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Piety, Patriotism, and Politics

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Was the American Revolution biblically supported?

This is a very legitimate question, and one that poses special problems for Christians. For one thing there is a strong desire to demonstrate that our country was “founded by Christians, on Christian principles.” If one were to conclude that our nation began by a rebellion against authority that was not biblical, it might show us to have feet of clay in this matter.

Let me seek to lay out some principles which relate to the question, starting with this one in Proverbs 24:21:

NAU Proverbs 24:21 My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change,

NET Proverbs 24:21 Fear the LORD, my child, as well as the king, and do not associate with rebels,

CSB Proverbs 24:21 My son, fear the LORD, as well as the king, and don’t associate with rebels

This proverb seems to set down a general principle that one should fear God (first), and the king, and should not associate those who are intent upon revolt. If one were to protest by saying that this is an Old Testament text, then I would point them to the text you suggested – 1 Peter 2:12-15 and Romans 13:1-2.

In this same light it is probably good to recall that even though David had been designated (and even anointed) as Israel’s next king, David would not seize that kingdom by force. He waited for God to remove Saul (1 Samuel 24; 26).

Also in the Old Testament we see men like Joseph and Daniel, both of whom served pagan kings. In neither instance (Egypt or Babylon) is the king a godly man, nor is the nation anything close to a democracy. The people were enslaved, and often dealt with cruelly. In the case of Joseph he actually proposed and implemented a plan which ultimately deprived people of their possession of land (Genesis 41:33-36; 47:13-26). Daniel served several kings, and these men were far from godly. It is also evident that Daniel’s faith made a significant impact on them, especially Nebuchadnezzar. Both Joseph and Daniel strongly supported men whom they could have opposed.

When we come to the New Testament, I believe that we cannot find any justification, either in principle or by example, for rebelling against a government in an effort to replace it with another. As evil as the governments of Jesus’ day may have been, He did not seek to overturn them (much to the dismay of some, including His disciples), nor did He spend much time speaking against them. The same is true of Paul and of the other apostles, most of who died at the hand of government (or at government’s willful failure to protect them). Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; and 1 Peter 2:11-17 all teach us to submit to the government that is in authority over us, and that to resist that our government is to resist God. We know, of course, that we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), and thus there will be times when we must disobey government and accept the consequences. So far as I can see in Scripture, civil disobedience is justified when government requires what God forbids (or vice-versa), but in none of these instances is it our duty to attempt to overthrow the government. In the days of Hitler, there were those courageous, godly, folks who broke the law by hiding the Jews, accepting the risks for doing so. But they did not seek to overthrow the government (there may be some exceptions, but these are not found in Scripture, nor do we hold such folks to be heroes). They left that to God.

So, the short answer is that no Scripture requires or directly supports the American Revolution. Gratefully, our God can turn what men mean for evil into something good. This was true, for example, in the case of Joseph’s treatment at the hands of his brothers (Genesis 45:5; 50:20). I believe it was true with regard to the American Revolution.

Now let’s take the question to the next level. What does the Bible have to say about our participation and involvement in government, since we live in a democracy?

We should begin by remembering that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). Our “great” commission is to be witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:8) and to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). In order to do this we must be in the world, even though we are not of it. Politics is one avenue of involvement. Since politics is all about compromise, one must exercise great caution. We need to be careful not to be unequally yoked in the process (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). By this I believe Paul means forming alliances with unbelievers in doing the work of Christ. There is a great deal of darkness in the political arena, and thus the need for “light.”

I find that American Christians seem to equate their faith with patriotism. We need to be careful here. As thankful as I am to be an American, my faith and my government are two different entities. As time passes and our nation drifts farther from God we may experience persecution at the hand of our government.

Related Topics: Cultural Issues