The previous two issues of this Breifing focused on Bob Fu. This issue gives emphasis to what attitude Christians in mainland China should hold towards the termination of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Whistleblower Movement and the New Federal State of China are creating larger and larger waves in ‘taking down the CCP’ globally, and many Chinese Christians have participated in this movement. However, many more Chinese Christians are still skeptical about this movement because they are worried about whether it conflicts with biblical principles; moreover, for nearly 100 million Christians in mainland China, they have to consider their own safety. In this issue we will discuss these troubling, yet ubiquitous concerns.
First, as Christians, we need to obey God rather than our own will or the will of others. Therefore, Christians must first seek God’s will as to what attitude they should take toward ‘taking down the CCP’. Since the CCP is ruling in mainland China, we have to examine what God has taught Christians in the Bible to face their government on earth. One of the most famous teachings in this aspect can be found in Romans 13:1-5: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (NIV)
In the 1st century AD, the Roman Empire reigned in the Jewish land and there were multiple riots among the Jewish people. The Romans mistreated Christians harshly, thus, with agony and resentment in their hearts, some of the Christians were tempted to join the rebels and take vengeance. However, the Apostle Paul taught them not to take such action. Jesus Christ also set an example of willingly suffering through persecution for righteousness’ sake, just as Acts 8:32 says, ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.’ Thus, throughout the ages, there are many examples of Christians choosing to remain silent and patient while their rights were violated by powerful dictatorships. That position doesn’t necessarily connote weakness, but rather, exemplifies their belief in the resurrection and in eternity over life in this world.
Some people then simply conclude, based on the scripture above, that Chinese Christians must submit to the CCP government because its authority comes from God, and resisting the CCP is resisting God, so mainland Christians cannot support or participate in terminating the CCP. The CCP and its supporters must be pleased with this conclusion and this argument resounds in many Chinese Christians.
I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). However, along with many others, I also believe that the aforementioned conclusion is an oversimplified of the matter. Throughout the course of history there have been many examples of tyrannical regimes that have abused this biblical passage in order to muzzle Christians and silence their attempts to speak up. There was the German Peasants’ Revolt of the 16th century, slavery in America, the Jim Crow Law that segregated people based on race, genocide in Zimbabwe, and Nazi Germany. It was on the basis of the simple conclusion above that many of the enforcers of the regimes’ orders justified their evil deeds by saying ‘I just followed what I was commanded to do.’ Therefore, it is necessary to examine this verse more closely and come to a more precise understanding based on its consistency with the entire Bible.
Romans 13:1-5 can be summarized as the following three points: 1. Authorities are established by God; 2. The reason for God to establish authorities is to to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right; 3. Submitting to authorities is to avoid punishment and violation against conscience. The three points will be analyzed below.
- As for the first point, we need to ask: Would God abandon any authority He established even before it falls apart?
The answer in the Bible is YES. First, we see such a case recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel. The Israelites rejected Yahweh to be their king and requested a human king and then God appointed Saul as their king. However, Saul was stubborn, disobedient, and rebellious before God. In 1 Samuel 13:13-14 and 15:23, God regretted his first choice of Saul and went on to search and appoint David as king. In 16:1, 13, God anointed David and the Holy Spirit left Saul and dwelled with David. At that point, David was still a boy and hadn’t fought against Goliath yet.
There were many years before he would become king at the age of 30 (2 Samuel 5:4-5). That means that after God anointed David, the real authority God established in Israel was no longer Saul but David even though Saul was still in power. Thus, when David later had to escape from Saul and formed a separate power, God found no joy when people called David a rebel. An example is found when Nabal slandered David as a rebel but God struck him down and killed him (1 Samuel 25:10, 38). Therefore, we know that abandoning the existing government and founding a new power doesn’t necessarily mean rebelling against God.
It is worthy to note that David held a respectful attitude towards Saul and tried to avoid conflict with him even though he had a divine mandate. David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of Saul’s robe, for in his mind, Saul had been the Lord’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:5 – 6). What David did in this situation is the same thing that I mentioned Christians have done throughout the ages, namely to first choose to remain silent and patient when when their rights are violated by powerful dictatorships.
There is a good number of examples in the Bible where governments existed yet did not follow God’s ways. Two such examples are the rebellious northern kingdom of Israel and the deceitful southern kingdom of Judah. Because Judah deserted God and worshiped idols (Jeremiah 2:13), God arranged Babylon to destroy Judah (Jeremiah 1:15, 4:6 – 7) twenty to thirty years before its destruction (Jeremiah 1:2 – 3). Therefore, when the kingdom of Judah was finally confronted by a great enemy, what the people should have done was not listen to their king and the government who told them to fight against the enemy and defend their country, but to listen to the prophet and surrender to live! (Jeremiah 38:2). The conclusion here can support the previous one: turning away from the present regime and disobeying it may be precisely obeying God’s teaching.
This conclusion applies not only to Israel which worships God, but also to the nations that do not worship God. God orchestrated Babylon as an instrument to punish Judah, but Babylon’s arbitrary punishment went beyond God’s bounds (Isaiah 47:6) besides its many other sins (Jeremiah 50-51). God forsook them and arranged for their destruction by Persia while Babylon was still strong; moreover, God warned the inhabitants: Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives! Do not be destroyed because of her sins (Jeremiah 51:1 – 9). When Babylon’s regime was in crisis, the rulers may have called on the people to exercise patriotic zeal to defend it, but the Bible tells us that by not submitting to an evil regime, we can avoid having a share in its sins and thus avoid perishing together.
This conclusion is also evidenced by the example of the prostitute Rahab. In Joshua chapter 2, the regime of the king of Jericho still existed, but God had decided to destroy it. When Rahab heard this news, she chose to believe and act, risking her life to shelter the two spies sent by Joshua. As a result, when all of Jericho was destroyed, not only were Rahab and his family spared (Joshua 6) but also married into the house of Israel to become part of the bloodline of King David (Matthew 1:5).
Daniel says, ‘he sets up kings and deposes them’ (Dan. 2:21). The above examples prove that God establishes a regime and gives it authority, but also that when God abandons a regime, it loses all authority from God even though the regime may still rule. When people abandon and disobey such an evil regime, rather than seeing it as rebellion, God sees it as a good way to avoid falling into the sins committed by the regime and thus avoid perishing together.
Now let’s move to the second point. The purpose for God to establish authorities is to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
- Nevertheless, what should we do when a king or regime asks us to do evil? Should we be submissive or practice non-violent disobedience?
Many people have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). He was a German pastor and theologian who resisted the Nazi regime in Germany. He was arrested and hanged for his failed plan to assassinate Hitler. When the overwhelming majority of German Christian churches were subservient to the Nazi regime, there were yet a few disciples of Christ who rose up against the evil regime even at the cost of their lives. Some notable Christians who decided to stand up include: Pastor Banhoeffer, Pastor Martin Niemöller (1919-1961), and Father Bernhard Lichtenberg (1875-1943) among many other less known Christians. Following the oversimplified understanding of Romans 13:1-5 above leads to the following simple conclusion: these rebellious disciples of Christ took their own punishment and will have no peace of conscience because they resisted the authority established by God.
However, as we look back at history today, we realize that an overwhelming majority of German Christian churches brought shame to the name of Christ because they submitted to an evil regime. It was a small group of Christian disciples who glorified Christ and saved the reputation of the Church in Germany by resisting the evil regime.
Why were these rebellious disciples of Christ in the minority while those subservient to the regime were in the majority? What was the difference between the two? I think that there are two reasons for this: 1) the wholeness of understanding of the Bible and 2) uncompromising obedience to God. The vast majority of the churches of the day either lacked a complete understanding of the Bible’s teachings or, although they had a complete understanding, they compromised before the forces of evil, thus committing the sin of obeying men rather than God.
Let’s imagine an extreme example here to help us understand better. Suppose you were a subject under the rule of Nazi Germany and you knew why these minority Christians rebelled against the regime. Suppose also that Hitler, after capturing these rebel Christians, commands you to execute them in prison. If you choose to resist and not to execute them then you would be executed alongside them. What would you do in this situation?
There are some similar examples in the Bible. In Exodus 1, Pharaoh hated the Jews living in Egypt and ordered the midwives to kill every newborn baby boy, but the midwives feared God more than man, so they risked their lives to resist Pharaoh’s order and were treated kindly by God. Or it may be argued that these midwives were treated graciously by God because they feared Him, not because they resisted Pharaoh’s regime. But how did these midwives demonstrate their fear of God? Wasn’t it by resisting the orders of Pharaoh’s regime that they demonstrated their fear of God? If not, God could have rewarded them before Pharaoh’s evil decree was issued.
In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made a great golden image and demanded that as soon as the nation heard his music, they should bow down and worship this golden image, and whoever did not bow down and worship it should immediately be thrown into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego preferred to be thrown into the fiery furnace rather than to carry out the king’s command. God’s divinely intervenes to rescue them which shows that God also commends their public resistance to the evil decree.
In Daniel 6, King Darius issued a decree that anyone who prayed to any god or human being except for king Darius would be thrown into the lions’ den. When Daniel learned of this, he still knelt before God three times a day in prayer and thanksgiving. This resulted in him being thrown into the lions’ den. God again decides to come to the rescue and again proves his approval of the public disobedience of evil decrees.
In Acts chapter 4, the Jewish authorities arrested John and Peter and forbade them to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, to which they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Thus, they still preached Jesus publicly, so they were arrested again. In chapter 5, the high priest says, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, but you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:28-29) It is of extreme importance here that the apostles were not passive and disobedient to the evil order, but actively went against the orders of human authorities for the sake of the gospel. The more the authorities sought to cover truth, the more the apostles proclaimed it loudly, openly, repeatedly, and everywhere.
Not only will Christians refuse to submit to authority in society for the sake of proclaiming the truth and exposing sin, but there is a tradition of this in the Christian church as well. The apostle Paul also exemplifies this tradition. When Peter, the pillar of the church and leader of the apostles was practicing hypocrisy causing a group followed to be hypocritical, Paul, whose apostleship was still being questioned, resisted and exposed him to his face (Gal. 2:11-14).
As Romans 13:1-5 teaches, the fundamental reason for Christians to obey the ruling authorities is to obey God, and Christians should always obey when the ruling authorities are consistent with God’s design to punish evil and promote good, which is the applicable scenario in this passage. However, when a ruling government went against God by punishing those who do right and commend those who do wrong, Christians obey God rather than men. When the rights of Christians are violated, they should first remain silent and patient, but Christians should never accept orders to do evil. The standard of good and evil is not defined by those in power but by God.
Return for a moment to the hypothetical scenario above where you live under the rule of Nazis. Facing such a decision, what choice would God want you to make: to resist the evil decrees and die with the Bonhoeffers of the world, or to obey the evil decrees and execute them in order to save your own life? Regardless of the choices we make, we will eventually have to answer before God and he will not accept the excuse “I was just following orders”.
Finally, let’s examine the third point: obedience to the regime is as much about avoiding punishment as it is about avoiding violation of conscience.
- Why does resisting authorities lead to a sense of guilt and shame?
Obviously, because when a regime follows God’s design to punish evil and promote good, disobeying this regime is to disobey God and thus the one who disobeys is condemned by God and has an uneasy conscience (note that there are also cultural or perceptual reasons for an uneasy conscience). However, it is clear from the analysis of the first and second points above that when a regime is abandoned by God or when a regime issues an evil decree, abandoning such a regime and disobeying it is obeying God’s will. In these two cases, although the flesh may be punished by the present regime, the conscience will never be condemned by God.
Therefore When Jesus was crucified by the Jewish authorities, Peter and John were imprisoned, Paul was repeatedly arrested and beaten, the martyrs were killed for their faith through the ages, and Banhoeffer, Niemöller, and Lichtenberg suffered under the Nazi regime, they bore their persecution for righteousness’ sake. There was no guilt and shame in their consciences, but rather joy and gladness in their soul and spirit, because they obeyed God and walked with Him. As it says in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
CONCLUSION: Romans 13:1-5 applies only to situations where those in power and authority punish evil and promote good as God designs, and it should never be taken as an irrevocable command from God when one is under a God-forsaken regime or a regime that does evil. In the latter two cases, Christians should follow God and not man and as a result they may suffer pains in their flesh inflicted by men but they can protect their conscience from guilt and shame. What attitude should Christians in mainland China have towards the collapse of the Chinese Communist Party? It depends on which of the three kinds of regimes the CCP falls into. In the next issue I will try to analyze which of these three the CCP falls under.
Contributions to this newspaper are welcome. Basic requirements: analysis of key events on the mainland and around the world from a Christian perspective with support for the Whistleblowers’ Movement and the New Federal State of China, Email: [email protected]
Original article: https://gnews.org/zh-hans/517071/