When We Suffer, When to Disobey

Peter and the other apostles set the example: when told by authorities they could not testify to the risen and ascended Christ, they responded, ”We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So we know that Christians must not obey authorities when their command directly contradicts God and his revealed Word. This is the basis for Christian civil disobedience.

From there, however, things get complicated and personal. As Albert Mohler describes in this substantive new video, we Christians living in the West can now envision a time when we ask for God’s protection from our authorities. Earlier this year The Falls Church in Virginia, led by long-time rector John Yates, lost their meeting facility, assets, and parsonage in a decisive court judgment after years of fighting to leave a denomination where many have stopped preaching the gospel. Tim Keller sketches the scene in New York City, where many elected officials shook church leaders with hostile opposition to the “invasion” of evangelical worship in public schools.

No doubt, our culture is changing. Christians are no longer respected or understood as we once were, Yates observes. But watch to the end of this video, when Yates calls on Christians to focus on what’s important, reject superficial faith, and identify with our truly persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Indeed, when we suffer loss and opposition for our faith, we can rejoice as believers counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). Hear the words of James, who told us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). If you suffer, Yates says, maybe you really are a Christian after all.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    This is a very helpful discussion. It’s not easy to find well-balanced (and generally accessible) statements on the role of Christians in government, especially of the representative form in the USA. Of course, part of the problem is that we simply have no explicit parallels in Scripture to believers living in democracy (as Mohler acknowledged). What does responsible citizenship look like for Christians when they are part of “We the people….”?

    My uneasiness with some recent protests on religious freedom is partly due to the fact that churches are battling for freedoms unknown to our first century brothers and sisters (and to many contemporary followers of Christ).

    While I value religious freedom, I am a concerned about the place we give it in the larger narrative of the Church (both historical and contemporary).

    Herein lies a significant challenge for the Church in America. We simply have no explicit parallels in Scripture to a democratic form of government.

    I realize that Biblical truths and principles about government reach God’s people in all places with both binding authority and overlapping application (Daniel 4; Acts 17:26-27;Romans 13:1ff; I Peter 2:13-14). We can look to the prophets and learn much about divine concern for justice and protection of the vulnerable. In Jesus, we find teaching on non-resistance as a personal ethic for His followers (although, I hesitate to apply this ethic too closely to how the followers of Jesus function in government — particularly in law enforcement). But none of this biblical instruction was delivered to people who lived in democratic forms of government.

    So what does responsible citizenship look like for Christians when they are part of “We the people….” Are we called (by God) to be a voice at the table as a matter of responsible citizenship? Does non-participation (from believers) equal disobedience? More importantly, what does Christian participation look like in attitude, posture, voice, and overall influence?

    We can make deep connections with the commandments of God and the cry of the prophets when defending the life of the un-born. But things get a little tricky when the argument turns to or on freedom of religion. What does one do when freedoms (perceived or otherwise) conflict?

    When our defense of religious freedom appears to require others to give up their freedoms, we appear to be fighting for the same moral ground. I realize that we (Christians) connect our concerns to what we believe to be a divinely ordained, transcendent morality. Yet this kind of argument either falls on deaf ears or comes off as imperialistically oppressive in a pluralistic society.

    How then do we establish laws and policies without jeopardizing someone else’s claim to freedom? More importantly, how do we fight for good freedoms while opposing an ethic of absolute personal liberty? This is part of our dilemma?

    We’re right to believe that unrestrained license might actually make society as a whole less free by making others powerless against the consequences of the ‘rights’ demanded. This is partly what drives Christian opposition to abortion. The rights of the unborn are being destroyed by those who defend their right to “choose.” But others see this argument as a threat to the god of unconstrained personal freedom.

    David Hart stated well that, as a society, “we are devoted to — in a sense, we worship – the will; and we are hardly the first people willing to offer up our children to our god” (In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, p. 88).

    Christian living and witness is more complex in a democratic society than many realize. But this complexity intensifies where the ethic of absolute personal liberty is widely embraced.

    “…. a society that believes this (ethic) must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a very particular moral metaphysics: the unreality of any higher value than choice, or of any transcendent Good, or of God, so that its citizens may determine their own lives by the choices they make from a universe of morally indifferent but variable desirable ends unencumbered by any prior grammar of obligation or value (in America, we call this the wall of separation).” (David Bentley Hart, In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, pp. 1-2).

    I appreciated how Mark Coppenger (professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) summarized Christian engagement: “As we make our case for liberty, we need to show our logic, expose the illogicality of our foes, link arms with co-belligerents, exhibit dignity in the face of indignities, and make it very clear that there are limits to our flexibility.”

  • http://www.sermonindex.net/live Michiel

    Tip…. SermonIndex is hosting an event about the comming persecutions on the western church. Really if you can attend, attend. If you cannot, follow the free live stream. It’s 5-6 october.

    Here you can see about the event: http://www.sermonindex.net/live

    Follow on Facebook the following users:

    I’m not from sermonindex, but independant of them. I’m just informing about this event, which is relevant to this article.

    Then something else. What should we do about copyrights on the Bible? Because it’s The Word of God, I don’t mind disobeying the copyrights about only showing max X-much Bible text on your website. (this rule is in The Netherlands on some translations) What do you guys think about it?

  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    Good to have resources like this from wise, godly men.

  • Evermyrtle

    Matthew 10;21-22

    21. And brother shall deliver up the brother to death and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause hem to be put to death
    22. You shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake but he that endures to the end shall be saved.

    We find these things are going on is some parts of the world and I believe it will get worse here where we are being tested at this very moment

  • Russ LaPeer

    The biblical touchstone is simple (as R.C. Sproul has explained): I must obey the governmental authorities except for two instances: (1) when the government commands what God forbids; and (2) when the government forbids what God commands. Identifying the situations can be a bit more difficult on occasion; but not anything like the bayou of profundity through which the article trudges. When all is said and done, the difficulty is not identification of these two exceptions so much as rousing the courage to act consistent with them. For that we pray for grace.

  • Barbara Kidder

    We are, undoubtedly, all in agreement that Christians all over the world suffer for their faith, and for many the suffering they experience could be lessened if they kept their faith hidden (the temptation that Peter buckled under). We are also told throughout Scripture, explicitly and implicitly, that suffering tests us and is used by God for his purpose.
    It seems to me that the rub is that, for those of us blessed with American citizenship, our rights, enumerated in the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, promise to protect us against our own government’s infringing on and ultimately destroying those rights. Most Americans are so sure of and confident in this fact that to suggest that, not exercising those enumerated rights to their fullest, would be akin to continuing to suffer the effects of a deadly disease, rather than undergoing treatment that could cure you, and would definitely extend your life!
    Why are so many Christian leaders, reluctant to ‘fight the good fight’ in this arena, but would not advocate the same passive approach in other areas (such as the attack of a disease)?
    Much has been written on this blog and elsewhere about the error of joining forces with others to actively resist the decay we see around us.
    I suspect that one by one, as the symptoms of this necrosis become more alarming, those Christian leaders who earlier rejected any ‘amalgamation’with other Christian denominations (for this purpose), will begin to warm to the idea.
    I believe we saw that in this thoughtful video, and, for that, I am heartened.

  • Pingback: When Should Christians Engage in Civil Disobedience? - Gadsit Buzz()

  • Joop Verdoorn

    This discussion reminds me of stories of the second world war, in the Netherlands where I live. Orthodox churches sometimes took the stand that government should be obeyed (even the occupational Germans), as long as worship could go on and the Germans didn’t mangle in church affairs. After the war their behaviour wasn’t favoured by many others. In Germany it was even harder to find the right position, as Hitler rose to power by elections. See this site on the church in Germany at that time : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessing_Church

    • BobRoss

      That’s exactly what I was thinking of. I am currently reading a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he was very active in opposing the Nazi influence on the Church and society. Other Christians around him thought he was going overboard, or extreme, but obviously looking back he is seen as having done the right thing.

      The influence of politics (especially democracies and republics) on society gives a stage for people to push for their worldview and agendas. I think it is a mistake for Christians to think that, because we are not of this world, we ought not to speak truth into that arena.
      Let us fight for truth and justice faithfully in all areas, knowing that it will only be perfected when Jesus returns.

      • Andy

        If we look at first century christians, the barbarity of the romans was on par with the nazis. they were not known as the political agitators who caused trouble. It is a very very hard call to know what the right thing to do if you were a christian in nazi germany. the instances in the OT of political assassination took place in the context of a theocracy, not overthrowing the nation that you are part of. It would be easier, i think, to justify action as an occupied country than to justify actions as a german citizen against your legitimate (albeit evil) government.

        • Joop Verdoorn

          I agree on the similarities between the Romans and the Nazis. Whether German Christians should have overthrown their regime or not: in the end the Russians, Americans, the English and other foreigners had to do that, with millions of casualties. Around 1932 the churches had the chance to speak out loud.

  • http://wvli.org Hector Falcon

    An issue they should have addressed is, why in a nation with more biblical revelation than any on planet earth are Christians so impotent to influence the culture? In the Great Commission Jesus commanded us to disciple the nations, and as George Barna has pointed out, we don’t even disciple those in our churches. The Reformation was culture changing because the covenant theology of the Reformers called for both the redemption of individuals as well as their cultures. Today we are plagued with a half-way gospel. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, it is one that teaches Jesus is only Lord of our spiritual life and has no relevance in the culture. It is a form of Gnostic dualism brought on by theologies like dispensationalism, a distorted view of the “two kingdoms” and the fatalistic eschatologies of amillenialism and the rapture myth of John Darby. Jesus taught that we are the salt of the world. That implies that we are to keep the culture from rotting as it has done in America. When the salt does not function as it ought, Jesus called it worthless. We today witness 1% of the population (homosexuals) running the nation. A nation in which the majority claims to be Christian. We have a major leadership issue within the church that needs to be addressed. The fact that many young people are looking back to the Reformation for direction, rather than the pablum they are being given in their home churches, is a great indicator that God is at work behind the scenes. I believe another Great Awakening is coming at the same time that we will see a rise in evil. However, history has shown that when God initiates another reawakening, the current generation of church leaders will persecute the next move of God. I see this already as church leaders are reacting to our young people returning the the Calvinistic theology of the Reformation. These men really don’t believe in the total sovereignty of God and will join the humanists that are in rebellion against the total lordship of Christ.

    • Dave

      Hector has hit some nails squarely on the head.

  • Barbara Kidder

    “Today we are plagued with a half-way gospel. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, it is one that teaches Jesus is only Lord of our spiritual life and has no relevance in the culture….We have a major leadership issue within the church that needs to be addressed.”
    It seems to me that Hector’s comments represent the views of many of us who have lived long enough to see the deadly influence of a pagan world, not only on the American scene, but upon the American church.
    Our leaders must begin to address this amongst themselves.
    It’s a case of,’The Emperor having no clothes’…

  • Doug

    One simple question: Who is Lord of the nations?

    If Jesus is Lord then His lordship must extend to our political life and the life of the United States (Psalm 2). If believers to do not take Christ’s Lordship to every sphere of society then we have a problem. After all we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN.” If God’s will is not being done within the context of society (earth) then we as believers are responsible to pray that it happens and work toward it happening. We can’t sit by and say, “Well this isn’t a church thing.” It is a kingdom thing; and the kingdom must advance to every sphere of society (earth).