The Role of the Superior Authorities
“It is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear.”—ROMANS 13:4.
1, 2. How have many in Christendom become involved in revolutionary activities?
TWO years ago a gathering of bishops in London provoked an indignant editorial in the New York Post. The gathering was the Lambeth Conference, attended by more than 500 bishops of the Anglican communion. The indignation was sparked by a resolution passed by the conference expressing understanding for people “who, after exhausting all other means, choose the way of armed struggle as the only way to justice.”
2 The Post said that this was, in effect, an endorsement of terrorism. However, the bishops were merely following a growing trend. Their attitude was no different from that of the Catholic priest in Ghana who recommended guerrilla warfare as the quickest, surest, and safest way to liberate Africa; or of the African Methodist bishop who vowed to carry “the war of liberation to the bitter end”; or of the many missionaries of Christendom who have fought with rebels against established governments in Asia and South America.
True Christians Do Not ‘Oppose the Authority’
3, 4. (a) What principles are being violated by so-called Christians who promote revolution? (b) What did one individual discover about Jehovah’s Witnesses?
3 In the first century, Jesus said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) Any so-called Christian who promotes revolution is very much a part of the world. He is not a follower of Jesus; nor is he “in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1) He would do well to heed the warning of the apostle Paul that “he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves.”—Romans 13:2.
4 In contrast with many in Christendom, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no dealings with armed violence. A man in Europe discovered this. He writes: “At seeing what religion and politics have produced, I became dedicated to overthrowing the established social order. I joined a group of terrorists and received training in the handling of all types of weapons; I shared in many armed robberies. My life was in constant danger. As time went by, it became evident that we were fighting a losing battle. I was a frustrated man, overcome by complete hopelessness in life. Then a Witness knocked at our door. She told me about God’s Kingdom. Insisting this was a waste of my time, I suggested that my wife listen. She did, and a home Bible study was started. Finally, I agreed to attend the study. Words fail to convey the relief I felt in understanding the driving force impelling mankind toward evil. The marvelous Kingdom promise has given me a sustaining hope and a purpose in life.”
5. Why do Christians remain peacefully subject to the superior authorities, and until when will this be the case?
5 Christians are ambassadors or envoys of God and of Christ. (Isaiah 61:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:19, 20) As such, they remain neutral in this world’s conflicts. Even though some political systems appear to be economically more successful than others, and some allow more freedom than others, Christians do not promote or rank one system above another. They know that all systems are imperfect. It is “the arrangement of God” that these continue to exist until his Kingdom takes over. (Daniel 2:44) Hence, Christians remain peacefully subject to the superior authorities while promoting the eternal welfare of others by preaching the good news of the Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14; 1 Peter 3:11, 12.
Obeying the Law
6. Why are many human laws good even though “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one”?
6 National governments set down systems of laws, and most of these laws are good. Should this surprise us, in view of the fact that “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one”? (1 John 5:19) No. Jehovah gave our original father, Adam, a conscience, and this innate sense of right and wrong is reflected in many ways in human laws. (Romans 2:13-16) Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian lawgiver, prefaced his law code as follows: “At that time [they] named me to promote the welfare of the people, me, Hammurabi, the devout, god-fearing prince, to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak.”
7. If someone breaks the law, who has the right to punish him, and why?
7 Most governments would say that the purpose of their laws is similar: to promote the welfare of citizens and good order in society. Hence, they penalize antisocial acts, such as murder and theft, and lay down regulations, such as speed limits and parking laws. Any who deliberately break their laws take a stand against the authority and “will receive judgment to themselves.” Judgment from whom? Not necessarily from God. The Greek word here translated judgment can refer to civil procedures rather than judgments by Jehovah. (Compare 1 Corinthians 6:7.) If anyone acts unlawfully, the superior authority has the right to punish him.
8. How will the congregation respond if a member commits a serious crime?
8 Jehovah’s Witnesses have a good reputation for not opposing human authorities. If it happens that an individual in the congregation does break the law, the congregation will not help him evade lawful punishment. If anyone steals, murders, libels, cheats on his taxes, rapes, defrauds, uses illegal drugs, or in any other way opposes lawful authority, he will face severe discipline from the congregation—and he should not feel persecuted when he is punished by the secular authority.—1 Corinthians 5:12, 13; 1 Peter 2:13-17, 20.
An Object of Fear
9. What recourse do Christians properly have if threatened by lawless elements?
9 Paul continues his discussion of the superior authorities, saying: “For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it.” (Romans 13:3) It is not loyal Christians who should fear punishment from the authority but wrongdoers, those who commit ‘bad deeds,’ criminal acts. When threatened by such lawless elements, Jehovah’s Witnesses may properly accept from the authority police or military protection.—Acts 23:12-22.
10. How have Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘received praise’ from the authority?
10 To the Christian who keeps the law of the superior authority, Paul says: “You will have praise from it.” As an example of this, consider some letters received by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brazil after their district conventions. From the chancellor of a municipal sports department: “The highest praise is deserved for your peaceful conduct. It is comforting in today’s troubled world to know that so many still believe in and worship God.” From the director of a municipal stadium: “In spite of the very large number in attendance, no incident was recorded to tarnish the event, thanks to the impeccable organization.” From a mayor’s office: “We want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your orderliness and marvelous, spontaneous discipline, and we wish you every success in future events.”
11. Why can the preaching of the good news in no way be said to be a bad deed?
11 The term “good deed” refers to acts in obedience to the laws of the superior authorities. In addition, our preaching work, which is commanded by God, not man, is not a bad deed—a point that the political authorities should recognize. It is a public service that uplifts the moral caliber of those who respond. Therefore, it is our hope that the superior authorities will protect our right to preach to others. Paul appealed to the authorities in order to establish legally the preaching of the good news. (Acts 16:35-40; 25:8-12; Philippians 1:7) Recently, Jehovah’s Witnesses have similarly sought and obtained legal recognition of their work in East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Benin, and Myanmar (Burma).
“It Is God’s Minister”
12-14. How have the superior authorities acted as God’s minister (a) in Bible times? (b) in modern times?
12 Speaking of the secular authority, Paul continues: “It is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.”—Romans 13:4.
13 National authorities have sometimes served as God’s minister in specific ways. Cyrus did so when he summoned the Jews to return from Babylon and rebuild God’s house. (Ezra 1:1-4; Isaiah 44:28) Artaxerxes was God’s minister when he sent Ezra with a contribution for the rebuilding of that house and later when he commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. (Ezra 7:11-26; 8:25-30; Nehemiah 2:1-8) The Roman superior authority served thus when it delivered Paul from the mob in Jerusalem, protected him during shipwreck, and arranged for him to have his own house in Rome.—Acts 21:31, 32; 28:7-10, 30, 31.
14 Similarly, secular authorities have served as God’s minister in modern times. In 1959, for example, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses accused in Quebec of publishing seditious and defamatory libel was not guilty—thus counteracting the prejudice of the then premier of Quebec, Maurice Duplessis.
15. In what general way do the authorities act as God’s minister, and what right does this give them?
15 Further, in a general way, national governments serve as God’s minister by preserving public order until God’s Kingdom takes over that responsibility. According to Paul, to this end the authority “bears the sword,” symbolizing its right to inflict punishment. Usually, this involves imprisonment or fines. In some lands it may also include the death penalty.* On the other hand, many nations have chosen not to have the death penalty, and that also is their right.
16. (a) Since the authority is God’s minister, what have some of God’s servants considered it proper to do? (b) What kind of employment would a Christian not accept, and why not?
16 The fact that the superior authorities are God’s minister explains why Daniel, the three Hebrews, Nehemiah, and Mordecai were able to accept responsible positions in the Babylonian and Persian governments. They could thus appeal to the authority of the State for the good of God’s people. (Nehemiah 1:11; Esther 10:3; Daniel 2:48, 49; 6:1, 2) Today some Christians also work in government service. But since they are separate from the world, they do not join political parties, seek political office, or accept policy-making positions in political organizations.
The Need for Faith
17. What situations may provoke some non-Christians to resist the authority?
17 What, though, if the authority tolerates corruption or even oppression? Should Christians try to replace the authority with one that seems better? Well, governmental injustice and corruption are nothing new. In the first century, the Roman Empire countenanced injustices such as slavery. It also tolerated corrupt officials. The Bible speaks of tax collectors who cheated, an unrighteous judge, and a provincial governor who looked for bribes.—Luke 3:12, 13; 18:2-5; Acts 24:26, 27.
18, 19. (a) How do Christians react if there are abuses or corruption on the part of government officials? (b) How have Christians improved the lives of individuals, as indicated by a historian and the box below?
18 Christians could have tried to bring an end to such abuses back then, but they did not. For example, Paul did not preach an end of slavery, and he did not tell Christian slave owners to release their slaves. Rather, he counseled slaves and slave owners to show Christian compassion when dealing with one another. (1 Corinthians 7:20-24; Ephesians 6:1-9; Philemon 10-16; see also 1 Peter 2:18.) Similarly, Christians did not get involved in revolutionary activity. They were too busy preaching “the good news of peace.” (Acts 10:36) In 66 C.E., a Roman army besieged Jerusalem and then withdrew. Rather than stay with the rebellious defenders of the city, Hebrew Christians ‘fled to the mountains’ in obedience to Jesus’ direction.—Luke 21:20, 21.
19 The early Christians lived with things as they were and tried to improve the lives of individuals by helping them to follow Bible principles. Historian John Lord, in his book The Old Roman World, wrote: “The true triumphs of Christianity were seen in making good men of those who professed her doctrines, rather than changing outwardly popular institutions, or government, or laws.” Should Christians today act any differently?
When the State Will Not Help
20, 21. (a) How did one secular authority fail to act as God’s minister for good? (b) How should Jehovah’s Witnesses react when persecuted with the complicity of the State?
20 In September 1972, vicious persecution broke out against Jehovah’s Witnesses in a country in central Africa. Thousands were robbed of all their belongings and subjected to other atrocities, including beatings, torture, and murder. Did the superior authority fulfill its duty to protect the Witnesses? No! Rather, it encouraged the violence, forcing these harmless Christians to flee to neighboring lands for safety.
21 Should not Jehovah’s Witnesses rise up in anger against such tormentors? No. Christians should patiently endure such indignities, acting humbly in imitation of Jesus: “When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23) They remember that when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, he rebuked a disciple who came to his defense with a sword, and later he told Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.”—John 18:36; Matthew 26:52; Luke 22:50, 51.
22. What fine example did some Witnesses in Africa set when they suffered severe persecution?
22 With Jesus’ example in mind, those African Witnesses had the courage to follow Paul’s counsel: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” (Romans 12:17-19; compare Hebrews 10:32-34.) What a stimulating example our African brothers are for all of us today! Even when the authority refuses to act honorably, true Christians do not abandon Bible principles.
23. What questions remain to be discussed?
23 What, though, can the superior authorities expect from Christians? And are there any limits to the demands they can rightfully make? This will be discussed in the next article.
Can You Explain?
□ What are some ways that an individual can ‘take a stand against’ the superior authorities?
□ What is “the arrangement of God” with respect to governmental authority?
□ In what way are the authorities “an object of fear”?
□ How do human governments serve as “God’s minister”?
[Box on page 21]
A Letter From a Police Chief
A LETTER bearing the insignia “Public Service for the State of Minas Gerais” came to the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Brazil. It was from the police chief of the town of Conquista. Was there something wrong? Let the letter explain. It states:
“It is a pleasure to introduce myself to you by means of this letter. I have been the chief of police in the town of Conquista, Minas Gerais, for approximately three years. At work, I always try to be conscientious, but I used to have problems in keeping the peace in the jail. The inmates, although given training in certain jobs, were restless.
“Some months ago, Senhor O—— came to our town and introduced himself as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He began to preach the Bible to some of the prisoners, teaching them to read and write and showing them the basics of hygiene and social skills as well as telling them about the Holy Bible. The way this preacher worked showed dedication, love, and self-sacrifice. The behavior of the inmates soon changed noticeably for the better, much to the astonishment and appreciation of those observing.
“In view of what happened in our jail, I wish officially to notify the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of our appreciation for the fine work done in our community by the worthy preacher.”
Regarding governmental authority, the apostle Paul said: “Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it.” (Romans 13:3) This was certainly true in the above case. What a testimony to the transforming power of God’s Word that the good news accomplished in a matter of months what the penal system could not do in years!—Psalm 19:7-9.