Liberals love it when conservatives fight among themselves—especially when the battle centers around whether or not America is truly based on a biblical foundation and God’s providential work. In case you’re blissfully ignorant about the controversy, let me explain.
Sadly John MacArthur reveals his lack of knowledge on America’s founding and well as his misunderstanding of Romans 13 when he writes that the founding of America was a sin:
[Quote] Over the past several centuries, people have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. That’s why many contemporary evangelicals believe the American Revolution was completely justified, both politically and scripturally. They follow the arguments of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are divinely endowed rights.
Therefore those believers say such rights are part of a Christian worldview, worth attaining and defending at all cost including military insurrection at times. But such a position is contrary to the clear teachings and commands of Romans 13:1-7. So the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers. [End Quote]
When you combine a lack of knowledge about the American Revolution with a false interpretation of Romans 13, you end up with good conservative Christians adding to the misinformation about our Founders and believing that America was not established under God but by an unchristian rebellion.
If the Founding Fathers had removed themselves from underneath the authority of Great Britain because they were choosing anarchy over an established government, then that would be a violation of Romans 13. Although Romans 13 is not an endorsement of every government, it is a description of what God says is the proper role of civil government.
In Scripture, God initiates several realms of authority in human governance: family, church, and state. We take these to be the normal pattern of social interaction, and civilizations throughout history have reflected these in some form. Simply because the presence of these institutions is normative, however, we should not expect every instance of them to be acceptable.
Fathers are the God-ordained head of the family, but those who abuse their children and wives deserve to be removed from their positions of authority. Wives and children should not passively accept their daily beatings just because the concept of family government gives the father a role as head of the home. God has created family government, but that does not mean the leader of every family is endorsed by God.
Few people disagree that a pastor or elder should be removed from leadership in the church—his God-ordained position of authority—if the leader is guilty of grave moral and ethical failures. Christians who attend a church where a leader remains even though violating God’s standards should remove themselves from that church and find one that complies with God’s principles.
Which brings us to the arena of civil government. Romans 13 articulates God’s specific plan and purpose for state authorities. But, as with church and family rule, God does not necessarily endorse every leader or every civil government that comes along. God gives government the responsibility to punish the wicked and reward and protect the righteous, but it doesn’t always work that way. Nazi Germany failed spectacularly in that calling. Likewise, Stalinist Russia. These modern examples are easy to judge. Yet the picture becomes similarly clear for America’s early history when we understand the nature of eighteenth century British rule over the colonies.
For eleven years, our Founders petitioned the King of Great Britain to cease his unlawful, unbiblical actions against the colonials. Although the monarch ignored their grievances, they remained under his authority until he sent 25,000 troops into the colonies for the purpose of seizing property, invading homes, and imprisoning people without trials. The king’s actions violated his own British common law, the English Bill of Rights, and the centuries-old Magna Carta.
Once King George III started down the path of violent suppression, the Founders announced their intent to separate from Great Britain. They wrote at length that they were involved in self-defense, which they rightly believed was biblically acceptable. British troops fired the first shot in every confrontation leading up to the Revolutionary War—the Massacre of 1770, the bombing of Boston in 1774, and the Lexington and Concord engagements of 1775.
Unless you are a thoroughgoing pacifist, there is no basis for saying the Founders sinned in defending themselves against King George’s troops and their terrorist tactics against the colonists. The Founders’ fight was not a “military insurrection.” Our early leaders took seriously their standing before God and believed He could bless a war of defense but not a war of offense. They fought to protect their own lives and those of their family and friends.
Many Christians get queasy over the subject of “civil disobedience” and invoke Romans 13 to avoid the responsibility of standing up to a deviant government. While I agree it is crucial that Christians pursue civil disobedience only when obeying government requires us to disobey God, Scripture offers clear direction on when such action is acceptable. Kerby Anderson points out the following biblical principles for civil disobedience:
- The law or injunction being resisted should clearly be unjust and unbiblical.
- The means of redress should be exhausted.
- Christians must be willing to accept the penalty for breaking the law.
- Civil disobedience should be carried out in love and with humility.
- Civil disobedience should be considered only when there is some possibility of success.
The Founding Fathers did not violate New Testament principles when they instituted American independence, and it is critical that we close ranks on this fundamental issue. Our nation was founded under God’s guiding hand—not in spite of it. Whether or not we continue in the godly heritage of the first Americans is a vital concern, but it’s one that should be debated between “us” and “them,” not between “us” and “us.”
Dr. John MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You, An Alternative to Political Activism, page, 6