The following was excerpted from, "Is Civil Disobedience Biblical?" By Bruce Davidson, SEARCHING TOGETHER MAGAZINE, Winter 1991. The full article is available upon request.


by Bruce Davidson

In A Christian Manifesto, the late Francis Schaeffer, like many others, tried to put civil disobedience on Christian footing. He argued that even though the state is instituted by God and rules in His behalf, "acts of the state which contradicted God's law were illegitimate and acts of tyranny." He went on to say:

The basic principle of civil government and therefore, law, must be based oil God's law as given in the Bible .... Since the ruler is granted power conditionally, it follows that the people have the power to withdraw their sanction if the proper conditions are not fulfilled.

In other words, the government must follow these strict conditions and guidelines in order to be entitled to any obedience at all from people. A government that fails to meet these qualifications can be disobeyed legitimately and blamelessly whenever it commands anything.

But where in the New Testament are such conditions laid down? Was the Roman government in Paul's time "based on God's law as given in the Bible"? Nero certainly was no God-fearing man, yet Paul's instructions to submit to the government were given in that anti-Christian historical context, and included no such conditions. A lot of Schaeffer's argument rests on the assertion that a government based on anti-Christian principles, carrying out unjust policies, forfeits its right to command obedience from its citizens. But the Roman government Paul lived under was no less humanistic and wicked than ours; is, and yet Christians were exhorted to submit to it. "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient" (Titus 3:1). "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men, whether to the Kings, as the supreme authority, or to governors" (1 Pet.2:13-14). Notice that Peter does not say, "every authority except one that is humanistic" or "every authority except those not based on God's law." but "every authority."

Schaeffer says that the Roman Christians were practicing civil disobedience when they refused to sacrifice to the emperor as they were commanded. However, civil disobedience is not refusing to obey a command that would cause us to sin. Christians are free to disobey the government, and indeed must disobey the government when it commands us to do something contrary to God's Word, or forbids us to do something Christ commands. For example, if a government forbids us to preach Christ to unbelievers, we must disobey, as Peter and John did (Acts 4:1-20). But this type of disobedience is not civil disobedience. This is the crucial difference: civil disobedience is refusing to obey a law as an act of protest against a government policy one considers to be evil. A true act of civil disobedience by the Roman Christians would have been their refusal to pay taxes as an act of protest against the Roman government's corrupt policies - such as, supporting slavery, encouraging idolatry, and sponsoring cruel spectacles in the Colosseum. Yet the New Testament instructs believers to pay their taxes: "this is also why you pay taxes, because authorities are God's servants ... if you owe taxes, pay taxes, if revenue, then revenue'' (Rom13:6,7). Schaeffer said that a Christian may refuse to pay his taxes if they are used to finance abortions. Was Roman tax money used for better purposes?

Thus, in A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer's reasoning is flawed and unbiblical, and no valid support for Christian civil disobedience is given.