First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Taking a superficial look across history, one soon realizes that much of history is made on war, government, rebellion, religion, and social unrest. Some events in history are frowned upon: Napoleon, Nazi Germany, English Monarchy in the Middle Ages, Stalin’s genocide, Tienanmen Square in China; while others are viewed with approval. From thousands of years of history, we have drawn many paragons, and many models of bad behavior. Many of the role models we draw from are those who rebelled against faulty or tyrannical governments, and government policies. Such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce, or Martin Luther King Jr. We see such individuals as promoting the values we hold and use them to demonstrate the positive elements that have shaped the world as we know it today.
Yet, when we view the misbehavior of government and the individuals who fought it, we often perceive it as a distortion or disfigurement of the purpose and operation of proper government — not as an argument against the existence of government itself. For only a few today argue that anarchy is the best course of action. Thus, we have built over history an idea that proper government and society consist of values like equality, fairness, security, privacy, and freedom. But simply because certain historical figures have fought in favor of such values, while others against, does not give credence or credibility to either claim. The questions are raised: What is the proper function of government? What gives us the idea that certain values are better held by society that others?
A common, and purely secular, response is that we believe in such values because they are beneficial to the advancement or substantiation of our social structures. Yet, this response only engenders the inevitable question: Why do we know that advancement or substantiation of society is laudable in the first place? Indeed, such a statement purports a value similar to the ones we are trying to explain; the same questions apply. In addition, how does treating all as equal in society advance it? Would it not be better to vault the fortunate, rich, and intelligent upon our shoulders and look down upon those who aren’t any of those things? Where did these ideas come from?
Interestingly enough, many of the characters from history we consider laudable were either Christian, or supported Christian values. Indeed, the three examples listed above (Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce, and MLK) were all very frank about their belief in Christ. Values like equality, aiding the less fortunate, and the sanctity of human life, are all Christian values — they did not appear out of thin air; and certainly not coincidentally to devout Christians. This is something that was emphasized by Eric Metaxas’ speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.
To believe that held values are legitimate, they must apply to all people at all points in history. If equality only applied during the time when William Wilberforce was fighting against slave trade, or Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for equal treatment by society, then equality is not a legitimate value. For it would only apply in certain circumstances according to our own definitions. Thus, if we believe that slave trade and discrimination are still wrong, then the value which prohibits such acts must be universal and timeless. Yet man is neither of those things, so it it follows that such a value cannot be created by man — it must be created by a being who is also universal and timeless. We call Him God.
However, some would argue that rebellion is simply not a “Christian” thing to do. The claim often originates from verses like Romans 13:1-2:
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 judgment on themselves.
Some would argue from these verses to claim that any rebellion against governing authorities is unbiblical and sinful. However, when you read those verses in context, you realize that they establish the proper role of government to maintain law and order; not a universal prohibition against rebellion. For if such an interpretation of these verses were true, why would Jesus remain silent in court before Cesar and allow the crowd to believe He committed a crime worthy of painful death? In fact, Jesus throughout the gospels challenged faulty religious authorities. However, He never challenged the government’s ability to maintain law and order. Indeed, the guards took Jesus without incident on the night of His arrest. And throughout the book of Acts apostles of Jesus went peaceably with the law when arrested, though they never declined to speak the Word of God.
Suddenly the subject becomes much more complicated than a facial reading of the verses in Romans. It appears that the Bible instructs Christians not to rebel against the proper exercise of governmental authority, but the abuse of power to violate the values God has established.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an ordained minister, not some crazy lunatic who had only read seven verses of scripture. Yet his belief in Christ, and Christian values, led him to fight the Nazi regime as an inappropriate, crude, and gruesome exercise of the power granted to the government by God. Wilberforce’s belief in Christ led him to resist the English slave trade, because God tells us that he made each of us in His image making us sacred. MLK fought for social equality for very similar reasons that Wilberforce fought the slave trade.
Bonhoeffer is famous for his “three possible ways in which the church can act towards the state.” The first was to aid the state by questioning the legitimacy of a given action. The second was to “aid the victims of state action” because the church “has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” And third, the duty of the church “is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.” That is, the Christians are to jam the wheel (i.e. stop the state). God does not call us to violence, He calls us to follow His commands and will. Whenever possible, we follow God with peace and non-violence. As in the examples of Wilberforce and MLK.
However, the Bible does not call us to be pacifists. For if that were true, why would Jesus have turned the tables in the temple courts? (John 2:15 “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”) It is important to remember that our first duty is to God, not government (Acts 4:19).
What is crucial to understand is that the government only gains its legitimacy from God (Romans 13:1 “. . . for there is no authority except that which God has established”). When the government starts acting in ways that violate the basic values established by God, the Christian point of view says that the government has lost its legitimacy; and, thus, has lost its authority. To restore Christian values to government is to restore its legitimacy.
In many cases, God gave insight to individuals to see the abuse of His granted power and the abuse of the values He established. For centuries slavery was not considered wrong. And yet today we treat it as a horrendous act that has always been crime against humanity. Why? Because God, through certain individuals, opened the eyes of the blind.
In case you haven’t heard, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recently mandated private health insurance plans include “preventative services” which include all FDA-approved sterilization procedures and contraceptive methods. The only exemption to this mandate are for actual houses of worship; whereas Christian businesses, schools, and other providers will be obligated to provide such services.
Protestants, Catholics, and Jews have united against the mandate and many are arguing for religious freedom granted under the American Constitution. Such means may be effective in defending religious values, but as Christians and believers in the transcendent God we must also make the moral argument that the values established by God prohibit promiscuity and abortion. However, such arguments are useless when they are not delivered prayerfully and with the Holy Spirit.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
The life of the unborn is as sacred as the life of those already born. The life of the unborn is as sacred as the life of a slave. The life of the unborn is as sacred as the life of those imprisoned in Hitler’s concentration camps. This is one of those values God has given us which others are blind to.
Many today argue that “unwanted” children are inconvenient and proceed to claim that abortions are just or part of a right. But surely it was more convenient for farmers to own slaves than not. And surely Hitler at least thought that allowing Jews to live was “inconvenient.” The issue is about much more than convenience, it is about the moral questions that abortion raises.
Let us pray that God would open the eyes of the blind to see the life that lives inside the womb. What is needed here is not so much a change in the government mandate, but a change in the hearts and minds of the American society — something that can only be done with the power of God.
40 million babies
Lost to Gods great orphanage,
It’s a modern day genocide
And a modern day disgrace
If this is a human right
Then why aren’t we free?
The only freedom we have is
In a Man nailed to a tree.
100 million faces,
Staring at the sky,
Wondering if this HIV
Will ever pass us by.
. . .
The West has found a gun
And it’s loaded with ‘Unsure’
Nip and tuck if you have the bucks
In a race to find a cure.
–Our God Reigns by Delirious?
As President’s day approaches and subsides, let us remember the importance of praying for God to give wisdom to our leaders as the burden on them is great.