Obedience Applies Only to Lawful Orders

The U.S. Navy gave me a marvelous education, an education that prepared me for life and serves me to this day.

The training was thorough and increasingly more challenging. In the final months, there were long days that started before dawn, some 12-hour days and Saturday classes. The technical education equipped me to serve my country and to serve my customers over fifty years.

There was more to my training than math, physics, and electronics: civics. The Navy called it leadership training; it was civics, the study of the privileges and obligations of citizens. Through the civics training I learned my obligation to obey lawful orders. Lawful orders means allowed or permitted by law; not contrary to law.

There was an occasion when a CWO-4 (chief warrant officer) ordered me to modify an aircraft but I knew the order was unlawful. Instead of asking me why I refused to obey him, he immediately declared he would charge me and bring me before a general courts martial. As he worked his charge up the chain-of-command, he came before our commanding officer who knew me personally. Commander Cramblet ordered the warrant officer to ask me why I refused to comply.

I explained: if ordered to modify an A6A aircraft, I would do so without objection because the combat aircraft fly under the authority of the Navy BuWeps. The aircraft in question was a modified civilian airplane used to train bombardier-navigators and flew under the authority of the FAA which would not allow unapproved modifications without prior approval by the agency.

At no time did I worry about the consequences of disobedience to the unlawful order. The chain of authority was fully understood. Context, the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc., applies.

Should Christians obey authorities under all circumstances?

  • 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Submit yourselves to [the authority of] every human institution for the sake of the Lord [to honor His name], whether it is to a king as one in a position of power, or to governors as sent by him to bring punishment to those who do wrong, and to praise and encourage those who do right.”
  • Similarly, Hebrews 13:17 teaches us, “Obey your [spiritual] leaders and submit to them [recognizing their authority over you]…”
  • But, seeming to contradict the above, in Acts chapter 5, the ruling authorities ordered Peter and the disciples of Jesus to discontinue their public preaching. In verse 5, they respond, “We must obey God rather than men [we have no other choice].”

God’s laws are the laws of the entire universe. No civil law or authority can override God’s laws.

Therefore, as citizens of the United States of America, we are obligated to obey governing authorities who act according to the state and federal constitutions and the laws written by the legitimate lawmaking bodies.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution defines the Supreme Law of the Land.

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

In summary, citizens are not obligated to obey the dictates of governing authorities that go against either the supreme law of the land or against God’s laws.

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