Should Christians always do what their governments tell them to do?

Christians on both sides of World War 2 did what their governments told them to do and they went to war – the result being that millions of Christians killed and maimed each other. But what were those Christians supposed to do instead when Romans 13:1 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities (because) the authorities that exist have been established by God,” and in verse 2, that  rebelling against one’s government is “rebelling against God,” and in verse 8, that “it is necessary (therefore) to submit to the authorities”?

But what is the context of Romans 13? Is it about international warfare and giving a government leader the divine right to declare war against another nation, and his people must support him? Is it giving a national leader the authority to decide who is right and who is wrong on the world stage, and to use whatever means he deems necessary to stop what he believes to be evil? But doesn’t Romans 13 also give the leader of the other nation those rights as well, since he too has been “established by God”? So, which of the two leaders should people now obey?

If that is the context of Romans 13 it’s very confusing. But what if the context of Romans 13 is simply about Christians being responsible citizens in their own home countries? If so, then Romans 13 is very comforting, that so long as one’s government is not pushing anything against God, Christians have nothing to fear, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right,” verse 3. And God has rulers in place who really do try to make their countries a good place to live in, and where that is the case a Christian can happily obey his or her government and live in peace.

“That’s also why you pay taxes,” as The Message continues in verses 6-7 – “so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligation as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.” The context of these first few verses in Romans 13 are clear, then, that God works through government to keep order in a country for the benefit of its citizens, and where such a country exists a Christian should definitely and absolutely do what his government tells him to do.

The only exception to that is when a government (or religious leader) is pushing something that God would clearly not approve of, in which case a Christian could not go along with it, because obedience to God has priority over obedience to man (Acts 4:19). Perhaps if more Christians had believed that, they would have resisted killing their fellow Christians in World War 2 as well.

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