Does the Bible Support Protesting Unjust Governments like Iran’s?

The people in Iran are holding public protests against the Iranian government. Are they doing the right thing? Is it wrong to protest corrupt politicians and policies? Our Constitution in the First Amendment codifies the freedom to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” by freedom of religion, assembly, speech, and the press. These are “inalienable rights.” They are not granted to us by governments

There are many Christian who believe that the political status quo is the biblical position. You couldn’t make that case to the prophets in Israel. John MacArthur made some comments about the ongoing civil unrest in the Middle East. “I just think the upshot of all of this is more instability, more chaos,” the longtime Southern California pastor told The Christian Post in an interview. “I don’t think the future looks good.” He may be right, but he doesn’t really know. He uses Iran as an example of what happened when the government of the Shah was replaced with that of the Ayatollahs. “You’d like to think that nothing but freedom would come out of this. That’s not what happened in Iran.”

There remains an undercurrent of dissatisfaction in Iran.

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Who would have thought that the Berlin Wall would come down, or the Soviet Union would collapse, or atheistic Romania and other Eastern Bloc countries would break free from the Soviet orbit? The question is, What will fill the vacuum? If Christians aren’t ready to lead in this area, then we’re going to have years of unrest. Until Christians engage the culture in a comprehensive way with the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) all we’re going to see in the next few decades are hand wringing and claims that the end of the world is upon us. We need a new generation of the “sons of Isaachar,” “men who understood the times with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).

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I don’t have much of an argument with MacArthur’s comments about the potential for further disruption, instability, and chaos. I’ve been just as distrustful and skeptical of democratic uprisings as he has, and I’ve said as much in my article “The Scourge of Unbridled Democracy.” The French and Russian Revolutions are examples of popular uprisings going bad. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be after expressions of popular unrest, although I suspect, given MacArthur’s prophetic views, that he sees these displays of dissent as setting the stage for a series of end-time events culminating in the “rapture” of the church, the rise of antichrist, and an attack on Israel. There can’t be any real hope for national stability in the Middle East because the prophetic tea leaves have been read (and in my view, “been found wanting”).

Here is where I have a disagreement with MacArthur. The article reports the following about his views:

“But from a biblical perspective, MacArthur maintained that the protesters are in violation of the biblical command to ‘submit to the powers that be because they’re ordained of God.’”

I don’t see how protesting the actions of a civil government is a violation of the biblical command to submit to civil authority. When a civil ruler operates outside his jurisdictional limitations, it is not wrong for the people to call him to account. A civil ruler only operates legitimately in those things over which he has jurisdictional authority. He can’t claim that because he’s a king that whatever he does is the result of his office. An elected official that lies, cheats, steals, and murders is not doing God’s will in his civil capacity. He can and should be called to account. Samuel Rutherford’s comments in Lex, Rex, or, The Law and the Prince are helpful on this point…


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