What would a church service look like in Hitler’s Germany? As people disappeared, never to be heard from again, and as reports came back of mass exterminations, would the sermons address these horrors? Would they instead be content to continue to just preach salvation and sanctification? Would the leadership argue that the church has no business preaching politics? Would the pastor not mention Jews being herded onto cattle-cars? Would he not direct a public outcry?
However, we need not place ourselves in Hitler’s Germany to ask these questions. Today, we are surrounded by reports, photos, and even boastings of genocide, beheadings, and the kidnapping of thousands of wives and girls for sex slavery. For example, in Nigeria alone, many thousands of Christians have been slaughtered and kidnapped:
- On April 14, 2015, Amnesty International released a report detailing the brutality of the Nigeria-based, radical Islamist group Boko Haram. The report estimated that more than 2,000 women and girls have been captured by the group since the beginning of 2014. http://ow.ly/LHzbs
The horrors have reached proportions that have never before been seen. Entire communities of Christian have been utterly destroyed. Countries have been emptied of Christians, and the persecutors threaten to continue their rampages, aided by many nations. The church can no longer remain silent. We can no longer claim that we are called to preach the “Gospel” alone! Instead, the Gospel has profound implications.
Jesus certainly didn’t limit His teachings to matters of salvation and sanctification. For Him, the Gospel had to express itself in action:
- "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' … The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:34-45)
We can no longer shy away from these concerns, fearing that we might lose church members or politicize the Gospel. Instead, the Gospel requires us reach out to the oppressed. Our brethren are being kidnapped into sexual slavery and the males are beheaded through no fault of their own.
We have never conceived of such mass horrors, and yet we remain silent, and our silence makes a mockery of our religion. God cries out through the Prophet Isaiah:
- "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
However, the church is confronted with far worse today – the extermination of entire populations of Christians and other non-Muslims! Why then do we remain silent? Are we afraid of the results? Ironically, if we are really concerned about the results, we must act:
- If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:10-11)
We cannot model our lives after the priest who passed by the dying man. If we love our neighbor, we must instead model our lives after the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). What did his religion look like?
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
If this is true, we have to cry out for the oppressed! We have to awaken the conscience of the church.
What if we fail to raise our voices? It is nothing short of sin:
What if we fail to raise our voices? It is nothing short of sin:
- Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (James 4:17)
However, it is even worse. It is a betrayal and a rejection of the Gospel, which requires us to show the world our love for the brethren:
- “I [Jesus] pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
But do our responsibilities end at the point of raising our voices against injustice? Is civil disobedience ever legitimate? This is a very difficult question. Why? For one thing, every situation is different and civil disobedience can take many different forms. And then we must deal with the verses that would seem to argue against breaking any laws. Here are some of the main verses:
- And Jesus answered and said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17)
- Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. (Romans 13:1-6)
- Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
Can we demonstrate in front of the embassies of nations that support terrorism? Certainly, as long as it’s legal. But what if it is not legal? Peter had written to “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man.”
This is troubling, because some laws are unjust. The Apostles also understood this. When the Sanhedrin commanded the Apostles to no longer preach the Gospel, they responded that God and His commands had to be their first priority:
- But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
They declared that they were willing to break the law in order to fulfill God’s commands. This was something that even the Sanhedrin should have understood:
· But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.” (Acts 4:19)
Israelites had broken the law of the land on many occasions in order to follow the law of God. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, had been instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male Hebrew newborns. However, they secretly defied his instructions in order to save the lives of the newborns, and God was pleased because they had obeyed Him:
· So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. (Exodus 1:20-21)
They are many other exceptions to the Biblical teaching to obey those in command. Daniel, his three friends, and Mordecai refused to bow before their respective rulers.
Rahab of Jericho hid the Israelite spies and lied to the Jericho authorities about their whereabouts and saved their lives. Consequently, Scripture commended her for resisting her own authorities as an act of faith (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), not of sin.
We have a responsibility to honor God above our civil authorities, especially when life and death are involved:
- Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, "Surely we did not know this," does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? (Proverbs 24:11-12)
We have a responsibility for our brethren above all others (Galatians 6:10), especially as they face destruction in many Communist and Islamic nations. This brings us to the perplexing teachings about enduring “unjust suffering”:
- Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:18-21)
Do these verses teach us to allow the “unjust suffering” of others? Should we pass by a Christian who is being raped or kidnapped because “it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering?” Of course not! Instead, many verses require us to intervene (Luke 10).
Why then are we taught to tolerate unjust suffering as opposed to exposing it (Ephesians 5:11) and reporting it to the authorities? Is this a contradiction? Not at all! While a Christian employee should treat his unjust boss with respect and kindness for the sake of his boss’ soul, he also can report workplace abuse.
Paul and Silas had every reason to escape when an earthquake had destroyed the bars that had unjustly held them captive. However, for the sake of the jailor, they did not! Instead, they used this occasion to preach the Gospel, something of even greater importance than their own liberty. And this led to the salvation of the jailor and his family.
However, when the town authorities wanted to quietly force Paul and Silas out of town, Paul demanded redress:
· But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. (Acts 16:37-39)
We must demand legal protections for those unjustly suffering, even as we trust that the Lord will provide for them, if not here, then in the next life. But this is God’s role. We have our own ordained role to play:
· “’For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:35-40)