An Old Message, But A Good One



Alice Spring (Australia), 29 November 1986

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is a great joy for me to be here today in Alice Springs and to meet so many of you, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia. I want to tell you right away how much the Church esteems and loves you, and how much she wishes to assist you in your spiritual and material needs.

  1. At the beginning of time, as God’s Spirit moved over the waters, he began to communicate something of his goodness and beauty to all creation. When God then created man and woman, he gave them the good things of the earth for their use and benefit; and he put into their hearts abilities and powers, which were his gifts. And to all human beings throughout the ages God has given a desire for himself, a desire which different cultures have tried to express in their own ways.
  2. As the human family spread over the face of the earth, your people settled and lived in this big country that stood apart from all the others. Other people did not even know this land was here; they only knew that somewhere in the southern oceans of the world there was “The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit”.

But for thousands of years you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the Spirit of God has been with you. Your “Dreaming”, which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you rema,in for ever people of your culture, is your only way of touching the mystery of God’s Spirit in you and in creation. You must keep your striving for God and hold on to it in your lives.

  1. The rock paintings and the discovered evidence of your ancient tools and implements indicate the presence of your age-old culture and prove your ancient occupancy of this land.

Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them. Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost. Do you perhaps remember those words that Paul VI spoke to the aboriginal people during his visit to them in 1970? On that occasion he said: “We know that you have a life style proper to your own ethnic genius or culture – a culture which the Church respects and which she does not in any way ask you to renounce… Society itself is enriched by the presence of different cultural and ethnic elements. For us you and the values you represent are precious. We deeply respect your dignity and reiterate our deep affection for you”.

  1. For thousands of years this culture of yours was free to grow without interference by people from other places. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills and mountains. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves.

You did not spoil the land, use it up, exhaust it. and then walk away from it. You realized that your land was related to the source of life.

The silence of the Bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world, the world of God’s Spirit. Your careful attention to the details of kinship spoke of your reverence for birth, life and human generation. You knew that children need to be loved, to be full of joy. They need a time to grow in laughter and to play, secure in the knowledge that they belong to their people.

You had a great respect for the need which people have for law, as a guide to living fairly with each other. So you created a legal system – very strict it is true – but closely adapted to the country in which you lived your lives. It made your society orderly. It was one of the reasons why you survived in this land.

You marked the growth of your young men and women with ceremonies of discipline that taught them responsibility as they came to maturity.

These achievements are indications of human strivings. And in these strivings you showed a dignity open to the message of God’s revealed wisdom to all men and women, which is the great truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. Some of the stories from your Dreamtime legends speak powerfully of the great mysteries of human life, its frailty, its need for help, its closeness to spiritual powers and the value of the human person. They are not unlike some of the great inspired lessons from the people among whom Jesus himself was born. It: is wonderful to see how people, as they accept the Gospei of Jesus, find points of agreement between their own traditions and those of Jesus and his people.
  2. The culture which this long and careful growth produced was not prepared for the sudden meeting with another people, with different customs and traditions, who came to your country nearly 200 years ago. They were different from Aboriginal people. Their traditions, the organization of their lives, and their attitudes to the land were quite strange to you. Their law too was quite different. These people had knowledge, money and power; and they brought with them some patterns of behaviour from which the Aboriginal people were unable to protect themselves.
  3. The effects of some of those forces are still active among you today. Many of you have been dispossessed of your traditional lands, and separated from your tribal ways, though some of you still have your traditional culture. Some of you are establishing Aboriginal communities in the towns and cities. For others there is still no real place for camp-fires and kinship observances except on the fringes of country towns. There, work is hard to find, and education in a different cultural background is difficult. The discrimination caused by racism is a daily experience.

You have learned how to survive, whether on your own lands, or scattered among the towns and cities. Though your difficulties are not yet over, you must learn to draw on the endurance which your ancient ceremonies have taught you. Endurance brings with it patience; patience helps you to find the way ahead, and gives you courage for your journey.

  1. Take heart from the fact that many of your languages are still spoken and that you still possess your ancient culture. You have kept your sense of brotherhood. If you stay closely united, you are like a tree standing in the middle of a bush-fire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn. The time for this rebirth is now!
  2. We know that during the last two hundred years certain people tried to understand you, to learn about you, to respect your ways and to honour you as persons. These men and women, as you soon realized, were different from others of their race. They loved and cared for the indigenous people. They began to share with you their stories of God, helped you cope with sickness, tried to protect you from ill-treatment. They were honest with you, and showed you by their lives how they tried to avoid the bad things in their own culture. These people were not always successful, and there were times when they did not fully understand you. But they showed you good will and friendship. They came from many different walks of life. Some were teachers and doctors and other professional people; some were simple folk. History will remember the good example of their charity and fraternal solidarity.

Among those who have loved and cared for the indigenous people, we especially recall with profound gratitude all the missionaries of the Christian faith. With immense generosity they gave their lives in service to you and to your forebears. They helped to educate the Aboriginal people and offered health and social services. Whatever their human frailty, and whatever mistakes they may have made, nothing can ever minimize the depht of their charity. Nothing can ever cancel out their greatest contribution, which was to proclaim to you Jesus Christ and to establish his Church in your midst.

  1. From the earliest times men like Archbishop Polding of Sydney opposed the legal fiction adopted by European settlers that this land was terra nullius – nobody’s country. He strongly pleaded for the rights of the Aboriginal inhabitants to keep the traditional lands on which their whole society depended. The Church still supports you today.

Let it not be said that the fair and equitable recognition of Aboriginal rights to land is discrimination. To call for the acknowledgment of the land rights of people who have never surrendered those rights is not discrimination. Certainly, what has been done cannot be undone. But what can now be done to remedy the deeds of yesterday must not be put off till tomorrow.

Christian people of good will are saddened to realize – many of them only recently – for how long a time Aboriginal people were transported from their homelands into small areas or reserves where families were broken up, tribes split apart, children orphaned and people forced to live like exiles in a foreign country.

The reserves still exist today, and require a just and proper settlement that still lies unachieved. The urban problems resulting from the transportation and separation of people still have to be addressed, so that these people may make a new start in life with each other once again.

  1. The establishment of a new society for Aboriginal people cannot go forward without just and mutually recognized agreements with regard to these human problems, even though their causes lie in the past. The greatest value to be achieved by such agreements, which must be implemented without causing new injustices, is respect for the dignity and growth of the human person. And you, the Aboriginal people of this country and its cities, must show that you are actively working for your own dignity of life. On your part, you must show that you too can walk tall and command the respect which every human being expects to receive from the rest of the human family.
  2. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ speaks all languages. It esteems and embraces all cultures. It supports them in everything human and, when necessary, it purifies them. Always and everywhere the Gospel uplifts and enriches cultures with the revealed message of a loving and merciful God.

That Gospel now invites you to become, through and through, Aboriginal Christians. It meets your deepest desires. You do not have to be people divided into two parts, as though an Aboriginal had to borrow the faith and life of Christianity, like a hat or a pair of shoes, from someone else who owns them. Jesus calls you to accept his words and his values into your own culture. To develop in this way will make you more than ever truly Aboriginal.

The old ways can draw new life and strength from the Gospel. The message of Jesus Christ can lift up your lives to new heights, reinforce all your positive values and add many others, which only the Gospel in its originality proposes. Take this Gospel into your own language and way of speaking; let its spirit penetrate your communities and determine your behaviour towards each other, let it bring new strength to your stories and your ceremonies. Let the Gospel come into your hearts and renew your personal lives. The Church invites you to express the living word of Jesus in ways that speak to your Aboriginal minds and hearts. All over the world people worship God and read his word in their own language, and colour the great signs and symbols of religion with touches of their own traditions. Why should you be different from them in this regard, why should you not be allowed the happiness of being with God and each other in Aboriginal fashion?

  1. As you listen to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, seek out the best things of your traditional ways. If you do, you will come to realize more and more your great human and Christian dignity. Let your minds and hearts be strengthened to begin a new life now. Past hurts cannot be healed by violence, nor are present injustices removed by resentment. Your Christian faith calls you to become the best kind of Aboriginal people you can be. This is possible only if reconciliation and forgiveness are part of your lives. Only then will you find happiness. Only then will you make your best contribution to all your brothers and sisters in this great nation. You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.

In the new world that is emerging for you, you are being called to live fully human and Christian lives, not to die of shame and sorrow. But you know that to fulfil your role you need a new heart. You will already feel courage rise up inside you when you listen to God speaking to you in these words of the Prophets:

“Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine. Do not be afraid, for I am with you”.

And again:

“I am going to… gather you together… and bring you home to your own land… I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… You shall be my people and I will be your God”.

  1. With you I rejoice in the hope of God’s gift of salvation, which has its beginnings here and now, and which also depends on how we behave towards each other, on what we put up with, on what we do, on how we honour God and love all people.

Dear Aboriginal people: the hour has come for you to take on new courage and new hope. You are called to remember the past, to be faithful to your worthy traditions, and to adapt your living culture whenever this is required by your own needs and those of your fellowman. Above all you are called to open your hearts ever more to the consoling, purifying and uplifting message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died so that we might all have life, and have it to the full.

© Copyright 1986 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Guidelines For Dialogue

I was challenged some weeks ago by a friend who contacted me privately and said she was no longer wanting to see my Facebook posts. It was not the topics, she said, it was the tone of the conversation contained in the comments, I interpreted that it was not only friends comments that offended but mine as well. It did give me reason to pause and look at my use of sarcasm, bighting back, being defensive etc. I do think I do ‘pretty well’, but can always improve. I do, however, feel that people can tend to shy away from confronting conversations. There is an argument that says Christians should not be arguing about ‘us’ in the public as it shows an image of disunity. Maybe. But I also feel (and have had friends who are not followers of Christ say) that its refreshing for them to see open frank, honest and respectful disagreements between believers. Its obvious we don’t all agree on every topic, lets create safe places of respect to dialogue, argue debate. Heck, we have plenty to talk about! Look at these three hot topics just from the past 12 months; 1) Aboriginal Racism (Adam Goodes, Remote Community closures); 2) Immigration/Refugees (Asylum seeker debate, Reclaim Australia, Islamic issues) and for number 3)…Gay Marriage and all the associated issues that go with that topic.

I attended a meeting with Dave Andrews around his book “The Jihad of Jesus“. He spoke of the many difficult moments of dialogue in certain groups. Dave handed out to our gathering a A4 sheet titled “Guidelines For Dialogue”, I thought it was worth a share.

Guidelines For Dialogue

We agree to;

Make an effort to relate respectfully to all people regardless of their faith.

Listen to what other people have to say.

Not tell other people what they believe, let them tell us.

And respect other’s views, even if we disagree with their views.

Be honest and sensitive in what we say.

Speak positively of our faith, not negatively about other’s

And not try to force other people to agree with our views.

Not treat people as a spokesperson for their faith

Nor judge people by what other people of their faith do.

Share our faith with sincerity, transparency, mercy and compassion.

Acknowledge both similarities and differences between our faiths.

Serve without strings attached.

Not exploit the vulnerability of people

Witness faithfully, but never ever try to induce or coerce a conversion.

Respect the choices others may make.

Accept them without resentment.

Encourage positive relationships between faith communities.

Encourage constructive relationships with the wider community.

Use our wisdom, knowledge, skills and resources to serve people.

Discuss problems that arise face to face to solve them peacefully.

Dave Andrews

Stats and Facts From The Aust. Council of Social Services on Refugees

The Australian Council of Social Service is the peak body of the community services and welfare sector and the national voice for the needs of people affected by poverty and inequality. Here are some extracts from their latest emergency relief (ER)handbook (Vers. IV)

(p33) There is widespread confusion about the difference between refugees and asylum seekers. Those who are recognised by the Australian Government as refugees are given permanent residency status and are entitled to work, to access mainstream services and to receive income support from Centrelink.

An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their country of origin and is in the process of applying for a Protection Visa which will recognise him or her as a refugee.

To obtain a protection visa in Australia, an asylum seeker must prove to the Australian Government that they cannot return to their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution.

Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, which dictates that a person is able to seek asylum in a signatory country with or without travel and identity documents and irrespective of their mode of transport to that country. There is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker in Australia.

Asylum seekers and ER (p34)

Most asylum seekers come to Australia by plane and do not spend time in immigration detention. They live in the community and typically experience severe poverty and disadvantage. Unique factors that contribute to this disadvantage include the following:

  • asylum seekers have no access to Centrelink income support;
  • asylum seekers are ineligible for Health Care Cards;
  • asylum seekers have no guaranteed right to work, nor to Medicare or mainstream settlement services;
  • for asylum seekers who do have work rights, finding a job is extremely difficult as they do not have access to the Job Network or Job Services Australia; as a result, a high proportion of asylum seekers have no income;
  • most asylum seekers rely heavily on charity and ER organisations to meet their most basic needs, including: food, public transport, clothing, bedding, kitchenware and nappies;
  • asylum seekers experience a rate of homelessness disproportionate to that of the wider Australian population;
  • experiences of war, torture and trauma produce serious mental health conditions in asylum seekers –
  • common symptoms include flashbacks, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation;
  • asylum seekers often wait years for a decision on their application for refugee protection, with no access to mainstream mental health services – this compounds pre-existing mental health conditions;

asylum seekers are frequently excluded from mainstream community and ER organisations that require clients to possess a valid Health Care Card

The Pope’s Wisdom

The 5 Most Important Points of Pope Francis’s Climate Change Encyclical


June 18, 2015

Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical letter on care for creation made its anticipated debut Thursday morning, and once again, the Bishop of Rome has delivered a masterpiece. The document will play a key role in United Nations Paris Climate Change Conference this November and will be a pivotal point of debate as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up here at home. So what exactly does the pope address in this letter? Here are the top five points in what Francis describes as a “dialogue with all people about our common home.”

1. Climate change is real, and it’s getting worse. Though some politicians in the U.S. still argue about the reality of the climate change, Pope Francis doesn’t mince words: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day,” he says. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

2. Human beings are a major contributor to climate change.While many agree that climate change is real, some believe that human beings don’t contribute to it. The science suggests otherwise, and Pope Francis—a trained chemist—says human beings do have an effect on the Earth: “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

3. Climate change disproportionately affects the poor. Climate change’s worst impact, Pope Francis says, “will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.” This environmental inequality creates a strange economic phenomenon: Poor countries are often financially indebted to rich countries. The world has what Pope Francis calls a “social debt towards the poor … because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.”

4. We can and must make things better. Some of those who study climate change believe this process to be irreversible, too far gone. But Francis—whose first major letter was entitled Joy of the Gospel—says he doesn’t believe we should be robbed of hope. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start”

5. Individuals can help, but politicians must lead the charge.Francis argues that personal responsibility is an important step toward reversing climate change, but that political and structural transformations are needed for lasting change. “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.”

Some politicians argue that Pope Francis and the Catholic Church should stay out of climate change debates and “leave science to the scientists.” But Francis and the church know that protecting creation is first and foremost a moral and religious issue. It’s a response to God’s ancient request that we preserve, protect, and sustain creation. Francis has said before that he hopes today’s politicians will take this responsibility to heart as they address one of the most important issues of our times: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!”

source –

A letter I received today

Dear Scott,

We are writing to you today with a call to prayer for the weekend ahead. Leaders throughout the Asia-Pacific began meeting today to discuss the humanitarian crisis unfolding in our region.1 At this stage, around 7,000 Rohingya asylum seekers are still stranded on the same boats they have been on for over two weeks, with countries in the area continuing to refuse to accommodate them.image

As you probably are aware, our own government is also still refusing to help.2 It is a devastating situation for those of us who believe that all people are created in the image of God.

The reality is that, as Christians, we know a Saviour whose response is one of inclusion and acceptance. Who says ‘Yes, yes, yes’ to the ‘whosoever’ that would come, and extends unconditional love to all. Yet we can find our earthly leaders’ response is the opposite, as rigid policies and political slogans take precedence over compassion and common sense.


Yet even in these times, we can hold on to the hope we have in Jesus, and bring our concerns to him in prayer.

Let’s all join together this weekend and pray specifically that:

The Rohingyas are helped off the boats and given shelter.
A search and rescue operation is launched to find other boats from Myanmar.
Governments work together to end the persecution of the Rohingyas.
Governments provide a clear ‘front door’ for refugees to seek asylum in our region so that they aren’t forced to come on boats.
Australia takes a lead in the region by giving the Rohingyas and other refugees a permanent home.
The people of Australia will be generous and offer welcome to those in need.
At the moment there seems little hope, yet we believe in a God who raises the dead and for whom nothing is impossible. Together, let’s believe God will work miraculously to bring a solution to this crisis.

With Grace and Peace,
Tim, Justin and the whole Common Grace Team
PS. Why not forward this email to your pastor or the person who will be overseeing prayer in your church service this Sunday?

[1] ‘Advisor to give governments tough love talk on smugglers’, The Australian, 27 May 2015
[2] ‘Peter Dutton defends Tony Abbott on Rohingyas’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 2015
Common Grace

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A question of civil disobedience from Rom 13


This article was originally published by Ethos. It is a condensed version of more extensive article that has been published in Crucible.

For over a year I have been involved with the #LoveMakesAWay sit-ins and prayer vigils in the offices of prominent Government and Opposition MPs. These actions have been the responses of Christians from a variety of denominations to the cruel asylum seeker policies of the Australian government. They have been intentional acts of civil disobedience.

In response to our actions some Christians have expressed disagreement with our methods, often citing Romans 13:1–7 as rationale for doing so. A “plain reading” of this passage, which counsels readers to “submit to the governing authorities,” seems to yield a clear and straightforward command that implies the prohibition of civil disobedience.

What follows is a brief attempt to address the question of whether Romans 13 does in fact prohibit the possibility of faithful Christian nonviolent civil disobedience. I hope what follows is a cause for discussion on this topic and, indirectly, an explanation of some of the thinking behind the methods of a movement like Love Makes a Way.

Paul writes from within the Roman Empire, not a modern democracy. This is no trivial point for interpreting Romans 13 for a contemporary audience. We should not imagine that Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1–7—a mere seven verses, and far from a comprehensive or systematic treatment of the relationship of church and state—can simply be transferred directly from the context of an ancient empire to a modern democracy.

If we think Paul is positive about “the authorities,” then he is positive about them in the form he knows them, namely imperial dictatorship. We cannot use Romans 13 to legitimate our preferred governmental structure without, according to the same logic, accepting the implied divine legitimacy of dictatorships. Those of us who live in democracies will likely find such a suggestion unpalatable. It raises the question of whether God ordains particular authorities, or authority in general; if we opt for the first option, then we must wrestle with what that means for authorities in North Korea, or Apartheid South Africa, or Nazi Germany. Depending on where things land in coming months or years, such a view may also have implications for our views of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East.

The biblical canon contains episodes in which protagonists commit acts of what we might call ‘civil disobedience.’ The midwives’ noncompliance in the face of Pharaoh’s infanticidal command in Exodus 1 is one well-known example. The disobedience of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3, and also Daniel in Daniel 6—both in light of idolatrous laws—are further examples. Jesus himself commits acts of what we would contemporarily call civil disobedience, mostly notably in his Sabbath healings and in the clearing of the Jerusalem Temple. There is also the well-known example in Acts 5 of the apostles’ disobedience in the face of the command not to teach in the name of Jesus—“We must obey God rather than men.”

We can also point to the more negative attitudes to the state represented in texts like Revelation, in which the Roman Empire is described as a Beast (ch. 13) and a Prostitute “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6). Revelation paints a wholly negative picture of the authorities, one that stands in tension with interpretations of Romans 13 that portray the authorities as servants of God.

Paul begins Romans 12 with a startling call to resist conformity to this age (12:1–2). He is speaking to people living in the midst of a powerful and ruthless empire. As such, these people might be tempted to believe that resisting conformity to this age equates to freedom from the need to obey the state at all, a point Paul will address in Romans 13. Before getting there, Paul exhorts his audience to love genuinely, to hate evil, and hold fast to what is good (12:9–13). Such encouragement to love applies not only to friends, but also to enemies, those who persecute (12:14). This call to subvert the common desire for retribution is repeated:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17–21).

A clear implication of the gospel that Paul has discussed throughout Romans is the need to love everyone, even enemies, and the refusal to do evil. Who are these enemies that have persecuted the community and must be “overcome” with good? Since Paul seamlessly launches into Romans 13:1–7, with its discussion of the authorities, it is clear that the enemies in view are these authorities. This section is followed by 13:8–14 which counsels the community to “owe no one anything, except to love one another” (13:8), a statement which should guide how we interpret Paul’s command to “pay to all what is due them” (13:7). Though the authorities are their enemies, the church must show love to the authorities because God has shown love to those who were still in rebellion (5:8).

In 13:12, Paul alludes to his previous statement in 12:2 regarding the present age when he says,

the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.

That the section about the authorities (13:1–7) is bookended by such statements about not conforming to this dark age—“the night”—suggests that Paul’s command to submit to the authorities must be read in light of this command to nonconformity.

Read apart from its surrounding context Romans 13:1–7 certainly seems to express unmitigated support for the authorities. Read in this context, however, Paul’s comments take on a different flavour. What, then, might be the meaning of 13:1–7?

Romans 13ROMANS 13:1–7 UP CLOSE
Some have suggested that Romans 13:1–7 might be read ironically, the “classic ironic technique of blaming by apparent praise.”[1] In other words, Paul says what he doesn’t mean. While this is a possibility, I will assume that Paul is sincere since this is how most Christians read the passage; I hope to show that even a literal reading of the text allows for the possibility of civil disobedience.

The first thing to note is that there is no authority except from (hupo) God (13:1). The Greek hupo is typically translated “from,” but it can also mean “under.” One’s choice of translation makes a significant difference as to the meaning of this phrase, since “no authority except from God” is a very different reality to there being “no authority except under God.” Whichever option we choose, however, it must be consistent with Paul’s assertion that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 6:23; 10:9). Such a proclamation, as N.T. Wright says, is a “confrontation with the powers,”[2] a denial of ultimate loyalty to any lord other than Jesus, including the Caesars of the world who claim such a status. That the authorities are instituted by God (13:1) means that their authority is not self-generated, but exists only because the authorities have a legitimate place in the created order. In other words, the authority of the authorities is relativised under Jesus’ Lordship. Such a message would in itself have been subversive, “an undermining of pagan totalitarianism, not a reinforcement of it,”[3] and not what the authorities would have like to have heard.

If the authorities have a legitimate place in the created order, then God’s people are to be subject to them. Again, scholarly debate goes on as to the nature of this subjection, but two things guide our interpretation. The first is the aforementioned disobedience of Paul—whatever Paul meant by subjection, it almost certainly did not entail unquestioning obedience because he did not act this way. The second interpretive aid is Paul’s claim in 13:2 that “whoever resists (antitassomai) authority resists (anthistēmi) what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Paul’s use of antitassomai and anthistēmi, words that denote organised and/or violent opposition, suggests a reference not to resistance generally, but rather to violent resistance—to revolt. Paul’s teaching here is to refrain from violent resistance against the authorities. For Paul, both unquestioning obedience and violent revolt are improper responses to the authorities. On the one hand the authorities must not be obeyed when they are not acting as God’s servants; on the other hand violent revolt does not fall into the category of overcoming evil with love (12:21).

From 13:3 onwards Paul’s picture of the authorities becomes more conditional. He says, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good.” The issue here is that this picture did not always ring true, even for Paul. The truth is, according to Paul, that the authorities should be feared (13:7) because they bear the sword (and they will use it)—not exactly an enthusiastic appraisal! In other words, don’t be naïve about the violence that the authorities are capable of, and give them no reason for such violence.

But Paul’s audience are not to let this reality be the final arbiter of how they live their lives. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (13:8) Love is the ethic of the community of God (as opposed to the potential violence of the authorities). Love must be shown, even to the persecutor, even when this requires that the one who loves must suffer as a result of their loving response to evil.

Christians should certainly be subject to the authorities for the good ordering of society, but when those authorities step well outside the realm of God’s will there may be times when Christians must choose between obedience to God over obedience to Caesar. So John Calvin:

The Lord … is the King of Kings, who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, must alone be heard, before all and above all men [sic]; next to him we are subject to those men who are in authority over us, but only in him. If they command anything against him, let it go unesteemed.[4]

In such times, violence is not an option for followers of Jesus, according to Paul, for love is the ethic of the church.

Nonviolent civil disobedience does not constitute, at least in my view, the refusal to submit to the authorities as per Romans 13. Such a statement is controversial, no doubt. But we must remember that Paul’s concern is that his audience does not violently revolt against the state. By defending civil disobedience I am advocating no such thing. Inasmuch as the authorities are themselves meant to submit to God, calling them back to their purpose is indeed a form of faithfulness to the will of God.

It could even be argued that acting in civil disobedience and accepting the consequences of such action is, in a way, a kind of submission to the authorities. Principled civil disobedience, in seeking to call the authorities back to their God-ordained purpose, does not seek to escape the consequences of its action. On the contrary, the one who engages in principled civil disobedience is willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions. Martin Luther King Jr. suggests such a person is “in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”[5]

[1] Timothy Carter, “Commentary: The Irony of Romans 13:1–8,” Third Way 28 (2005): 21.

[2] N.T. Wright, “The New Testament and the ‘State,’ ” Themelios 16/1 (1990): 14.

[3] N.T. Wright, “Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans,” in A Royal Priesthood: The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically (ed. C. Bartholemew; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002), 190.

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (ed. J.T. McNeill; trans. F.L. Battles; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), IV.20.32.

[5] Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,”

Matt Anslow is married to Ashlee, works for an international development NGO, is a PhD candidate in theology at Charles Sturt University, and is an organiser for #LoveMakesAWay. He and Ashlee live in a small intentional community in Sydney where they try to put their convictions into practice in the context of the mundane. Matt is also an editor of On The Road. You can follow him on Twitter.