Obeying God and Obeying Government

An Uneasy but Unavoidable Tension

What goes through your mind when you hear a religious zealot proudly proclaiming his submission to the laws of his God above his obedience to the laws of the land?

I have a mixed reaction: “Sounds very pious, but it also sounds threatening.”  But I also respond on another level:  “I can identify with the principle beneath his conviction.  As a follower of the Lord Jesus, I also acknowledge His ultimate authority over my life in all things.”

Whether it sounds politically correct or not, the truth is that we Christians live with this same tension.  We are citizens of God’s eternal kingdom, required to submit to His laws, and we are citizens of an earthly nation, having both rights and responsibilities within that nation.

Up to this point of time in our nation’s history, we Christians have had a pretty free go.  We haven’t tasted too much conflict between our loyalty to our Lord Jesus and to the lords of our land.  Why?  Because of our nation’s Christian heritage.

But a new chapter in our  history is presently being written.  We will probably never return to the day when the Christian church enjoys the same favour and acceptance as it has in the past.  Today’s spiritual winds are blowing with increasing force in the opposition direction.  One could almost say that history is moving backwards, if we compare our situation with the early Christian era.  Then Christianity moved from the status of fiery rejection (under the likes of Roman emperors like Nero and Domitian) to the status of political favour (under the Christian convert, Emperor Constantine).  Today Christianity in our country is losing its favoured status, even though none of us would desire to return to the status of the early believers’ “fiery rejection”.

Let’s consider our changing environment.  How will our confession “Jesus is Lord and King” be put to the test as citizens of our multifaith nation?  Some of my readers may have escaped oppressive regimes and now bask in the warm sunshine of this land’s freedom.  You know only too well the agonising tension between the dictatorial demands of an earthly government and Jesus’ summons to submit to His higher authority.  And all of us have at least heard about the sufferings of millions of Christians who wake up every day to the intense pressure to submit to man-made laws that are diametrically opposed to Jesus’ commands.

However, what if some of these same pressures began to change the religious landscape in our free country?  What if you belonged to a local church, a congregation of ordinary Christian people humbly and non-aggressively going about your business and the business of God’s kingdom, gathering each week for worship and mutual encouragement, reaching out into your community with God’s Good News, helping meet some of the human needs of people in your community regardless of creed or background — and then suddenly you found yourselves confronted by a growing and antagonistic group of people (whether a minority or majority group in your neighbourhood, whether they be a secular or religious group), aggressively voicing their opposition to your church’s presence in “their” community and to your church’s “proselytising” activities?

And what if in your local government, these voices won the support of weak-willed councillors whose primary focus is keeping the peace, resulting in their passing laws that severely restricted your freedom as a church to obey the basic commands of our Lord Jesus, such as the command to gather together for worship and prayer, to share His Good News with others in your community?

For most of us, this scenario in the year 2006 will probably seem as far removed from reality as our planet is from Jupiter!  Nor am I mentioning such a scenario to create fear.  We have no need to react with fear if we put our trust firmly in the One who is at work in all situations for our good and for the glory of His kingdom.

If nothing else, allowing ourselves for a moment to consider facing such circumstances should help us to pray empathetically for our fellow-believers who live in lands where they are not free to carry out their Christian duties and responsibilities.

However, whether we want to or not, it’s high time as followers of Jesus, we recognise the spiritual climate all around us.  We are swimming against a swift-flowing spiritual stream, battling also the force of a subtle though strong anti-Christian undercurrent seeking to drag us under and away from an undivided allegiance to Jesus as Lord and King.  And sometimes, again whether we like it or not, these enemy forces find allies among politicians and lawmakers who, bowing to pressures of various kinds, pass laws intended to silence our Christian presence and witness.

What if…?  Is such a scenario beyond the realm of possibility in this free land of Australia?  Let’s not live in the land of the fairies!  What then can we learn from our fellow-believers who today live out their Christian lives – both as individual believers and as believing communities – in nations where loyalty to Jesus Christ is viciously opposed?

Consider the plight of three loving, faithful Christian wives and mothers who are today in an Indonesian jail.  Their “crime?”  Welcoming some non-Christian children who wanted to attend their kids’ club conducted in one of their homes.  Or, the plight of tens of Christian congregations, also in Indonesia, who have been forcibly evicted from their church properties by the local authorities.  What godly wisdom can we learn from the responses of such believers?

Let’s take note what they don’t do.  They don’t lie down like cute little puppies, feet up in the air ready to let the authorities tickle them or treat them in whatever way they wish.  In other words, they do not compromise their convictions.  Nor do they run away and hide or take some other escape route.

What do they do?  If the authorities shut the doors to their churches, they meet together to worship God – in open spaces: parks, homes, on the street, anywhere.  They will not be silenced!  Though they may suffer temporal loss such as loss of physical property, they are not intimidated by authorities who try to force them off the map.

Of course, such responses are hardly foreign to us if we have been reading our Bibles lately!  Remember God-fearing Moses standing before the mighty Pharaoh demanding in God’s name that he let the Hebrews leave his land?  Or determined Nehemiah pressing on making light of the threatening letters sent to him by local authorities opposed to his project to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls?  Or bold Peter and John respectfully telling their Jewish leaders (who just weeks before had succeeded in having their Master put to death): “‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19, 20)?

As Aussie Christians we do not need reminders of our God-given obligation to submit to our human rulers.  But the examples from the Bible just cited, to say nothing of Jesus’ own example in the responses He gave to the various authorities before whom He was tried, challenge us to prepare ourselves for potential spiritual battles on a new front: from leaders and lawmakers who challenge our obedience to Jesus’ commands.

God calls us to fear God, not man.  To submit to our Lord Jesus Christ as our ultimate Authority regardless of the cost.  To stand together and support one another in our resistance against godless forces, whether secular or religious.  To openly confess both through the confession of our mouths and the profession of our lives that Jesus Christ our King is the One who rules over all powers and authorities seen and unseen.

Of course, we know that submitting to the will of our King makes us the most valuable citizens in any country: lovers of peace, respecters of the rights of others and their beliefs, faithful friends, committed and loving husbands/fathers and wives/mothers, obedient children, honest taxpayers, diligent workers in our vocations and community life.  The kind of people who make the best building-blocks for any community and nation.

If only, you say.  If only we Christians were always like this.  And if only we could just get on with the job of living our Christian lives and serving others without any interference or opposition.  But we’re wasting our time thinking such dreamy thoughts.  Hasn’t God given us in the clearest possible terms that as long as we’re going about His business, we’re going to be targets for all sorts of satanic attacks?

Instead of hoping the opposition will soon fade out of the picture, we need to prepare our minds for standing firm against whatever challenge and opposition God knows will come our way – whether from our leaders, community, even our family and friends.  Our minds must be set on advance, never on retreat no matter how much the other side tries to shut us up or bring us down.

Today God’s people all over the world are undergoing increasing pressures.  But let’s rejoice, because we know that this build up of spiritual opposition is a sure sign that the enemy is losing ground.  He knows his time is running out.  Which is also a sure sign that in our day, and in our country, we will have the great privilege to witness that Satan is powerless against the zeal of our God in answering Jesus’ disciples’ prayer: “Your kingdom come!”

Rev. Graham Roberts

Equip & Encourage International

4th May, 2006

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