In both Testaments we have examples where the state or a ruler is disobeyed and those doing this are regarded in a favourable light. Sometimes this involves the direct defiance of a law or government decree. Sometimes it just involves a man of God standing up to an immoral or ungodly ruler.
I recently discussed the case of a Canadian pastor who was jailed for five weeks because he dared to keep his church open when the authorities demanded that he keep it closed. He had decided that this was an instance where he had to obey God rather than man.
In that piece I looked at the broader issue of expanding statism and the shrinking church. That article was entitled “When the State Controls the Church.” This article could be entitled “When the Church Defies the State.” The truth is, both Scripture and church history provide us with plenty of examples of the people of God having to resist – even disobey – the state.
Of course, whenever such matters are discussed, you will always get some Christians who will be all rather upset. They will claim that Christians must always obey the state, and that we must never disobey government authorities. They will often appeal to passages like Romans 13:1-7 to try to make their case.
Suffice it to say, they are greatly mistaken, and I have often written on how folks can misunderstand and misinterpret such texts. See these two articles for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/12/03/difficult-bible-passages-romans-131-7/; billmuehlenberg.com/2020/05/15/the-state-is-not-absolute/
There is in fact a place for such things as civil disobedience. This too I have often discussed, such as in this piece.
And in this article I offer a number of important quotes on the matter from key Christians throughout the ages.
As mentioned, there are numerous cases of folks defying the authorities that are recorded in Scripture – either explicitly stated or indirectly implied. In both Testaments we have examples where the state or a ruler is disobeyed and those doing this are regarded in a favourable light.
Sometimes this involves the direct defiance of a law or government decree. Sometimes it just involves a man of God standing up to an immoral or ungodly ruler. Let me offer twelve examples of this (thirteen, if we include Jesus in the list), in order of their appearance in Scripture, along with a brief bit of commentary on each:
The Hebrew Midwives—Exodus 1:15-22
Here we read of those brave women who defied the orders of Pharaoh and kept the Hebrew male babies alive. We especially see the divine approval of this in verses 20-21: “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.”
The Parents of Moses—Exodus 2:1-2
We find here the account of how the parents of Moses hid the baby for three months. To highlight how right they were to obey God rather than man, we see these parents mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” found in Hebrews 11 (see verse 23).
Elijah—1 Kings 18
In this memorable chapter we read about how the prophet challenged King Ahab and the false prophets. This was not the first time he resisted this evil king, since we read in verse 17, “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’”
King Ahasuerus had promoted Haman and commanded the king’s servants to bow down and pay homage to him. “But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage (v. 2). As we read in verse 3-4, the servants asked, “‘Why do you transgress the king’s command?’ And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them.”
When Mordecai hears of Haman’s complaint to the king of the disobedience of the Jews, and his plan to have them destroyed, he informs Esther. She says she is not permitted to see the king: “if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death” (v. 11). But she then says, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (v. 16).