Archive for the ‘theology and politics’ Tag

Spiritual Discernment or Disobedience?   1 comment

When is it spiritual permissible for a Christian to disobey the law?

Let’s start with an understanding that the United States of America is different from ancient Israel. God established ancient Israel. He guided them through direct connection with their leaders — called judges. Ancient Israel was a theocracy. Even the king (given as a concession that God warned they would regret) was answerable to God.

We don’t live in the same situation. The United States was set up as a secular nation self-governed by the people, many of whom were Christians. They were expected to vote their consciences and thus there is ample evidence that the Christians were well-represented in the early years of the country. Individual Americans who are Christians are answerable to God. If we are working for the government or an elected official, we remain answerable to God and then to our employer. When our employer is at odds with God, we should obey God rather than man. Beyond that, however, there are many opportunities when Christians are faced with government regulations or laws that go against Christian principles and we cannot simply react to that. The Christian life is about being in the world, not of it.

So the questions arise — when can a Christian rightfully resist the authority of the government and in what ways?

Were the Christians of Nazi-era Europe obedient to God when they defied Hitler’s decrees and refused to turn their Jewish neighbors over the SS troops? It certainly appears they disobeyed Romans 13.

Andrew van der Bijl is a Christian minister who smuggled Bibles — thousands of Bibles — into Soviet-bloc countries through the mid-20th century. He violated the laws of those countries by doing so. Was he being disobedient to God when he did this?

Martin Luther King Jr. violated the laws of southern states by gathering with others to peacefully protest Jim Crow laws in those states. He spent time in jail for those crimes. Was he being disobedient to God? Were his actions a violation of Romans 13 or are we simply misunderstanding Romans 13?

How do we feel about these past examples of Christian civil disobedience? What do you think God has to say about them?

I do not believe God contradicts Himself. If we perceive a contradiction in His guidance, it is usually a sign that our fallen human nature is rearing its bent head. In light of Romans 13, were these Christians discerning or disobedient?

By the way, this an an interactive post.

What do YOU think? 

Judging the Line   1 comment

Christians are commanded by God through His scripture to be under authority. Our first allegiance is to His authority, but He also sets pastors and governments over us. Sometimes, however, those other people are wrong in their governance, using their authority for evil rather than for what God commands. When that happens, Christians are called to obey God rather than man and that can result in civil disobedience.

So where do we draw the line?

Christians should certainly stand with Peter and Andrew in insisting that our gospel preaching is inviolate. Today, there are Christians who violate the law of their countries just by believing what they believe, but more so when they talk about what they believe. Muslims who convert to Christianity face a death sentence in at least a half-dozen countries. In other countries, you can be a Christian so long as you keep it silent, but there are heavy penalties if you talk about it. Christians are under no spiritual obligation to obey the laws of those countries. Yes, they may be killed for their beliefs or activities. There is no shame to die in the service of the Savior.

There are some moral outrages that no men of conscience could accept. The order by Nazis to turn in Jews for transport to the death camps comes to mind. The ten Boom family were not the only Christians to resist that law with their very lives. Unknown to many Christians, however, is the fact that many pastors in Europe told their followers to stand down, to obey the authorities because, as commanded by Romans 13, Christians are to submit to the government authorities. I suspect God will have something to say to those pastors at either the White Throne Judgement (depart from Me, I never knew you) or the Bema Seat Judgment (when, I believe, Christians will be given just a brief glimpse of how God saw our sins before He forgave it) and they won’t like what God has to say.

How do I know that? Jesus said we were to follow the spirit of the law, not the letter of it. Romans 13 is a good excuse for ignoring tyranny and moral outrage as done by government agents. It doesn’t absolve Christians of our moral obligation to stand for what is right and against what is wrong.

Such horrible examples, however, do not really help us to know where the line is.

In 17th-century Japanese were required to show their disrespect for the faith by stepping on a tile bearing the image of Jesus (fumi-e) or face torture and death. A lot of Christians died for their refusal to dishonor God in this way. Today, in the modern West, speech codes with their supporting humiliations, fines and professional shunnings are the bludgeons of choice. Believers must not flinch from speaking the truth in love … no matter the cost.

What shall we say, then, of that gray area where we’re not murdered or muzzled but merely mugged?

I think we might need to examine our own walks before we contemplate that line.

 

Authority Properly Understood   Leave a comment

If you are not a Christian, you are welcome to read this, but understand that I am not talking to you. My remarks are addressed to Christians only.

God, through the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth, tells us that Christians have authority within the church. We are to judge ourselves and each other and leave the world to its own devices. The apostles set an example of humility in the world. They didn’t fight back. They preached the gospel and ministered without regard for their own safety and they took the consequences of that. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul wished that the Corinthian believers would follow that example, though his tone suggests that he doubts they will.

He then told the Corinthian believers, in chapter 6, that the church is to judge itself. Christians must call each other to task and adjudicate legal disputes within the church, not outside of the church. Time and time again, Paul pointed to God as the authority in the church. In this, he echoed Jesus Who called for His disciples to pattern themselves after Himself.

Ultimately, God is the sole authority over the Christian. You stand before Him with no one around you. Sometimes, however, God places others in worldly authority over us and He does this either for our discipline or for our own good.

Read the Pastoral letters — Timothy 1 and 2 and Titus and you find that God has placed authorities in the church. We are supposed to submit to one another in the church and in our marriages and family because God speaks through other Christians. We are to listen to our pastors with respect and submit to their guidance.

This does not mean we get the option to deny our own responsibility. A pastor is a human who has been called of God to a certain task in the church, but he is still a human being and human beings may be mistaken in their behavior and attitudes. We sin when we follow the guidance of a sinful man (or woman) simply because they are in a position of authority within the church. If they are outside of the will of God, we must oppose them because we are under God’s authority first and foremost.

Similarly, Romans 13 indicates that human governments can be in authority over us, but again, we are responsible to God for our own behavior and attitudes. When government authorities act outside of God’s will, we must oppose them.

However, in both of these cases, we must be careful to obey God. Resistance of evil is never an excuse for sin.

Some Through the Jail   Leave a comment

Peter preached in the streets of Jerusalem and thousands came to Christ. The authorities had hoped that murdering Jesus in a very public way would stop the gospel, but clearly they hadn’t cowed the believers. Now they were preaching in the temple.

The temple authorities told Peter and John to stop preaching in the temple in Acts 4. Peter and John answered in a quote of the Hebrew Three. “We must obey God rather than you, so we will not stop preaching.” They then violated the order by doing exactly as God commanded. They spent time in jail for it.

Christians rightfully celebrate the stand of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in Daniel 3 and Peter and John’s defiance in Acts 4. Clearly they were obeying God and clearly God rewarded their civil disobedience with miracles.

What does that tell us?

That there is a place for civil disobedience in the Christian life, but we still can’t ignore Romans 13. It is part of the Bible too. The Christian life is not velvet and satin. To truly live as Christ commands us, we have to make some hard choices, choices that require thought and that might cause conflict both with the world around us and also be our churches and even our own guts.

Christians must stand up for the truth as believers in the Truth, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we must avoid the temptation to become hypersensitive to every affront to our scruples. I hate some of the things my taxes are used to fund, but not paying my taxes is probably not the best choice of protest. It may well be a violation for the 1st amendment for the local police to force me to move my abortion protest across the street from the abortion “clinic”, but is it appropriate for me to provoke an arrest by ignoring the mandated buffer zone?

Where do we draw the line?

Do you know?

Persecution is Coming   Leave a comment

I know folks who refuse to get driver’s licenses because they consider it an illegal government requirement. I don’t disagree with them, but I choose my battles. If I am going to jail, I want to do it for upholding the Bible, not for refusing to get a driver’s license. You usually only get one chance to make a strong statement and I’m not willing to make mine over a card in my wallet.

That does not mean I feel compelled to obey every government rule. I live in Alaska, after all, which is compassed about by federal rules to the point where it’s almost impossible to do anything without violating one. Four felonies a day, they say.

Classic liberalism in Western nations is being beaten to death by paternalists, cultural relativists, sensitivity codes, and decadence-normalizers who seek to cow the faithful into silent acquiescence if not outright acceptance of sin.

Certainly, Christians in the western world do not face persecution in the same way that the early Christians did. The believers in China and Muslim countries would laugh at what we regularly complain about. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen here.

Pastors in Europe, Canada and Australia have had to fight lengthy and expensive legal battles over the right to preach from the Bible and a retreat center in New Jersey has lost its tax-exempt status for excluding same-sex couples from wedding ceremonies on its grounds. The Affordable Care Act has placed Christian businesses in the position of paying for abortifacients, pending a Supreme Court decision. Yes, I think the Roberts Court is going to rule that they must provide abortifacients as contraception. That’s the world we live in today. Clearly a time of Christian persecution is coming for Americans and that means a time when some of us will have to choose between obeying the government or obeying God.

This raises the question of when it is appropriate to take a stand, and when it is better to simply retire from the field. I have a suggestion about that for Christian churches and marriage. But, first, we’re going to look at some Biblical examples of believer civil disobedience.

Ultimate Allegiance   1 comment

My allegiance belongs ultimately to Christ, not to the state, not to my fellow humans, not to those whose political philosophies I like. I am a fallen human being, prone to find loopholes in God’s law in order to do what I like and sometimes I run across the writings of others who stir my heart strings, but I don’t belong to myself. I belong to my God who ransomed my soul.

There’s no arguing that there are times when Christians must disobey government authorities in order to uphold the principles of God. I think of abolitionists who violated the Fugitive Slave Act, the ten Boom family as they hid Jews in defiance of the Nazis, Martin Luther King Jr. as he organized boycotts and protest marches in make civil rights for all Americans a possibility.

All of these have something in common. We view what they did from a place of sympathy and they won, so clearly “God was on their side”. I don’t see those examples offering spiritual guidance to us in future because every circumstance is different.

We are moving into an era in our nation when Christians are painted as obstructionist hate-mongers whose “intolerant” views should not be tolerated. I am among the half million believers who have signed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration which says, in part,

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

The words of this Declaration ring with civil disobedience over issues of Biblical import. Should the government decide it has an abiding interest in forcing Christians to disobey Biblical principles in order to comply with government edicts, it is possible and increasingly probable that pastors and those who support them may face jail time or fines that they should refuse to pay.

 

Lost in Translation   Leave a comment

Let’s be clear. The New Testament was written in Greek. Unless you are a Hebrew or Greek scholar, you have never read the Bible in its original language. Every version of Romans 13 you have ever read has been someone’s interpretation of what they thought it said. I’m not saying they got the translation of the words wrong. I’m saying their personal bias may have influenced the arrangement of the words or that your personal bias may have influenced your reading of those same words.

Many people read Romans 13 and get a very authoritarian connotation for Paul’s words. What they think they read goes something like this:

“Totally submit to the government and all its officials, for there is no official that is not preordained by God to rule you. Therefore, any sign of resistence to any official is defying God and you will be punished. But do whatever the officials decide—that is being good and God through His officials will reward you. But disobeying anything they say or decide, any rule they make, is bad and you should be afraid because the government’s agents have weapons with good cause. They are specially ordained by God to violently punish those who disobey them in any way, because to do so is evil. But don’t just obey them because they are threatening you. You should feel guilty if you disobey in any way. You should pay them whatever amount they ask without question because they are serving God by taking it from you and doing their very special work. So give without question everything they ask: taxes are theirs, all your money is theirs, you owe them respect as a right, your complete obedience is theirs by right.”

The problem with that interpretation is that it was written by a man who was sitting in prison for disobeying the civil authorities. Christians believe that God guided Paul to write these words – that these words are the word of God. I believe that myself. Yet, believers after this letter was written disobeyed the civil authorities when those authorities outlawed Christianity. Something is clearly out of sync somewhere.

I am not a Greek scholar, but I know a few who directed me to the Net Bible translation at the Bible.org website because it is a high-quality translation that is readily accessible to folks without formal training in Greek. So I spent some quality time trying to tease out a paraphrase of Romans 13 using the Net Bible’s Greek interlinear feature. This is my paraphrase of what Greek scholars think the passage says. They know more than I do about Greek, but it is possible I know more about the Biblical subject we’re discussing than they do. Here is what I think it says:

“(1) Everyone should be subject to presiding authority — for it is not authority unless under God and only exists as ordered by God. (2) In which case, resisting such authority defies the order of God — and resisting that invites enforcement action. (3) For a person in charge is no threat to good conduct but bad. Just behave well and you will be appreciated, (4) for he is your servant from God. But do evil and be afraid, for he does not bear a weapon without reason — and in rage will exact a penalty on the wrongdoer. (5) It is therefore necessary to comply, and not only because of his anger, but for conscience sake. (6) For this particular reason (the punishing of wrongdoers) settle the annual levy for public officers when they are acting as God’s servants in this regard. (7) Yield to everyone that which is actually owed: a levy where a levy is due, a settlement where due, respect where due, at the correct price and amount that is due. Never withhold payment but rather love one another, for whoever loves his neighbor fulfils the law.”

Which is the most correct version? The translated words are the same, but the connotation of them is different. One version lines up better with the observed behavior of the New Testament Christians, but we also have to be careful here because the Christians of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries also willingly walked into the coliseums to be torn apart by wild animals for the crime of being Christians. The Waldensians and the subsequent alpine anabaptists were persecuted, jailed and killed for refusing to submit to the Roman church.

Is it possible that civil disobedience can be both godly and carnal?

When discussing God-issues that interface with political issues, we sometimes have to look deeper than the surface.

A Cloud of Devils   1 comment

Since the 4th century AD, when the Roman emperor Theodosius adopted Christianity as the “official” state religion of the empire, Christians have been told to interpret Romans 13 as a justification for statism. The problem with that interpretation is that it contradicts large portions of the Jewish and Christian Testaments and our known history as a people of faith.

Examples of Biblical believers resisting “the state” abound.

  • The midwives of Goshon resisted the authorities by not reporting the birth of children to Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Moses’ parents resisted the rules of Egypt by refusing to kill their baby. His mother resisted the rule of Pharoah when she put him in the basket in the Nile. Read in a secular light, you could say the Jewish religion would never have come into being if not for several acts of civil disobedience.
  • Later, Shadrach, Meshach and Obendigo were thrown into a fiery furnace because they judged it better to obey God than the king who said they couldn’t worship God. Daniel ended up in the lion’s den for the same reason. Again, would Judaism have survived if not for civil disobedience?
  • Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple because the human rulers of the Temple had turned His Father’s house into a market place.
  • Peter and John were imprisoned for preaching in the Temple after being told to stop.
  • Paul was arrested several times for “fomenting discontent” when he preached around the Roman Empire. He was under house arrest for that crime when he wrote the letter to the Romans.
  • With the exception of John, all of Jesus’ original apostles died for their faith because they disobeyed the civil authorities when they were told to stop preaching about Jesus Christ. John was imprisoned for doing the same.
  • For the first three centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christianity was an “outlaw” religion and from time to time, Christians were persecuted, arrested, imprisoned and killed for practicing their beliefs against the laws of the civil authorities.
  • Following the Council of Nicea, Christianity was no longer “outside the law”, but with the ascendency of the church at Rome and the conjoined nature of state-church, non-Catholic Christians (mostly anabaptists) continued to act “outside the law” to practice Biblical Christianity.
  • The alpine anabaptists, the Protestant reformers, the Puritans, the Quakers, and the English Baptists are all examples of Christians who stood against the civil authorities in order to practice their faith.
  • My great-great grandfather was a Methodist preacher and abolitionist who ferried runaway slaves north into Canada. He wasn’t alone in what he was doing.
  • Corrie ten Boom and her family helped Dutch Jews escape the Nazis because they felt that God required them to disobey the civil authorities.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Southern Baptist minister who led widespread protests against the civil authorities of his generation to demand the equal liberty of black people in the United States. In doing so, he violated the law, disobeyed the civil authorities and spent time in jail.
  • Muslim countries today make it illegal for a Muslim to become a Christian, often punishable by long prison sentences or death, and yet conversions happen every day.

Yet, almost every American Christian I know will point at Romans 13 and say “you cannot disobey the United States government.”

What is wrong with this picture? Is there a long line of people claiming to be godly who are actual devils or is our understanding of Romans 13 influenced by statists for their own purposes?

Paul the Jail Bird Apostle   Leave a comment

The Bible is filled with passages I struggle with. Thus is the “plight” of the thinking Christians, that we cannot just walk lock-step with what others tell us the Bible says, that we must either ignore these passages, blindly obey them, or seek to understand them. Romans 13 is one of those passages. It’s God’s word, written down by the hand of Paul the apostle when he was in prison for ….

Hey, wait a minute! Paul was in prison for disobeying the governing authorities! What is going on here?

Take Bible passages out of context and you can get almost any meaning you want out of them, but when you seek to understand them, you have to look at  a wider view – the whole epistle, the whole Bible, the culture Paul was writing from and the city and church he was writing to.

Statists want to use Romans 13 to justify their tyranny and anti-statists either want to excise the words from the Bible because of the implied self-tyranny or twist the meaning into something Paul did not intend. Both sides in this discussion would be wrong. Truth lies in trying to understand what Paul meant in the larger context of the Bible and the culture in which he lived as well as in the culture in which we live.

Paul was in prison for disobeying the governing authorities when he wrote the letter to the Roman church. It wasn’t his first time in lock-up for the same crime and he wasn’t the first believer in God to face such punishment.

Did Paul act the hypocrite when he wrote Romans 13 or are we not understanding it as he meant it?

Christian Understanding of Romans 13   2 comments

I don’t particularly like the government of the United States these days. I’ve made that abundantly clear and you can find my reasons in this blog. Abusive, overreaching, tyrannical, completely out of control … what’s to like?  So what, if anything, can I do about it?

I can vote, but voting doesn’t seem to do any good these days. I can write, but that doesn’t do anything except inform others that there are ideas they might want to entertain. I can protest … or can I?

Many in the Christian church would tell me that I cannot use civil disobedience to try and change the government. Romans 13 contains a handful of sentences that say Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities because God put them there. As a Christian who really wants to obey God, I must obey this passage, so no civil disobedience for me.

Really?????

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