I distinctly remember listening to the decidedly conservative video teacher for my highschool homeschool history curriculum carefully explain to his eager history students how the American Revolution was not unbiblical.
Being religiously conservative myself, we agreed on much, but this time I found myself utterly perplexed as he tried to settle the issue with a broad appeal to the corrupt British government.
Well, okay, I thought, but if corrupt government is grounds for revolution, what does it mean that all governments are corrupt, to some extent?
Also, wasn't the government which Paul lived under when he wrote "be subject to those in authority" corrupt too?
At the time, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on with my life, not knowing I would revisit this question and a host of others about the intersect between my faith and politics in the years to come.
In one sense, what I am writing matters little because the American Revolution was over 200 years ago.
At the same time, the principles that make the revolution contrary to the call of Christians as articulated in the Bible, are for all times and people and thus distinctly relevant for us today.
One of the three of those principles is found in Romans 13:1-5:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do
This passage does not teach absolute obedience, due only to God, but means unless the government commands you to do something you cannot do without violating God's commands, you are not justified in disobeying the government, which is exactly what the Colonists did.
In fact, no justification is ever given for the act of revolution, even when the government is telling you to do something which you can rightly disobey.
The government of Rome in Paul's day was surely as corrupt as the English government and, yet, he still issued and followed this command, under the direction of the Spirit.
The second principle is found in Romans 12:17-21, one chapter prior:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Replete with instructions and examples of how Christians should treat their enemies and resolve conflict, the New Testament is silent about the justifiableness of Christians going to war.
Indeed, filling the New Testament's silence on any Christian just war ethic is a deafening call for non-violence and peacemaking.
In place of violently overthrowing the government and subsequently killing the "enemy" in defense of ourselves, we are told to not repay evil with evil, to do what is right (which we saw previously involves obedience to government),to live at peace (the opposite of going to war), to not take revenge, to trust in God's justice, and to treat our enemies well.
None of these values or practices aligns with the sanguinary and peaceless American Revolution.
Thirdly and finally, we return to Romans 12, picking up where we left off with verses 6-7:
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
One of the Colonists' most notable grievances against King George and the British Monarchy was taxation without representation.
However, echoing Jesus' words to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's", Paul makes the argument for why Christians should pay their taxes.
Rather than complain, vandalize, rebel, or refuse to pay, even if the system of taxation is unfair--as it was both for the Colonists and early Christians, neither of whom were properly represented by their government and who were often burdened by undue taxation--we obey, not of deference for an unjust government, but out of reverence for a just God who uses government for His purposes.
Recognizing this, understand that the reason fighting the American Revolution was unscriptural, was because it replaced the Colonists' responsibilities to their God with the sacrifice of human life on the altar of war in worship of the false gods of liberty, freedom, and self-government.
This is not something any follower of Christ should celebrate.
(But that doesn't necessarily mean we cannot enjoy the fireworks!)