The Rebellious Christian: Dealing With a Government You Don't Agree With
A servant is one who, either by force or by choice, stands in a constant submissive state to an authoritative power. A rebel is one who fights the power of the oppressive overlord in an attempt to either be free from restraint or to set up his own establishment of rule and reign. In the modern context these two words are diametrically opposed. They are separated in our thinking as much as any two words can be. Yet, the Christian lives centrally in the tension of being a submissive rebel. It is simply what it means to be a Christian.
The political climate of the United States is in constant flux and the current trend over the past 60 years is a stark departure from the "Judeo-Christian' value system that many right-wing Christians hold close. It is unthinkable to many Christians that abortion is a both a legal and preferred option for unwanted pregnancies, the LGBT community is fairly being granted rights (while simultaneously unfairly stripping rights from their religious counter-parts), and the tenants of faith are tossed aside for the new gods of data and statistics. This is reality and too many Chrisitans are having a difficult time adjusting. Of course, this transition has not been made easy by the notion that disagreement automatically equals bigotry despite that being factually errant. Still, the words of Jesus and Paul fall on deaf Christian ears.
Check out this week's conversation on a Christian response to government
Christian as Submissive
There are two primary Biblical passages that must be addressed in this discussion. The first contains the very record of Jesus' words when confronted with the the topic of government taxation. The passage is worth including in its entirety:
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's."
Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.”
Jesus could have taken the bait, won some Pharisaical political clout (just like current day candidates - find a Donald Trump link) and told all the Jews to evade taxes because the Kingdom of God reigns! But in a perfect explanation of the now-and-not-yet dilemma all Christians find themselves on this side of eternity Jesus says that while we under the government we must give to the government what they require. Give to Caesar what is Ceasar's and give to God what is God's. From here many extrapolate Jesus' words to mean that Christians should lay down and allow the government to mandate every aspect of the Christian's life. This viewpoint gains more momentum when we turn our attention to Paul's admonition to the Christians in Rome - those lived closest to central government control.
An Aside> An easy pot-shot would be to point out that most focus on the first part of Jesus' command and never stop to fully consider the whole point of the phrase: Give to God what is God's. But that is also not the point of this blog post. What matters most to this discussion is that Jesus addressed an issue of forced interaction with a government that stood in stark contrast to the Kingdom he was proclaiming.
Paul's words to the Roman Christians
A Christian submits to the authority of the government because it is God himself who places the leaders in their powerful positions. Furthermore, Christians that resist the authorities that are governing them are resisting the authority of God. That is the summary that most Christians vow to deny vehemently but here are Paul's own words:
“Let 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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
Once again the topic of taxes is brought up as the primary way in which a Christian should show submission to the government. This should not be readily dismissed in light of the warning that the love of money is the root of all evil and the fact that every one hates to pay taxes to a government whether they agree with its principles or not. Still, there are Christians that use this as proof text to simply go along with every rule and regulation that the government passes down even if it runs contrary to the commands of God given through Scripture. Forfeiting their abilities to plead for national repentance, the silent onlookers adopt a laissez-faire attitude as their countries moral foundations seemingly erode.
This is also the point where the stark-raving, ultra-conservative, zealous and politicized Christian start to self-combust. They cannot fathom being able to respect a political system much less obey the commands of Jesus and the admonitions of Paul to view a "corrupt" leadership as appointed by the God that they serve. If only the Bible had provided them some moral champions that spat in the face of the corrupt government then they could have hope!
Christian as Rebel
The events which are recorded in the Old Testament book of Daniel provide a saturated context which the zealous rebel Christian can sink her teeth. The Holy People of God had been captured by a foreign and profane people. The leadership built giant statues and demanded the people to bow before them in worship. They outlawed praying to God in both public and private settings. They threatened to take away the liberties of those who dared proclaim Jehovah God as the Supreme Elohim. Of course the echoes of the Darias and Nebuchadnezzar-Led Babylonian empire are ringing clear in America today. Prayer in government-funded services is a no-no. Serving God has been equated to bigotry and the slippery slope of hate speech laws have many Christians clearly seeing a parallel.
The context of the Babylonian empire and profane leadership is the backdrop for the emergence of every religious zealot's favorite Bible heroes: Daniel and the Three Israelites. I swear that is not the name of the Jewish NuWave band. Two separate stories recorded in the book of Daniel record the open civil disobedience of Daniel and his countrymen. The synopsis of these stories bear repeating:
Daniel Prays in Public
A decree was adopted (under sneaky circumstances, mind you) that prayer to anyone or anything other than the Nebuchadnezzar's approved list (which was mainly him) would be punishable by death. Daniel purposefully ignored the law and went out on his rooftop to pray to Jehovah God. He was caught — of course he was — and, despite being favored in King Darius' eyes he was convicted of his crime. Read the whole account in Daniel 6.
Some Israelites Stand Up
Before the story of Daniel comes the story of 3 guys, a golden statue, and the refusal to break the commandments of God. The story really starts in the book of Exodus when God made a decree that no Israelite should bow before a carved image that stood in the place of God. The upstanding Jewish boys and the throng of the enslaved and citizens alike were commanded to bow down before the image of Nebuchadnezzar-as-god. Despite being given a second chance to comply, the refused. Their choice, like Daniel's, led to a guilty conviction. Read the story in Daniel 3
Any Sunday School teacher worth her salt could capture the imagination of young minds and convince them that it was God's command to fight the powers that be. Obey God! Disobey the Government! It was an easy sell because the hero won. Not only did they stand up for what they believed, they walked away in better governmental positions because of their bravery. It seemed like the best way to get a cushy government job was to spit in its eye and break its laws. But, didn't we forget something?
Staring Death in the Face
Oh, right they also were sentenced to death. They were not acquitted of their charges and they did not sit in a prison cell while their fate was determined. Swift justice was the rule of the day and both Daniel and the Three Israelites were immediately put to death. Daniel was thrown into a pit of Lions (voraciously hungry if the storyteller does it right) and the Three were thrown into fired-up furnace. Tell me again that serving Jesus is easy!
It is crucial not to gloss over the impending death that these saints surely faced. Because the ending was given away (they live and get great jobs!) it seems very tempting to hide the reality of the struggle in the light of the supernatural deliverance. We must resist this temptation to trivialize execution. Why? Because the faith that these men had, they were willing to DIE for it. A direct quote:
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Now the modern, American Christian is in an enviable position. They, under the current law, can proudly and boldly worship God, civilly disobey the government, and still not have to forfeit their personal peace and affluence. They can yell vehemently against the changing cultural tide and their feet are never held to the fire (yes, pun intended). Perhaps this is why the culture doesn't take them seriously. Christian zealots are noise makers that only matter when it comes time to win elections. Sad and perhaps a tad overstated, but there echoes truth in those words.
How Should We Then Live?
Francis Schaeffer asked this question often. In light of what you see around you, dear Christian, how should you live? Schaefer himself was outspoke against the dangerous evil of playing god with unborn life. But he was also outspoken against poverty, the necessity of care for all of human life, the escape from reason, and the insistence on the God who was there. He was an political enigma then, as he would be today. That is why he is the best person to ask this question. How should we then live?
Should we allow the government to do as it pleases and stand idly by and watch the decline? Should we scream at the top of our lungs in defiance? The word of God is open to you and will help you make your decision. The Spirit is the one that guides you into all truth and will help you come to the conclusion that is right. To help get started on your search here are some questions for you to think about:
- When Jesus broke the law, whose laws was he breaking? The Government's? The Religious Leader's?
- Are you willing to give up your personal peace and affluence for your dedication to the Gospel?
- Is your reaction drawn from the Scriptures or your natural tendency to rebel/submit?
This is a controversial topic for sure and now is the time to add your opinions in the comments below.
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