Thursday, November 13, 2014

Christian Civil Disobedience

"So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it's right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:18-20

Arnold Abbott is a 90 year old twice decorated WWII veteran who has spent over two decades feeding and helping the homeless on the streets of Fort Lauderdale. He's also a criminal. He's a criminal for refusing to stop feeding these people where they live, which violates new city ordinances that limit that feeding to specific locations for "health and public safety" concerns.

Chase Windebank is a senior at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs. Three years ago he began meeting with other students when they had free time during the day. They read the Bible, sang songs of praise in an unused choir room, and prayed for one another and fellow students. He has been ordered by the school district to stop. He can't do that during free time anymore.

When the Armed Forces forbid Christian chaplains to pray in Jesus' name, Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt refused to obey the order. The result was a court-martial and his discharge from the Navy. In essence, the Navy required him to deny his faith so as not to offend the faith of others.

Bogdan Chaza is a Polish doctor who was dismissed from the hospital he had served as medical director for 10 years. The reason he was dismissed was that, because of his Christian faith, he refused to perform abortions.

Should Arnold Abbott stop feeding the hungry until he can comply with these new city ordinances?  If a student asks Chase and a friend to pray for them at their lockers in between classes, should Chase refuse? Should Gordon Klingenschmitt have denied Christ in order to comply with military regulations? Was it medically unethical for Dr. Bogdan Chaza to refuse to take the life of an unborn child?

To be sure, some of us (Christ followers) have been foolish and overbearing in the expression of our faith, and that foolishness has brought some of this on us. Some have used work time for Bible study, class time for prayer meeting, and some of us have used our position to push rather than to influence. Forced conversion to Christianity is no conversion at all. Yet, most of us have not.

Most of us are trying to live out our faith and bear witness to our Savior in an increasingly restrictive environment. We try to render honor to whom honor is due, submitting to the authorities established by God, while trying not to violate the authority of God. We use our positions and relationships to bear witness, not to push our agendas. We try to be as gentle as doves, and work to be as wise as serpents. (Matthew 10:16) Still we experience the spirit of anti-Christ resisting us. The government and courts that are supposed to protect our freedom of religion are increasingly enforcing freedom from religion.

It's not all bad. Opposition often ignites action. Many who were passive now recognize the threat to the Gospel. They realize that without Christ, all are lost. So they have begun to love loudly and share the Gospel of Christ consistently. Thoughtful Christians are working out how to submit to the authorities while also submitting to God. (Romans 13:1-7)  All authority is God's, and He has appointed civil and earthly authorities to provide for a safe and peaceful society. When those to whom this authority has been delegated tell us to disobey the one who gave them authority (God), it is time to obey God rather than man. That is exactly what Peter, John and the church in Jerusalem did when ordered to stop speaking about Christ. If we are serious about following Christ, we will encounter this situation ourselves. When we do, we should be prepared.

When should a Christian disobey authority? When authority oversteps its bounds by forbidding what God commands, or by commanding what God forbids, we must disobey. We must "obey God rather than man." (Acts 5:25-29) Now, this is not just because our preferences have been offended. For instance, a Christian, above all others, should give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. So, we should not time we are being paid to work to have Bible study. Peter and John refused to obey the civil authority when it there was a clear command to violate Christ's command. So, a Christian may be required to violate civil law when that law clearly violates divine law. (see Wayne Grudem's, "Politics According To The Bible," p.88 & 499, for a good discussion of this principle)

How should a Christian disobey authority? Civil disobedience must be civil. Even if we are convinced that a law is unlawful, we must still render honor to whom honor is due. Civil disobedience by the Christian must always be motivated by humility. (James 3:13) To act otherwise would invalidate the Christian's witness.

How can a Christian be sure she should disobey a civil authority? Each Christian has the Holy Spirit living within. We no longer live by our personal conscience, but by the Holy Spirit's conscience. And, the Christian conscience is formed by three factors.

First, it is formed in the presence of a living, personal relationship with Jesus. (John 15:4) When we abide in Christ and He in us, then our will and our conscience is formed by Him. Fail to abide, and you will be more controlled by your old nature than by the Spirit of Christ.

Second, it is formed by the commands of Christ. The Christian mind is not completely given at salvation. It is developed by renewing our old mind with the living Word of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

Third, it is formed in fellowship with other Christians. Peter had John and John had Peter. They did not act alone, but the Holy Spirit confirmed their actions with each other. Christians should seek the counsel of other Christians. 

The people of Christ and the witness of Christ have always been resisted. They will be until Christ returns. Christ followers cannot be faithful to Christ if they are silent, with their words or their deeds. We cannot deny, by passivity, disobedience, or cowardice, the one who first loved us.

So, we pray for all those in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) We pray for God's blessings on the authorities over us, so we may live peaceably in this world. And, when those authorities command us to defy God, we pray that the Lord will grant us wisdom, humility, and boldness to "obey God rather than man."