When we hear Christians defending the state and chastising other believers, they usually dish out the same old lines. The reasons to disobey or resist are often summed up in a well-worn phrase about this can only happen when the state commands us to do that which is sinful, etc. I may even have said things like this in the past as well. But that really does not get us very far. Indeed, because it is an extra-biblical moral norm that we have put together, it often serves as little more than a cliché, and it does not accurately deal with all the biblical material on this issue. The truth is, Scripture records plenty of times when God’s people had to defy and disobey the powers that be – and for all sorts of reasons.
Yes, sadly they certainly exist. There are way too many believers today who – if they lived back at the time of the exodus as recorded in Exodus 1-15 – would actually have sided with the pagan Pharaoh and stood against God’s chosen leader, Moses. They would have happily submitted to the dictates of Pharaoh while accusing Moses of being a troublemaker who should just sit down and shut up.
There is no question whatsoever there would be Christians like this. I encounter them on a regular basis. And we have especially seen this over the past year and a half where states everywhere have locked us down and shut us up. Far too many Christians it seems have welcomed the draconian lockdowns with open arms. Hardly any of them are talking about the vital importance of religious freedom and the loss of our most basic of liberties.
The only real question worth exploring is this: Why are so many believers acting this way? Why are so many folks who call themselves Christians actually siding with pagan rulers while attacking and criticising other believers who think that freedom matters, that church matters, and the like? Why are so many defending and seeking to exonerate Pharaoh while turning on Moses? Well, let me offer some possible reasons for all this.
For many of these folks, it seems that the only biblical text on civil government that they know of is Romans 13:1-7. But the truth is, there are numerous passages that speak about the state and about how God’s people should relate to it – in both Testaments. The biblical Christian never just cherry picks one text at the expense of all others, but compares Scripture with Scripture and offers the full counsel of God.
Related to this, their understanding of the Romans 13 text is often deeply flawed. Far too many of them read into this text – again, while ignoring other texts – believing that the State has absolute power and is to be always obeyed and never resisted.
But the state has delegated authority, and it is to come under God and his values. When Jesus confronted the pagan leader Pilate, he certainly reminded him of these basic truths. But I have written often about this. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/05/15/the-state-is-not-absolute/
When we hear Christians defending the state and chastising other believers, they usually dish out the same old lines. The reasons to disobey or resist are often summed up in a well-worn phrase about this can only happen when the state commands us to do that which is sinful, etc. I may even have said things like this in the past as well.
But that really does not get us very far. Indeed, because it is an extra-biblical moral norm that we have put together, it often serves as little more than a cliché, and it does not accurately deal with all the biblical material on this issue. The truth is, Scripture records plenty of times when God’s people had to defy and disobey the powers that be – and for all sorts of reasons. See this article for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/03/24/12-biblical-cases-of-civil-disobedience/
And then we will have these believers claim that the churches are not being singled out here, but everyone equally is facing severe lockdown restrictions. Um, no, not even close. Simply looking at the situation here in Victoria easily disproves that.
Far too often while churches have been fully locked down, or allowed to open with very stringent restrictions, plenty of other groups have been allowed to remain open or to function with much less onerous restrictions. We have had all sorts of things deemed to be “essential services” including pubs, sporting events, hardware stores, even brothels and mass protests (eg., the BLM march), etc.
It would be one thing if everyone were being treated equally here, but they are not. Churches – which really are an essential service – have faced massive shutdowns or restrictions. Even today a large church auditorium that can hold say 3 or 4000 people can only have 50 worshippers in at a time!
But these Pharaoh defenders will still claim that this is no big deal. We can “do church online” they will chant. Yeah right, as if the biblical ideal of Christian fellowship and corporate worship that God expects of his people is just a never-ending series of Zoom or Skype meetings with everyone cowering in fear in their own homes. Good grief, when will believers get some backbone here?
We have so many cowards in the pews and the pulpits who will never stand up for anything, but just sheepishly submit to whatever the secular state tells them to do. They will never dare rock the boat, and as such they have effectively lost any real witness to the surrounding culture starved for truth and examples of biblical courage.
Right now Christians in places like Communist China ARE defying the authorities and continuing to meet for Christian worship, knowing full well that arrests, torture and death will likely be their fate. Yet here in the West except for a handful of brave church leaders, most are cheerily going along with whatever the State tells them to do – no complaints whatsoever. They seem far keener to fully obey the pagan state in all things than the living God.
And I personally know of some of these rare brave pastors who are languishing in jail right now for daring to put biblical worship ahead of the anti-Christian bigotry of the secular left State. Consider Melbourne pastor Paul Furlong. His story is told here, along with how we can help this terrific brother in Christ: mailchi.mp/9786fe6f0398/update-pastor-paul-furlong-imprisonment-4938141?e=58ea942ea7
Christian leaders like Paul are the real champions here, not all the cowardly and compromised Christians who never seem to stand up for what really matters. And of course if and when they ever do wake up to the reality of the ongoing war on religious freedom, it will be far too late. Why am I always reminded of the words of the brave German Lutheran pastor, Holocaust survivor, and resistance leader, Martin Niemoller?