With another law passed from the supreme bench in our country some have started to speak out more about rebellion. But what is all this rebellion business about?
The obvious example is the civil war but is that what we really want?
Well the question is of course at what point should the church stand up to a corrupt government? You know because of Nazi Germany? Well how about instead of going to that extreme which may be a legitimate barometer for a culture to at least reference, let’s instead ask how should a Christian think about this?
I am not so interested in how a republic should respond to this type of losing of its rights; I will leave that aspect to the political scientists. Since the government is not a Christian institution how should it act fair in this instance? How do you legislate for a people of differing values? differing worldviews? How should both anti-discrimination laws and free speech work? It can become so nuanced that someone is going to feel violated at some point; probably making an executive judicial ruling in favor of one over the other without the input of the people is not such a great idea, but here we are. I am no lawyer so I can only speak to the faith of those who feel like they are living in an increasingly sinful world with no help from a system they thought would help them.
So if using the system doesn’t work as many feel in this case what does a Christian do? Do we grab our guns and religion and start a revolution? I sure hope not, and here’s why.
We should always look at how those who resisted in the Bible did it. We are called to live at peace with everyone after-all. Christians do not go to war for their rights. They do not even go to war over the Gospel, they peacefully present it and they accept the consequences.
But even Biblically speaking there is precedent to run for our lives but never, never to kill for them. We have too many times in history taken principles in the Bible and have turned them into reasons to kill for and quite frankly we have been wrong every time. Vengeance is God’s.
We have to of course deal with what Jesus said to Peter about the sword. In preparedness Jesus told the disciples that a time was coming where they may need to buy swords, but was this for going on the offensive? When the time came for Jesus to be taken away one of the disciples decided that that was the purpose of the sword and rose to the occasion. But what was the outcome?
When this account happens in John:
Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
It was more important that God’s will be done even when they were threatened with physical violence.
Luke records the same event. Luke 22:47-53
This time Jesus rebukes his disciples when this happened and even goes so far as to heal the man’s ear. He did not want his disciples engaging in acts of violence and even restored the person.
Mathew records it this way.
52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
Jesus teaches that if one wants to live in such a way that he takes justice into his own hands then he will be opening himself to that kind of death. He also reminds Peter of God’s own sovereignty and plan.
So yes he did tell them to obtain a sword, but was it to go on the offense? It seems that this was not what he was getting at. It seems he was simply acknowledging it may be dangerous out there and be prepared, an object lesson perhaps?
So let’s understand the context they are in the process of putting Christ to death and he was not at all interested in the self-righteousness of even his own protection from this with acts of violence from his followers. Ah but that was for a pivitol time in redemptive history, what about when something not as essential as Jesus dying on the cross is happening? Well if the answer is not already in the question then let’s look at the New Testament.
Paul writes to the church is Rome. Now when we hear Rome we think of cool ruins and exotics locals over in Italy and that awesome movie Hudson Hawk. Nice. But think about what that culture was really like. I was just in Italy last year I walked the halls of the Vatican, strolled over the canals of Venice, and the stood in the middle of the Roman Colosseum. The Roman Colosseum was a system in place for the sport and entertainment of the people. But the sport was brutal fights to the death, often with Christians and simple slaves trying to stay alive. Not only this but the system supported cults, temple prostitution, and yes homosexual lovers was common. You could also be jailed with no supply or care for your lively-hood for speaking against the Caesar. He used Christians as human torches for his garden parties and blamed the fire of Rome on Christians to incorporate open and free persecution of them. There were so many religions and gods that if you violated one of them you could bring the ire of the whole community down on you. You could say sin abounded. In fact Paul points out the state, not of just humanity, but of Rome in the beginning of his letter to the Romans.
So let’s understand the context that Paul writes when he pens Romans 13.
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Remember this is the government that eventually puts Paul to death. To further the example the new Jewish converts had to live through John the baptist being beheaded, James the brother of John being beheaded. Phillip the evangelist being stoned to death and let’s not forget Jesus was put to death as well, he rose again thankfully. If you read Fox’s book of martyrs the traditions are that almost all of the disciples had their end in this way. But the persecution was never a reason to get organize and raise the capitol. In fact the disciples had a reputation of rejoicing when they were persecuted for the Gospel’s sake. The only other response that came about from persecution was a scattering and a spreading of the Gospel.
The resurrection took the power out of violence. What is the point of physical striving with arms when there is a resurrection of the dead to look forward to?
In other words the response of Christians to a corrupt government is a doubling down on the preaching of the Gospel. The message is reinforced by Paul telling the people to “Owe no one anything except love.” Now love did have stipulations for living for sure, but for Christians. We see in the rest of chapter 13 that the responsibility was to display love nonetheless. I mean Paul reminds them to keep paying taxes. It would be nice that if I can’t go to war at least I can stop supporting them financially. But Paul seems to think that the Christian should continue to love and support God’s avenger.
If part of our system of government is to allow dissent then we are still in fullfillment of Romans 13 by using the system as given to us. This is what Paul did in appelaing to Rome, he did not simply let the system silence him he used it for the gospel’s sake. But when a system changes for the worse all we can do is thank God for time that he gave us to establish his kingdom in the way we were able to do and then continue to do so under a stricter hand.
Part of the rub for us I know is that we live in a society that grants us a voice of dissent. In fact our free society was based on a voice of dissent. We are blessed to live in a country that started out honoring God and thus adopted some tenets of freedom. But unrestrained and undefined freedom will always consume itself. It will leave behind all those good intentions of the people who believed that man was somehow better than he actually is.
See if our anthropology is that people are basically good then we will think that ultimate freedom will lead to utopia. But an anthropology that reflects true human nature reveals that when we are given more freedom we use it selfishly, sinful humans with ultimate freedom leads to more moral decline and the collapse of society or at least one that wants to live in opposition to God. That is why our founding Father’s though wanting to establish a free society still recognized the need for laws and even laws to protect the people from the newly instituted government. The separation of church and state as Thomas Jefferson penned it, not in the constitution I might add, was to prevent government interference with religion not prohibit it. Now somehow it is interpreted backwards. But if God’s deems our plight worthy of an exodus then he will provide his own Angel of Death, he doesn’t need us for that role, but if not and probably not, we must continue to be faithful and humble ourselves. All we can do is pray for our leaders to change or for the Maker to return.
If our prayer leads us to anger and temptation to rise up then our focus is wrongheaded and we are not resting in the one who has both the power to raise up kingdoms and bring them down.
Daniel 2 reminds
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
When commanding Jeremiah the prophet God tells him of his power over the nations
1:10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
Psalm 75 is also about this.
The last point is simply this. We are not Israel, so we are not a true theocracy and we do not get to act as his sword. He did that under a different covenant for judgement, but at this point in history he has reserved all judgment to the Son, who when he returns will administer it all. As I said before all we can do is know that they will give account, even the very avengers that we had a hard time living under that God allowed for a time.
This is a hard truth no doubt. It takes humility to let God handle his own affairs in the realms of men but they are his affairs. His affairs are justice, mine are obedience. The only warfare Christians wage are on their knees humbly before God. So maybe we should enact some warfare: take it to the Lord in prayer.