Part 1. When it's right to be legally wrong.
Where do you draw the line? At what point to you disobey earthly authority to obey heavenly Authority? Sometimes? Never? Many have wrestled with these questions over the years, so it should be no surprise that we sooner or later would have to also.
While trying to pass out gospel tracks in the parking lot of our local coliseum, we were threatened with being arrested. Why? Well this might surprise those of you who believe that Canada guarantees freedom of religion and speech. We quickly found out that Moncton, New Brunswick, has some serious restrictions on this freedom. We have a by-law that states...
Terry LeBlanc, of our local city solicitors office, clarified this further by stating that "street" constitutes all city of Moncton property; be it street, sidewalk or parking lot. A "handbill" is further defined as being any printed material; be it tract or Bible. So if you live in Moncton, don't pass a tract to your neighbor while standing on the sidewalk, or hand your church bulletin to a friend while walking to your car (assuming it's parked on the street and/or you're walking on the sidewalk). And don't think about handing out tracts at any city park, theater, arena or coliseum. Any of these activities are breaking the law.
If you think this law is ridiculous and that nobody has even been prosecuted for this -- I readily agree. But our lawyer advised me that non-enforcement of a law does not set precedent and in no way invalidates a law. So no matter what you (and I) think of it -- it's still the law. (Which can be enforced at anytime if someone complains or feels that it is politically expedient to do so.) Now the question arises... do you break this law to share the gospel with someone you may never have another opportunity to share with?
Okay, some of you are thinking -- look for a legal alternative. Yes, we even thought of that. Talking to people - albeit guaranteeing that we would reach a whole lot less - sounded like a good idea. Except in this occurrence the coliseum manager cited the parking lot as being private (leased) property and proceeded to tell us that we had no right to even be there. Now what?
Let's broaden the issue further. In our visit to the city solicitors office we also found out that another liberally worded law is on the books that would prevent picketing in front of (let's say) an abortion clinic (and whatever you do don't hand out a tract suggesting an alternative).
The Bible presents two sides to this complex issue also, which some would say are contradictory -- but not in reality. Peter writes "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." (1 Peter 2:13-15). Paul also writes of this; "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience." (Romans 13:1-5)
From these passages written by Paul and Peter we would assume this to be a cut and dried issue. So let me ask you a few more questions? Is it right to smuggle Bibles, Christian literature, etc., into communist countries in violation of the law? Or should people operate underground churches in places were they are forbidden by law to gather? Or how about converting to Christianity from Islam which is punishable by death, or imprisonment, in many eastern countries. Should you refuse to hire a homosexual for your Christian school, or organization, if it's classed discriminatory under the charter or law? Should you home school, or operate a Christian school, when your local school is teaching anti-Christian or occult thought; even if the government says it is illegal to do so? These are not idle questions, as my files are full of occurrences like these from all over the world. Real people have had to make real decisions regarding these issues.
Peter and John had to make similar decisions. In Acts chapter 4 they were arrested (verse 7) and asked to justify their actions. Notably they used this "Inquiry" as a forum for preaching the gospel and upholding the Truth. Although released, they were specifically warned by the authorities to not preach of Christ any more (verse 18). Did they obey the authorities and stop? No, they chose to continue - knowing the consequences (verse 21) and again being arrested (5:18). Once again they used the court appearance to boldly present the Truth. In one occurrence God chose to free them from the consequences with a supernatural jailbreak (5:19), yet ultimately God chose them to suffer other consequences like flogging (5:40). After being convicted, punished, and once gain commanded to stop, did they? No, they continued on. (5:42).
How about Paul? He was accused of breaking Roman law (Acts 16:21) and punished without a trial (verses 22, 23). He also used this occurrence as a testimony (verse 25) and to proclaim the gospel (verse 31). In this occurrence God allowed him to be spared further consequences of breaking the law. Did fear of arrest stop Paul from preaching? Or did Paul stop preaching of sin because it would offend a culture (a societies' laws and livelihood)? Just think, challenging people's business income could get you sued. Knowing this, Paul still spoke the Truth (Acts 19:23-31).
There are many other examples in the New Testament church and throughout church history (read Foxe's Book of Martyrs, written in 1559). Ultimately historical tradition tell us that both Paul and Peter were martyred for their violation of Roman law. Yet knowing the possible consequences they still chose to preach and teach the Truth.
Are these examples a case of Paul and Peter not practicing what they preached regarding "submitting to every authority"? Not at all. Consider Peter's words to the authorities, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God" (Acts 4:19) and later "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29)
To see the whole picture, we have to understand that all authority is ordained of God. If God didn't allow it, it wouldn't happen. The more authority an individual holds, the more accountable they are to God. That is why parents are accountable to God for how they raise their children (and children should obey them). That is why pastors, elders, and teachers are accountable to God for what they teach (or fail to teach). In the same manner, those that are even in positions of secular authority are accountable to God for the use, and misuse, of that authority (and we should submit to them also). BUT, and this is a big but. When a parent, pastor, elder, teacher, lawmaker, government, official, etc., commands us to do something (or prevents us from doing something) that God has said to do, we MUST follow God's law because it is the highest law.
An example of the concept of higher law can be taken from our secular government. When a Canadian peace-keeper assisted in beating a young man to death, he pled at his trial (court martial) that his superior officer authorized and encouraged it. The judge noted, when handing down the judgement, that failure to uphold the (higher) Canadian law (concerning assault and murder) could not be justified by the fact that he was following orders of a superior. When any lesser authority breaks the law of a higher authority, all who follow the lesser authority in doing wrong are still guilty of an offense and must be punished. Anyone who hopes to plead "innocent" (for wrongdoing by deed or omission) before a Holy God, using the plea that "I was just obeying (fill in the name of the authority here; be it pastor, elder, government, etc.)" will quickly find out that they will have no excuse at all. Rather, scripture tells us to imitate (or to follow) those who do good and most of all to follow God no matter what. Only by obeying the highest Authority can we serve a lesser authority with clear conscience (Romans 13:5).
I believe virtually everyone would agree that it is wrong to murder, steal, or lie -- even if some authority commands you to do so. Yet for the Christian, all of God's commands are equally important. Since when do we tell God what commands we think we should obey? Be it the ten commandments, the great commission, or the requirement to gather together with other believers, we should not question God in saying "I don't think so because...", but rather say "where You lead me, I will follow". You can say "the Lord is my Shepherd" (Psalms 23:1) all you want, but if you are not following His commands, you are not following His leading. The Bible tells us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17) -- so if you say you have faith in God, follow (obey) all His commands and trust Him to care for you -- and you will show your faith by your works (James 2:18).
All this brings us to another very important note. If we break the law to follow God's (higher) commands, we must be willing to accept the consequences. We can trust God to look after us for seeking first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33-34), and we can use the law and legal arguments to the best possible use (Eg. Acts 25:9-12), but ultimately if we are found guilty and sentenced (and all appeals have failed) - we should glorify God in accepting the punishment (2 Timothy 4:6-7). Most of all we must use every opportunity to proclaim God's Truth.
One should note that in both the American and Canadian societies, we have a number of options to challenge a law. One means is the court of public opinion. Unfortunately this is going to be rarely beneficial. Generally speaking, people are not going to speak out for what is right in an increasingly secular and ungodly society. And in only a few occurrences is the secular press going to present any Christian or godly thought in a positive light. (We found this out when our local paper wrote an article about our passing out of tracts at the coliseum -- they totally missed, or chose to miss, the real issues.) Sadly, a democracy assumes that the majority of the people will be seeking what is right and just. In times where our society was based primarily upon Biblical principles, we could assume that our government, in following the peoples wishes, would examine, re-evaluate, or strike down any law that stood in opposition to Christian norm. We no longer can expect this of a government that has chosen to remove Christianity, the ten commandments, and all Biblical moral standards, from the fibre of our government and public society. (Yet this does not diminish our need to still appeal to the government and use the opportunity to proclaim Truth).
Increasingly we are being left with only one primary means to challenge a law. In this technique you must break that specific law to challenge it in the courts. This is in keeping with the concept that our courts are our lawmakers (not our government - which in a democracy should be us; the people). Just examine how many laws have been reinterpreted, struck down, or revised because of our appointed courts -- regardless of what the people have voted for and our governments have enacted. It has come to the point that many lawyers now recommend using this legal challenge approach. Yes, if you lose you suffer the consequences (as some have), but many have succeeded in striking down laws; occasionally for good -- but sadly most for ill. Recent and ongoing abortion and euthanasia rulings provide classic examples, including Kevorkian (Dr. Death) in the United States and Morgentaler in Canada.
For those who point to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, or the Constitution and Amendments in the United States, we are increasingly seeing secularized, liberalized, and interpretative rulings being made regarding their protections. Our vaguely worded section in Canada pertaining to freedom of religion, primarily gives us the right to meet, or not meet, in the building of our choice. Take note that it doesn't say much about any rights outside of our buildings. What our courts and government ultimately appear to be working towards, is not truly freedom of religion, but freedom from religion. What freedom will that be; when we can no longer express our Christian views in public, government, education, work places, etc. We are already halfway there. What a contradiction... some former communist countries now have opened the door for religious instruction in the classroom, yet we of the long-standing democratic, "free", and so-called Christian nations now cannot even teach the ten commandments in our classrooms.
To be salt and light to the world around us (Matthew 5:13-14), Christians of conviction need to (rather must ) stand-up for what is right - and for the freedoms we so long have enjoyed. Our silence guarantees and condones this moral and spiritual disintegration of our nation.
Our silence in the church has contributed to our removal of freedoms. God tells us that one primary reason for having authorities is to punish wrong doing (Romans 13:4). Since a growing number are using the claim of "religious freedom" to carry on practices that are truly wrong and evil, and since we of the church are not quick to expose this evil and separate ourselves from it (Ephesians 5:11), the governments have more and more felt it necessary to remove (or restrict) our religious freedom; solely to enable them to prosecute wrong doing. (Examples abound: from carrying on business and tax evasion, to operating gaming establishments. And, of course, fraudulent "faith" and/or New Age healers using the church as a front.) If we, who have been given greater authority in the church, cannot scripturally deal with wrong doing, it should not surprise us that another (and even secular) authority should try. The church should never try to shelter a wrong doer who has broken a just law of the land (compatible with God's higher law). Being submissive to that governmental authority means we should be willing and quick to hand such a person over for punishment.
Court rulings, regarding the United States' Constitutional protection of freedom of religion, state that the protection extends to only religious convictions; not preferences. Rulings have shown a preference to be a firm belief that you strongly adhere to, teach your kids, and visibly follow (which sounds pretty good). Yet preferences are NOT protected by the courts. Convictions are. A conviction is a firm belief, that you strongly adhere to, visibly follow, teach you kids, etc., BUT that cannot be changed by pressure from friends, family (parents, wife, husband, kids, siblings, etc.), threat of lawsuit or legal action, possible loss of liberty, or possible loss of life. Stop and think about it, are your Christian beliefs convictions; even by this court definition (much less by God's standards - Matthew 22:37)? If you won't stand up for your beliefs because of ridicule of friends or co-workers, fear of jail, or lack of commitment, you don't have convictions; you have preferences. Paul and Peter lived and died by their convictions; so did the many martyrs throughout history. Yes, loving life, liberty, wealth, family and friends more than God would have spared them much grief (at least from the world's perspective), yet they knew what all men and women of conviction know -- that to live by preference would be to deny God; for we cannot love anything of this world more than Him (1 John 2:15-17).
And since you were wondering... Yes, we did go back to the coliseum grounds and yes, we even quietly gave out more tracts inside. Sadly it was too late, and raining too hard, to continue giving out tracts outside (wet tracts are useless). Yet as we looked out over the 6000+ people that we were unable to give the Truth to, as they openly welcomed a lie, our hearts were broken and we more than ever are convicted that we MUST use every opportunity to rescue those who are perishing. (Proverbs 24:11-12, Colossians 4:5, Ephesians 5:16)
Do we merely sing that little chorus, "Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone..." or do we believe it? Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (the last three better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) stood for their convictions (read Daniel chapters 1,3 and 6). They stood publicly, even when their life and liberty were threatened. They openly broke some of their government's laws. Why? Because they could only obey the law if it did not violate God's Higher Law. All four of them were arrested, the three even offered a pardon if they would give in (3:13-15), Daniel could have prayed in private (6:10), yet they all chose to trust their God and show their faith by being obedient to Him.
Part 2. What are your convictions?
Higher Law does not advocate "Christian anarchy". Knowing that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) establishes a criteria for our actions and response to the laws of our nation. All laws that prevent us from following God's higher law must be broken for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. From smuggling and translating scriptures, to hosting house churches and clandestine biblical instruction of children, in places where banned by law, Christians have acted upon their convictions and scriptural mandate to be first subjects of God's kingdom. Peter points to this allegiance when he states in 1 Peter 2:9 that we "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Paul also clearly points out our true national identity in Philippians 3:20. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
In a real sense we have dual citizenship, simultaneously we are citizens of temporal and spiritual kingdoms. Using a very real example from earthly governments, lets examine a situation that has happened numerous times throughout history. Consider the person that has dual citizenship in two earthly nations. If those nations go to war against each other, the individual ultimately has to choose which nation he holds higher allegiance to. During peace time he can legitimately ascribe to both nations laws, but during war that cannot be the case. When our earthly government enacts laws that oppose, or prevent God's commands, out of rebellion our temporal country is then at war with God's holy nation. We with dual citizenship must then remember that first of all "our citizenship is in heaven" and show our true allegiance with our actions.
Case Example: Legalized abortion is an act of war. Any government advocating this act has set itself up in the place of God, proclaiming it's laws and statutes to be absolute and imposing them upon it's citizens. When any government decrees that murder is justifiable and sanctioned it has broken God's higher law of Exodus 20:13, "You shall not murder." This becomes an act of war against God because, unlike two totally independent earthly kingdoms that can act internally as they see fit, all earthly kingdoms are ordained by God to do good (1 Peter 2:13-17) as subservient authorities, subordinate to God. Beyond the government, the citizens also have responsibilities. For example, Christian nurses and doctors must then chose which kingdom they truly hold to. Do they perform, assist, or condone by silence, the acts of the enemy or do they refuse and "speak the Truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Economic arguments like, "I might lose my job", don't work. Working for the enemy, especially for pay, has always been known by another term -- Treason. On the same topic, how about those police officers that work to defend abortionists and their clinics in accordance with civil law; yet in violation of God's commands? Does the excuse, "I was only doing my job", sound like one that would carry weight before a holy God? Following God always has a cost (Luke 14:26-30) and willful ignorance can never be used as a defense... Proverbs 24:11-12 "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"
Some have taken this analogy of war to un-scriptural extremes. These individuals believe that acts of sabotage against the enemy are justifiable "because we are at war". From Pensacola (Florida, USA) to British Columbia (Canada) acts of violence have been performed against abortion clinics and abortionists. Clinics have been burned to the ground, doctors and others shot, all supposedly in the name of God and "because we are at war." Are they justified? Is this a correct, or acceptable course of action? Let's examine this issue more fully from scriptures. As we have so far shown, the Bible clearly establishes that God's law is to be the highest law and that we are truly citizens of God's kingdom first and foremost. So with this knowledge, how can anyone justify murder in the name of God? Certainly the Bible never teaches us an end can justify the means. "Rescuing" someone cannot include breaking God's higher law for any reason. Any "ends justifies the means", pragmatic, theology is actually a weapon of the enemy. Moral relativism (which says a lie is not always a lie and wrong is not always wrong) is the cornerstone of many "new" religions and spirituality. Throughout scriptures God clearly shows his law to be unchanging (Luke 16:17, Psalms 119:152) just as He is. (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). Isaiah 5:20 "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
Wait a minute, what about those Old Testament events where people where put to death because of sin and to prevent further sin? Can we use those events as precedent? No! Prior to Christ's coming God often used His people, His chosen nation Israel, to carry out His judgement on pagan nations -- this was solely on the direct command of God and by His theocratic rule. So also was the punishment of other spiritual crimes like witchcraft (Exodus 22:18), rebelling against parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), and many more. In the New Testament this all changed. Yes there still are spiritual wars, but they are no longer to be fought with earthly weapons. Consider Jesus' arrest in the garden of Gethsemane: "... Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'" (Matthew 26:50-52) Jesus told the disciples that this was a spiritual battle, not a physical one. Moreover, Jesus pointed out that as a spiritual battle it was to be left to God's sovereign choice to fight (and win) or not - so that His will could be carried out (ultimately to win anyway). "Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?" (Matthew 26:53-54)
Those who fight spiritual battles with guns and arson torches should take heed that they will likewise "perish by the sword". When we break any earthly law to follow God's higher law, we must do just that - follow God's higher law. This means we will always be within God's law, not without, regardless of the circumstances. We must remember Jesus' description of His kingdom, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36) Paul also emphasized in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 that our battle is spiritual. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled."
Truth is the most effect weapon against lies and deception. We must be speaking and living the Truth. Ephesians 5:11 commands all Christians to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." When we expose sin (acts of war against God's kingdom) and have nothing to do with those acts (by participation, assistance, or silence) we are fighting spiritual battles for God's kingdom. In perhaps the greatest passage concerning this spiritual battle, we are given the focus of our fight. "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:10-12) Our fight is not with people, like the abortionists, it's against the spiritual forces that rule over them. In the description of the armor that follows it should be noted that the armor is primarily defensive, enabling us to stand strong for the Lord; in and for His Truth. "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:13-18).
If any two items could be taken as offensive they would be (1) the Word of God, which is "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). The Word together with (2) prayer can be seen as offensive weapons to the degree that God alone fights the battle, for "all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD'S..." (1 Samuel 17:47).
When Jesus spoke, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13), He was not advocating killing someone -- with the perpetrator literally losing their life or wasting the rest of their life serving a justified civil penalty for the crime. Jesus was clearly telling us that for the sake of His Truth, and out of love for Him, we should be willing to follow all His commands no matter what the cost. If we spend the rest of our lives in jail, or literally lose our lives for upholding His higher law, we have truly laid down our life for the Friend who did far more for us. The following verse makes that very clear... "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14).
Let's Fight by His Rules!
"If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15)
Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries.
Second Edition. This electronic version does not