Since the day they were first scribed to a scroll the Holy Scriptures have been subjected to poor translations, misunderstanding and blatant twisting to support questionable theology, not unlike an adult game of Twister with those who have had a bit too much to drink. The result is often times, well, use your imagination. A good Accountant can make numbers tell any story they want them to and a clever scholar can do much the same with using God’s Word selectively or improperly. One of the most commonly accepted twisting of scripture is often quoted during Election cycles, Romans 13:1 where Paul instructs us to obey governing authorities because all authority is ordained by God, which leads some to ask some serious questions in light of historical leaders and even the atrocities committed by them. Can God really be responsible for the appointing or election of all leaders? I am no degreed scholar but I want to attempt to break down this passage a bit and take a closer look at what it really says. This may be controversial for some.
Since the inception of the first King of Israel it is clear that God establishes a system of rule and authority. That is, all authority is under His divine providence. But here is where things get twisted. No where in scripture does it read that God selects all individual leaders! Nor does it say that everything done under God’s providence is approved by Him. That sounds, well, twisted, I know. Consider this example. My body is under God’s providence. There is not a single square inch of it that God doesn’t claim as His. However, what I choose to do with my body is under my free agency. If I join my body to a prostitute while under His providence, I am certainly not under His approval. Scripture is very clear about how I am to treat my body and it is on me whether or not I comply with His will and intended purpose for my body. The same should apply to the concept of governing authorities. God expressly establishes the dominion of rulers and order, but does not necessarily appoint or approve of every individual leader. For Biblical support of this consider Hosea 8:4 which reads, “They set up Kings without my consent: they choose princes without my approval”. It is clear in this passage that God played no part in the selection of these rulers and most certainly did not approve of them, even though they were under His providential rule of authority.
We can not with intellectual honesty look upon the deeds of historic world leaders such as Hitler, Tung, Stalin or even Clinton (I know, use Bush if you prefer) and say God established government so therefore He approves of all governing leaders. The Word is clear about God having no part of evil. To assert that the acts and thus the leaders under God’s providence work under His approval is wholly contrary to His own words. For us to say that God, for instance, gave us two flawed candidates as Presidential choices and consequently must want one of them to be President is flawed theology at the highest level. Just as with our bodies, it is up to us how we respond to what we view to be His will. The conundrum is that our will and His will don’t always coincide. It is highly questionable and borderline blasphemous to claim God gave us these two Presidential candidates as “thy will be done”. No, we selected them through our own selfish vetting or lack thereof to do our bidding based solely upon our own personal desires and gain. It is unfair to lay this at the feet of God by claim of Godly providence mischaracterized as Godly approval.
The second aspect of Romans 13:1 that needs to be considered is context. Who was speaking and to whom were they speaking? Where were they and what was the current social climate under which the statements were made? CONTEXT IS EVERYTHINNG!!! First the Apostle Paul was addressing the early church in Rome. If you read verses 2-7 you find why Paul makes these statements. He mentions those bearing swords. The early church was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Roman Empire. They hated Christians and looked for any excuse to off them. The church likewise held Roman authority in contempt of the church and considered them an enemy of God. Paul was being very clear in laying out guidelines for the church members to avoid trouble, to pay taxes to avoid jail time and to make no waves directed toward the ruling leaders so there would be no additional bloodshed against the church. Verse 8 states that they, the church of Rome, were to live lives of submissive love and meekness. Remember that this is the first century A.D and Paul’s letter was written most likely around 40 to 50 A.D. just a few years after Christ. The same leadership that crucified Christ still existed and Christians were still being singled out and persecuted. Nero was an awful Emperor who is recorded as having Christians captured and set on fire to light up his gardens at night! The persecution of the church would only get worse upon Nero’s predecessor Domitian. For the church to spread and Christianity to take root, it was important that a large number of them survived the rule of these Emperors. (Did God appoint and approve Nero and Domitian?). If they had not been peaceful law abiding subjects of the current administration there would have been few survivors left to carry our the great commission of spreading the Word. The subjection to governing authorities was under both the providence and approval of God and His will for those people at that time. The individual Emperors and their respective crimes against the church were most certainly not! For further evidence, consider the three Hebrew Children of the Old Testament book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego. They were ordered by the ruling authority of the day to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image in worship of it or be tossed into the furnace of fire. It was, after all, the law of the land. Should they have not been subject to it? We all know the story and the outcome. That law and its signor were in direct violation of God’s law so compliance was not permissible. God honored their disobedience to civil law and spared them the consequences of their direct violation. This is a classic example of the providence of authority being perverted and twisted against the will and approval of God. CONTEXT!
Fast forward to 2016 and a very important upcoming U.S. election. We as believers are faced with some tough decisions as a result of a selection process under God’s providence but not subject necessarily to His approval which has given us two primary flawed choices. I won’t attempt to address here the polarization that has split the church body into fighting factions. What I do have to address is the irresponsibility of twisting scripture and consequently condemning brothers and sisters in the faith as a result of the same twisted logic over a Godly institution injected with ungodly man made choices. The Word is to be rightly divided, not torn into sections to support bad doctrine. I cringe each time I see a verse quoted or applied to a meme removed of all contextual meaning. It is nothing new and it will continue to be done. It is our individual responsibility to test (challenge) all scripture under Godly criteria to affirm its proper interpretation and application, and to call out when positive any attempt to Twist it like an old game.