The Peter Principle
What do you do when the Bible says one thing and the government says another? Follow the principle the apostle Peter gave us.
A significant parade of years has passed since my grammar school days in a small Michigan community. The crucial national election looming before us in the United States has prompted me to look back at the time when electing class officers ignited excitement throughout the student body.
The voting protocol varied: cardboard ballot boxes for the upper classes, an eyes-closed show of hands for the younger. The procedure was simple. A bit of campaign rhetoric, followed by heads down and hands up for your favorite candidate— which was usually dictated by friendship or popularity.
Civility was a high priority. No smear tactics. As a matter of fact, it was customary for candidates to show respect by voting for their opponents. After the outcome, congratulations went to the winner from those who failed to win the day.
Today it all may seem like a quaint exercise in make-believe to create a brief respite from the heavy doses of reading, writing, and arithmetic. But grammar school electioneering was actually an initiation into a lifelong privilege known only in free societies where citizens enjoy the right to select their government leadership.
Privilege Begets Obligation
In a world where most governments have been imposed on people, rather than selected by them, this system of free elections stands as the rarest of arrangements. Romans 13:1–7 clarifies the God-ordained authority of government and its purpose—to maintain civil order, execute justice, and restrain evil:
For he [secular ruler] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (vv. 4, 7).
However, there is a divine proviso: When secular authorities conflict with God’s laws and pressure God’s people to disobey Him, we should hold firm to God’s Word.
For example, when the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem commanded the apostle Peter and his companions to stop preaching and teaching salvation through Jesus Christ, Peter declined, saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
He and the other believers bore the consequences of their decision and continued to proclaim the forbidden message that would ultimately spread to people the world over.
We Can Lose It
When secular rulers fail in their responsibility to restrain evil and exercise their God-granted power for our good (Rom. 13:4), they imperil their nation’s future. Moreover, when they condone and promote the evil they are supposed to restrain, they bring their countries to a point of no return, from which there is no national redemption.
In America, for example, government seems to be waging war on God and Christianity. Federal courts routinely ban symbols and depictions of virtually anything related to our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. In April a federal judge in California ruled that the small cross on the official seal of the County of Los Angeles violated the California constitution.
The cross was on the tower of the San Gabriel Mission, one in a chain of Spanish sanctuaries that were historically significant in California’s development. The crossless version makes the building look more like a warehouse than a Christian mission, violating historical accuracy. Such rulings represent the godless, revisionist ideology transforming America and jeopardizing its future for coming generations. It is a serious error to believe that if America rejects God, God will intervene and save it. All evidence proves otherwise.
Unlike Israel, which God promises to preserve through judgment, Gentile nations corrupted by persistent, unrestrained evil have no such promise and are left to their own devices, becoming insignificant shadows of what they once were.
Israel fits a different pattern. God’s program for His Chosen People is remedial. He promises to preserve them (Jer. 5:18; 31:35–40); reconcile them to the Messiah (Zech. 12:10); and reign over them in a Millennial Kingdom where peace, justice, and righteousness will prevail (Isa. 9:6–7).
Here and Now
No one can predict how events, competent leadership, and an awakened “silent majority” could turn things around and bring the United States back from the brink of moral and social disintegration.
As Americans, we have the right—the obligation—to vote. And through responsible participation in the elective process bestowed on us at great personal cost by our forefathers, we can be heard.
Believers hold dual citizenship. As citizens of our respective countries, we must live responsibly within the law (Mk. 12:17). As citizens of heaven, we must obey God. When those obligations collide, we use the “Peter Principle”: to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), as the apostle Peter stated, and accept the consequences.
John Bunyan (1628–1688), the English tinker turned preacher, demonstrated Peter’s admonition in precise fashion. Despite a royal decree declaring that all nonconformist preaching outside the Church of England would be punished by imprisonment, Bunyan refused to stop preaching the gospel. He was arrested and incarcerated for 12 years for obeying God, rather than men.
While imprisoned, the unschooled Baptist produced a rich series of books and began the incomparable The Pilgrim’s Progress, which endures as the most successful allegory ever written. For centuries it was second only to the Bible in translations and distribution.
Bunyan described his years in the fetid prison as a time when his mind was freed to study Christ, and he often described himself as the “Lord’s free prisoner.” Had he not chosen God over man, he would be unknown today; and millions would be deprived of inspiration from his writings.
The Christlike Contradiction
Jesus ministered in a hostile environment. Yet multitudes were drawn to Him because He offered genuine peace, love, hope, and promise—dramatic contradictions to the darkness enshrouding the people in imperial Rome.
More than 100 years after Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, Tertullian (150–225 AD), an early church father, proclaimed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” No matter how degraded a culture becomes, the true church will grow, rather than recede.
Why? Because Christlike believers are an irresistible attraction. Oppression, no matter how intense, does not drive a stake through the heart of Christianity. Instead, through the power of the gospel, it drives an ever-increasing remnant of individuals to emulate Christ by bearing His moral and spiritual likeness.
Even the most blessed of societies corrode and wither in time. But the church has survived and prospered despite corrupt societies, persecution, and satanically inspired movements to destroy it. And that will not change. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).
Soon Americans will exercise the rare right to participate in the future of our country. Voting is not a game. It is an obligation enshrined in the legacy of the freedom we have been given. And as Christians, we must fulfill our obligations until the Lord takes us home. See you at the polls!