Can a Christian engage in civil disobedience, criticize, or otherwise reject the authority of the State? This is a question of increasing importance in our day, as we find ourselves increasingly crushed under the weight of never-ending state expansion.
It is common to cite Romans 13 as a commandment to absolute obedience to the State in all matters, but is that the Apostle Paul's point?
I would argue that a careful reading of the passage says no such thing, for several reasons.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 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; 4 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. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 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. --Romans 13:1-7
First, the New Testament is filled with those who blatantly disregard the commandments of men in favor of the dictates of conscience and divine law. Jesus, the most notable example, disobeyed every command, religious and otherwise, that He saw as contrary to the will of God. In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles are specifically ordered by the temple council to stop preaching about Jesus. Peter's response: "We must obey God rather than men." These two examples will suffice to establish the notion that the divine law trumps human. It may be argued that Christians have, not only the right, but the responsibility to stand against human authority when it stands against divine law.
How do we reconcile this with Paul's statement that we ought to be "subject to governing authorities?" I don't accept the notion that this is simply a contradictory position, or that, after the apostolic age, Christians forfeited their right to judge upon the basis of conscience and revelation the rightness of government actions.
The answer lies in the specificity of Paul's words. We are told to submit, or be subject to governing authorities, but what is meant by this idea. We have already established that there is a higher law which transcends earthly; so what kind of resistance is expressly forbidden? I think the only reasonable answer is to see this as a reference to violent, criminal activity.
Government "is only a cause for fear for (morally) bad behavior." They bring wrath for the punishment of evildoers. You will have nothing to fear if you do what is good. Does this not greatly limit the legitimate scope of State activities? Does it not relinquish its divinely sanctioned authority when it itself becomes an agent of evil or goes beyond the bounds of this sphere of activity? In essence, Government is entrusted with the execution of justice and the protection of individuals. When the State becomes a persecutor of the good, or engages in immoral behaviors, or extends its authority into realms beyond this notion of punish evildoers, it forfeits this legitimate authority, and thus any claim it has on the fidelity of Christians.
As the text continues, Paul says that it is for this reason we also pay taxes; taxation, is seen as a means to fund these legitimate purposes. The same principles, then, apply. If the State has failed to uphold its legitimate purpose, then it also loses its divine sanction to tax.
For the Christian, there is a moral right, even obligation, to oppose the actions of the government when those actions violate morality, yet without recourse to violence and aggression. The Rothbardian non-aggression principle is perfectly consistent with Christian values; warfare, imperialism, taxation, and other State activities often are not.