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How Should Christians Deal with Earthly Authorities?

September 7, 2022

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen.

Should we always follow the civil authorities? Does God ask Christians to blindly follow authoritative bodies?  Should we follow at all? Well, yes of course we should follow. No doubt there. Christians follow the civil law. But is it all the time regardless of the request? That’s the more vital question. But first, why even attempt to answer such a question? Because it has become quite evident that Christians of all ages don’t know how to react when authoritative bodies overstep their boundaries.  

 

First, St. Paul is very clear in Romans 13 when he says: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” St. Paul, here, was giving a clear message to Christians who thought that they only reported to God and not to the earthly authorities who govern them. The Christians were having trouble with this at the time because these governing bodies were pagan in origin. So his message was clear: yes, obey. Do not attempt to make yourself superior to the law because its source is pagan. However, it is also clear that St. Paul’s message is about earthly authority, in general, and that is given by God. Therefore, do not resist God he says. God gives certain people this authority to govern and therefore whoever resists these authorities resists the system God has appointed. But then we also see a clear implication in St. Paul’s teaching when he says these rulers are not a terror to good conduct. This is the foundation of this passage. The implication is that these bodies want to do good and therefore obey. But have the authorities been terror to good conduct before? Have they, in general, I am not talking about someone specific here, persecuted some unjustly? Absolutely. The most basic example, is during the first centuries of the early Church. Christianity, then, was completely illegal in the Roman empire. So, does St. Paul mean that Christians ought to obey governing authorities even if it goes against the Christian faith? No, he does not. Think about it, did the Church bow down to worshipping the pagan idols as they were commanded in the early centuries? Absolutely not. The Church was therefore persecuted, people were tortured and many many were martyred for the sake of their faith. Many Christians were burned alive even by some governing bodies. The Coptic Church, as well as many other Churches, have seen incredible amounts of martyrs through the centuries. Egypt’s 2000 years of Christianity is heavily marked by persecution, which also led to its glory. 

 

So the Church ought to obey authorities in everything that is unrelated to the Christian Faith. However, when it touches the faith it is a very different story indeed. St. Basil says: “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God is not violated thereby.” So he says: obey when God’s commandments are not violated. St. Augustine says: “Most rightly, Paul warns against anyone who is puffed up with pride by the fact that he has been called by his Lord into freedom and become a Christian, and therefore thinks that he does not have to keep the status given to him in the course of this life or submit to the higher powers to whom the government of temporal things has been confided for a time… it is fitting that, as far as this life is concerned, we be subject to the authorities, i.e., to the people who with some recognition administer human affairs. But as far as the spiritual side is concerned, in which we believe in God and are called into his kingdom, it is not right for us to be subject to any man who seeks to overturn in us the very thing which God has been pleased to grant us so that we might obtain eternal life. So if anyone thinks that because he is a Christian he does not have to pay taxes or tribute nor show the proper respect to the authorities who take care of these things, he is in very great error. Likewise, if anyone thinks that he ought to submit to the point where he accepts that someone who is his superior in temporal affairs should have authority even over his faith, he falls into an even greater error. But the balance which the Lord himself prescribed is to be maintained…” St. Augustine is very clear. God’s law is superior to the earthly one. When there is conflict between both, God’s law supersedes anything else.  

 

So, in this case, what governing rule does the Church follow? I mean, we hear of communism, socialism and democracy. But the Church does not follow any of those. The Church is Theocratic. So Democracy comes from 2 Greek words ‘demos,’ meaning ‘the people’ and ‘kratia’ meaning ‘rule.’ So democracy means the rule of the people. Theocracy, means the rule of Theos. The rule of God. The Church, the Body of Christ, follows her Head: Christ Himself. He is the One who governs Her as per His laws which He has given Her since the beginning and God has shared this responsibility with the appointed Bishops of the Church.  Now that we understand this, let us take a few examples. Can a civil governing body request a parish to pay taxes? Yes, absolutely. Can that same governing body ask a parish to follow the local building code and request building permits prior to construction? Of course. However, can the government dictate who can partake of the Eucharist and who can not? Absolutely not. This is an overreach. This is a breach of God’s law. God says that sin is the only reason to forbid the Eucharist. Physical health or mental health or any other type of requirement does not apply here. Only spiritual health matters. I was more than saddened in the last two or three years to see many Christians who were so easily willing to renounce their brothers and sisters in Christ because of a physical health status. I am not going to lie, I am very afraid for those people. They might have been afraid for their physical health. But I am afraid for their salvation. Do not be deceived persecution against the Church, which started 2 millennia ago, is far from being over. In the past few decades in the West, we have not seen any kind of direct persecution. But, this does not mean that it will not come. Remember, Scripture tells us that it will come. It might not be a persecution of the sword, but it will be difficult enough, regardless of its form. And many will leave the faith. Remember, God has cut short the time of the Antichrist, whenever that is, for the sake of the elect. Will we be ready if these times are around the corner? Will our grandchildren be ready if it happens during their time? And so on. If we take a step back, and look at the bigger picture, we will find that the human will, in general, is becoming gradually weaker. The strength of our will is declining rapidly. Actually, I would even say that the main crisis that plagues the current generations of youth is their lack of willpower. And its not only the youth, adults as well. So, if we already, as a Church, start giving in now, we are only setting up the next generations for guaranteed failure.  

 

Lastly, a humble message to those who, with great effort, spend much time and energy in building relationships with the authorities. When what is requested of us from the authorities goes against our Christianity, whom will we obey? Which rule will take priority? I am not challenging anyone here but encouraging us to think about it. What is more important to us: how God perceives us or not losing face in front of earthly authorities? Will our relationship with God matter more than our relationships with the earthly authorities? I definitely pray that the answer is yes. The reality though is that where my treasure is, there my heart will be also. And my treasure or heart is usually very attached to the things I pour my energy into. That is reality. Especially if I am praised for it. And because of this, I encourage myself and all the congregation to always remember that our identity is only found in Christ. I am a Christian before being a manager. I am a Christian before being an engineer, a doctor, a businessman, a pharmacist, lawyer, or dentist—whatever my profession is. Again, I am saying this really out of love and concern for all. If you noticed, sin is propagating in the world at a very rapid rate negatively affecting the minds of the current and future generations. As a response to this, the earthly authorities, who seek re-election, give in to the will of the general people. And that will is increasingly straying away from God’s will and I am wondering now if it is irreversible. And, if that is the case, we will find an irreversible vicious cycle of spiritual degradation and Christians will be caught into the midst of that. I would like to believe that all of this sin propagation is reversible, but from my experience as a priest in the last few years, I do not see it. I definitely believe that parts of the current degradation is reversible but the overall direction is not. I pray to be wrong. It is rare someone prays for that, but it is definitely the case here. In all circumstances, I thank God that our citizenship is in heaven. I thank God that He has allowed me to participate in His service in His church which is something I do not deserve and I pray that He may continue to infuse life into His Church and that the next generations might be even stronger. And this will happen if we, as clergy and servants, are ready to carry our crosses for the sake of their salvation—going down into the fire and rescuing them.  

#CopticOrthodoxAnswers #COA #AA

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