Sunday, March 01, 2009

Persecution (Part 3)

After a busy weekend, I have some time now to post, and that means part three of my commentary on potential persecution of Christians here in the United States. The question I want to examine briefly is the subject of resisting such persecution i.e. whether such resistance is justified in a biblical sense. It's a tough question — for me anyway.

One of the linchpins in this debate is the proper interpretation of Romans 13. Here is the specific passage in question . . .

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:1-8).

Some theologians interpret this passage to mean that believers are to submit to their governmental authorities no matter what, unless the authorities are trying to compel them to disobey God. Such an argument is compelling, especially when it is tied to how the Lord Jesus conducted Himself before the authorities, and how the Apostle Paul conducted himself when imprisoned. However, are the examples of Jesus and Paul appropriate examples, or are those examples merely an example of apples and oranges? Is this the only way to interpret this Romans passage?

Other theologians have a different view, and most of our Founding Fathers here in America had a different view. They focused on a logical syllogism within this passage — that a legitimate government is intended by God to be a terror to evildoers. But when the government ceases being a terror to evildoers and begins being a terror to the righteous, it is no longer a legitimate government and can be resisted in good conscience.

Another thing that makes this a difficult subject for me is understanding the principles on which this country was founded. In the days of Jesus and Paul, the Roman emperor was supreme and his word was law. Here in the United States, "we the people" are the final authority, at least under the constitutional system put together by the Founders. Our founding documents -- and especially the Declaration of Independence -- presuppose the right of a people to rise up and throw off tyranny. In our Constitution, the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights were recognized as inherent, and not granted by government. These rights were viewed as being granted by God Himself, and could not lawfully be taken away by the government.

There was even a significant dispute over whether to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Supporters of the Bill viewed it as necessary to codify these rights so they'd be spelled out for everyone to see. Opponents believed that if these rights were codified, they would be viewed as government-granted and subject to repeal. Both parties, however, agreed that these rights were inherent human rights and could not lawfully be taken away by government. I am afraid we have lost that notion today.

This debate takes some interesting twists and turns. Some of those who hold the earlier view of complete submission to government view the Spirit of 1776 as the spirit of rebellion, and that rebellion is as "the sin of divination" (1 Samuel 15:23). It's hard for me to take that harsh a view, because one of the things that prompted the Pilgrims to come here was their desire to worship God as their consciences dictated. By the time of the War of Independence, the chief concern had become economic, but there was still a spiritual concern over what the colonists believed to be tyranny. England was not innocent when it came to religious persecution, with "Bloody Mary" being a good example.

As you can see, this isn't an easy question. My emotional, gut reaction is to fight for the rights that so many have died to uphold. But my final position must not be driven by emotion. It must be driven by God's Word, illuminated by His Holy Spirit, and must result in glory and honor to the Lord. When it comes to persecution, will said persecution be for political beliefs, or will it be over religious, spiritual principles? Can the two be separated?

That's all for now. We'll keep exploring this subject in the days and weeks to come, although posts will not necessarily be in direct succession to each other.

16 comments:

Randy said...

As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Good post as always Joel.

Shinar Squirrel said...

Joel,

Wow, hard-hitting questions, and something that I've also been pondering. I'm reading Romans 1-8 this month, and will be in the 2nd half in April (hm, appropriat, with taxes on 4/15) -- I'm looking forward to reading your conclusions.

The Squirrel

Solameanie said...

Thanks, guys.

Not certain if my conclusions will be totally satisfying, but it really is a tough call. One hint of something that just grabbed my attention . . . the book of Esther and how the Jews banded together to defend themselves. Without reading it again, I think they had the king's authorization, but what would be the parallels in our own situation? If the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land?

Interesting question.

Shinar Squirrel said...

Joel,

You cost me sleep last night :-) I laid awake pondering the American Revolution in light of Romans 13. This was not conducive to a restful night's sleep!

Then I got up early and pulled all my Romans commentaries off the shelf. Read MacArthur, Bruce, & Wiersbe with my Cheerios. Barnhouse will have to wait for tonight.

My preliminary findings are (and this is hard for me to say, as an history buff and a patriotic American) that the Christians who participated in the American Revolution were in violation of God's Word.

The Follower of Christ is to obey all authorities, excepting only when those authorities are requiring some action which God has prohibited (i.e. Daniel 3,) or when those authorities forbid some action which God has required (i.e. Daniel 6.) It's also pretty clear that we are to pay our taxes (dagnabbit!)

The colonests should have humbly submitted to the rule of His Majesty, George III. However, God has blessed us, in that, their rebellious coduct has provided us with a pretty nice place to live... until recently :-)

I'm planning on expanding on this in a full posting on my blog after I finish my research. Maybe this week, more likely next. (Do you have any idea what you've done to my daily Bible reading plan? Do you? Do you ?!)

MacArthur wrote, "There are no Christian countries, only Christian people."

The Squirrel

Solameanie said...

Thanks for the info. Sorry to rob your sleep! :)

Without having read John's comments on this, I am inclined to agree with him for the most part and in general terms, but America itself poses a problem for me in making the principle sweeping.

America itself (even if founded in rebellion) is a nation state under the rule of law. Our founding principles and documents presuppose the right of the people to overthrow an oppressive government, because we the people ARE the government. We only elect representatives to represent us, and all public officials are our servants, not our masters. That is the authority system we set up here, no matter how much revisionist historians try to say the Declaration and the Constitution don't mean what the Founders meant them to mean.

What this means in my admittedly preliminary reasoning is that under our law, reining in or even deposing public officials who overreach their authority is perfectly permissible. Monarchies and dictatorships do not afford their people those rights. Different system. In any case, our Founders recognized rights that they considered God-given, and not given by governments.

I would like to see an opposing argument to this. I am not set in concrete on the issue.

Shinar Squirrel said...

All authority comes from God; we have the authority to vote for a candidate of our choice, or even to run for office ourselves. We do not, it seems, have the right to disobey those who are in authority over us, however they got there (all authority comes from God). How many times did the government under which Daniel lived change, and he always was repectful & obedient (excepting conflicts with God's Word.)

Seems to me, at this point in my thinking this through, that civil disobedience and/or violent overthrow are right out for the Christian.

Deep stuff!

The Squirrel

Shinar Squirrel said...

There's also much debate over the orgins of the rights ensconced in our founding documents. Did they arise from Scripture, or from the views of government espoused by enlightenment philosophers. I personnally doubt Jefferson was regenerate when he wrote, "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..."

I want to settle this matter in my own conscience, and so am enjoying the research. Thanks!

The Squirrel

Solameanie said...

I am sure Jefferson wasn't regenerate! And that's a good point about enlightenment philosophers. I hadn't considered that possibility.

Nevertheless, it will be hard to put my natural impulse to fight in check in the event someone tries to drag me into a truck and off to a concentration camp. All the more so if they're trying to harm one of my loved ones.

Stan McCullars said...

If our government leaders are not obeying the Constitution it would seem they are acting outside their authority. They would be like a foreign invader attempting to take over Congress and should be treated as such.

Solameanie said...

When all is said and done, I don't want to have to be standing in front of the Lord only to hear I was wrong about the things of which I was so certain, especially in matters of possible physical force, self-defense and life or death. When all is said and done, His Word is all that matters and takes precedence over the Constitutions and laws of men.

Don't take any of that to mean that I am decided on this question. When I do make a final decision, God grant that it will be the right one.

Shinar Squirrel said...

Stan,

I understand your reaction. One of my favorite tee shirts says, "The Constitution of the United States; it isn't perfect, but it's better then what we've got now!" At this point, I would say that Christians are allowed to use any legal means available under the law to hold elected officials accountable. It would seem, however, that we are not to go beyond the law. If a political abuses his office, it isn't open season to drop them with a high-powered rifle from a nearby rooftop; nor should we organize a mob to drag the hapless fellow from his office, tar & feather him, and run him out on a rail. We can protest, we can campaign against him, we can support his opponents, we can speak out, as long as these things are legal.

Still working this through, myself.

The Squirrel

Stan McCullars said...

Squirrel,
I'm with you.

That said, I would support secession and civil war if the federal government tried to stop it.

Shinar Squirrel said...

Ok, I got around to reading Barnhouse last night. Very "Rah! Rah!" in support of the "rightness" of the American Revolution, but with absolutly no Biblical support for why he thought it justified. Political justification about how the Brits caused it, discussion about how it was different from the French Revolution, but no Biblical support. Very disapointing. Listening to S Lewis Johnson teach Romans 13 right now.

More to come...

The Squirrel

Shinar Squirrel said...

I just found this [http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/2007/09/romans-13-and-american-revolution.html](sorry, still learning html, so I can't actually link to it.) Havn't read it fully, yet, but it leans the other way.

The Squirrel

Joshua Cookingham said...

Interesting thoughts....

Although the apostles practiced some forms of civil disobedience but mostly in the sense of continuing to preach and stuff....

hmm....

Shinar Squirrel said...

I haven't forgotten...

The Squirrel