Later, in the book of Acts, the apostles and other of the Lord’s disciples found themselves alternately in conflict with both the religious establishment and civil authorities. Overall, the same pattern emerges"¦conflict with the civil authorities comes about largely due to the pressure and antagonism of the apostate theocratic establishment. Today, the church particularly in America- finds itself in the midst of a hotly charged political climate; as well as an increasingly apostate Evangelical culture. As such, the Bible presents an interesting dichotomy when it comes to the interaction of believers with both political leadership and religious apostates. Note the following examples:
You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matt 12:34)
An evil and adulterous generations craves for a sign"¦(Matt 12:39)
Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind"¦ (Matt 15:14)
You are of your father the devil"¦ (John 8:44)
These are a few among many graphic rebukes Jesus levels against the religious deceivers of His day. He did not hesitate to employ terms such as hypocrite, liar, wolves, evil, etc"¦ when addressing or referring to deceivers among God’s people. Yet, as is partially seen in His interaction with Pilate, Jesus had relatively little to say and used much more subdued language when he addressed civil authorities. Again, observe some of the language used by the apostles in addressing religious opposition:
Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit"¦? (Acts 5:3)
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and hears are always resisting the Holy Spirit"¦ (Acts 7:51)
You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? (Acts 13:10)
The last excerpt from Acts 13 included perhaps the most severe language and comes from the mouth of the apostle Paul against a fellow Jew who was both an occultist and false prophet (both of which we have no shortage of in the church today). But Paul would later appear before the Roman governor Felix and defend himself with a rather measured tone. (Acts 24) He appears before King Agrippa in Acts 26 and, without trying to ingratiate himself to the king, he addresses him with a calm respect due the office. In other words, the example of Scripture indicates that government officials (whether personally virtuous or not) are to be addressed in respectful terms and treated with dignity because of their office. Any measure of vituperation is always reserved for religious hypocrites, deceivers, and apostates who mislead the church.
I have become somewhat troubled by the tone and some of the rhetoric from within the evangelical camp lately. It seems we have no shortage of Christians who are willing to denounce some of our political officials using abrasive and sometimes vitriolic language (The most frequent target, of course, seems to be our president). From forwarded e-mails, to table talk, to articles published by Christian organizations, there seems to be a dissatisfaction growing within the church which leads to outbursts of bold rebuke for their elected officials.
Because I have a general distrust of most politicians, and would probably agree with many of the charges leveled against them in these tirades, I can partially understand the sentiment. We must always identify sin as sin, no matter where it rears its head.
Furthermore, I have no problem with policy debates in matters of either doctrine or politics. I may even overlook some of the incivility and harsh language that accompanies the conversation"¦ if not for two glaring deficiencies that have been cast on much of the church as this whole narrative unfolds"¦Inconsistency and cowardice.
How often do you hear leaders in the church attacked with the same zeal that politicians are? I have heard Christians make inflammatory, ad hominem statements against President Obama, and weeks later try to defend such deceivers as Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and Benny Hinn. More than once I have received emails warning that President Obama may be the Antichrist; however, few of my Christian friends (I thank God for the one’s who do) ever send me warnings about Chuck Colson’s efforts to join evangelicals in union with the Antichrist institution of the Pope and its unbiblical gospel.
The inconsistency is troubling at the very least. We will give account for the things we speak. God will hold us accountable for the things that we say, and perhaps also for the things we fail to say. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to each of his young helpers: Timothy and Titus.
We learn in 1 Timothy that Paul left Timothy in his leadership role in Ephesus for the explicit purpose of standing against false teaching (1:3-4). It is in this context that he encourages him to "fight the good fight" (1:18) And then, something fascinating happens"¦after employing the language of combat to exhort Timothy to protect the church and contest false teachers, Paul instructs that believers should be in prayer for the governing authorities over them, ""¦in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (2:2)
In one breath he is promoting warfare, the next"¦tranquility. This may be considered incidental, except for the fact that his letter to Titus includes even more such contrasts. Paul emphasizes to Titus that elders "must be able"¦to refute those who contradict." (1:9) He refers to these men as deceivers and says they must be silenced (1:10-11) He calls them "detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed." (1:16) But, just as he wrote to Timothy, Paul shifts the focus -and changes his tone- when discussing governing authorities:
Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be un-contentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (3:1-2)
These prescriptive verses command explicitly what Jesus and the apostles exemplified.
Pastors would do well to help their congregations understand current geopolitical events in light of Biblical prophecy. The church should speak out concerning moral issues and stand for Biblical principles. The Bible is largely silent on the topic of political engagement; it is certainly not forbidden but neither is it emphasized. The 1st century disciples were from diverse political backgrounds. From Jewish nationalists zealots to Roman collaborators; but when the Messiah came, their politics didn’t matter. They left all to follow Him. I dare say, when He comes again, our politics won’t matter much either. But our testimony will. And we will give account for every word spoken.
Why is it then, that so much of the conversation coming from 21st century disciples concerns politics? Why is it that less and less concerns an in depth engagement of Scripture? Why is it that so much of the church’s speech about political leaders is as spiteful and inflammatory as most of the television news shows? And why indeed are we as timid in reproving false teachers within the church as we are bold in condemning our civic leaders outside the church?
The simple answer may be that we are witnessing the relentless decline of the apostate church of Laodicea. Or, the answers may be more complex and beyond the scope of this brief address. But it seems to me the questions are valid. And we must each address them honestly. The next time we decide which email we will forward. The next time the "small group Bible study" discussion turns to heated political rhetoric. The next time a dear brother or sister lines up to be mislead by some deceiver in the church. At each opportunity, we must make sure the content, tone, and purpose of our speech is appropriately Biblical.
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. (Col 4:5-6)