The American Revolution: Unholy Rebellion Or Holy Disobedience?

The American Revolution

Because rebellion is so clearly condemned in the Scriptures, many Christians have believed the American Revolution was inherently sinful. I believe they are wrong, and in the pages that follow, I will give my reasons why. In doing so, I will capitalize on the fact it is sometimes necessary to resist authority. I have dubbed such resistance, “holy disobedience.” But it is important to notice just here that I believe holy disobedience is not really rebellion at all, for rebellion, by biblical standards, is the sinful refusal to obey lawful authority. Therefore, what some call rebellion is, in truth, obedience to God rather than man (cf. Acts 4:18-19; 5:27-29).

There must be no doubt the Bible teaches that lawful authority, whether in the Home, the Church, or the State, can never be rightly resisted. Such disobedience is always sinful. Thus, if the American Revolution is to be successfully defended, then it must be demonstrated that the Colonists were not in rebellion. Instead, they were exercising their God-given duty to resist unlawful authority. If, in the process of doing so, they found it necessary to jettison not lawful authority, which would have been wrong, but the illegal activities of a tyrant, which is always the obligation of honorable men, then sin cannot attach to such actions unless such is accomplished by anarchy. As we shall see, anarchy was not the means used by the Colonists, nor was it ever the intended goal.

But for those who believe war is always wrong, the American Revolution could never be vindicated. If you are of that persuasion, I cannot hope to convince you of the rightness of the “spirit of 1776,” for it is a story of war. If there is no such thing as a just war (I like to call this the “anti-war default”), then the American Revolution was not just wrong, but sinfully so. For those who think this way, my thesis is already unsustainable. All I can do, then, is suggest you consider the more extensive arguments I make about war in my little book devoted to that subject (cf. Allan Turner, The Christian & War, 2006).

In the same vein, those who believe it is always wrong to disobey those in positions of authority (and I like to refer to this as the “anti-disobedience default,” the American Revolution must always be wrong.

On the other hand, if you believe that holy disobedience is not just an option, but sometimes a requirement, then I may be able to convince you that the cause of the Colonists was right and just. So, if you agree with me that war is not always inherently sinful, that the exercise of tyrannical power is always wrong, and that it is sometimes right to resist such power, then I hope to be able to convince you that the American Revolution continues to stand as a shining example of what “holy disobedience” and “just war” are all about.

However, before anyone can hope to pass righteous judgment on the American Revolution, it will be necessary to “get up to speed” on the major differences that existed in England and the American Colonies prior to July 4, 1776. This we will do, Lord willing, in the next installment.


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