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Editor’s Essay: A discussion of Romans 13:1-7, Paul’s admonition to obey civil authorities. The Nazis loved to quote this section of scripture.
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Romans 13: 1-7, New King James Version
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer; 4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship is described as a modern classic. Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer was accused of being associated with the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and was then quickly tried along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office). He was hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.
The “Agent Of Grace” documentary is worth watching. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a courageous man and stood up to totalitarian despotism, at the cost of his life.
During his frequent interrogations by the Gestapo, his taskmasters would quote Romans 13, Paul’s directive concerning obedience to civil authority.
Bonhoeffer turned this empty sophism aside, explaining that, while Paul’s instruction might offer a proper general rule as stabilizing effect for civilization, the precepts of Romans 13 cannot apply to a despotic regime.
Are we to believe that Paul instructs us to obey governmental decrees which desecrate, not only the best of biblical moralism but, time-honored precepts of decency and propriety found even in secular societies?
Governments deserve our cooperation when they promote the general good, but when they act in defiance of all that is holy and righteous, they step outside the bounds of their mandate, exceed their God-given authority, and must be resisted. If need be, to the point of death.