By Pastor Roger Skepple
Like many of you, I have been horrified as I have watched the unfolding of the most recent senseless police killing of an unarmed black man and the predictable outcome of rioting and looting that ensued. There is a temptation in these types of situations to sigh and tell oneself, “Here we go again,” but this only serves to lessen the seriousness and diabolic nature of this type of abuse of authority. But as normal in these types of situations, individuals whom I am responsible to shepherd as a pastor or people who are aware that I am a pastor seek me out in hopes of gaining an understanding of how Christians ought to respond in a situation like this. I hope that my thoughts on these types of situations will help you to think through these matters on a biblical level, even if you do not agree with my conclusions.
The experience of injustice was not begun by 21st century America power structures and will continue as long as the world continues to exist. The treatment of the powerless in any given circumstance, no matter what their racial makeup, concerned God enough to make sure that His people avoided such behavior and sought to banish it within the divine community itself (cf. Lev. 19; Jam. 2). But, these situations that we see plastered over the news and social media, happened not within the church, but outside of it. The world is evil and evil will reign within the human experience until Christ returns and rules the world with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:15). However, the godly live within a society and a historical context, so not only do we have to experience these acts of injustice, we are oftentimes asked to speak to them or respond against them. What should guide us in these times?
First and foremost, we cannot avoid the fact that Jesus Himself lived in a time of great injustice. The Jewish people convulsed with anger and animosity towards their Roman overlords, who although they allowed the legality of their religion, hated their ethnicity, despised their monotheism and greatly curtailed their freedoms and rights. The Jews lived on the razor’s edge of Rome’s might that could any time come down on them without having to justify or vindicate their actions. Within this context the zealot party arose that had the popular support of the Jewish people, but the resistance of the official leadership who were unwilling to take the drastic, militant steps the zealots advocated and acted upon. The zealots, known for riots throughout the history of the Jewish people before and after the birth of Christ, would rather burn the whole thing down than comply to the jack booted thugs of the Roman empire. Their railing and fighting against the system would eventually lead to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in a.d. 70, which would alter the Jewish people forever.
The official leadership of the people, on the other hand, felt the constant tension of being Jewish and needing to comply to survive, evidenced in John 11, when they met to try to make sense of the Jesus issue. Their words to each other exposed the sense of powerlessness and impotency that they felt regarding the Roman people who could take any advantage of any situation to exert their control at anytime, “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn. 11:48). Of course, the leadership missed the true meaning and purpose of Christ with their unsaved selfishness evidencing a concern for themselves alone. However, they knew that resisting Rome was fruitless and sought to get along to survive.
But, the circumstance of the Jews was not just felt due to some far off leadership group at the capital of the empire. In Jesus’ time a man named Pilate, and avowed anti-Semite, had gained control of the governorship of their province. Pilate was the prefect of the regions of Judea, Samaria, and south of the Dead Sea to Gaza. He served in this office from a.d. 26-37. Like many politicians, Pilate gained his post through his connections, particularly the anti- Semite, Sejanus, the commander of the elite Praetorian Guard. That Pilate maintained an antagonistic relationship with the Jews throughout his ten years of serving as their prefect, goes without question. While previous prefects had tried to walk a careful line between Roman expectations and Jewish customs, Pilate completely disregarded the latter and history records for us several incidents of Pilate purposefully antagonizing the Jewish people. These incidents, far from engendering the two to each other, exasperated an already strained relationship between the Jews and Romans. While riots were a sure sign to Rome that you were unable to control your district, and none had occurred yet, these negative encounters came close and eventually Pilate would be recalled for his actions that where meant to provoke and disregard the Jewish people. It was one of those incidents that drew Jesus into the conflict between the Romans and the Jews and between the zealots and the Jewish leadership.
It was actually brought up to Jesus in Luke 13, where we read, “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (13:1). The situation was horrific. Jewish worshipers who had come to present their offerings to God, were slain by Pilate and their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices. This reeks of godlessness and racial animosity. Only someone who hated the Jewish people, because of their ethnicity, would do something like this. And surely, Jesus, a Jewish Galilean Himself, would have something to say about it, some sort of empathy for those slain, in this most horrific of manners possible. The response of Christ was not what many people who read the Bible through the modern lens of “social” justice would expect. His response evidenced a priority system quite different from the world’s. Luke recorded His response, “2 And He answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (13:2-3).
Jesus would not accept the bait and side with either the zealots, who advocated overthrow, or the leadership, who advocated acquiesce. Rather, His focus was set like a laser on one thing, the kingdom of God and the need for people to repent or perish. Jesus saw temporal injustice in light of eternal consequences. However, Jesus was not finished. No, He did not misspeak or slip up with His first answer. He went on to reinforce what He had just stated, “4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (13:4-5). Maybe the Galileans were offering sacrifices for their sinfulness and they were judged for it by God. That would seem strange, but maybe that was possible. But what of these individuals, minding their own business. Jesus’ mind was fixated on one thing. People needed to realize that they had to repent or their situation in hell will surely surpass the pain and death those individuals experienced in time.
Jesus and Christians are very lopsided on these issues. We tend to weigh things that happen in time, based on the significance of eternity in heaven or hell, or at least we should. We understand that there is no answer for these things within the human sphere. There is no solution that coming together will ever accomplish. The problem is sin and the solution is not justice, the solution, if someone is really interested in finding it out, is repentance and faith in the Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:15). This is not understood by the unsaved world nor by the unconverted religious either. George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer who should be behind bars, if not executed for his behavior, was not any more or less a sinner than any other human being. What occurred to him was a manifestation of sin’s existence in the world and sin will continue to plague the human race until Christ comes back. The thing that anyone with any sense should do in light of the evil that men perpetrate on one another is to repent. And those who have repented, should be trying to expose all the people that they know to the fact that their obligations before God demand a divine eye towards the matters on the earth. Entrance into the kingdom of God should be that for which we are advocating.
But some in reading this post will ask, “Since I have the legal right to protest in the United States of America, can I do so, as a Christian.” In a couple of different series on human government that I preached from 1 Peter 2:13-17 and later from Mark 12:13-17 I gave some guidelines that I include here for your benefit. For the biblical justification for these guidelines, I would refer you to the first of these series, 1 Peter 2:13-17, on our church app:
“Well, let me give you a little side note before trying to layout some guiding principles. The believer who is an American ought to be extremely thankful to be an American, to be a citizen of a country which made dissent legal.
Because we have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, the right to private property ownership, security, and trial, unlike the vast majority of human beings on the earth today, we can protest our government and do so without breaking any laws and without fear of losing our freedom or our property. Try protesting in China, Russia, or North Korea and see what happens to you. How much protesting would there really be in the US, if when you got home you realized that the government had confiscated your house because of your protesting? Not much. It is a great thing to be a citizen of this country. It is a marvelous blessing that we have. The Christians in the Bible’s day did not have what you as an American have. You ought to be so thankful that you are an American citizen.So, let me give you the principles I concluded with last year. If you would like to hear them with my elaborations please refer to my concluding message from last year’s fall conference. It’s on the church app.
- First, no actions taken in any protest by the believer can violate a specific command given by God.
- Second, all directives given by the government or the police force which represents it, such as disperse or move back, during such protesting, must be faithfully followed while the Christian protests.
- Third, believers must not compromise their doctrines or witness by setting up covenantal relationships with groups or individuals who are explicitly anti- Christian.
- Fourth, the believer cannot himself nor can he participate in a situation that follows the laws of the land regarding legal protests, while at the same time breaking other laws. For example, he cannot be a part of or himself both protest and destroy the property of others. Unless you were confused, destroying another’s property is against the law.
- All laws must be followed when following the laws associated with protesting. Fifth, the believer must be careful not to allow himself to begin to actually think that any lasting change that will truly alter a person’s or group’s life and trajectory is possible through protesting and activism. It is not the arm of men that the true Christian trusts, it is the arm of God. Regeneration is what people need and is that which will bring about ultimate change.
- Anything produced by men, can be undone by man or the decisions of men.
- Based on our study of Jesus’ statement here, I would like to add a sixth point to the five I gave to you last year. Sixth, remember what the psalmist said in Psalm 119:134. Those desires that believers possess are related to the clear revelation of God. In other words, if we are going to claim something as being done because of the will and directive of God, it must have the clear directive of Scripture behind it. Protests to better one’s life in the world cannot and must not be confused with protests regarding violations against the specific precepts of God being violated. The confusion of the two discredits Christianity and makes us nothing more than a social organization.
So, if you choose to protest do so biblically, rather than perversely
- Do not violate a specific command of God
- Obey all directives given by the government and its representatives when protesting
- Do not covenant with anti-Christian, anti-biblical groups
- Do not join in or engage with protesting that breaks the law
- Place your hope in the gospel and not activism and protesting
- Do not confuse protesting against secular disagreements with fighting for God’s will