Romans 13: 1-7 in itself is clear, saying that every soul, no one excluded, must be obedient to any government. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. And: “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (NASB)
Here are some "what if’s" to take into consideration: – what if Romans 13 has been historically abused on a large scale to totally control people en to enslave them. Romans 13 was 'the glue' that kept Nazi Germany together. Nazis and Slave owners regularly quoted Romans 13. In times of turmoil and protests, at the dislike of the governments, Roman 13 is also frequently quoted. But: – what if a government is doing evil things? What if the government is not doing good for all citizens, but clearly bad? – what if a government abuses the sword against its civilians? – what if governments discriminate or set people apart and treat them unequally and unlawfully? – what if governments act against mankind? – what if governments want to oppress and even murder distinct groups? – what about an occupying government? – what if a government asks us to do things that go against God’s word.
Summarizing the above considerations: what if a government abuses its role, given by God and may even abuse the Bible or Bible verses to affirm its position?
Not only have there, historically, been clear examples of great and direct abuse of Romans 13 by governments. Many Christians have also used Romans 13 as an excuse to look away and to be obedient to the government while they shouldn't, because that was the easiest choice for them. Many German Christians, for example, stimulated by the fact that the government was democratically chosen, obeyed the Nazis in almost everything. They looked away and it is unclear what came first; the chicken or the egg. Most of the German people said: ‘Wir haben es nicht gewusst’. Could and should they have known it, or did they not know it, because they blindly obeyed their Führer and, with that, had totally blinded themselves for the truth? Also in other, occupied countries, their has been a lot of obedience to the occupational force of the Nazis. There was, in general, not that much resistance at all. Was that right? Was there maybe hidden support for it, which one dared not to admit but yet secretly was already there? This historical abuse at least carries a very important lesson in it, namely that this Bible part should not easily be used, in times of tension, turmoil or when there is a clash between government and civilians, let alone war. Abuse to control and neglect or ignore what is really going on, lies directly around the corner. It can make things much worse and it usually does. So, I would suggest to avoid naming it in such cases. It is almost the same as a husband who is treating his wife badly reads a Bible verse after dinner, making clear that she should obey him, as head of the family. It only puts oil on the fire.
Also, is this Bible part then so absolute that their is no escape possible. Should one at all times obey the government? Should we give in to abuse of it and ask no further questions and humbly do what is asked of us? Is that what’s intended? Well, if this was the only thing we could read about it and what can be deducted from the Bible, it would indeed be inescapably necessary to obey the government at all times, no matter what is asked from us. But, as with many Bible verses or parts, that is not the whole story. To obey a government all times is an oversimplification, a partly truth, This is often taken out of its context. One should however always weigh it against what else is written. What else then, with relation to this, is written in Gods Word about it?
Well, except that we should obey the government, we also, and even more so, and in the very first place, have to be submissive and obedient to God. Above all! If the demands of the government, and what is asked of us, go against God’s will, as made clear in God’s word, we must obey God more than the government (Acts 4: 19, Acts 5: 29). As simple as that. That is not an option, it is our duty. We have to. If we don’t, then we are disobedient to God, which is an even more serious matter. It ways heavier in the scale, so to speak. We should at all times be obedient to a government who does its task right, but to a government that does not, we should obey God more. Not to be a disobedient in itself, or for the sake of resistance, no, not at all, but simply because God ordained that we have to obey God then, not the government. We are in that case forced to be disobedient by the fact that it is our foremost duty to be more obedient to God. Oft times this is however completely forgotten, and there are far less historical examples of that form of obedience, not because such situations were not there, but because we instead rather obeyed governments and were disobedient to God. The general principle according to the Bible is: we should all obey the government at all times when it asks something of us that is not against God's will. If it does and acts against it and demands us to take part in that, in doing wrong or evil, then we should obey God in that case, not the government. As simple as that. That is what some luckily understood in WWII and acted accordingly to it and protested against the discrimination of Jews and the razzias and helped them escape or hide. But sadly they were yet a shameful minority.
It is clear, in this Bible part, that Paul is talking about a government that is doing its task as it is expected it to do, according to how God ordained it. That becomes clear from this part: “Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” In other words the by God ordained and good government is there to protect and be good and give praise to those who do good and bring wrath on those who do evil (and that to everyone equally alike; to all its civilians). So, the formal ordained government structure comes from God to protect those who do good and to punish those who do bad. It implies a government that performs its task as supposed and intended by God; that what a normal functioning government would and should do. One could say, that if a government does not do that, and, for example, does bad to good and punishes good, or praises and stimulate those who do bad, the other way around, something is definitely wrong and this is not how God intended a government to be. So, one cannot claim that Paul wrote this about the Roman government and that the Roman government was bad and therefore one also has to obey bad acting governments in everything. No, Paul describes a general principle here of a by God ordained institution; a government that protects the good and punishes the bad; one given for good, for the well being of men, as a servant of God.
If a government starts discriminating, or treating refugees bad, not taking care of them or even refusing to take care of them, or is violent and/or discriminating against certain groups, based on race, faith or whatever unjustified reasons or suspicions, expelling them or shutting them off; it is not a government as intended by God, nor how God wants it to be. We cannot go along with that and be more obedient to God in that case. Should we also protest and raise our voice then? Probably, yes, thinking of all the prophets that God sent in the old testament to tell rulers that they were not acting to Gods will. And although we are not those prophets, to remain silent and shut up and look away is almost like approving it and not giving a government a chance to change and live up to its role again. In such case a passive and humble and obedient attitude will not lead to obedience to God, rather to disobedience to God. We should boldly tell the truth in stead and never be afraid of it; not with the purpose of being resistant, but with the intention to make clear that something is wrong and should be restored again; namely that the government will perform its task again as intended; to be good to the good and bad to the bad; for not acting as a proper servant of God, as God has intended it. But not only should we protest or speak up, we are also obliged to do what God wants us to do. So, for example, if in WWII certain groups were forbidden, 'Jüde nicht gewünscht', Christians have to go against that and welcome them and treat them equally as God's human beings, as His crown on creation. We can't let the human race be discriminated or set apart, with the consequences it had, as we all know.
A government should hold up to the Bible, not hold up 'a Bible'. It should live up to its Biblical role. If it goes against it, we should do what God, what the Bible tells us to do in such cases, not what the government tells us to do. Making that clear can, of course, not be violent and should be peaceful, which is not the same as remaining silent. One can and must be loud and clear and one can raise once voice and hands or signs. How else will one be heard and be taken seriously? It is the difference between protesting and resisting. A Christian can and must peacefully protest, if needed, when a government is abusing its power to do unequally bad to good while it should never do that. Not only that, a Christian should obey God more and treat people equally like God's crown on creation.
Think about the attitude of Paul when something unrightfully was done to them. The rulers, who had thrown Paul and Silas in jail, wanted them to peacefully and silently disappear, unnoticed, through a ‘back door’, as it were, without making any uproar whatsoever. The jailer said to Paul, “The officers have sent an order to let you go free. You can leave now. Go in peace.” No, said Paul, “They beat us in public without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens. And they threw us in jail. Now they want to make us go away quietly? By no means! Let them come themselves to lead us out!” Governments always want, for them difficult people, to go away, but that is not always what should happen. There is not only a right to protest then, but for Christians there is an obedience to protest; at the very least to act against it and do what God wants us to do. Some use this as a justification to say that only when we are not allowed to bring the gospel, then we should disobey the government. In all other cases we should obey. But that would be narrowing down the general principle that we should obey God more than people (which is not at all limited to only the bringing of the gospel). So, the fact that this is the only example in the Bible where it is mentioned, does not justify this limitation at all. The latter would namely free Christians from helping Nazis or not putting anything in their way; or not helping Jews hide, because it was forbidden, or not letting them into your shop, bus or park, because it was forbidden. Of course that would be wrong, so it evidently makes clear that it is and can not be limited to solely the bringing of the gospel; no more courage is needed for a Christian, to obey God more than people in all situations, where it is clear that it is against God's will.
Looking the other way, or make pretend the problem is not there, or not taking it seriously, or downplaying it, getting tired of it, not wanting to see what is going on, in other words, running away from the truth is not what a Christian should do. A Christian should address the problem, take it seriously and act obediently to God; that is to obey Him more and do, not primarily what the government asks from us, but what God ask us to do.