ church is not free to lend its support to a political candidate in any way whatsoever . . . [and] is not free to invite a political candidate to come and speak.”5 So basically, “the primary function of a tax-exempt organization is to act on behalf of the Government in carrying out governmentally approved policies.”6 Church leaders will do most anything to keep their tax exempt status, including misinterpreting scripture in Romans 13.
Another fear of church administers, considering recent news events, is the possibility of a ‘501c3 church’ speaking out about something that the government rules illegal, or which is against public policy, and putting their tax exempt status in jeopardy. A case in point is being afraid to buck the government concerning their policies on abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage, and gun control. However, if your church is not a ‘501c3′ corporation, it has the freedom to speak about and do all the things that are restricted by this IRS policy. The churches, which allow incorporation by authority of IRS code, are building upon a slippery slope that allows more and more government control. There is an old saying, “if the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”7 Is your church a ‘501c3′ corporation?
Considering that some governments are cruel, or controlling, or illegal, how do we justify always obeying the advice stated in Romans 13? How do we solve this conundrum? Well, lets take a more detailed look at Paul’s epistle and try to put the information in its correct context.
Paul’s Advice is Not a Blanket Statement
We must go back a bit to get the significance of what Paul was teaching. Prior, in Romans 12:14-21, he says do not return evil with evil, because it is not the church’s job to carry out God’s punishment against sin. Jeff Hughes, pastor at Resurrection Bible Church in Pennsylvania, writes: “When you read a lot of Paul’s Epistles, you begin to notice a pattern. When Paul makes a claim about God, he typically anticipates objections to that claim and answers them. That’s what he’s doing in Romans 13. Paul is anticipating this objection: If Christians aren’t supposed to punish evil, who is?”8 So Paul explains that it is the government’s job.
The apostles knew the context in which Paul was writing about, because, on occasion, they all had problems with various governmental authorities. Even Paul, the writer of Romans 13, was illegally and violently attacked by members of the Roman government. “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens” (Acts 16:37, NLT).9
Keep in mind that Paul’s specific concern in this letter was general spiritual guidance for those in or near the city of Rome. He was advising the Jewish-Christians against taking anti-Roman actions which could lead to conflict and other problems. He stated that they should submit to the government authorities because it was from God that their authority was derived.
Since Jehovah is not a god of evil, a possible response to Paul’s counsel, as one bible scholar stated, is that “if a government or authority ceases to be a force for good and order, but instead becomes an instrument of evil and death, it is no longer a Christian’s duty to submit and obey that authority,”10 for it is stated in Acts: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).
If the power of civil government is ordained by God, then rulers must perform their duties for God. Paul says, in Romans 13:1-7, that Christians, as citizens, should obey and be submissive, such as what has already been said by Jesus: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). But also note, Paul stated rulers must perform their duties for God, so God established the government authority to punish evil doers and to praise the good. “This can be done by rendering tribute, custom, fear, and honor to those authorities who deserve it.”11
So, Romans 13 explains what a model government should be; it should be good, by being ordained by God; it should be maintained by good servants; it should not be feared by the good – only the bad. By extension, if the government is bad, evil, or illegal, we should obey God before any bad, evil, or illegal laws.
In verse 3 of Romans 13, Paul is saying the government has no right to force obedience with threats, if behavior is already proper, “for rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad,” and verse 4 states “for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4). This is implying that the authority must be morally admirable (good) and is not executing aggressive anger (wrath) for an arbitrary or self-important reason (vain).
One author stated it this way, “notice that civil government must not be a terror to good works. It has no power or authority to terrorize good works or good people. God never gave it that authority. And any government that oversteps that divine boundary has no divine authority or protection.”12 Our obedience to governmental powers should not be automatic, but also based on moral conscience. Romans 13, verse 5 states: “therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.”
The Roman empire was ruled by an emperor, therefore it was a monarchy, whereas the United States is established differently; it has no emperor or king. America’s law recognizes the United States Constitution as our governing authority; it is our recognized higher authority. Not only are we expected to obey this law, but so are the representatives we elect to carry out its enforcement – the President, Congress, and even the Supreme Court.
Here in the United States, “we have a practical, historical and biblical mandate to fervently disobey any unconstitutional laws and all government officials who cease to be good ministers of Jesus Christ. God Almighty is the only power that deserves unlimited obedience.”13
According to the United States Senate: “The Constitution’s first three words — ‘We the People’ — affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens.”14 And according to Romans 13, God ordains this government as long as its representatives are an influence for good and order, but if instead, they become an instrument contrary to the U.S. Constitution, it would no longer be a Christian’s duty to submit and obey. We would be expected to obey God rather than a government’s unauthorized human authority.
The Bible says, “government is God’s servant to discipline the disobedient and carry out his righteous will,”15 and that is the same for any government. The key words in that statement are “righteous will.” If the government does not provide and protect God’s righteous will, then we are required to obey God rather than man.
Copyright © 2018, Dr. Ray Hermann
(Leave comments at the end, after References & Notes.)
References & Notes
1. Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2. Chalfant, John W., “Hitler, Obama and Romans 13:1-4,” (America: A Call to Greatness, 30 May 2011), http://greatness.us/theology/hitler-obama-and-romans-13-1-4
3. “FEMA Recruiting Pastors To Prepare For Martial Law,” (Baptist Board, Christian Debate Forum, 5/24/2006),
Author’s note 1: An actual 33 page FEMA training document for pastors can be viewed and downloaded from the following link, https://archives.infowars.com/images2/ps/pastor_fema_docs.pdf
Author’s note 2 (13 June 2019): There seems to be some concerted effort to deny access of all links to this FEMA training document across the internet. You might try the link using “http” instead of “https”, also trying searching for “pastor_fema_docs” in a ‘privacy and no tracking’ search engine such as DuckDuckGo. Or try searching the full title name: “Pastoral Crisis Intervention: An Overview of Pastoral Crisis Intervention and Debriefing”. Good luck!
4. “Exemption Requirements – 501(c)(3) Organizations,” (Department of the Treasury, IRS, Church and Religions Organizations, 28 December 2017), https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501c3-organizations
5. Kershaw, Peter, In Caesar’s Grip, (Branson, MO: Heal Our Lord Ministries, 2000), pp. 114-115.
6. Ibid., p. 107.
7. “Camel’s nose,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 9 February 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camel’s_nose
8. Hughes, Jeff, “Does Romans 13 limit government?” (Two Masters, July 8, 2017), https://twomasterssite.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/does-romans-13-limit-government/
9. Lloyd, James, “Romans 13, Should Christians Obey the Government Unconditionally?” (Great Tribulation, 2002), http://www.greattrib.com/end-times-bible-study/romans-13-should-christians-obey-the-government-unconditionally
10. Neufeld, Matthew G.,”Submission to Governing Authorities: A Study of Romans 13:1-7,” (Direction Journal, Fall 1994, vol. 23, no.2), pp. 90-97, http://www.directionjournal.org/issues/gen/art_849_.html
11. Gromacki, Robert G., New Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1974), pp. 194–195.
12. Baldwin, Chuck, “Romans 13: Are Christians Required to Submit to Government Edict and Policy 100% of the Time?” (Cutting Edge Ministries, 2007), http://www.cuttingedge.org/news/n2229.cfm
13. Dixon, Greg A., “Rethinking Romans 13,” (WND, 4/14/2001), http://www.wnd.com/2001/04/8841/
14. “United States Constitution,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 26 February 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Constitution
15. Dockery, David S., et el., Holman Bible Handbook, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), pp. 684–685.