Civil Obedience and the Secularization of America

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, 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 people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Pet. 2:13-17; NIV

I have been thinking of a day, and it may not be very far from now, when Christians must go underground again, like the early church did, in order to teach God's word and avoid imprisonment. It's a chilling thought. I was raised with a sense of security, this idea that I lived in a Christian nation. Churches seem to be on every corner. I knew that Christian beliefs were under attack in other countries, but not here. I couldn't envision a day when I could not worship Christ in freedom, or when the government would protect that right only if I conformed to a certain set of secular values that were, in themselves, in contradiction to the teachings of Christ.

This is a child's naiveté, fortified by being raised in a Christian home. This country is not Christian. Not in the way we see defined in the New Testament. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 4:4 that Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the minds of unbelievers. If he's the god of this world, he's the god of this country. We watch as the Supreme Court rules in direct contradiction to the words of Christ, and we become confused. It is unclear how we should respond, what there is to fight for, and what the prospects are of winning the battle.

There isn't a battle, there are many battles. I am certain this is not the biggest one; we've already lost the biggest one. And so many others. In time, what we call Christianity has calmly absorbed the values pressed onto us, and in some cases, made allowance for them. We spread secular values by overlooking them. Some pastors tell church members that their sins are permissible, even understandable. “Your spouse has spoken harshly to you? That's abuse; God has given you the freedom to get divorced. You have already gotten remarried? Move ahead with confidence, God will bless you anyway. And also in your next couple of marriages.” It's amazing the empowerment that we receive to continue to sin boldly if the church is always prepared to tell us that it's okay. That the path of least resistance is somehow the path that Jesus calls us to.

I have been studying 1 & 2 Peter recently, and 1 Pet. 2:13-17 jumped out at me. How do we reconcile this with the increasing secularization of our country? Are we commanded to stop fighting, or to stop making a stand for what we believe?

Peter envisions a situation where the government is actively persecuting people for their faith, and there is no option to change anything but civil disobedience. His instruction is to respond to the law of the land. But don't misunderstand his words. His instruction is not to disobey Christ just because the government tells you to. If the law commands you to disobey Christ, you must break the law, but then be prepared to submit and answer for your crimes. Peter tells us that we are nonetheless to do good, so that the world understands what we really believe and cannot speak badly of our faith.

We are not at that spot yet. We have other options than civil disobedience - for the moment. But we are clearly on a trajectory. As the government lines up even more consistently against the teachings of Christ, it is an opportunity for us, to make a stand but also to show the world who we follow. To make it clear that we are in opposition to what is happening, but in a way that will draw people to the one we serve.

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