Jesus taught that your highest priority must be your relationship with Him. If anything detracts you from that relationship, that activity is not from God. God will not ask you to do something that hinders your relationship with Christ.–Henry Blackaby
A few mornings ago, I read to the kids from the book of Daniel. We explored the 6th chapter that shows how the evil administrators under Darius deceived the king into passing an edict that would make prayer to anyone other than the king illegal. They did it for the purpose of snaring Daniel and ultimately getting rid of him, as they reasoned: “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” For they knew that Daniel would submit to God and his rulings before those of man.
When I was a kid, my brother and I watched the Hannah Barbera The Greatest Adventures Stories from the Bible on the life of Daniel, and the three archeologists who traveled back in time pleaded with Daniel not to pray or to pray in a different room (not facing the open window toward Jerusalem), but Daniel said he shouldn’t alter anything, but should continue to courageously do what was right.
Of course, some might say, “Yeah, and his boldness nearly got him killed.”
But God had a great purpose in Daniel’s obedience. He used it to save Daniel, strengthen his faith, and renew the king’s perspective, ultimately making the One True God’s name known and glorified in the land.
Authority Given without Approval
Today many Christians advocate for complete submission to the local government (governors and other politicians, etc.), and they use Romans 13:1-7 as their foundation for failure to congregate as believers and shut the doors of their churches and ministries in the name of love and submission. Although the whole of Scripture endorses the truth that God establishes rulers and sees nations rise and fall, we need to remember that not all leaders are God’s men, following His way and His truth. Speaking through Hosea, God said, “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction” (Hos. 8:5). Just because a person is in office doesn’t mean God has condoned their leadership edicts, nor that we should adhere to all that is commanded of him.
The Constitution and Christ and Separating the Two
The Constitution is our highest civil authority in America. In fact, it’s what our President submits to (and what all senators, representatives, governors, and judges are to adhere as well). Our solders swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Therefore, in our country, the highest governing authority is the Constitution, which gives people (without religious persecution) the right to free assembly. The government does not have the right to “go within” the Church and declare how they should order their services, whether they can take Communion (a continued command of Christ), baptize (another command of Christ), or worship together (another command of Scripture). Those ordinances are given by God, and when men try to supersede His commands, we need to ignore the men and follow our God. My heart grieves over how quickly believers have given up our sacred privilege as Christians. We are NOT to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
But let’s set aside our American status for a while and examine the Church across other cultures and governing authorities. Let’s look at the 1st-century Church and what Jesus himself did. The religious leaders of Jewish culture–those in the highest authority–did not like what Jesus was preaching and teaching. Neither did the Romans (the governing authority). They wanted Jesus killed. But did that stop him (or the disciples) from doing the Father’s will and fulfilling the Great Commission? Paul was regularly beaten and commanded to cease from preaching the Good News of the Gospel. He disobeyed, because the Holy Spirit had told Paul to keep going. The modern-day church in the Middle East and Asia is forbidden to congregate. It’s illegal to gather and to spread the Gospel, and yet, our brothers and sisters in Christ say, “We have a higher calling and a greater Commission.” Bringing in Bibles is also illegal, so missionaries smuggle them in, against the governing authority. When the ways of man infringe on the ways of God, we follow our Savior’s lead. As Jesus said in Matthew 28, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We don’t have to be afraid, despite what tribulation or persecution we may face for doing His will.
What is Truly Most Loving?
Some Christians might say, “Well, I’m not operating out of fear, but out of love. I am trying to love my neighbor by….[wearing a mask, not hugging my friend, staying out of church, etc.]”
Let me ask you this–or better yet, you ask the Lord–what is more loving, to keep your neighbor from getting an illness with a 99% recovery rate or to make sure that your neighbor knows the truth, has access to help and support, and doesn’t feel isolated and rejected by the Church? Do we close our doors every time flu season erupts? Why not? People contract that virus and die from it every year. Do we cease to drive to church even when driving is the cause of over 100 deaths a day in our country? So, where does the “love” line stop and keep us self-preserving at home? Would Jesus put his stamp of approval on our actions? Would He say, “Good job. You kept their bodies safe while their souls are still lost and dying.”?
The One True Voice and the One True Church
But I Corinthians 1:18 reminds us that not all will continue to understand or follow: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And some will fall away, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4: 3-4) and please, fellow believer,
“Guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you” (I Tim. 6:20-21).
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
We have been given a lot of “knowledge” or statistics (much of which is inaccurate anyway) in attempts to manipulate and control, and many of the believers have blindly swallowed it. I would call it “irreverent babble, contradictions, and deceit.” A few courageous men have stood firm and kept their eyes on their Gospel-centered mission and not wavered by following the voices of men. John MacArthur and Greg Locke come to mind. They understand that life here on this earth is but a breath, and Jesus has called us to seek and save the lost, to honor the Lord (outwardly as well as inwardly) and not to neglect the ordinances of the Body (Communion, Baptism). Our mission should not be hijacked by another; the Church is Christ’s and He is our Commander.
Religious leaders and governing authorities have been stirring up persecution against the true Church since the time of Acts. It’s nothing new and it will continue to increase as the time for His return draws near. So, don’t look for world peace or comfort. That’s not what He promised us too. He called us to a life of sacrifice and peace in Him, despite the troubles we will face (John 16:33).
The Body of Christ needs renewal, but understand that when refining fires come, not all who go into the flame will emerge. Some will decide it’s too uncomfortable and they will grow cold in their love for their Savior, no longer calling him Lord.
One of the greatest paradoxes in Christian history is that the church is most pure in times of cultural hostility. When things are easy and good, that is when the church most often goes astray. When Christianity seems identical with the culture and even when the church seems to be enjoying its greatest earthly success, then it is weakest. Conversely, when the church encounters hardship, persecution, and suffering… then it is closest to its crucified Lord, then there are fewer hypocrites and nominal believers among its members, and then the faith of Christians burns most intensely.2 (Jonathan Edwards)
We need this refining fire if we are going to be ready for the real persecution at the end. Unity can’t come until we are unified under a singular Person and purpose. So we follow His lead and His commandments, and anything that deters us from His commission over our lives must go. His Word reigns supreme.
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:17-18).
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6).
“How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!'” Romans 10:15
What Does He Say?
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he [Jesus] said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34–38)
Read the whole of Romans and try to grasp at the contextual setting and themes of Paul’s message. And go even further in your scope by aligning Romans 13 with the other books of the New Testament, and the life and ministry of Christ and his followers. We are called to something bigger than just blind submission to man, my friend. Our Master is teaching us a different way then the ways of man, and first and foremost, we submit to Him.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).