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Civil Disobedience

This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.


Does the Assemblies of God have a position on civil disobedience in situations where public law is in moral opposition to the law of God?

Scripture instructs believers, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. . . . He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted" (Romans 13:1,2). Over and against that command is the divinely inspired response of the disciples when the civil authorities ordered them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).

Christians are called to unqualified obedience to God (John 14:15). When the civil government forbids our doing the things God has commanded us to do, or orders us to do things God has commanded that we not do, we have solid scriptural grounds for peacefully disobeying the government.

We must carefully distinguish, though, between a biblically warranted occasion for civil disobedience and a selfish justification for illegal protest. Much prayer and searching God’s Word should precede an open act of civil disobedience. The consensus of a praying, biblically informed church provides safety against self-centered motivation.

Resolution 9 of the 1989 General Council made a statement on actions of ministers who oppose government intrusion into one area of biblical application and personal conscience: "The General Council . . . approves participation in the pro-life movement by all scriptural means and disapproves all unscriptural acts by its ministers; and leaves to the discretion of individual ministers the extent to which they may participate in nonviolent and peaceful acts of intervention to prevent the ‘killing of the unborn.’"

The key phrases "by all scriptural means" and "nonviolent and peaceful acts of intervention" are obviously open to personal interpretation. What then is the proper form of civil disobedience? In the absence of a more direct answer, the Assemblies of God would declare that the Bible and one’s conscience, prompted by the Holy Spirit, must be used as guides.

CONCERNS:

What should a believer do when nonbelievers do things permitted by the government but declared by God to be wrong? Public reaction is usually negative when others seek to impose their personal beliefs. Christians must always be ready to speak their convictions based on God’s infallible Word. Yet they must be Christ-like models of biblical truth. Every human being, no matter how antagonistic (unaccepting and opposed) to the gospel, is a soul for whom Christ died.

Another concern is that over-zealous Christians may use Old Testament examples to justify violent means for a just cause. But Jesus Christ, as initiator of a new covenant, demonstrated compassion and understanding toward the worst of sinners. His anger and judgment were reserved for religious hypocrites who proclaimed their righteousness but cruelly judged those who did not follow their edicts.

Apathy can also be a problem. In avoiding violence and confrontation, some Christians say nothing about the evil all around. Such secret disciples may be no disciples at all. "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:17). Balance is the key. Christians must demonstrate biblical commitment under the control of Jesus Christ.

The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching. The official delineation of this position is found in the AbortionCivil Disobedience resolution adopted at the 43rd General Council, 1989.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.