UNDERSTANDING ROMANS 13:1-7
In Romans, chapter one, the “higher powers,” (v. 1a) the “powers that be,” (v. 1b) and the “rulers” (v. 3) mentioned refer to civil government. Probably everyone understands this. Probably everyone understands that the admonishment to “be subject” refers to subjection to civil government by Christians and everyone else. Most Christians understand too that the concept of civil government is a Divine institution.
Civil government, marriage and the Church are divinely ordained institutions and therefore one would assume that these institutions should exist and operate in ways that are pleasing to God. We know this isn’t always the case where marriages or churches are concerned; and it isn’t the case where civil governments are concerned. Why? Because of the human imperfections that are involved in marriages, churches and civil governments. But, we also know that these imperfections do not justify rebellion against, or dissolution of, any of these institutions, all of which are perfect in their conception.
Throughout history, civil government has existed in different forms. Sometimes “the “higher powers,” “powers that be,” and “rulers” that constitute government have been in the form of one person rule as in an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship. Sometimes “the “higher powers,” “powers that be,” and the “rulers” that constitute government have consisted of a few people, as is the case with an oligarchy (made up of a few people) or an aristocracy where the rulers consist only of members of the aristocracy. There have been and are governments that are Constitutional monarchies, where government is shared by a parliament and a person; these are usually characterized by a perpetual intrigue and jockeying for power.
Democracy is another form of government whereby all of the people ostensibly govern based upon what the desire and dictate of the majority of the people might be at any given time. This type of government has consistently been disastrous and short lived wherever its been tried and always leads, because it can’t help but lead to anarchy which recognizes no governmental authority or rule of law of any kind. Our Founded Fathers detested and feared Democracy more than anything else as a threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness inn America.
All of the forms of civil governments mentioned have common characteristics. Because of the preponderance of the human element (fallen and sinful) in them, they breed corruption and result in arbitrary and cruel abuses of power over the people governed. The framers of our governmental system understood this, and did everything they could to marginalize the human element in government and to warn the American public to fear and restrain government. George Washington warned that,Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and fearful master.” James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, warned that, “All men having power ought to be mistrusted,” and that “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Thomas Jefferson warned, “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”
With all the above said, and for the sake of a proper perspective on what Romans 13:1-7 says about subjection to government, two things must be understood: First, we have a unique system of governance; one that has produced prosperity, progress, peace and individual freedom that is unprecedented in the history of nations. Secondly, our government neither resides in, nor is subject to the arbitrary will and whims of, fallen men and women. Instead, our government is embodied in written law—written law not to be tampered with or interpreted in tune with the times. Our civil government is codified in the Constitution of the United States of America, a document immutable and inflexible; in its character, not like a rubber band, but like a “chain” (See Jefferson quote above).
To the point and to conclude: Our civil government doesn’t reside in an oligarchy, monarchy or dictatorship. We are not under the authority of a Caesar as Paul was as a citizen of Rome during the reign of Nero. Our civil authority has never been embodied in any “Higher powers,” “powers that be,” “ruler,” etc. other than the Constitution of the United States of America. This is why those entering the military or positions in government take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States (Not the President, not the Congress, not the governor or the Mayor, etc.) against all enemies foreign and domestic … and that I will bear faith and allegiance to the same.” Governmental servants are just that, and nothing more, and as subject to the rule of the law of the land as the poorest, weakest common citizen. When they break the “chains of the Constitution” or otherwise cease to support and defend it, they become “domestic enemies” who must be resisted, brought to justice and punished for their crimes.
It clarifies a lot of things and connects a lot of dots when we understand that for us, the “higher powers,” “powers that be,” and “rulers” — the civil government —referred to in Romans 13:1-7 is synonymous with the Constitution of the United States of America. Our duty is to submit to it and support and defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. Our American Revolutionary era preacher-forefathers weren’t misguided or foolish when they engaged as they did in the struggle for American freedom. Those today, who follow their example, aren’t foolish or misguided either.
“The first most important thing we have to do as Christians in America is to bring people to Christ. the second most important thing we have to do is to preserve the freedom we have to do the first most important thing.”
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”