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Not to Obey the Government Blindly

We have said that under normal conditions it is the duty of every loyal citizen to obey his government and to serve in the armed forces of his country if called. We must make it clear, however, that such service is not to be rendered blindly or mechanically. God alone is Lord of the conscience. Our first loyalty is to Him, and we cannot transfer that loyalty to any group of officials, no matter how sincere their intentions.

In this day of abundant newspaper, radio, and TV news reports it is the duty of every citizen, particularly of every Christian citizen, to keep himself intelligently informed concerning national and world events. Particularly in times of national crisis the person who knows himself to be liable for military service should take it upon himself to become a real student of events so that he may act intelligently.

If, however, because of the complexity of causes, the citizen is not able to determine whether or not the war is just, he should obey the order from his government just as he would obey an order from the court in civil affairs, realizing that as a private citizen he may not be in possession of all the important facts. He must remember that the right of judgment concerning war has been committed of God to the government in much the same way that the right of judgment concerning accused persons is committed to the courts. Within all reasonable limits the government, like the courts, should be given the benefit of the doubt. In such cases the citizen is to assume that the lawful rulers of the country, with their wider experience and their more detailed or confidential information, have decided wisely. Particularly in times of national crisis the citizen is to obey the government’s orders, not merely when he can find clear scriptural grounds for the things commanded, but regularly unless he can find a scriptural command or principle sufficiently clear to justify his refusal. As Dr. Clarence Bouma has pointed out, “The duty to obey the government is one of the basic duties of all Christian social ethics. The solemn teaching on this score of Paul in Romans 13 is plain. A state in which the citizen obeys the government only when it suits his convenience is no state and that government is no government.”

If, however, the citizen is convinced that the particular war into which his country is about to enter is morally wrong, it becomes his duty to protest to the proper authorities. When the government commands the citizen to do something that God has forbidden, or to refrain from doing something that God has commanded, the government has then stepped out of its lawful sphere, and it is his right and duty to disobey such a command. When the early disciples were commanded by the rulers not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, they flatly refused to obey, saying, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard.” When in various European countries Protestant believers refused to deny their faith at the command of Roman Catholic rulers, even willingly suffering persecution or martyrdom, they did a highly meritorious thing, and today we honor them as heroes of the faith. If we should be commanded to give up our Christian faith, as has happened in so many Communist countries, or to blaspheme the name of God, or to live an immoral life, it would be our duty to disobey such a command. For in such cases the ruler would have exceeded his lawful authority.

Loraine Boettner, The Christian Attitude Toward War, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1985), 51.

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One Response

  1. Chip says:

    As a retired military person I know that military law requires obeying all LAWFUL ORDERS . That is why the “I was just following orders” defence did not work for the Mi Li defendents. The chain of command requires that all officers and enlisted member understand the difference between a lawful and unlawful order and stop the unlawful order at their level of responsibility.

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