Sometimes, Submitting To Government Authority Means Challenging It
Theologian and seminary professor Dr. Wayne Grudem served as general editor of the English Standard Version Study Bible (2009) and is the author of more than 20 books on Christian thought, character, and theology, including Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (with John Piper). He holds degrees from Harvard University, Westminster Theological Seminary, and the University of Cambridge, and served for 20 years as chairman of the theology department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Now Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, his most recent book – written, in part, at the suggestion of ADF leaders – is Politics According to the Bible.
Why did you write Politics According to the Bible?
I wanted Christians to have a book that would encourage them to influence government for good. I think there is a biblical responsibility that Christians have in following the patterns of Scripture, to seek good for the nation that they live in.
Joseph was second in command over Egypt; Daniel was a high advisor to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and spoke to him about practicing righteousness. Esther and Mordecai had great influence on Xerxes, the king of Persia. In the New Testament, we have John the Baptist, who rebuked Herod, the Roman tetrarch, for all the evil things he had done. And we have the Apostle Paul on trial before Felix, the Roman governor. Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.
"I think [ADF lawyers are] right in challenging the law, and doing it in a very respectful way."
Dr. Wayne Grudem
So, we have many examples of God’s people bringing significant influence to bear on the government that will help the government act in accordance with God’s moral standards.
You are familiar with the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event that ADF sponsors each year, assisting pastors who decide to directly challenge the 1954 "Johnson Amendment," which asserts that churches – in order to retain their tax-exempt status – must refrain from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates by name from the pulpit. What do you think of pastors addressing political issues and candidates from a biblical perspective?
The question is not whether pastors should speak about political issues every Sunday from the pulpit; I don’t think anybody’s arguing that. The question is: who should decide what pastors get to say from the pulpit? Should it be the pastors and their local church government or council, or should it be the government, stepping in and saying, "You can’t talk about these topics." I think there’s a genuine issue of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
I realize that a lot of churches are very wary about addressing [so-called] "political" issues because they have this sense that the Internal Revenue Service may clamp down on them and revoke their tax-exempt status. But under current law, pastors are entirely free to explain moral issues from the pulpit and talk about the way that those impact specific political questions – including policies advocated by different candidates. I’ve done that on a number of occasions.
Pastors have a responsibility to consider carefully what they say from the pulpit. I think they should take counsel from their church board, from their close friends, and from their wives, before they surprise the congregation with a political sermon that the congregation isn’t expecting. But when a pastor takes counsel from wise advisors, and they have affirmed to him that there are clearly teachings from the Bible that are important to a political issue, I think the pastor should feel free to speak about that.
That sounds like civil disobedience. Wouldn’t that violate Paul’s directive in Romans 13: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities?"
In the system of law that we have in the U.S., these pastors are doing exactly what that verse commands. Because – with the legal system being what it is – the only way [the Johnson Amendment] is going to be overturned is if someone is taken to court and there’s a legal challenge that can be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But you need a test case in our legal system in order to challenge this. And because of the unique nature of the IRS regulations, it isn’t like other laws – where you can just bring a constitutional challenge before a federal district court.
"The question is: who should decide what pastors get to say from the pulpit?"
Dr. Wayne Grudem
So the lawyers at ADF have thought this through, and I think they’re right in challenging the law, and doing it in a very respectful way. In a way, they’re being subject to the law, and to the Internal Revenue Service, by not doing this secretly, but [encouraging participating pastors to send their sermons] to the IRS ahead of time, and saying, "Hey, we’re intentionally doing this, to bring a challenge in the court system, and we’re subject to the court system, so we want to see how it will turn out."
That’s a great choice, a great strategy, and I expect they will succeed.