How Far Should a Christian Go?
Yah'shua (Jesus) and his talmidim (disciples) were all punished for disobedience to the civil authorities of their day. They refused, in a non-violent way, to obey worldly laws whilst being fully aware of the likely consequences. And every one of them had to bear their punishment. All but the apostle John were martyred.
The First Believers were Civilly Disobedient
So what of the modern Christian Church and Messianic Community? Is it true that modern Christians are too afraid to follow the example of the first Christians by breaking society's laws and getting punished for doing so?
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Mt.10:16, AV). "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Mt.5:38). "Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those that mistreat you" (Lk.6:27-28). These well-known sayings were taught by Yah'shua (Jesus) to His talmidim (disciples) whilst they were travelling with Him and were to ultimately lead many of them to martyrdom in the first century after His crucifixion. Neither Yah'shua (Jesus) nor His followers obeyed the warnings of the religious or secular authorities, whether Jewish or Roman. They spread their controversial message and refused to worship the Emperor, something which all Romans were required to do.
"We must obey Elohim (God) rather than men!" are the apostle Peter's well-known words from the Acts of the Apostles (Ac.5:29). The apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. They managed to escape death on that occasion -- but were all whipped. How far would today's Christians dare to go? Do they follow the teachings of their Master and the martyrs who were accused of being law-breakers and rebels? Or have democratic principles, which have been incorporated into modern theological thinking, eroded the ethical side of the Christian faith?
A Brave Lutheran Bishop in Norway
In Norway, where I have lived for the past ten years, the Lutheran Church of Norway, as elsewhere in the Protestant world, is being split down the middle over such issues as abortion, homosexuality, and feminism. Almost alone one Norwegian Bishop, Børre Knudsen, is standing up for the truth and receiving diatribes from not only the secular Norwegian society at large but the majority of Christians who, without either knowing or admitting it, belong to the same secular establishment as their unbelieving counterparts. To his enormous credit, Knudsen will not compromise his strong stance and teaches that Christians must likewise stand up for the truth. "The Church cannot fulfil its calling in a non-Christian world without coming into conflict with it," Knudsen maintains. And he is absolutely right.
Yah'shua was Viewed as a Criminal
We cannot ever allow ourselves the luxury of forgetting that the Messianic Community (Church) was founded by a man who was regarded as a criminal. It is always the most credible when it is in opposition. "Its strength lies in martyrdom," insists Knusden who has fired barrages or criticism against his fellow believers in the Norwegian State Church. "It is hypocritical of the Church to support acts of civil disobedience against the construction of environmentally threatening gas works whilst it is turning a blind eye to the abortion question which totally overshadows the politics of energy. From a Christian point-of-view its priorities are completely absurd," says Knudsen.
Striking a Proper Scriptural Balance
Knudsen also believes that it is important to draw clear boundaries when it comes to civil disobedience. "One must be careful not to become 'anti-authorities'. Society is dependent on democratic decision-making processes which work for society's good. If a person chooses to break the law to demonstrate his disagreement with it, he must do so only as a result of the most careful consideration, and only when all the other possibilities have been exhausted," says Knudsen.
There are many Christians who believe that those who use civil disobedience undermine democracy. But, as Norwegian Bishop Odd Bondevik points out, the majority can be mistaken, in which case one can posit the question: Is democracy serving the peoples' best interests? We should not forget that it was the democratic process that brought Hitler to power in 1933 -- the democratic process, in this case, undermined democracy itself.
As with so many other "difficult" questions we must constantly seek a balance. And there are real dilemmas too. It is easy (comparatively speaking) for me to "offer the other cheek" but how far should I go in intervening in a situation where someone, for example, is being persecuted who does not want to offer his other cheek? Should I intervene in his behalf?
Between Sin and Sinner
In the same way that Christians and Messianics are to make a sharp distinction between the sin and the sinner, I think in the case of civil disobedience we need, more often than not, to make a sharp distinction between the issue (like abortion) and the government itself. Clearly the majority is acting against the interest of a small, weak and vunerable minority in the case of abortion, to the extent of murdering the unborn. They cannot protest or defend themselves. They cannot go on strike. They are completely helpless, even more so (arguably) than the those like the Jews who have had to endure Imperial Russian and Nazi pogroms throughout recent times. Sadly, it was not an almost helpless minority that the Second Word War was fought in behalf of but to defend democracy, on the one hand, and an equally vicious communism on the other.
In a way, civil disobedience has become an established part of modern democracy. In Norway many illegal immigrants take shelter in Norwegian Churches where they are protected by an old law. So the Church has been civilly disobedient in some matters. But does the Bible give Christians or Messianics any right to be civilly disobedient? Have they the right to get stuck into political issues when its mission is supposed to be "other-worldly"? Is there not a sharp dividing line in Scripture between ecclesiastical and worldly power? And if so, where is it to be drawn?
There are many who, whilst opposing civil disobedience generally, do make the occasional exception in "extreme" circumstances, like justifying the assassination attempt against Hitler in 1944. But who is to define what is, and what is not, "extreme"? Were the plotters against Hitler morally justified in trying to kill the Führer especially when you consider that there were other victims in the bomb explosion?
Civil Disobedience is the Exception, Not the Rule
The Bible is strict about requiring Christians and Messianics to be obedient to civil authorities. We can go inventing our own tax rules however unfair we may think they are. The Quakers in England paid reduced taxes because they did not want to finance the nuclear weapons industry. What about them? Were they justified? Despite requiring civil obedience the Bible sets its own boundaries -- "we must obey Elohim (God) rather than men", the apostle Peter says. When the authorities start getting involved with deeply immoral things like pro-abortion laws, pro-homosexual "marriage", pro-paedophilia -- things which directly break Yahweh's Laws, then Christians not only have a right but a duty to protest, provided it is non-violent.
One sin leads to another. Today it is common to find parts of aborted foetuses in numerous of our daily products. There is talk of keeping parts of aborted foetuses alive in order to make spare parts for humans. We are moving into an age of scientific and moral barbarism and only our protests can make a difference.
This page was created on 7 April 1998
Last updated on 3 February 2013
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