Archive for the ‘civil disobedience’ Tag

Testing the Worthiness of Our Cause   Leave a comment

The question is not “Can Christians disobey the governments they find themselves under?” Clearly early Christian did and Jesus told them they would have to. The question is really “How do we say ‘no” in a godly way?”

Returning to our definition of Christian civil disobedience, we need a way of testing the validity of our disobedience. It’s human to want to rebel, as evidenced by Adam and Eve. It’s important for Christians to rebel only when authorized by God to do so. So how do we determine when we’re within God’s will in our desires?

Five Tests for Civil Disobedience

  • The law opposed is immoral, in conflict with a higher claim;
  • Every possible non-disobedient recourse has been exhausted, with the definition of “possible” and “exhausted” being tempered by the situation;
  • the protest is not clandestine;
  • there is a likelihood of success (drawing a distinction between purely personal action taken for conscience sake and the sort of social disobedience which seeks to change society and thus must have its potential bad effects balanced against the good likely to emerge);
  • there is willingness to accept the penalty.

Three Additional Tests for Christian Civil Disobedience

  • The witness must be representative of the church’s clear conviction;
  • the witness of the church must be consistent with her own behavior;
  • the church should speak only when she has something to say, rather than feeling obligated to make a statement.

If we follow these suggestions, there is much more likelihood of civil disobedience being truly holy obedience.

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?

A History of Contrariness   1 comment

In examining my anabaptist roots, I am struck by how often these advocates for non-violence and separation of church and state used civil disobedience as their means to protect themselves from the encroachment of the government into their faith.

For the purpose of this article, “civil disobedience” is defined as:

Purposeful, nonviolent action, or refusal to act, by a Christian who believes such action or inaction is required of him or her in order to be faithful to God, and which s/he knows will be treated by the governing authorities as a violation of law.

This article further assumes a Christian stance which rejects violence as a means to any end.

Three Scripture passages are generally cited for the proposition that Christians are to obey the government:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish {24} those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (1 Peter 2:13-15 NIV).

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men (Titus 3:1-2 NIV).

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities which exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2 NIV).

In my prior conversation with Becky Akers, she explained how these Bible verses have been misinterpreted and misrepresented to urge Christians to obey the government in every instance, even when the government infringes upon our right to practice our faith. This contradicts clear Biblical narratives that show that the early Christians did not always obey the government.

The tension in which Christians find themselves is shown in Acts 4 when the Sanhedrin orders Peter and John not to teach or speak in the name of Jesus, and they ask whether it is right to obey God or men. The Sanhedrin believed their authority superceded God’s in this matter. Peter and John took the opposite view.

Paul’s preaching in Jerusalem caused his opponents to incite a riot for which Paul was blamed. The Bible shows that he was quite willing to use the Roman legal system to avoid be flogged for something that was not really his fault. His decision afforded him an opportunity to witness in new ways. Simply being a Christian was a violation of Roman law until Constantine endorsed Christianity. Luther violated the law by arguing with the Roman Catholic Church over matters of Biblical doctrine versus Church dogma. Sixteenth-century Anabaptists violated the law by not baptizing their infants and by baptizing adults previously sprinkled as infants.

We tend to forget that before Jesus began to preach the Jews were certainly in tension with their rulers. Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, tells the story of Jewish resistance to Pilate’s introduction of images of the emperor into Jerusalem. A large number of Jews lay in the courtyard for five days in protest, and when Pilate ordered his soldiers to surround them and threatened slaughter if the Jews did not submit, they instead bared their necks and said slaughter was preferable to the images. Pilate relented, by the way.

Historically, tension between Christians and their governments centered upon either the government’s demand that all citizens subscribe to and follow the practices of a state religion or the government’s prohibition of Christian practices which are central to the faith. Military service became a problem for both reasons. Pre-Constantinian Roman soldiers were required to participate in emperor worship and/or sacrifice to Roman idols. Moreover early Christians understood that killing was contrary to Jesus’ teaching whether done in peace or war. Marcellus the centurion, who was martyred in A.D. 298, objected for both reasons:

I cease from this military service of your emperors, and I scorn to adore your gods of stone and wood, which are deaf and dumb idols. If such is the position of those who render military service that they should be compelled to sacrifice to gods and emperors, then I cast down my vine-staff and belt, I renounce the standards, and I refuse to serve as a soldier . . . I threw down my arms; for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it also by inflicting earthly injuries.

For anabaptists of the 16th century adult baptism and military service were key points of tension with the government. The Martyrs Mirror shows how Christians have responded to demands of the government which directly contradicted their faith. The heroic acts depicted in the Martyrs Mirror may not seem the same as what we call civil disobedience in modern times, but the only real difference is the higher cost to those who defied the government in centuries past. They paid with their lives while we pay with fines and jail time.

Henry David Thoreau developed the modern concept of civil disobedience in the 19th century. In the western world of his era, emperors did not demand worship. The concept of civil disobedience was applied to “social issues” such as slavery, child labor, women’s suffrage, and prohibition of alcohol. Thoreau’s work on civil disobedience influenced Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence.

In reviewing church history, we need to remember that the pre-Constantinian worldview was unfamiliar with the North American understandings of individualism and personal liberty. Marcellus did not throw down his staff and belt to make a statement about who he was as an individual or to strike a blow for individual liberty. Marcellus renounced soldiering as being unfaithful to his true Lord. Anabaptists in the 16th century didn’t have those concepts either. When we talk about Christian civil disobedience we are not talking about Thoreau and his New England Transcendentalism which focused on private conscience as against majority expediency. We are talking about faithfulness to God which transcends all earthly loyalties.

Nevertheless, the scripture passages quoted at the beginning make it clear that we are to be subject to the governing authorities. How is it that one is subject to government, yet refuses to obey it? That would appear to be a contradiction. John Howard Yoder offers an explanation:

It is not by accident that the imperative of [Romans] 13:1 is not literally one of obedience. The Greek language has good words to denote obedience, in the sense of completely bending one’s will and one’s actions to the desires of another. What Paul calls for, however, is subordination. This verb is based on the same root as the ordering of the powers by God. Subordination is significantly different from obedience. The conscientious objector who refuses to do what his government asks him to do, but still remains under the sovereignty of that government and accepts the penalties which it imposes, . . . is being subordinate even though he is not obeying.

Anabaptist Foundations   3 comments

We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.

Charles H. Spurgeon (New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 7, Page 225)

My spiritual antecedents were Alpine anabapists, similar to the Brethren, Amish or Mennonites. Spurgeon pretty much explains it, but William Cathcart makes the bold statement that all Christians in the 1st Century could rightly be called baptists (little b intended). So it’s not too surprising that when the catholic (little c intended) church was co-opted by the Roman Empire in the 4th century, that some Christians drifted to the edges and just didn’t participate in the Roman Catholic Church. They chose not to join the “catholic” (meaning universal) ecclesiastical system because they recognized a lack of adherence to early Christian standards. These “protestants” pop up in Roman Catholic history from time to time as heretics who refused to baptist babies.The Waldenses, Wyclifites, Hussites, and Brothers of the Common Life are examples. The Roman Catholic Church had plenty to say about them, none of it good.

Couldn’t these people get with the program? Society had decided that it needed a record of every man, woman and child in the Holy Roman Empire and the most convenient way for government to manage that was through the Church. Baptize your babies or we will destroy you as heretics!

Anabaptists were persecuted by the Romans, the Protestants and even the radical Anabaptists. They were also the original anarchists. They were loosely organized and focused on spiritual rather than civil reformation. They existed quietly for the most part, taking no part in government because they didn’t believe any human ought to have authority to control the consciences of others. That included government and any sort of ecclesiastical body beyond the local church or individual Christians meeting together for discourse.

We are not, contrary to popularly-taught history, descended from the radical Anabaptists that formed during the Reformation. Radical Anabaptism actually more resembled a cult than Christianity. Zwingli sought to create a reformation of the churches that would please the nobles. Thomas Munzer advocated for popular insurrection. The Alpine anabaptists rejected that. They insisted that the Church of Christ must first be a congregation of believers with hearts of faith, spiritual insight, obedient wills and real religious experience. They rejected compromise with the world and the reduction of Christian standards to the level of nominal, secular membership. They wanted a church consisting of only the faithful.

How that played out in practice could be seen in their baptismal rites. Infants could not exercise faith, so anabaptists rejected infant baptism as an empty legalistic ritual. The only practices worthy of the Christian church were those directly related to personal faith.

Although there is some evidence that suggests anabaptists existed at least since the 10th century Waldenses, history records that in 1523, Grebel baptized Blaurock as part of a community of brethren that began to grow distinctly away from the main Zwinglian Reformation. This community appears never to have been part of the Zwinglian organization. They grew up separately … or existed already, quietly, in deeping with their belief in not taking part of secular government. The Lutherans called them “rebaptizers” (ana – baptists), though the Alpine believers actually rejected that name because they didn’t see themselves as baptizing again. They believed that dunking infants in water could not rightfully be called “baptism” since there was no personal faith involved on the part of the recipient. They had a very strong Biblical basis for this. Adult baptism as a sign of fellowship in the pure church of Christ was the one and only baptism — not a second baptism at all. But the name stuck all the same.

These early anabaptists had some clear doctrines:

  1. The church should be entirely modeled on the New Testament, copying the apostolic pattern.
  2. The visible Church is composed only of believers, separated from the unbelieving
  3. This state of purity in the church was to be preserved by a rigorous use of discipline
  4. The Church must be completely severed from all entangling alliances with the State
  5. All Christians have the same functional rights and authority as the clergy.
  6. The Gospel is a “new law” to be followed literally and obeyed.
  7. Christians are to conduct their lives by the authority of conscience.

The first three and the 5th principles are discoverable in the Bible; in fact, it is virtually impossible to come away from an honest reading of the New Testament without those four principles principles.

The 4th principle stemmed from a history severe persecution by the State on behalf of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist organizations. They felt there must be no kind of government compulsion in spiritual matters. The churches would live, grow and enlarge their fellowship through faith and experience. The churches could influence the character of those who form the State, but its authority is an indirect influence of the conscience. In the sphere of religion, the State has no authority. Conscience is absolutely free.

The 6th principle explains the historic refusal of Amish and Mennonite to take oaths, participate in wars or take human life. The 7th principle speaks to our relationship with God Himself. The conscience is an inner sanctuary where the voice of the living God is heard. If the laws of the secular government do not ask me to violate the laws of God, good, but when they do … more on that later.

Those early anabaptists were persecuted and died for what they saw as eternal truth and everlasting righteousness.

Could we be that serious about our faith today, Church?

Would You Have an Abortion?   1 comment

Question!

If our society wanted population control and our government required abortion of second and subsequent pregnancies …

Would you comply?

Exemplars   Leave a comment

I am an unapologetic Christian. When God entered my heart, He transformed me utterly and permanently. Everything I do in my life more important than brushing my teeth, I do at the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

That commitment on the spiritual level orders all the spheres of my life, including my political philosophy. NOTE: I am not a Republican! I have never been a Republican! I don’t see that I will ever be a Republican!

Why? Because I don’t consider the GOP to be God’s political party. I find no Biblical evidence that God works through political parties and scant evidence that political parties are all that godly.

To the extent that my fellow Christians have embraced a political party (GOP, Democrat, Libertarian, etc.), I have to ask — do you think this political organization is somehow going to bring about God’s heaven on earth or are you spending needless energy on political machinizations that might best be used on God’s ministry?

When the “religious right” started to implode in GWB’s second term, I was somewhat relieved and here’s why. First, the Church universal is supposed to be about the Father’s work of the Great Commission rather than about the work of politics. In a society that values freedom of religion, the best Christians can hope for is the liberty to practice and promote what we believe in a free society. Unfortunately, that freedom has long been at risk, but instead of standing for liberty against civil and religious dictatorships of all kinds or turning away from politics to be about the Lord’s work, the American church in the last three decades has been busily engaged in attempting to take dominion over society for themselves. Believers have been taught by a slew of para-church organizations that they should hold positions of power and authority in society so they can stand for Christ in the public eye.

It sounded good at the time, but in climbing the ranks of civil authority, Christians politicians and many who supported them, became apostate. Apostasy means to drift away from God, to no longer represent Him, or to teach something other than what He communicated to us in His Bible.

An example?

Far too many modern Christians expect God to pave a way for us to be accepted in society.

Christians are doing something WRONG if we have broad acceptance in society, because Jesus Christ promised us in John 7 that we would be hated just for being His followers. Our beliefs should be a scandal to society and the idea of Christians being a ruling class in the United States ought to make non-Christians angry because that is a sign that we are serving God and not men.

Christians cannot expect preferential treatment in society. We must recognize that God will bless us for His sake, which means we will be reviled and persecuted just as His Son was.

We should not seek to be rulers. We should seek to be examples!

And examples for Christ will not look like the world and may at times have to stand in stark contrast from the world.

Christians, when are you willing to say no to the world?

Calling Christians   Leave a comment

At what point would you be willing to take a principled stand in your everyday life for your faith?

What do you consider to be worth risking society”s anger in honor of God?

Weigh in!

Posted May 24, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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