Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

24 Mar 2021

When Your Authority Becomes Your Enemy

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Post-Christian society is full of deniers—Christians unwilling to cede the loss of Christian influence and often unaware that this loss has irreparably occurred in American culture. These deniers are still agitating to restore Christian privilege: getting the Bible and prayer back into public schools, getting the Ten Commandments back into courthouses, getting a real Christian back in the White House, getting special exemptions for churches facing COVID, and so forth. When the world rages at them, they rage back—and their efforts exacerbate rather than conciliate. They’re making things worse. Don’t be one of these people. Raging against authority never makes things better. Ever.   

Among those who have come to grips with our secularized society, some advocate for escape, but this is hard to do in today’s world. Gone are the days when one can flee to the unregulated frontier, migrate to a more Christian-friendly country, or start over in “the new world.” There’s nowhere left to go. At best the escapist can withdraw and pursue the “Benedict Option”: isolate himself in counter-cultural communities and stay away from the bad people. 

But escape and withdrawal are rarely the biblical solution to oppression at the hands of our authorities. Spouses trapped in oppressive marriages can pursue escape biblically in only the most egregious of circumstances. Believing citizens in oppressive societies only rarely receive divine encouragement to flee, and never, so far as I can recall, in the New Testament. Oppressed church members may find relief in God’s censure of their ecclesiastical oppressors (1 Cor 11; Jas 1; etc.), but look in vain for permission to abandon the assembly on account of that oppression. Even slaves are to “retain the place in life that the Lord assigned and to which God has called them” (1 Cor 7:17, 21).

Another alternative is to hunker down and endure whatever oppression we face. There’s some validity to this approach: the Bible has much to say about humble endurance and willing suffering. And while being “gentle and lowly” is surely not Christ’s only or primary deportment, we surely are spiritually impoverished if these sentiments have no place at all in our Christian walk. Still, the Bible does not seem to warm appreciably to the tie-a-knot-at-the-end-of-the-rope-and-hang-on approach to life. Biblical endurance is more the flourishing variety.

So if we’re not to rise up, get out, or hang on, what’s left for the oppressed Christian? Simply (but not really), we are to do our Christian duty in humble, counter-cultural confidence, “being obedient, ready for every good deed, maligning no one, acting peaceably, gently, and showing every consideration for all men,” avoiding all unnecessary controversy, dispute, and factionalism (Titus 3:1–9). We need not avoid dialogue, but when we do engage, we must “prepare” our answers and offer them “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against our good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” We may suffer for our answers, but we can sleep at night knowing that we are suffering for the content, not the pugnacious delivery, of those answers (1 Pet 3:15ff).

As Christians, we will suffer. Oppression is our lot, and the perpetrators of that oppression are legion—governors, employers, spouses, even (perhaps the most difficult of all) churches. Some of these oppressors even make themselves our enemies! But even here the Bible is not without answers: our final appeal in such cases is to God himself: we love and pray for those who treat us despicably (Matt 5:44). If we can get these basic principles down, our world will not automatically become an easier place in which to live, but we can at least be at peace with ourselves, with our God, and as much as lies within us, with all men.  

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