The apostle Peter tells Christians that we must “honor” and “submit to” governing authorities like kings, presidents, governors, and other similar rulers (1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17). Peter doesn’t say we should honor and submit to some governing authorities, but to all of them (1 Peter 2:13a). One thing this means is that Christians should be law-abiding citizens. It also means we should not slander those in authority, call them names, disrespect and rant about them on social media, or dishonor them in other ways (even if everyone else is doing it!). In fact, Jesus’ call to love our neighbors includes those who rule over us.
Peter wrote those words about governing authorities when Nero was the head of the Roman state. Therefore, we can’t say that Peter would’ve used other words if the government of his day was anti-Christian. This is one reason why the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them” (WCF 23.4). Here’s how Calvin said it in his comments on 1 Peter 2:13-14:
It may, however, be objected here and said, that kings and magistrates often abuse their power, and exercise tyrannical cruelty rather than justice. Such were almost all the magistrates, when this Epistle was written. To this I answer, that tyrants and those like them, do not produce such effects by their abuse, but that the ordinance of God ever remains in force, as the institution of marriage is not subverted though the wife and the husband were to act in a way not becoming them. However, therefore, men may go astray, yet the end fixed by God cannot be changed.
Were any one again to object and say, that we ought not to obey princes who, as far as they can, pervert the holy ordinance of God, and thus become savage wild beasts, while magistrates ought to bear the image of God. My reply is this, that government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honor even tyrants when in power. There is yet another reply still more evident — that there has never been a tyranny, (nor can one be imagined,) however cruel and unbridled, in which some portion of equity has not appeared; and further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015