I’ve already been asked about the morality of paying taxes to the U. S. government in light of the new healthcare law which provides federal subsidies for abortion. Albert Mohler answers that question today in an extended essay on his website, and I commend it to you.
Mohler builds on two New Testament texts in particular that I think are important: Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Mohler rightly identifies the governing authority during Paul’s and Peter’s time as the Roman Empire. Both texts command Christians to subject themselves to governing authorities, and Romans 13:7 specifically commands Christians to pay their taxes: “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.”
I would add one additional observation. When Paul wrote Romans, it was near the beginning of Emperor Nero’s reign (mid-50’s A.D.), and this was before there was any major state-sanctioned persecution of Christians. When Peter wrote 1 Peter, it was near the end of Nero’s reign (around 64 A.D. if you take the traditional dating), and it is clear that the recipients of 1 Peter were undergoing persecution (1 Peter 1:6; 4:12). Thus, the command to obey governing authorities applies even in times of persecutionâ€”when Christians are being put to death unjustly.
So is there ever a time for civil disobedience? Yes, there is. The prime apostolic example of this is recorded in the book of Acts. When the authorities prohibited Peter and the apostles from preaching the gospel, Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). I think the principle is clear. Human governments get their authority from God, and they cannot bind the conscience to disobey God. When a government commands something that God forbids or forbids something that God commands, Christians must obey God rather than government. In such cases, they must be willing to disobey even if doing so brings a painful consequence (1 Peter 2:20; 3:14, 17). It seems clear, however, that the apostles didn’t include paying taxes to an immoral regime as an occasion for civil disobedience.