An Exposition upon the Biblical Justification for the War of Independence

This is an essay I was requested to write by my parents. In light of the holiday tomorrow I thought it applicable to publish this. I know this is a divisive issue. If you have bones of contention with me or questions, I would like to hear them. Please do not get me wrong. I am loyal to my country and am willing to lay down my life to annihilate any country that would try to mess around with us.

Here it is.......

The War of Independence has shaped not only America, but the world around us. As the land of the free, countless millions have fled tyranny and oppression to benefit from the freedoms we experience every day. For many Americans, the War was just and necessary. We were taxed without representation, and no longer served by our leaders. Politically, this was an appropriate answer. But as Christians we must ask, was this War biblically justifiable? I, for one, do not think so.

In evangelical circles this is a topic of much disagreement. It is difficult to say that our founding fathers were wrong in rebelling against the ordained authority. The central point of this position comes from Romans 13. In the text, Paul clearly states that all authority comes from God, and to rebel against that authority means you have rebelled against the ordinance of God. (Rom 13:1, 2) Since the King of England was the ordained ruler of America, he was the man deserving of our servitude and respect. Obviously, he made mistakes and passed law that wasn’t accepted by the Americans or the British. He was an imperfect man in a position of power in a fallen world. As a ruler he didn’t authorize anything deserving of rebellion. Had he openly gone against the Word of God and disobeyed God’s law we would have to enjoin with Peter in Acts 5:29 by obeying “God rather than men” but still swearing allegiance to the king’s civil authority. It has also been said, to discredit Romans 13, that the orders from Paul to obey our civil magistrates is only prescribing the way it should be and not imperative. The context of the text does not allow that statement whatsoever.

The book of Romans is divided into two sections; the indicative or doctrinal teaching, and the imperative or the command section. From chapter 1 to the benediction in chapter 11 we have the indicative section. Beginning in 12:1 we have a whole new tone of writing; the imperative. The opening of chapter 12 illumines this; “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship… [Italics mine].” Presenting our bodies is not a doctrine we must learn and apply to our lives, but a physical disciplining of our fallen nature. Paul is no longer teaching them doctrine, but showing them the way a Christian must live based upon the previous doctrine. We can look back at earlier texts and see the doctrine he taught. In Romans 3, he taught that Jews and Greeks are all under sin; in Romans 5, that every man was a partaker in the fall of Adam through which came death; and the comforting doctrine of predestination and election Paul taught in Rom 8, to name a few. All of a sudden, however, we have a dramatic shift from the indicative to the imperative beginning in chapter 12.This imperative section does not end at the final verse of chapter 12, but carries over into 13, clearly making the obedience of our civil magistrates regardless of their secular beliefs or laws, imperative! The Puritan, Matthew Henry, in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, most likely used by 18th century preachers and theologians, understood the application of Romans 13 to mean obedience to all magistrates of any level:

“…Our Lord Jesus was so reproached, though he told them his kingdom was not of this world: no marvel, then, if his followers have been loaded in all ages with the like calumnies, called factious, seditious, and turbulent, and looked upon as the troublers of the land, their enemies having found such representations needful for the justifying of their barbarous rage against them… The Christians were then in those persecuting times obnoxious to the sword of the magistrate for their religion, and they needed not make themselves more obnoxious by their rebellion… God as the ruler and governor of the world hath appointed the ordinance of magistracy, so that all civil power is derived from him as from its original, and he hath by his providence put the administration into those hands, whatever they are that have it. By him kings reign, Prov. 8:15. The usurpation of power and the abuse of power are not of God, for he is not the author of sin; but the power itself is. As our natural powers, though often abused and made instruments of sin, are from God’s creating power, so civil powers are from God’s governing power…”

With commentators such as Henry, it is preposterous to claim that the interpretation of Romans 13 was different at that time period. Only preachers ignorant of exegesis, or intentionally twisting Scripture for their own ideology would be guilty of such a crime. Indeed there were such preachers. One in particular, Jonathan Mayhew, was not a biblically grounded preacher whatsoever. When it was time for his ordination, only two pastors appeared due to his radical views on salvation. In order to receive his ordination, a second summons was required and this time he was ordained. Through his preaching against the English Monarch between 1750 and the 1760’s, Mayhew has been credited as the instigator of much of the rebellion in the New England area. His sermons were not based upon properly exegeted texts of Scripture. He, too, read from Romans 13, but did not see the beauty of the sovereignty of God. His conclusion did not even come close to that of Robert Haldane, a Scottish theologian of the late 18th , early 19th century, who writes this in his great commentary on Romans:

“Resistance to the government, then, is resistance to God; because government is God’s ordinance or appointment. If God has appointed every government that exists in the world, His people are bound to submit to every government under which their lot has been cast. There is but one exception, and that is when anything is required contrary to the law of God. Then duty is plain. We are to obey God rather than men. The people of God, then, ought to consider resistance to the government under which they live as a very awful crime – even as resistance to God Himself. They are bound to obey, not good rulers only, as Dr. Macknight unwarrantably limits the words, but oppressive rulers also, if they do not command what God forbids.”

The Scriptures are clear; resisting a God-ordained authority is opposing the ordinance of God. In hindsight, the political motivations leading to the war were inadequate reasons for rebellion. There were no laws (that I have found) that clearly disobey the Word of God.

Well, what do we do now, born into a country that rebelled against its authority? We can be sure that what transpired did not surprise God. He has sovereignly ordained the rebellion and the foundation of this country. But a country born in rebellion, will be prone to rebellion. The nature of the American people epitomizes this. We hate to be told what to do, dislike interference from the government on any matter and revolt at the thought of our rights being infringed. So far our country has remained solid, in part because of the nature of the church around the beginning of our country, and God’s outpoured blessing upon us. We as citizens must be loyal to our elected leaders, even the ones we disagree with, pray for them, and participate in the election process that is part of our Constitution.