the Roman Empire & the NT (5)

… parts of the New Testament writings instruct followers of Jesus to pray for the emperor and to submit to governing authorities. Christians have often appealed to this instruction as though it were the only stance followers of Jesus are to exhibit toward a government. Come what may, so the argument goes, Christians must obey. This view encourages a willing submission, a quick trust, and an unquestioning acceptance of government policies and decisions. Often Romans 13 is understood to mean that God ordained whatever the government does and so it is to be accepted, not resisted. One consequence of this is that maintaining the social order or cooperation with it is seen to be the most important thing.

There is no denying that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are part of the Christian scriptures. Whether Romans 13 offers such an all-embracing and compliant approach to political matters is debatable … But one thing is not debatable. The New Testament writings do not offer only one strategy of compliance and submission to define how Christians might engage political matters. They do not endorse the current societal structure as unassailable. They do not make it sacred and untouchable as God-ordained. They do not endorse the status quo regardless of its wrongs. Some Christians have wrongly tried to assert such claims in the face of sinful relaities such as slavery, or misogyny, or racism. … early Christian writers willingly evaluated the Roman Empire and were not reluctant to declare it generally inconsistent with God’s purposes. They do not urge blind submission to it. Instead … they frequently urged strategies of opposition and challenge, of contesting and subversion. Our New testament writings challenge a “default position” of unswerving submission.

The issue, of course, is to know when to employ which strategy. When is compliance and when is resistance appropriate? That process of discernment is difficult. It involves, I would suggest, much prayer, study, thought, and debate.

The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide by Warren Carter (Abingdon Press, 2006), pp.139-140

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