Can a secular government ever be a moral authority? For example, if there comes a day in the future that a secular government decrees that murder is no longer a criminal offense in that nation, should a Christian living in that nation feel confident that they do no wrong if/when they murder someone because they strongly believe that their secular government is a moral authority?

Furthermore, when that Christian dies and stands before God on Judgement Day and they tell God that they strongly believed that all the laws passed by the secular government were morally good, will God automatically forgive that person of the murder(s) they committed?

  • 1
    For once I don't think this needs to be closed for not having a denomination specified. Pretty much all groups agree on a very similar approach here. Sep 25, 2018 at 14:49
  • 4
    St. Thomas More was martyred safeguarding God's rights in the political arena of his day. "Parliament is not a spiritual power!"
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 26, 2018 at 2:54
  • There are no moral authorities. Morality does not come from the Church or any organization. Morality exists independently from the Church, Government and individuals. The idea is morality would exist without any of those things. Look up the correct term for morality which is Normative Ethics.
    – Logikal
    Sep 28, 2018 at 16:24
  • @ Logikal, well, couldn't it be argued that since the teachings of Christianity are in alignment with Normative Ethics and vice versa, then Christianity (along with other religions who's teachings are in alignment with Normative Ethics) should be regarded as a moral authority?
    – user42718
    Sep 28, 2018 at 16:53
  • No need to be hypothetical. Many governments legalise, for example, gay marriage, which many/some denominations are against. Just observe how this is handled by churches. I would argue that being free to do something does not mean it is right (but of course the goal of some lobbies for, let's take cannabis as a less provocative example, is for the behaviour to be seen as acceptable, which is quite a bit more than just legal).
    – kutschkem
    Oct 1, 2018 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


Normally we require questions like this to specify a particular denomination/tradition that they are asking about, because different Christian groups take different approaches. But in this case Christian groups take a remarkably uniform position.

The government is not and cannot be a higher moral authority than God. No government can declare something to be good that God has decreed to be bad, nor something bad that God has decreed to be good.

However one of the moral goods that God has commanded is to submit to secular authorities - within limits. For example, if the government says that you should not drive faster than 70mph, or consume certain drugs, then Christians should obey those while under the authority of that government. The existence of such a law does not make driving over 70mph bad per se, but nonetheless Christians should refrain from doing it.

Governments are not permitted to declare, for example, that worshipping God is illegal, or that someone else other than God must be worshipped. This principle is demonstrated many times throughout the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, and Christians are expected to ignore those rules.

Governments are also not able to declare anything 'permitted' that is not permitted by God. So your example of a government that decreed murder to be legal would not make it so, and Christians could not for that reason commit murder. This is demonstrated by the governments that have - to an extent - done just that, by permitting abortion or euthanasia. Christian groups that consider those to be murder (of which there are many) have not at all permitted their members to carry out those acts just because the government says it is OK.

There are a small number of Christian groups that consider secular governments to have no authority at all over Christians. They would disagree with the above, but even they would generally expect their members to follow secular laws as a matter of practicality.

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    Since the question is tagged biblical-basis, you might want to cite some scriptures. Acts 5:27-29 is one salient scripture that comes to mind.
    – user32540
    Sep 25, 2018 at 18:27
  • I definitely would like to hear both Peter and Paul chime in on this from the scriptures. I'm pretty sure the "no authority at all" is valid for some, but it would be awesome if a formal statement exists. +1.
    – Bit Chaser
    Sep 25, 2018 at 19:21


The question brings into further question the distinctions between Subjective Moral Authority and and that of Objective Moral Authority.

Secular or the ideology that surrounds secular Humanism is a morality that completely and totally relies on the convictions of those who determine what Morality is. This subjective morality relies heavily on the culture from which it arises. It often embraces the freedom of an individual to live there lives in any way that they wish, further making this form of moral authority subjective to the individuals wants and needs.

When I read some of the answers and comments of this Thread I see even the subjective Christian morals being applied in objection to secular moral authority, in other words, by interpreting scripture in a manor that agrees with the individual, they have created there own version of secular morality and calling it biblical morality. An individuals interpretation of scripture can and is as diverse as a secular persons individual ideas of Scripture. Because secular humanism, and Christianity outside the Authority given by God, they are subjective and thereby not moral unless by chance they agree with the Objective Moral teaching.

As a Catholic, I understand through the teaching of the Church that the true source of Faith and Morals comes from God and the Authority which Christ gave to his Church. Teaching that is consistent and constant over the centuries since Christ established the Church, teachings surrounding subjects like Abortion, Euthanasia, Eugenics, Birth Control, Divorce and many more have been the guide to all peoples of the world regardless wether their cultural opinions or each individuals subjective beliefs agree with it or not. The Church looks through the lens of the Cross and the life of Christ when it decides on issues of morality outside biblical account. The Church has the Mind of Christ.

The Objective teachings of the Triune God are the only moral teachings in any society and those teachings have been given to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As Acts 5:27-42 suggests, "for if this plan or Undertaking is of men, it will fail: But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

The Catholic Church for almost 2000 years has survived the test. No subjective moral example can claim the same.

  • Arguably, many people who did not subscribe to Catholicism did not survive that 2000 year test. To play devil's advocate, the number of victims of religious prosecution vastly outweighs the number of abortion victims . So how valuable & viable is absolute morality if we consider that not everyone living under a government holds the same beliefs? Absolute morality is only just in the eyes of those that subscribe to its particular (and always scripture-based) precepts.
    – Codosaur
    Sep 26, 2018 at 18:46
  • @Codosaur To be honest, are you attributing the actions of individuals within the Church with the teachings of Church? The actions of Judas do not negate the teachings of Christ. It is clear, especially today, that many individual hide behind the Righteousness of the Church to achieve their own agendas, not believing for example, in the real presence, and they do evil. Wolves in Sheeps clothing if you will. The light on the hill is the Gospel, not those who wrongly represent it.
    – Marc
    Sep 26, 2018 at 19:03
  • was religious persecution not institutionalized by the Church? Was it not the official teaching of the Catholic Church for 2 millenia that Jews were responsible for the death of Jezus? I will not deny good things came out of the teachings of the Church, but we must also dare to look at the dark side to prevent such things ever happening again. Absolute truths can always be perverted into fundamentalist teachings, even in organized, hierarchical religions, which is exactly why we should not base our modern societies on one of those teachings.
    – Codosaur
    Sep 26, 2018 at 19:19
  • @Codosaur Your assumption is incorrect, the official teaching of the Catholic Church was never that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Rather, that it was the "Sinful man" who was responsible then and now for that death. Please, how can you know the truth by spreading falsehoods? It is true that some Christians, including the clergy, did blame the Jews, but that is not the official teaching of the Church. It was you and I.
    – Marc
    Sep 26, 2018 at 19:54
  • When the chief priests, therefore, and the servants, had seen him, they cried out, saying: Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith to them: Take him you, and crucify him: for I find no cause in him. The Jews answered him: We have a law; and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. (Jn. 19:6, 7).Iudaeos [invidia] ... fecit esse deicidas, i.e., "[Envy] made the Jews deicides.
    – Codosaur
    Sep 26, 2018 at 20:05

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