What is a Governing Authority?

As a follower of Christ, I have been contemplating Romans 13:1-14 which talks about being subject to governing authorities.  I mean, I do not want to disobey God by not being subject to the governing authorities.  So this got me to thinking.  What exactly is a governing authority?  Is it always a person?  Could it be a thing?  After all, God is my authority, and it is His written Word that guides my life and my decisions.

In a true monarchy, authority is vested in a king or queen who are sovereign to make decisions as to what should and should not be in the monarchy.  In a dictatorship, the dictator has the ultimate authority to make all the decisions as to what the people can and cannot do.  In a socialist government, a group of elite government officials have the ultimate authority to make all the decisions as to what the people can and cannot do.  What about in a Representative Republic like the one that is the great United States of America?

A Representative Republic is one where the people of the republic elect officials who are to exercise authority under a constitution.  No authority is granted to one of these elected officials except that given by the constitution.  These elected officials come and go, but the constitution is the abiding, constant authority for the republic.

Now I am not a history or a political science major, but if I am looking at this correctly, this means that the governing authority in the Representative Republic which we call the United States of America is the The Constitution of the United States.  The Preamble to the Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  This governing authority then goes on to describe how the different branches of the government are to work.  In other words, these branches of government operate under the authority of the Constitution.

It would therefore stand to reason that as a believer following Romans 13:1-14, I am to be subject to the Constitution of the United States as the governing authority of my country.  God allowed our Founding Fathers to establish a Constitution that would govern this great nation with checks and balances put into place for the elected officials who are subject to the people under the authority of the Constitution.  The people have the power to vote those officials in.  The people have a voice and a right to communicate their ideas with those elected officials.  The elected officials are responsible to the people.  The people have the authority to replace elected officials with other elected officials.  In fact, in his Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln called our form of government, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Elected officials come and go. The Constitution of the United States by which those officials govern transcends time.

So does this therefore mean that as a citizen of the United States, if an elected official is undermining the governing authority of my country (i.e., The Constitution of the United States of America), that I need to sit idly by?  Am I rebelling against God if I chose to speak out against or vote out an elected official who does not respect or uphold the Constitution, or is it my responsibility to do so in being subject to the governing authority?  Am I rebelling if I ask one branch of government to hold another branch of government accountable to the Constitution?  If my duty is to be “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1 New International Version), does that mean my duty is to The Constitution of the United States as the governing authority?

I have always thought of the “governing authorities” referred to in Scripture as a person.  However, is that truly the case when in this country, elected officials have to answer to a higher authority in the form of a written word:  The Constitution of the United States of America?  Just something to think about…

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