“And when they had brought them they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'” Acts 5:27-32
In my last post, I wrote about Paul’s instructions in the Book of Romans, advising us to obey the authorities placed over us by God. We see in the verses about that obedience to other authorities must be balanced with the necessity to place God’s commandments above all others.
Obvious, right? However, the more I thought about this, the more difficult it became to sort out. In the instance above, Peter and the apostles were told by an angel to “…stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”(Acts 5:20). This is what prompted their willingness to face the consequences(imprisonment, etc.) of disobeying the Jewish authorities to obey God.
Most of us don’t get such concise instructions delivered by angelic visitors. Our primary source is the Bible. The Ten Commandments can guide us in many situations: if our employer tells us to be dishonest in our business practices, we refuse; if we’re called upon to testify in court, we tell the truth, even if someone in authority tells us to lie. We wouldn’t renounce our faith, even if we lived in a country where Christianity was a crime.
But then there are other things…. if our government tells us to kill people, we say no, correct? Well….what about soldiers? Is it acceptable for them to kill the enemy? And what about the death penalty in certain criminal cases? Can a Christian agree to this extreme punishment if they are on a jury? Can they pull the switch to execute someone if it’s part of their job description?
Suppose the government declares something to be legal that many Christians deem morally wrong — abortion,, for example. What action should we take? Peaceful demonstration? Should disruptive or even violent behavior be taken to prevent something God says is wrong? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian I have quoted often our our blog participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Was he being obedient to God in trying to save innocent lives? Or disobedient in planning to take a life? I’m beginning to see why the Jews tried to formulate all those rules to nail down the precise meaning of the commandments!
There is sometimes (maybe more often than we like to admit), a tension between obeying the authorities that God has place over us, and obeying God. How do we hold both of these instructions in balance? I hope some of the other Lutheran lady bloggers and readers will weigh in on this. I want to hear your thoughts.