The Christian’s Duty to the Government
It is essential for every Christian to understand when it is right to obey the government, and when it is not. There are two extremes, both advocated by men professing to be Christians, and both utterly wrong, indeed sinful.
At the one extreme, there is the false doctrine that Christians may engage in what is often referred to as “civil disobedience”, but which is nothing but rebellion and revolution. This is sinful. No true Christian is to rise up against the government, and seek by rebellious and violent means to bring about its downfall, no matter how wicked it may be. This is clear from Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Tim. 2:1,2, and 1 Pet. 2:17.
But at the other extreme there is another false doctrine: that the government is always to be obeyed, in all things. For example: if Christians are forbidden by law to evangelise, there will be professing believers of this camp foolishly saying, “We must obey the authorities.” Or if Christians are forbidden by law to discipline their children, these misguided people will be heard foolishly saying, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it; we must obey the authorities.” No matter what the government commands, these people insist that Christians have to obey it – even if what it commands is against the Word of God. This is an absolutely false teaching! If, say, the government forbids the preaching of the Gospel, this is a law which every Christian is duty-bound to disobey! For in this matter the government has overstepped its legitimate authority. The Scriptures speak with a loud and clear voice on this matter:
“And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17). To earthly authority we are not to render obedience when to do so would be to contradict God’s Word. “And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
This matter of obedience to earthly authority is actually very simple:
1) The government is to be obeyed whenever it commands something which it has the legitimate, God-given authority to command; something which falls within the limits of its legitimate powers.
2) The government is not to be obeyed, when it commands something contrary to the Word (and thus to the will) of God.
Many professing believers concede this last point, in a general way. They say, “Yes, if we’re forbidden to preach the Gospel, we must disobey and continue to do so.” But when it comes down to specifics, they find excuses. Yet the principle which is taught in Acts 4 and 5 involves more than merely preaching or witnessing with the mouth. It involves obeying the Lord’s commandments; it involves living the Christian life! “We ought to obey God rather than men,” in all things where the rulers try to intrude into areas over which the Lord has not given them authority.
The Government Does NOT have the Authority to Regulate All Speech
If by his speech a person incites others to physically harm people, or damages or destroys the reputation of a person by lying, such speech falls within the legitimate power of a government to punish. But it is not within the legitimate authority of the government to prohibit a person from merely speaking against another person’s religion or lifestyle, even if this is expressed in a harsh manner. For it is not physically harmful to that person. No government can ever legislate what beliefs, viewpoints or opinions one holds. No government can ever legislate “love speech” into existence! It cannot, by legislation, put nice, kind, loving, sweet words into the hearts or thoughts of men, and into their tongues, and compel them to utter nothing but such words!
Who defines “hate speech”? Who decides what “hate speech” is? The opposite of free speech is controlled speech. And when it is controlled, who controls it?
Answer: inevitably, it is those in power. But have they been given the wisdom, from God, to define which forms of speech are “hate” and which are not? No, they have not. Governments are made up of sinful men and women. They are not wiser than other people just because they have been elected into positions of power. Often, in fact, they are less wise than most; and often they are downright dangerous human beings. Power corrupts. Many of those who have power over others are utterly convinced that they are special, they are the wise ones, and that no other views except their own should ever be entertained on any topic. To prevent this, then, they have latched onto this issue which has been labelled “hate speech”, to enable them to decide what is supposedly “right” and acceptable speech; and to legally shut down all forms of speech with which they do not agree, by branding them “hate speech”.
And it is in fact impossible to define “hate speech” anyway! The advocates of “hate speech” legislation say that speech is “hate speech” when it “offends” or “hurts” people. But what does “offensive” or “hurtful” speech actually mean? People will be offended by pretty much as many different types of speech as there are people!
And what percentage of the people need to be offended before it becomes “hate speech”? Is it “hate speech” if it offends 51% of the people? This would be strictly democratic, but hardly sensible or even possible to establish! There would have to be a national vote, every single day of the year and more than once a day, to decide what is “offensive” and what is not by this democratic means!
What if some aspect of speech only offends 1% of the population? Or 0.5%? If, say, I decide tomorrow that I am “offended” when other people use the word “green” in any context whatsoever, must I be accommodated by law? We may laugh and say, “Of course not; that’s just silly”; but is it any sillier than an entire society being held to ransom by a tiny percentage of people who claim to be “offended” when the word, “male”, is used? Or when a biological male is called “he” instead of his preferred personal pronoun of “she” because he claims (falsely) to be a female? Yet “hate speech” legislation accommodates minuscule percentages of any population, and all the rest of us have to kowtow to their insane sensibilities!
Nowhere has the Lord given, to any government, the authority to regulate or control what people say. Therefore, if a government takes this authority to itself, it has overstepped its legitimate mandate, and (note this well!) no Christian is bound to obey such a law!
The duty of the government is very clearly laid out in the New Testament: it is to protect the physical lives and property of the citizens. This is the limit of its legitimate authority. It has absolutely no authority over the soul; and it has absolutely no authority over speech. It may claim to have this authority; but it oversteps its legitimate purpose if it does so. No Christian is duty-bound to obey such legislation.