God Uses Government Overreach to Spread the Gospel   2 comments

The New Testament, particularly Acts, makes it clear that that Jesus’ followers did not blindly obey the governments under which they found themselves. Faithfulness to God was primary for them. History records that the 16th-century anabaptists were faithful to God first and the state second. Jesus knew that His followers would be in tension with the authorities. He instructed them (and us):

You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:9b-11 NIV).

These are hardly the instructions of a leader expecting His followers to obey every authority instituted among men. For the sake of the gospel, followers of Jesus will refuse to obey men when the governments of men violate the laws of God. But, also for the Lord’s sake, the followers of Jesus will submit to every authority instituted among men, and by so doing will bear witness to those authorities as Paul did in Rome. For those who don’t know Biblical history, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were both penned by Luke as a defense of Christianity in Paul’s trial before Caesar. Paul was released, perhaps in part because of Luke’s writings, and served several more years as a missionary before he was re-arrested and beheaded at the order of a subsequent, and apparently less reasonable, emperor.

Why did God allow that? John Howard Yoder explained: “We subject ourselves to government because it was in so doing that Jesus revealed and achieved God’s victory.” At least one Caesar and his court heard the gospel and we ended up with two wonderful histories of the early Christian era.

So we desire both to be faithful to God and submit to government. What do Christians do when we believe the government is asking us to behave contrary to God’s will for us? D. Edmond Hiebert offers some initial guidance:

Peter’s condensed instructions [1 Peter 2:13] did not deal with the believer’s response whenever government demands that which is contrary to the Christian faith. In Acts 4:19 and 5:29 we have the example of Peter himself concerning the Christian response under such conditions. For the Christian the state is not the highest authority, and whenever government demands that which is in conflict with the dictates of the conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the Word, then the Christian must obey the Word of God and suffer the results. ‘The Church soon learned by bitter experience that there are some things which the state has no right to do, and that therefore the counsel of submission has its limitations: But under ordinary circumstances, believers should actively support civil government in its promotion of law and order.

The key here is “a conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the Word”. Since anabaptists and congregationalists also believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through the body of believers another test is revealed. The Word and the Spirit speaking in concert with the body of believers will tell us when the state has overstepped its bounds and when a Christian must say “no” to the state.

Which brings the question – What shape does that holy “no” take?

2 responses to “God Uses Government Overreach to Spread the Gospel

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  1. Reblogged this on That Mr. G Guy's Blog.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on aurorawatcherak and commented:

    This appears appropriate, considering the state our government is in now. Christians may be coming to a point of having to choose between obeying God and defying the government or submitting to governmental authorities and defying God.

    Like

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