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Clearly not all governments are based on Christian principles. Should Christians be bound to obey the civil laws of their respective countries (states, cities, whatever) even if they disagree with the basis for the laws?

Please answer in general about how Christians fit into civil law and worldly authority structures, but feel free to use specific examples if they help to clarify. For example, do we have to pay fines, obey speed limits or submit to curfews?

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I was taught: "if you can't even follow the simple laws of your nation, how can you follow the laws of God"? –  mauris Sep 7 '11 at 10:24
    
(Anyone feel free to submit a better answer than mine. This is a topic that should probably be addressed thoroughly, I only led off with my answer below because I had written it up for something else that I then decided was better to be marked as a duplicate of this more general question.) –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 10:27
    
I think that the Bible supersedes national/federal law, that is to say as long as laws line up with my beliefs about the Bible then I have no reason not to follow them, but if they start to go against my beliefs then the Bible over rules... So if you are speeding, and you get caught, of course you have to pay the penalty... Christianity is not a "get out of jail free" card... but it does lay down some very specific rules (if you will) about how we should live. –  TheX Feb 8 '13 at 21:47
    
This might be redeemable, but as it is now, it's a Truth question/too opinion based. –  curiousdannii Oct 29 at 12:52
    
I think it can be quickly salvaged into an overview question. It sounds like it was already trying to do that. @curiousdannii –  fredsbend the Grinch Oct 29 at 16:17

7 Answers 7

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I think we need to deal with 3 cases:

  1. The government's laws are consistent with God's laws, like laws against murder and stealing. This is a simple and obvious case: the Christian should obey these laws.

  2. The government's laws are debateable applications of valid moral principles. For example, I think U.S. copyright law, which gives the author's heirs rights to his work for 50 to 95 years, is too long and unfair to other creative people. But I can't make a clear Biblical or moral case against the particular numbers in the law. I can't say that 50 years is too long but 49 years would be right, etc. And so the principle of submission applies: I have to obey the law.

  3. The government's law violate God's laws or clear moral principles. In some cases in the Bible, people disobeyed an unjust law but announced their willingness to take the consequences, like several stories in Daniel. But in other cases, God condoned or commanded subterfuge and even open rebellion. The book of Exodus is the most obvious example: at God's command, Moses led an open rebellion against Pharoah's government. In a lesser incident in Exodus, the government ordered that all male Jewish babies be killed, but the Hebrew midwives are praised for secretly delivering babies in violation of the law, and Moses himself only lived because his parents broke the law.

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Nice answer. Would you be willing to add a note about how rebelion against laws should be handled? Note for example that Shadrack & Company openly violated a law about worship, then willingly submitted to the punishment that breaking that law demanded. In a sense, they were still in full submission to the law! –  Caleb May 23 '12 at 8:14
    
I would be interested in your examples of 3. I would hope that a person, regardless of faith, would oppose (through due process) a genuinely bad law. The problem with talking about laws that "violate God's laws" is that there's a lot of picking and choosing of laws in the Bible, with the very unclear part of which OT laws are abolished and which stand. There is no "official" / "single" Christian view of most things that could be seen as a conflict here. I suspect strongly it would really just be your own opinion. –  Marc Gravell May 24 '12 at 6:22
    
@Caleb In some cases in the Bible, like Daniel and Shadrach & Friends, believers disobeyed an immoral law, made no secret of their disobedience, and submitted to the legal penalties. In other cases, like Moses, they openly rebelled against the authorities. In yet others, like Ehud, they acted in secret. (In some cases we could debate whether the Bible is approving of their actions or simply reporting what happenned.) So I don't think there's a simple answer: When faced with an immoral or unjust law, the Christian should always do X, Y, and Z. ... –  Jay May 25 '12 at 5:54
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... It surely depends on the details of the circumstances. What is the nature of the law? What will happen? If Moses had defied Pharoah's oppression of the Jews and then quietly accepted Pharoah's judgement, the likely result is that he would have been thrown in prison or killed and the Jews would have remained slaves. If Daniel had prayed in secret, he could have escaped punishment but would have had no impact on the nation. I think we have to use wisdom and intelligence and examine each case. –  Jay May 25 '12 at 5:58
    
@Marc There are, of course, difficult and hazy cases. But there are very clear cases. An easy example is someone living in Nazi Germany faced with laws requiring him to turn in Jews so they could be shipped off to death camps: Surely defying such a law is the good and right thing to do. To take a ridiculous opposite extreme, if someone assassinated the president because he used a vulgar word in a speech, I'd say that is out of proportion to the offense. To say there is no single official Christian view ... so what? Governments pass laws even though 100% of the people don't agree. ... –  Jay May 25 '12 at 6:08

As Christians we are first and foremost subject to God's commandments for us. However one of the instructions he gave us for life on this earth is that we be "subject to the governing authorities". In fact we learn that government itself, however secular and/or corrupt, is itself an institution that God places over us.

Romans 13:1 (ESV)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

In so far as the civil laws of a country do not cause us to violate the moral and other obligations we have to our maker, we are submit to them. This means: paying your taxes, not running red lights and yes, not breaking copyright law, etc.

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What if said laws are in direct conflict with God's commandments? –  user729 Sep 23 '11 at 7:53
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Good question @Atheist. In that event we must conscientiously break those laws -- but willingly submit ourselves to the punishment. As the three men told Nebuchadnezzar, "You may throw us in the furnace but we cannot bow." They did not fight or try to get out of being subject to the law, only deliberately choose to bear the consequences. –  Caleb Sep 24 '11 at 6:53
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Jay's example "the Hebrew midwives are praised for secretly delivering babies in violation of the law" christianity.stackexchange.com/a/7803/102 stated that the midwaves did not choose to bear the consequence. How does this reconcile with your comment? –  Pacerier Aug 1 at 16:39

I strongly believe that should the governing body within the country be corrupt and in conflict with God's Word, we should keep to our own ways.

Daniel 6:12 (ASV)
 12 Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's interdict: Hast thou not signed an interdict, that every man that shall make petition unto any god or man within thirty days, save unto thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.

And God shall protect us should our motives be pure and our hearts remain faithful. Paying taxes and living a law-abiding life is of course necessary if we are able to do so without breaking God's Law. I do not however believe that people can just go around saying "what the government is doing is right, because it is Gods Will". who are we to speak for God? We must pray upon this and look within ourselves. If fear is the reason why we are not standing up to a corrupt system then that is NOT okay.

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+1 Another great example of obeying God over government is in Daniel Chapter 1, when Daniel asked to be given vegetables and water to eat, so that Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wouldn't have to eat from the King's table (which was not Kosher). –  Bob Black Sep 7 '11 at 13:33
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Could you clarify this statement: And God shall protect us should our motives be pure and our hearts remain faithful. What type of protection are you referring to? Spiritual protection? Physical protection? –  James Hill Sep 7 '11 at 14:13

This answer is not from a Biblical context, and applies equally to any sector:

Are [insert group here] bound to the laws of their country?

Yes. Yes they are. If they break those laws, they are accountable to the clauses of those laws. If they find those laws incorrect (as indeed laws evolve and change), then due process should be sought to question those laws, but keep in mind that in a multi-cultural society arguing the "because" from a Biblical basis is probably not your best route - arguing the benefits and costs to society and individuals might be better.

Sometimes civil disobedience is a very positive force, but remember that if your defined morality is fixed, it may disagree with the morality/ethics of significant parts of the rest of the population. There is a fine line between civil disobedience for the right reasons, and flagrant disregard of laws that you don't like.

No group should get a free pass here, at least in any society that values equality. You are, of course, free to exercise your activities even more within the laws than most - for example choosing not to gamble/drink/flirt/etc in societies where that is perfectly permissible. These are simply examples which tend to crop up.

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True enough as far as society goes, but humans are inherently rebellious (that's what the fall was about after all) and will latch on to any excuse NOT to obey. If a higher power and their religion could possibly become an excuse not to obey earthly powers they would take it. I think there is value in explicitly stating on authority of that higher power that yes, Christians are bound to the laws of a state just like everybody else -- perhaps even more so in that to rebel against them is also to rebel against said higher authority. –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 13:55

Christians are obliged to oppose governments that enforce legal positivism, moral relativism and eugenic policies.

The way we weigh the relative weight of laws is the following:

Eternal Law
Divine Law
----------
Natural Law
Human Law

So, if a human law contradicts with natural law, then follow natural law. Everything else should be perfectly ordered with creation, with the exception of miracles which are natural law circumvented by divine law.

I have only a vague notion of what the difference is between eternal law and divine law, fortunately that's not part of the question.

(Source: 50 Questions for the Natural Law)

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Could you provide (at least) a one-line summary describing what a natural law is? –  Pacerier Oct 10 '13 at 11:02
    
What is the difference between each of these categories? –  Jeff Jan 2 at 19:26
    
@Jeff good question, should be asked on this site. I don't really know the exact answer to it (as I said in my last paragraph) –  Peter Turner Jan 2 at 19:58
    
Whoops. Didnt notice the last paragraph! Sorries. –  Jeff Jan 2 at 20:01
    
@Pacerier The Natural Law is the Law of Motion found in Physics: Everything has an Opposite and Equal Reaction. "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." (Revelation 13:10 KJV) and "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12 NKJV) –  Only he is good. Nov 15 at 13:38

The Bible does instruct us to be subject to the ruling authorities. However, being subject does not necessarily mean obeying. If worship of God is forbidden or worship of idols is commanded, we are under obligation to disobey those laws.

Daniel defied the king's edict and prayed with his windows open toward Jerusalem. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego defied the king and proclaimed that they would not bow down to idols. Peter and John told the religious leaders, "We must obey God rather than men."

However, even when we disobey the authorities, we are still subject to them and will bear the consequences. Daniel was thrown into the lion's den. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were throw into the fiery furnace. Peter and John were beaten.

So, don't cheat on your taxes but don't commit adultery just because it's legal either. Live a holy life, no matter what the cost.

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The LDS answer to this question is a very simple one:

Article of Faith #12

"We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

But God's law is a higher law, we do not obey any law that contradicts God's law, neither do we justify sin because it is "legal" or socially acceptable.

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