It is tragic that most Bible-believing Christians in Zimbabwe are misguided vis-à-vis Biblical submission to government. God never intended for Christians to blindly yield to government tyranny, blatant abusive of power and treason against its own citizens.
What ever happened to upholding our constitution? Why have we allowed our human rights to be trampled upon and violated by those in government? Human rights lawyers the likes of Beatrice Mtetwa and others have been kept extremely busy in the last few days in Zimbabwe defending hundreds who were rounded up by the security forces in Zimbabwe after the disturbances that rocked the nation as people took to the streets when government doubled fuel prices.
The contention that Christians should simply lay down and comply with even the most hideous requirements of government is an old argument.
Should Christians submit to tyrannical governments?
Those who took up arms in the first and second Chimurenga took matters into their own hands, reviling and revolting against the higher powers. The overthrow of British rule by our liberation war heroes violates the philosophy of nearly every pastor and Bible-scholar today, who teach that Christians ought to unquestioningly submit to government.
Hypocritically, these same religious leaders heartily enjoy freedoms which were secured only through bloodshed inflicted by rebellion and revolt against the abuse and tyranny of the higher powers (i.e., England and the Smith’s Rhodesian represive regime). Freedom isn’t free!!!
I’m tired of reading books by Christian leaders, about how believers are supposed to blindly submit to criminal government, when the very existence of “An independent Zimbabwe” was secured through revolt, resistance, and bloodshed. How hypocritical. Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God! There is a theology of cowardliness circulating in many of our churches today, making excuses and explaining away Scriptures, in an attempt to exempt themselves from the call to battle.
Understand it in context
Interpreting Romans 13:1-3 in Proper Biblical Context
Romans 13:1-3 reads:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.”
Please notice… “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” This phrase is critically important because it reveals the context in which the Bible is speaking, i.e., appropriate government is only a terror to evil works; but not to good works. Somebody please tell that to the authorities in Zimbabwe.
Good government is NOT a terror to good works. In other words, when a government is run amuck with corruption, tyranny and injustice, we are not Biblically obligated to submit anymore. The Apostle Paul deliberately broke the law. Acts 18:13, “Saying, this fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.” We ought to obey God rather than men. Thus, sometimes Christians must rebel against man in order to obey God. To teach otherwise is to condemn Zimbabweans who fought tyranny to bring about independence, who if they hadn’t revolted, there would be no Zimbabwe today. Think about that.
Terror to good works
Government corruption, and abuse of citizens is a terror to good works. When Daniel was told it was against the law to pray to God, he prayed anyhow (Daniel 6:10). When Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego were commanded to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s 90-foot golden statue, they broke the king’s law by refusing to bow (Daniel 3:18). When Herod ordered the 3 wise men to return with information regarding the whereabouts of the Christ child, they didn’t return. It takes a good man to break laws made by bad men. Romans 13:1-3 commands believers to obey the “higher powers” as long as the rulers are a terror to evil works, and not to good. The security forces in Zimbabwe who willingly go out to bash and kill unarmed civilians in Zimbabwe might need to pose and think about their actions. God is the highest power. Acts 5:29 plainly states… “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Those who took up arms to liberate Zimbabwe were not anarchists. This was demonstrated by the speed with which they acted to form a new government in the very act of declaring their independence from a foreign power that had refused to negotiate further with them on their legitimate grievances. They recognized government was, in a fallen world, a necessary evil.
But the Bible is also teeming with acts of civil disobedience and deliverance from tyranny – so much so that they inspired not just the Chimurenga heroes but men like Evan Mawarire, Itai Dzamara and the likes who have stood up to challenge the government with respect to human rights abuses.
I think of Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ mother in Exodus 2.
I think of Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego in Daniel 3.
I think of Moses himself in Exodus 2 when he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave.
I think of Daniel praying in defiance of the king in Daniel 6.
How about Abraham, who mounted an army of several hundred men and took on four kings who had captured his nephew Lot. For laying waste to those kingdoms, he was toasted by Melchizedek, king of Salem, in Genesis 14.
I could go on and on but let me give you one striking example of the way the Bible actually celebrates heroes of the faith who take extraordinary, even violent, actions to liberate themselves from ungodly rulers.
More biblical examples
The Book of Judges recounts ancient Israel’s frequent temptations to disobey God and pay the consequences and then to cry for a deliverer – with their prayers heard.
Such was the case with Ehud, son of Gera, a left-handed Benjamite, who actually assassinated Eglon, the ruler of the Israelites’ conquerors, the Moabites, in a story told in Judges 3.
“And he said unto them, follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over. And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man. So, Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years,” we are told in Judges 3:28-30.
No authority to torment
In Romans 13, Paul was not suggesting that any earthly kings or rulers have absolute authority and God’s blessing to torment their subjects, oppress God’s people, break covenants and, most importantly, ignore God’s laws.
Our genuine liberation war heroes believed – and I think they were right – that when Ian Smith and his white minority oppressors of the majority blacks broke the laws that required all men to be equal and enjoy the same freedoms and human rights, they were acting without authority. The same principle applies today to our own leaders when they break trust with the Constitution and God’s laws.
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