Overturning Roe?

By now you have heard of the news that the Supreme Court of the United States is poised to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade case, which had essentially codified abortion access as a federally protected right. The decision to overturn Roe would mean a reversal on a nearly-50 year precedent, which would send the laws around abortion access to individual states to determine. It does not make abortion illegal, but almost certainly would mean heightened restriction on abortion in many areas of the country.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to break down the technicalities of the law. I’m not a political commentator, so I’m not going to give you my hot take on the issue. Instead, I’m a Christian and pastor, and so I am calling you to pray.

Pray that the decision to overturn Roe would not be thwarted by the efforts of those responding with intimidation to the leaked document.

Pray that the individual states would be able to pass legislation to further protect the life of the unborn.

Pray that more children would be spared as a result.

Pray that the hearts of mothers and fathers would be turned to their unborn children with affection and hope.

Pray that pro-lifers would not stop with overturning Roe, but would continue to advance the cause effectively.

Pray that those who oppose saving unborn babies would have a change of heart and mind.

Pray that this decision would also impact Canada, which has the most radical abortion access in the world.

Pray that Christians would respond with love to those who vehemently oppose them on this issue, while still standing firm in the truth.

Pray that pro-lifers would step up and support families who are in need of help.

Pray that crisis pregnancy centres would be resourced and staffed well to meet the needs of their communities.

Pray that the gospel would break out in a new way, transforming lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And in your prayers, don’t forget to give praise!

Praise God for allowing this to even be possible!

Praise God for Supreme Court justices making the right choice!

Praise God for those who have laboured for nearly 50 years to protect unborn children!

Praise God for giving unborn children greater protection in the womb!

Praise God for being gracious to us sinners, more gracious than we deserve!

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Ephesians 6:10–13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [13] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

How Many Times Was Jesus Anointed? A Comparison of the Four Gospels

Recently I preached a sermon from Mark 14:3-11 which records an account of Jesus being anointed with expensive perfume by an anonymous woman a few days before his crucifixion. You can view that sermon below if you’d like:

In my study for this message, I came across a bit of a dilemma. The four gospels all contain very similar accounts of Jesus being anointed by a woman while at a dinner party. The issue is that each account has some discrepancies in it. Not all of the details are the same, and some even appear to contradict each other. How many times was Jesus really anointed? Do these tell the same story? Or do they tell of multiple accounts? Did the authors get some information wrong? How can we reconcile these differences?

A Quick Primer on Gospel Harmonization

The first thing to say is, Don’t be alarmed. The gospel accounts of Jesus’s life differ from one another, and also have a lot of overlapping similarities. Bible scholars have written massive volumes to address these issues on possible ways to harmonize the gospel accounts together. This is nothing new. Some people get really freaked out when they learn that the gospels have some apparent contradictions, but many Christians have learned this fact and go forward with confidence in God’s Word and their faith intact.

As I looked at some of the material on this particular story, it was clear that different authors have come to different conclusions about how many times Jesus was anointed in the gospels. For example, the popular website GotQuestions concludes that the gospels record three separate events. On the other hand, the ESV Study Bible notes conclude that Jesus was anointed only twice. Naturally, others have come to different conclusions even from these.

I want to briefly present my own conclusion and how I came to it, which is in agreement with the ESV Study Bible. I believe Jesus was anointed twice, and that three of the gospels record the same account, with the other gospel (Luke) recording a separate incident.

The Data

First, to help get a quick overview of the stories, I’ve created this chart to outline the basic elements of each story and how they compare to one another.

As you can see, some elements compare very similarly with each other. At other times, they are quite different. Analyzing the text closely reveals some important things.

What We Know For Sure

There are two things we can determine fairly easily. The first is that Luke’s gospel records a unique event that no other gospel contains. This can be determined by observing several major differences from the other accounts.

(1) The timing of the event. Luke’s anointing account happens very early in Jesus’s ministry, while the others all happen near the final week leading up to his death.

(2) The location of the event. Luke’s account takes place in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Even though Matthew and Mark say their account happen in the home of Simon the leper, these are clearly two different individuals.

(3) The objection. In the other three gospels, the primary objection from onlookers is that the expensive perfume used to anoint Jesus is wasted. In Luke’s account, the objection is that the woman who is touching Jesus is a dirty sinner. These are significantly different objections.

(4) Jesus’s response. In the other three gospels, Jesus responds to the objections by stating that the poor can be helped any time, but he can only be anointed for his short time on earth. However, in Luke’s account, Jesus forgives the woman and tells a parable about the power of forgiveness. His response, like the objections given, is completely different.

For these reasons we can see clearly that Luke records his own unique account.

The second thing we can deduce right away is that Matthew are Mark record the same event. Simply put, their accounts are almost identical to each other. The only difference is that Matthew says “the disciples” objected, while Mark says only “some” objected. Quite frankly, this amounts to a difference only in detail of description, not of contradiction. For instance, if (hypothetically speaking) four of the disciples objected, it is not wrong to say either that “the disciples” objected or that “some” objected. They mean the same thing, with only difference in detail. So we are safe to conclude that Matthew and Mark are thinking of the same event.

What About John?

John’s anointing account is the one that is harder to square away. John’s account shares some significant similarities with Matthew and Mark:

  • They happen in Bethany within the week prior to Jesus’s crucifixion
  • They tell of a woman anoints Jesus at a dinner party with expensive perfume contained in an alabaster flask
  • Onlookers object to the “waste” of the perfume; it could have been sold and the money given to the poor
  • Jesus rebukes them, and defends the woman.
  • Jesus states that the poor can be helped any time, but he can only be anointed during his short time on earth.
  • Jesus states she has anointed him for burial (it is unclear if that was the woman’s intent or not).

Taken together, these sound an awful lot like the same event! However, there are some key differences that might undermine this theory:

  • Matthew and Mark’s account happens two days before Passover. John’s seems to happen six days prior. More on this later.
  • Matthew and Mark’s account takes place in the home of Simon the leper. John’s is unspecified, although he says that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are the ones who put on the dinner, so it could be in their home.
  • Matthew and Mark’s account state Jesus is anointed on the head. John states his anointing is on the feet of Jesus.
  • In Matthew and Mark’s version, seemingly multiple disciples object. In John’s account, only Judas is mentioned.

Do these details demand we assume John’s account records a third anointing? I think not. Here’s why.

A Possible Harmonization

First, it is entirely possible that John’s account takes place in the home of Simon the leper, with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus spearheading the event. John does not specifically state where the feast was held, only who put it on. Likewise, Matthew and Mark state where the feast was held, but not necessarily who organized it. These details do not explicitly contradict each other. It is within possibility that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus planned the event, while Simon was the host.

Second, it is entirely possible that Jesus was anointed on both the head and the feet—or, possibly, first on the head and then dripping to his feet. That each author highlights a specific part could be for their own thematic purposes. For example, Matthew might highlight the anointing of Jesus’s head since his gospel is continually pointing to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. We know this because Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other gospel writer. An ancient Israelite would have recognized anointing one’s head as a sign of kingship, similar to the anointing of Old Testament kings. On the other hand, John highlighting the anointing of Jesus’s feet and wiping with hair might be a primer to the washing of the disciples feet, a story only he records and the other gospel writers omit. In other words, the authors are pointing out specific details that fit into the major themes they are writing about in Jesus’s ministry.

Thirdly, it is not necessarily a contradiction when John says that Judas objected, while Matthew and Mark imply multiple objectors. Both can be true at the same time. For instance, if Judas is the one who vocalized the objection, and several other disciples nodded along in agreement, it would be true to say that (1) Judas objected, (2) “some” objected, and (3) “the disciples” objected. Again, this is not a contradiction but a difference in detail.

Fourth, we must deal with the difference in timing. This is certainly the most difficult detail to wrestle with. Matthew and Mark appear to say that the event happened 2 days before Passover, while John says it was 6 days before. Both can’t be true. So, which is it? Did one author misremember? Or did the event happen twice?

Let’s take a closer look at the texts and the introduction to each story:

Matthew 26:1-7 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, [2] “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, [4] and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. [5] But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” [6] Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, [7] a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.

Mark 14:1–3 It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, [2] for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” [3] And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

John 12:1–2 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. [2] So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.

I want you to notice that, technically speaking, each of these accounts can be read in a way that changes the order of events. In John, for example, it says explicitly that Jesus came to be Bethany six days before Passover. However, it does not say that the dinner took place right away. We simply assume that because it is the next thing stated in the text. Yet the text does not demand that this event have taken place on that specific day, but could have taken place at almost any point after his arrival in Bethany.

Matthew and Mark can be read the same way. In Matthew, Jesus enters Jerusalem in chapter 21, which is followed by several chapters of events and public teaching. Chapter 26 records the anointing, and verse six simply states that “when Jesus was at Bethany” these events occurred. In other words, Matthew could be going back in time to recount the event of the anointing. He does not explicitly say it is what happened next, simply that it happened while Jesus was in Bethany, which technically covers parts of the previous 5 chapters (Jesus travelled between Bethany and Jerusalem all throughout his final week). So Matthew might not be reporting in chronological order, but more by theme.

It is the same with Mark, where 14:3 simply says “while he was in Bethany” Jesus was anointed. Mark also has recorded some of the events after Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem over the previous two chapters. It might be that in 14:3 he is going back in time to record an event out of chronological order.

Again, this should not alarm us. When comparing the gospels, it is quickly apparent that the stories are definitely not always put in chronological order. They are often grouped according the themes out of chronological order. Put simply, the texts of Matthew, Mark, and John do not demand that this event take place in a specific pre-determined timeline. All three of them can be read as possibly telling an account that does not chronologically follow the previous or subsequent events.

Since it is at least possible to harmonize Matthew, Mark, and John, I think we should consider that the most likely possibility. This would be confirmed by the fact that the stories are far more similar than they are different. It would make very little sense, for example, to have a woman anoint Jesus for burial at a dinner party, and have the disciples raise the exact same objection, to which Jesus responds with the exact same correction, on two separate occasions only days apart. That seems to make no sense to me. It seems far more likely that these three gospels record the same event with differing details.

And let’s not miss the main point of the story! Mary, the sister of Lazarus, demonstrates a beautiful act of worship towards Jesus, who says that she will be remembered for what she has done. And here we are, thousands of years later, still talking about her and learning from her example!

Does God Always Side With the Marginalized?

With the incredible popularity of social justice talk in our culture, those within the Christian Church have had to try and sift through the ideas being pushed by the culture and determine which are supported by Scripture and which contradict it. I have written about this a lot already, but today I want to hone-in on the concept of marginalized people groups.

In the social justice framework, the general population is divided into oppressors and the oppressed. Whites are the oppressors, racial minorities are the oppressed. Men are the oppressors, women are the oppressed. Heterosexuals are the oppressors, homosexuals are the oppressed. And so on and so forth. This “oppression” framework is the primary lens by which the social justice philosophy views the world. And since the Bible says a lot about God’s passion for justice, Christians are right to think through the implications of this philosophy.

Another word that gets used a lot is “marginalization”, or “marginalized” people groups. This label is functionally the same as the “oppressed” group label described above. Those who are marginalized are the same as those who are oppressed—or so goes the logic. With me so far?

Because of this, I hear a lot of Christians talking about God’s passion for the marginalized. “God is found on the outskirts of society”; “God is for the marginalized”; “God is most at work on the margins”. These kinds of concepts are trumpeted in churches all the time. But it is worthwhile to ask, is it true?

God certainly has concern for the marginalized. Consider a sampling of verses to demonstrate this point.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Proverbs 31:8–9 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 22:22-23 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.

Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Exodus 22:21 You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Ezekiel 22:29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.

And many, many more examples could be given! The Bible is packed full with commands to love and care for the marginalized. They are to be protected, and this is a justice issue before God.

This leads many to conclude that God is always on the side of the marginalized. Whole books and sermons have been created to that effect, with harsh rebuke for believers who may question this premise. The problem is that there is biblical warrant to question this premise, for some very important reasons.

To begin with, we must correctly identify who is oppressed in God’s eyes. There are certainly people who would be considered “oppressed” by our culture that are not seen that way by God. Even the poor are not always oppressed, as Scripture sometimes points out that poverty can be the result of one’s own poor choices. For example, Proverbs 10:4 says “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” So are the poor always marginalized? Likely. Are they always oppressed? No. Some poverty might be the fault of others, and some may be self-inflicted.

Since it is demonstrable from Scripture that social marginalization is not always the same as being oppressed, what exactly is the distinction between the two? The answer is simple. It needs to be determined what is the cause of marginalization. Some marginalization is the fault of others (legitimate oppression), some is the fault of the self (bad choices), and some is the result of happenstance (circumstances beyond anyone’s control).

Consider someone who is severely disabled. Perhaps that person is disabled because they were attacked by robbers are beaten nearly to death. This is an obvious example of terrible injustice. Or, perhaps that person is disabled because they got into a car accident while drinking and driving. This is not the result of oppression, but of poor choices. Or, perhaps that person is disabled because they were born that way, despite their mother living a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy. This also is not oppression, or anyone’s fault for that matter. It just is.

Each of these cases may experience marginalization, but not all of them are the result of oppression. However, the circumstances this person finds themselves in makes them particularly vulnerable to experiencing future oppression. This is precisely the idea Scripture is communicating when it tells us that God wants us to defend the lowly, the poor, the widow, the orphan, etc. It is not that these people are necessarily in those situations through oppression; rather it is that they are susceptible to oppression because of their current vulnerability. It is for this reason that God desires us to defend the marginalized. They are easy pickings for being taken advantage of.

Let’s recap. In the social justice framework, everyone who is marginalized is also oppressed. In fact, everyone who is marginalized got there through oppression. In Scripture, on the other hand, not everyone who is marginalized got there through oppression, although everyone who is marginalized is now more vulnerable to oppression. Therefore, when Scripture calls us to defend the marginalized, it calls us to defend them in their vulnerable state. It does not, however, claim that marginalization is due to oppression in every circumstance.

Do you see the important distinction? Modern social justice would have us believe that God always sees the marginalized as the oppressed. This is not the case. What Scripture teaches is that the marginalized may not be able to fend for themselves, and therefore we have a moral duty to ensure that they are not oppressed. These two things are not the same.

This brings us back full circle to our original question. Is God always on the side of the marginalized? The biblical answer is no. Consider this verse from the Old Testament law:

Leviticus 19:15 You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.

The principle is clear: individuals should be judged not by what people group they are in, but by their own righteous or unrighteous actions. To do otherwise is called “injustice” in this verse. Even in a court case, the poor (ie. marginalized) person should not be preferred or given special treatment. Likewise, neither should the wealthy or socially important. Instead, we are to judge righteously each individual without partiality. God calls this “righteous” and “just”.

Again, is God always on the side of the marginalized? Well, what if they are unrighteous? What if they rob, kill, or rape? Does God defend them de facto simply because they are marginalized? Absolutely not! The most straightforward and truthful thing to say is that God is on the side of righteousness. The apostle Peter puts it this way:

Acts 10:34-35 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

The Bible is clear that God is on the side of the righteous. He is on the side of those who fear him and do what is right. It is does not matter to him if a person is marginalized or not when it comes to the righteousness of their actions. They are judged without partiality based on what they do, not how much social power they have. We can safely conclude that the reason the Bible spends so much time defending the vulnerable is not because they are inherently more righteous, but simply because they are more at-risk. Someone with wealth or social standing can defend themselves when wronged. Someone without those assets cannot. So God places special emphasis on making sure that those people do not get neglected in terms of protection from injustice. But that is unequivocally not the same as saying God is always on their side without consideration of their righteous or unrighteous deeds. Even the marginalized can incur God’s wrath through unrighteousness, because holiness is what matters to God the most.

Let me conclude with an exhortation to fellow believers to be discerning. We are living in days where the meaning of words is not self-evident, and shifty language is used to steer one’s understanding of the truth off course. We need to be vigilant, robustly biblical, and study the Scriptures so we can correctly know God’s character and live out the values to which he calls us.

“Turning Red” Movie Review for Parents

I recently sat down to watch the latest Disney-Pixar movie “Turning Red”. I had literally no idea what the movie was about since I had never heard of it or seen the trailer. All I knew is someone said it was a movie about “self-regulation”. It sounded potentially interesting, since Pixar had previously made an exceptional movie about inner emotions (Inside Out). Boy was I in for a surprise!

This movie is not what I expected at all. In fact, it is nothing like any Pixar movie I have ever seen. The movie is about a 13-year-old girl named Mei, whose family runs a traditional-style Chinese temple near downtown Toronto. And although Mei certainly could use some emotional self-regulation, the movie is actually about her journey into womanhood by experiencing puberty—beginning with her first period. 

A Visual Metaphor (Spoilers Ahead)

Mei’s experience with puberty is symbolized in the movie by her unintentionally (at first) turning into a giant red panda whenever she is experiencing “big emotions”. The Mei we are introduced to at the beginning of the movie is completely unlike her alter ego. Mei is shown to be a straight-A student, good friend, and committed to her family. However, when the panda comes out, she is reckless, spontaneous, dishonest, disobedient, disrespectful, and disturbingly sexual. 

It is one thing for a film to explore the challenges that puberty will present. In all fairness to Pixar, they definitely chose a difficult subject to address. I would expect any movie addressing the challenges of puberty to present some hard realities, and Turning Red does so without reservation. My issue with the movie, however, is that the message of the film unapologetically endorses the actions of the panda character, rather than demonstrating them to be foolish, dangerous, and immoral. The film’s core message is that brash independence and sexual liberation should be embraced by 13-year-old girls. 

Lest You Think I’m Exaggerating

Let me give you some specific events and lines from the film to prove my point.

  • Mei’s friends call her “brainwashed” for helping in family chores around their temple. Throughout the movie she becomes increasingly more rude and disobedient to her parents. 
  • All of the women in the family (mom, grandma, aunt’s etc.) are critical and controlling. Mei’s father, on the other hand, is portrayed as quite pathetic and incompetent. There are no admirable adult characters in the movie.
  • As Mei becomes aware of her attraction to boys, she fawns over one who works nearby (a boy of 17) and secretly draws pictures of him shirtless and embracing her for a kiss. She draws other pictures that we don’t see but cause quite a reaction when her mother finds them. 
  • Mei and her friends also drool over the famous boy band coming to Toronto to play a concert.
  • To raise money for concert tickets, Mei sells pictures of herself in panda form to her classmates at school, taking selfies while her friends keep watch lest a teacher catch them in the act. What exactly is this supposed to illustrate? The sexual nature of these acts is further suggested when a boy blackmails her into attending his birthday party, threatening to expose the pictures to her mother. He says “I wonder if your mom knows you’ve been flaunting your panda all over school.”
  • Mei reluctantly attends the party (which has no adult supervision), partly for fear of exposing her behaviour to her mother, and partly because the boy pays for her to be there. The catch is that she must attend in panda form. Mei doesn’t really want to but determines “it will all be worth it in the end”. Again, what is this supposed to illustrate? Mei’s panda represents the womanly side of herself, a side she sells pictures of behind her parent’s back and is willing to flaunt for money. 
  • When Mei leaves the house in a condition her parents don’t approve of, she scoffs at them and says “my panda, my choice!”
  • Mei and her friends lie, a lot.
  • Towards the end of the movie, as Mei is embracing her panda side, she confronts her mother (in panda form) and shouts “I like boys! I like loud music! I like gyrating!” At this she slaps her behind and shakes it in front of her horrified mother. Disturbingly, she keeps doing it for a solid 10 seconds. 
  • At one point Mei declares “Be careful, honouring your parents sounds great, but if you take it too far, you might forget to honour yourself.”
  • The movie concludes with this line: “We’ve all got an inner beast. We’ve all got a messy, loud, weird part of ourselves hidden away. And a lot of us never let it out. But I did. How about you?”

Conclusion

Once again I’ll reiterate that a movie about teen puberty is a bold choice, but perhaps there is a way to pull it off with tact and wisdom. Turning Red has none of that. Rather, it is an in-your-face endorsement of every worldly value imaginable. Pixar is known for making high-quality movies with generally wholesome values that entire families can enjoy. This movie (rated PG) is a clear break from that path. 

I would not recommend watching this movie. It is not worth your time. But if you do decide to watch it, or watch it with your children, do so ready to have some important conversations afterward. You will need to contrast the sinful folly that is promoted with godly wisdom. This is a big task, considering the multiple themes that need addressing:

  • Managing sexual desires
  • Peer pressure
  • Obeying parents
  • Lying
  • Secrecy
  • Celebrity influence
  • Self-control
  • Digital safety
  • Modesty
  • Rudeness
  • Teen independence

Romans 12:1-2 tells us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This movie is a stark reminder that the world is eager to address tender subjects and disciple young people. Parents need to demonstrate a better path for their children than the one that the world offers, one that comes from a transformed mind that is able to discern what is good and honouring to God. 

Essentially, everything that Mei does, you should do the opposite. I would encourage parents to assess for themselves if the movie is a worthwhile learning moment or not. But I would remind all parents that it is non-negotiable that we need to be addressing these issues with our children, because the world certainly isn’t shy about doing it, and it won’t be promoting the kind of values that will help our children develop into godly and mature adults. 

Freedom Convoy and Who You Associate With

Late last night I spent a few hours in the freezing cold welcoming the Canadian trucker Freedom Convoy 2022. The convoy is potentially the largest in history, spanning many kilometres long and travelling from British Columbia to Ottawa, Ontario, our nation’s capitol. The convoy has stirred up a good bit of attention, both positive and negative, and so I thought I’d briefly pen a few thoughts about the movement itself and also the nature of associating oneself with large-scale movements.

The Freedom Convoy is primarily a peaceful protest against vaccine mandates in Canada. Both national and provincial governments have put many measures in place in an attempt to coerce unwilling Canadian citizens to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For many, these measures have cost them their jobs, the ability to travel by air or rail, and generally participate in everyday practices such as joining a sporting league or eating at a restaurant. To be unvaccinated in Canada is to be treated as a lesser-than citizen. The Freedom Convoy seems to initially have been specifically a protest against forcing truckers to be vaccinated in order to keep their jobs, but the movement has gained more widespread meaning since then.

The convoy has attracted some, shall we say, questionable supporters. This has caused some people who moderately support it to back away for fear of being associated with racists or anarchists or other troublesome groups. I also don’t really wish to be associated with such values, since they do not reflect my own. So, why participate then?

The answer has to do with my recent study of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers sought to push back against the corrupt rulership of the Catholic church and bring about reform. They wanted to purge the Church in such a way as to make it pure again, free from the many issues it was maligned with at the time. This was indeed a noble task. The problem was that this movement, godly and well-intentioned, also gathered the interest of the less godly and well-intentioned.

In his excellent book The Unquenchable Flame, author Michael Reeves recounts:

“Something both Luther and Zwingli faced was the presence of radicals. In both Wittenberg and Zurich there were those who thought that the Reformation was going too slowly, or not far enough.”

Sound familiar?

He details many of the challenges radicals presented. They often were violent, operating in uncontrolled mobs, drunk and disruptive. One radical, Thomas Muntzer, managed to rally ordinary citizens into battle with the army, where they were easily defeated, killed, and disbanded. Reeves discusses the outcome of this event:

“With [Muntzer] died much good will towards the Reformation. Many rulers, unable to distinguish between Muntzer and Luther, now became implacably hardened towards the movement as a whole. If Reformation meant rebellion, they were determined to crush it. As for those rulers who were able to make the distinction, their anger and suspicion were just as equally focused on all forms of radicalism. It would no longer be tolerated.”

The Reformation was not a clean-cut, clearly-defined movement. Some, like Luther and Zwingli, had noble intentions. They wanted to do away with empty ritualism and instead call people to repent from the heart. Their reformation was not primarily focused on outward religious displays but on inward spiritual vitality. Unfortunately, some of those who claimed to follow them didn’t share this intent. They simply hated the power of the Roman Catholic Church, but could not care less for their own sinfulness. The leaders of the Reformation sought to quell these rebellions and distinguish themselves from it, but with limited success. The eyes of the rulers saw them as functionally the same.

Surprisingly, this did not slow the Reformers one bit. In fact, it drove them harder. You would think that they would withdraw from their attempts at reform, but they pressed on nonetheless. This is because they knew they could not control the actions of others, but they could clearly articulate their own. And that they did! The Reformers were some of the most prolific writers in history, producing volumes of work outlining their beliefs and intent. That others twisted them for their own sinful purposes was not something they could ever hope to control.

I think it is much the same with any large-scale movement, including the Freedom Convoy. As I see it, many of the supporters of the movement are pushing back against legitimate government tyranny—a noble thing, in my regard. Yet the movement has also attracted those who simply hate the government, hate authority, and want to rebel in general. I don’t believe that reflects the majority, and it certainly does not reflect myself.

Over the last two years, I have written in blog posts and shared in podcasts my concern with the Canadian government. I have used legal means, such as writing to government representatives, to express my hopes that they will use their positions of influence to effect change. I have prayed for my country and for our leaders, and will continue to do so. In other words, like the Reformers, I have done what I can. In the Freedom Convoy, I see potentially the largest voice to date that expresses some degree of the concerns I share, although not without disagreement. I’m not a fan of flying the flag upside-down. I’m not a fan of the F*** Trudeau signs. But I am a fan of upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and granting each right in full to every Canadian citizen. That I can get behind.

In short, it is impossible to associate yourself with anything, ever, without some cost. Even calling myself a Christian, which I proudly do, conjures up some negative associations in the minds of people, associations I myself would rather distance myself from. So what should I do? Stop calling myself a Christian? No. Rather, I will call myself a believer and continually clarify what that means each chance I get. It also means I will do my best to extend that courtesy towards others, and not automatically assume the worst about them because of their associations.

As a random face is in a sea of people, there is little I can do to clarify my own thoughts and intentions amidst the crowd last night. I did find one opportunity, however. Part of the convoy included a motor home, the owners of which were encouraging people to sign as they traveled across the country. I found in this a tiny sliver of a chance to state my intentions, and quickly wrote these words:

I greatly value political freedom. I think it is a good gift worth preserving, and I believe that it is consistent with my Christian worldview. But what I value even more is personal freedom, the kind of freedom from sin and death and shame that only Christ can provide. My ultimate allegiance is, and always will be, to that cause. Many of the people I stood with don’t understand that. They need to. I wish for them to. And so after giving up a few hours of my night in the cold I go back to what I really want to commit my life to: the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the community of Sault Ste Marie, a people who need freedom in more ways than they realize.

Dear Christian, Let’s Talk About Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson is in the news again, first for his scathing criticism of diversity, equity, and inclusion policies in higher education—which caused him to recently resign from the University of Toronto—and shortly thereafter for his hours-long interview on the famous/infamous Joe Rogan podcast. Peterson has been a popular figure for several years now with millions of followers on social media, two best-selling books, and appearances on various well-known news outlets.

Interestingly, Jordan Peterson has gained a lot of popularity among evangelical Christians. I say “interestingly” because he doesn’t exactly fit the bill for your typical evangelical superstar. He is (or was), after all, a secular professor of psychology. Most non-Christian psychology professors don’t have very many positive things to say about Christianity, if any at all. So, what gives?

Peterson is not your average psychologist. One thing that sets him apart, and I believe is a major reason for the support from evangelicals, is that Peterson has a very high respect for the Bible, Judeo-Christian values, and belief in God. He has repeatedly noted that belief in God is necessary for a healthy society to function. He rightly recognizes that many of the blessings of Western society spring from its roots in Christianity. And, as the video below demonstrates, he recognizes that the Bible is true and the foundation for human order.

This is all, naturally, music to the ears of Bible-believing Christians. We hold to these beliefs as well, and it is nice to have them affirmed, rather than mocked, by such a famous public figure.

I would like, however, to add a word of caution to the Christian who is a fan of Peterson’s work. It is important to remember that we are called to be discerning people. Because of Peterson’s high regard for the Bible, it can be easy to assume that all of his ideas come from the pages of Scripture. As someone who has listened to and read a decent sampling of his work, I can assure you this is not the case. Peterson gets a lot of things right about the Bible, the nature of truth, human nature, societal dynamics, and the value of religion. He also gets a lot wrong, at least if you are assessing his ideas against the backdrop of Scripture. When I hear him speak about things related to the Bible or God or Christianity, I regularly say to myself, “That’s right, that’s wrong, that’s right, that’s wrong”. It is clear to me that he has a significant amount of understanding in reference to the Bible, but that understanding is often filtered through the lens of his psychology background.

Case in point. I read his book 12 Rules for Life and thought there was some good material in it. Much of the book I would describe as a non-fluffy self-help book. It was not your ordinary self-help book, but contained a lot more meat to it. I enjoyed that. I also recognized right away that the book is, when considered from a Christian frame of reference, something akin to moral legalism. Certainly many of his suggestions, or “rules”, you can find similar parallels for in the book of Proverbs or other portions of Scripture. But what Peterson misses is that the moral commands of God’s Word are grounded in a change of heart that is wrought by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. I do not think he really grasps the concept of being changed by grace, which is a foundational concept in Christianity. This is someone, after all, who has a high respect for Jesus Christ but has yet to fully submit to him as Saviour, Lord, and God in the flesh. Without that starting point, how can someone really say they understand the Christian faith?

Peterson’s famous line to “clean your room” has a lot of common sense to it. But it also springs from a moralistic framework of life, not the grace-based framework of Christianity. Recall Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he chastises them for mixing human moral efforts with the changing power of God in the life of the believer.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

The Galatian believers rightly believed that salvation was by grace—a work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. But then they wrongly fell into believing that afterwards their spiritual life was lived by human effort. Paul calls them “foolish” for living this way. God not only begins his work in us by faith, he continues it by faith. He saved us by the Spirit, and he sanctifies us by the Spirit. Trying to improve your life human effort is antithetical to the Christian worldview, yet it is exactly the thing that Jordan Peterson often promotes.

This is why I say we need to be discerning. I think you can learn some helpful things from Peterson or any number of secular thinkers. But we must always filter truth claims through the lens of Scripture. Some things will pass the test. Many will not. We must be careful to reject the ideas of the world that are contrary to God’s Word.

Believer, who has bewitched you? For some people the answer might be “Jordan Peterson”. For one reason or another, you fell into the trap of following an impressive intellect without first relying on God’s Word as the arbiter of truth. I would caution Christians who listen to Jordan Peterson, or anyone else for that matter, to keep their ears tuned and their discernment turned on.

And, of course, remember to pray for Jordan Peterson. God seems to be greatly at work in his life, and he has tip-toed close to the line of conversion it seems, but isn’t quite there yet. Pray for God to open his eyes to the truth so that he might be saved.

Government With a God-Complex

There are really only two ways to see the world. Either the world and all that is in it has been created by God and therefore is under his sovereign power and authority, or there is no God and therefore all that is in the world is exists merely by cosmic chance and has no particular meaning or function at all. In the second scenario, a Godless world, the position of Ultimate Authority is up for grabs. If God does not already possess that role, then by necessity someone else will. In a world that rejects God, who calls the shots?

The answer to that question is not hypothetical. History has repeatedly shown us, including much of recent history—and by “recent history” I mean the last 22 months or so. When the authority of God is not acknowledged, the authority of man attempts to fill those shoes. A humanity apart from God is akin to a pack of dogs fighting over a piece of meat. The biggest dog gets the meat, and likewise the most powerful leaders get the throne. Put simply, a government that refuses to acknowledge the God above by necessity has a God-complex. Godless political theories have existed for thousands of years, and they exist to this very day.

The founders of both Canada and the United States understood this. They knew that a secular government inevitably drifts toward a God-complex. If there is no God, then the State itself becomes the functioning god.

Consider an illustration. The opening preamble to the Canadian Bill of Rights states:

The Parliament of Canada, affirming that the Canadian Nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of the human person and the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions;

Affirming also that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law;

And being desirous of enshrining these principles and the human rights and fundamental freedoms derived from them, in a Bill of Rights which shall reflect the respect of Parliament for its constitutional authority and which shall ensure the protection of these rights and freedoms in Canada:

In other words, the founding of Canadian rights were based on the “spiritual values” of the “supremacy of God”, and such rights are “derived” from these realities. Therefore, these rights and freedoms require “protection” by Parliament. Notice that our rights are protected by the government, not created by it. Our rights, so says our own Constitution, come from God and according spiritual truths. This is precisely correct. If the supremacy and authority of God is not acknowledged, human rights have no transcendent grounding. They are simply made-up by governing authorities and, therefore, can be un-made-up just as readily. After all, who is to stop them?

The American Declaration of Independence is even more clear and explicit in this regard:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Again, notice that rights come from God and are to be protected by the government. They have their origin in the Creator, not in the opinion of any governing body.

What then would happen, say, if a country were to largely reject the notion of a Creator? Since these documents correctly ground the existence of human rights in God, a rejection of God would result in human rights without grounding. At best, a government could attempt to keep those rights alive without acknowledging where they come from. But that is pretty shaky ground, no?

If God is not the Ultimate Authority, then the State will be. In fact, many political philosophies not only recognize this but actively desire it. A few hundred years ago, G.H.F. Hegel famously wrote “The state is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.” Authoritarians who reject the authority of God by default make a god of the State. The State becomes the highest authority in the land, taking over the responsibilities that belong to God alone.

In his collection of writings The Prison Notebooks, Marxist Antonio Gramsci says, “Socialism is precisely the religion that must kill Christianity. [It is a] religion in the sense that it too is a faith … [and] because it has substituted for the consciousness of the transcendental God of the Catholics, trust in man and his best strengths as the sole spiritual reality.” Put differently, Gramsci and others like him are intentionally trying to replace faith in God with faith in the power of man, which results in a God-like political State. They see faith in God and an authoritarian State as competing opposites.

So what we have at work here are two forces colliding together. On the one hand, you have power-hungry leaders and politicians who have a God-complex and believe they are the chosen ones to dictate social life that will lead to utopia. If only their policies are in place, everything would be great. On the other end, you have a population that no longer trusts in God to take care of their needs, and therefore believe it is up to man to solve all of our own problems. These two desires—the State’s desire to be a god, and the people’s desire to be saved by a god—collide to create a government with a God-complex. The people are seeking a powerful force to help them, and the leaders are more than pleased to take on that role.

This is why many people seem not only to lack fear for an authoritarian State, but actively cheer it on. They are cheering for their god. The State, in their minds, is a Saviour. The all-powerful State will enact justice, right all wrongdoing, teach, correct, discipline, and generally solve all of the problems that plague mankind, ultimately ushering in some sort of a utopia where we all run through the hills singing the Sound of Music. And Godless, power-hungry leaders are more than happy to take those reigns from the public and run with them.

Canadians, behold your country. Canada is not a God-fearing country, and hasn’t been for a long time. Not only has our Godlessness given birth to secular humanism, that baby is all grown up now and strong enough to wreak some real havoc. A government with a God-complex is a dangerous thing. When leaders feel like they are at the top of the power rung, and not under the authority of a God to whom they must give an account, massive amounts of power combine with an ego-driven sinful nature to make one potent cocktail.

None of this should be surprising, of course. The Bible does say, after all, that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). God never promised that governments would humbly submit to him, or that politicians would flee from idolatry. No, I’m not wringing my hands in angst over these things, and neither should you. Not ultimately, anyways.

Our ultimate hope is in the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Our hope is in the King of kings and Lord of lords, even if our earthly kings and lords don’t realize they have an authority over them. We place our truth in the sovereign God of the universe who is in control of all things, and works them out according to his good pleasure.

But we can do two things simultaneously, can we not? We can put our ultimate hope in God and we can seek revival in the here and now. We can pray for our leaders. We can vote for those who will uphold righteousness. We can aim to sway public policy, educate our children in the way of the Lord, build strong Bible-teaching churches, and share the gospel of Christ with anyone who will hear it. Yes, we can and should do these things as well.

The moment we are living in is significant. Canada needs God, and the more we reject him, the more we will empower the State who refuses to acknowledge him. A State that rejects God as the highest source of truth and righteousness is ripe for human misery. Let our prayers echo what Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come”.

Responding to Government Tyranny

In the previous two posts (see here and here), we have established a framework from Scripture for how we should view the government. To recap quickly:

  • Human authority is not bad in and of itself
  • God has ultimate authority
  • He has delegated some authority to human governments
  • Human governments serve God and people by enforcing a righteous moral law
  • Christians should generally be submissive and obey human governments

The word “generally” in that last point is the kicker. Although Scripture calls on believers to submit to human government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17), the very same Bible also lays out many cases where God’s people were disobedient to human government and commended by God for doing so. Are these principles in contradiction?

Certainly not. This is because human government carries limited authority. Their authority is not absolute. The only absolute authority in the universe belongs to God. The government is not God and is subject to him. Thus, when we see cases of civil disobedience in Scripture, what we find are instances where obedience to the government and obedience to God conflict. These are situations where obedience to God must take precedence.

To some extent, even secular people recognize that human laws are sometimes unjust. Simply because a law exists does not mean the law is morally right. Virtually all people recognize that there is a transcendent moral law that exists above and beyond earthly laws. We can look at a government edict and say “that’s wrong”, and when we do, we are appealing to some standard of right and wrong which is supreme over human opinion. Secular people have nothing in their worldview to support this action other than personal preferences. Those who believe in the existence of God ground their judgment in the transcendent nature of a supreme law-giver.

Because human government is comprised of sinful man, it is bound to get things wrong. If man were perfect, then the law would be perfect. If only it were so! But since moral perfection belongs to God alone, we must judge human government according to the standards of God. God’s standards are revealed in his law, expressed in the Bible. Jesus himself prays to the Father and says “your word is truth” (John 17:17). 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us the Bible is “the word of truth”. This is consistent with the Christian worldview and virtually all Christians would affirm this reality.

Since Romans 13:1-7 tells us that God has given the government authority on earth to “bring punishment on the wrongdoer”, the government must first assert what is considered morally right or wrong. Western nations were largely founded under the influence of Christianity, and thus their original law was loosely based on the ten commandments, as well as the general thrust of Scripture. Even though nations like Canada and the United States explicitly refer to some of these concepts in their founding documents, the government has strayed a long ways away from this moral foundation. The secularization of culture has led to a secularization of government (or maybe the other way around?). As such, laws of the land are increasingly based on personal preference, ideology, ungodly moralistic thinking, popular opinion, and human philosophy.

The result is that some government laws will end up reflecting ungodly morality. When this happens, the government betrays their God-given role of punishing wrongdoers and instead uses their sword to punish those who do right. Again, I speak here of right and wrong according to biblical morality. What should a Christian do when the government inevitably falls into this trap?

The prophet Isaiah spoke of such things. In Isaiah 5:20 he says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Likewise, in 10:1 he says “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees”. There is nothing new under the sun. History is rife with governments gone awry through mixing up good and evil and overreaching on their authority. Therefore it should not surprise us that Scripture has quite a bit to say about this issue.

An Important Distinction

It is imperative that we do not call everything that the government does wrong “tyrannical” or “immoral”. Sometimes government errors do not constitute wickedness but rather ineptitude or inconvenience.

Consider the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). Historians have noted that this verse refers to the practice of Roman soldiers forcing civilians to serve as a guide (helping them navigate an unfamiliar area) or a porter (carrying supplies on their behalf). Evidently, this law could be applied arbitrarily for a distance up to one Roman mile (something like 1,000 paces). We see a biblical instance of this law in action when Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross of Christ to the place of crucifixion (Matthew 27:32).

An objective look at this law would raise some reasonable questions. Is it fair for Roman soldiers to interfere in civilian life in such a manner? Since this was not an act of punishment for lawbreakers, isn’t it a rather trivial law? Isn’t the application of this law far too discretionary? Is it right to inconvenience a law-abiding citizen who might have other worthy tasks to attend to?

Jesus, no doubt, would have been familiar with these complaints. And yet his command to his followers is not only to obey this law, but voluntarily go over and above. The modern phrase “go the extra mile” comes directly from Jesus’s admonition to serve a commanding solider for twice what is expected of you—literally to go the extra mile.

This tells us that Jesus does see a distinction between tyranny and triviality, between injustice and inconvenience. We should be very slow to resist a law simply because we don’t like it. Disagreeing with a government law is not the same as it being immoral or worthy of disobedience. Such distinctions must be made carefully. The general thrust of Scripture is that believers are to be obedient to the law and even be those who go above and beyond in order to serve others. This should be our overall demeanour even if some laws don’t align with our personal preferences.

Some laws, however, go beyond a difference of opinion to the point of being immoral or unjust. I have heard Christians describe our response to such instances this way: “We have a duty to disobey when commanded to do something God forbids or forbidden from doing something God commands.” The apostles of the New Testament put it this way: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If obedience to the law causes us to sin against God, obedience to God’s law trumps obedience to human law. In those cases, civil disobedience is our moral duty.

Possible Responses to Government Tyranny

What might resistance to unjust laws look like? The Bible gives us many examples. Although there is no detailed procedure laid out in Scripture, I have listed these out in the order that makes the most sense to me.

Pray

Don’t skip reading this one. Our first and most important response is to call upon God for help. Sometimes Christians think “yeah yeah, I already know that one. Give me something practical to do!” Prayer is practical. Prayer is powerful. The Bible tells us specifically to pray for leaders and those in authority over us. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Believers should be in prayer for their government leaders every day. It is God, after all, who can change the human heart. Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” God changed the heart of other human authorities in the past (Daniel 4). He can certainly do it again!

Prayer also helps us to gain necessary wisdom and courage. We need wisdom to discern between our personal disdain for a law and it being unjust according to God’s standards of righteousness. We also need wisdom to know the proper way to respond to unjust laws. And lastly, we need courage to take a stand when the situation demands it.

Vote

Unjust rulers can be removed from power using the legal means of voting. Though the modern democratic form of voting is not known in Scriptural times, a somewhat similar procedure is used in Deuteronomy 1:9-15 where leaders are chosen from among the people to lead the people. Unjust laws can be reversed by changing those in power over the law-making process. Though the Bible does not command believers to vote (and thus abstaining is not a sin), it does seem generally like a wise thing to do. Christians should prayerfully consider which candidates would best uphold a righteous rule of law and then support them through voting.

Direct Appeal

Access to policy-makers is not always as direct as one would hope, but often there are means to communicate directly with those in authority. For instance, during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote to the Ontario Premiers office through their official website, as well as to the regional health unit using the contact information on their website. Since these offices held direct influence over varying public health mandates, and there was a line of communication available to me, I wanted to share with them any concerns I had over their approach.

This type of action is modelled in Scripture by Moses who directly appeals to Pharaoh to release the enslaved people of God (Exodus 5:1). The persecution of the Israelites under Pharaoh’s rule was in contradiction to the will of God, and the first step to correcting this wrong was the commissioning of Moses to go directly to the man in charge. The rest of the story, we know, involves God’s personal intervention to free his people. But we should not overlook the human method used by Moses which involved a direct appeal to an unjust ruler to change their mind.

Appeal to Lesser Magistrates

Since human government has various levels of power, unjust or immoral laws can come from a variety of levels of authority. When such a law comes from a high level of power, lower levels of government (aka “lesser magistrates”) have the opportunity to resist it. They would take this action because, by enforcing an immoral law, they too would become complicit in immorality. It is the brave duty of lesser magistrates to stand up for the people under their care and resist unjust authority that comes from above them.

Again, examples of this could be seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Ontario officials gave the go ahead to police to stop vehicles at random and question civilians as to why they were not home, police forces across the country refused to enforce the edict. As a result, the edict was rescinded. Many examples of this kind of resistance from lesser magistrates could be given. It is perfectly acceptable for citizens to appeal to lesser magistrates regarding unjust laws in the hopes that they will stand in the gap for them.

A Scriptural example of this procedure can be found in Daniel 1. After the Babylonians conquered Israel, some of the finest young men were chosen to serve in king’s palace. They were to be given a portion of the royal food by decree of the king. Daniel “resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (1:8). The chief official initially hesitated to grant this request, but eventually made a compromise to do so. The lesser magistrate overrode the decree of the greater authority in order to protect the conscience of an individual. Similar actions can be taken in other scenarios as well.

Legal Appeal

Virtually all legal systems contain forms of checks and balances. One form of legal appeal is through the court of law. A law may be challenged in court through a filed suit, following the legal process outlined. For example, when Grace Community Church continued in-person services in contravention of California lowdown mandates, the case went to the courts. The church eventually won a lawsuit against the State of California and were awarded an $800,000 settlement to cover their legal fees. Such an appeal is an example of the kind of legal options that are available in the case of unjust laws.

The apostle Paul on at least one occasion used legal means to appeal unjust actions against him. In Acts 22:22-30, Paul appealed to his legal rights as a Roman citizen to escape being flogged and earn a hearing before the Sanhedrin. The series of events cover several chapters, where Paul’s case goes up the chain of command to Felix, then Festus, and eventually to king Agrippa (chapters 22-26). This entire process was following the legal procedures available to Paul under his rights of Roman citizenship.

Legal options are available to those who believe their rights are being trampled on by others, including by the government itself. Believers should not shy away of making use of these rights just as the apostle Paul didn’t shy away from using his. This does not make someone a contentious person or one who is not submitting to government. Rather, using the legal process available is a form of submission to the government even if it ends up challenging their own authority. It is a “legal appeal” after all. While Christians should not be challenging each other in court (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), they are free to challenge ungodly authority in court the way Paul modelled.

Prophetic Confrontation

By “prophetic confrontation” I have in mind a direct moral challenge to the actions of a tyrant. This is similar to the “direct appeal” method although I do see one distinction. The direct appeal intends to challenge a ruler over a specific law they oversee, whie the prophetic confrontation method challenges the personal actions of a ruler.

Consider a few Scriptural examples. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts king David for his actions of adultery and murder. It is not exactly a national decree that is being challenged; rather it is the ungodly conduct of the king himself. Because of that confrontation, David repented for his sin. In a similar fashion, John the baptist confronted king Herod for his adultery, as Herod was sleeping with his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). The outcome in this instance is quite different. Though Herod believed John to be a holy man and therefore feared to hurt him, he was eventually tricked into having John beheaded.

I believe these examples permit God’s people to confront and challenge immoral conduct from governing authorities. In some instances, immoral conduct warrants action against a leader, through methods like impeachment or recall. At the very least, it certainly demonstrates that while those in authority are worthy of respect and honour, they are not above criticism. Both private and public criticism are valid means of challenging ungodly leadership when such criticism is warranted.

Defying Authority

When obedience to human authority leads one to disobey God, defying human authority is a moral duty. Our ultimate allegiance is to God and not the state. The above paragraphs reveal that dissenters have many options on the table when it comes to dealing with unjust rulers and laws. When all else fails, defying an unjust law is necessary.

We celebrate some modern-day heroes for this very reason. We champion the likes of Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and Corrie Ten Boom for refusing to do what they were told. They understood that just because something is law does not make it moral. Right and wrong are determined by God.

Scripture has many examples of godly men and women defying ungodly human leadership. In Exodus 1:15-22, Pharaoh demands that the Hebrew midwives kill every baby born to the Israelites that is male. The midwives however “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” They feared God enough to disobey an immoral command.

In Daniel 3, king Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden statue in his likeness and demands that everyone in the region bow down and worship it. Those who do not will be burned alive in a fiery furnace. Recognizing it as wicked idolatry, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse. They say “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v 17-18). They were right to disobey.

Later in Daniel chapter 6, Darius the king sends out an edict that all in his kingdom are to pray only to him. Again, realizing this as gross idolatry, Daniel refuses. He continues to pray to God as he had previously done. As punishment, Daniel is thrown into the lions den.

In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John are questioned by the Sanhedrin for their public preaching about Christ. When they are charged to stop doing this, they refuse. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard'” (v 18-20).

Just one chapter later, they are again arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin with a very similar outcome. They are reminded that they had been charged to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Once again the apostles refuse to comply, stating “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

These biblical examples, among others, verify that there are times and places to defy governing authorities. Again, if following human law causes you to sin against God, we have no other choice but to engage in civil disobedience. Christian history is rich with examples of God’s people standing up to tyranny when the need arises, often at risk of great persecution or death. Even now, believers all over the world continue to study God’s word and sing his praises in defiance of governing laws. They are right to do so and should be commended by other believers for it. Indeed God does and will commend them.

Flee

One final option for the believer is to flee tyranny. Sometimes this is the best option. This was, after all, the way the life of young Jesus was spared from certain death. In Matthew 2:13-15, Herod became jealous that magi had come from the East to worship the Christ. In an effort to protect his throne, he decreed that all boys aged 2 and under be put to death in the region of Bethlehem. Having been warned by God of this plot in a dream, Joseph, Mary, and little Jesus secretly fled to Egypt.

Early in the life of the Church, persecution arose against believers. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had Stephen stoned to death in the public square. Acts 8:1 tells us “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” As you can see, most of God’s people fled for their lives.

Another example comes to mind. Acts 9:23-25 records the apostle Paul (formerly Saul) fleeing a plot on his life: “After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”

Jesus also spoke of a time when Christians will need to flee intense persecution (Luke 21:21, Mark 13:14, Matthew 24:16). The book of James is written “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). Likewise, the epistle of 1 Peter is written “to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces” (1:1). Although we are not commanded to flee any and all persecution (indeed that would be both impossible and undesirable), it is a valid option on the table.

Historically, countries like the United States and Canada have been places of refuge for those fleeing government tyranny. Increasingly it seems that even those within the US and Canada are seeking refuge in specific states or provinces that maximize personal freedoms. There is nothing inherently wrong with relocation to a district that is governed more justly than another, so long as it is done prayerfully and in good conscience.

In Summary

The government’s role is to apply God’s standards of righteousness to the law of a given region. They are given the sword by God to punish wrongdoers. Sometimes the government will abuse its power and use the sword to punish those who do right and reward those who do wrong. When such a situation arises, the Bible reveals that Christians have a variety of tools at their disposal to respond to a corrupt government. These options must be weighed carefully and be driven by prayer, devotion to God, and love for neighbour. Ultimately we know that God is in control and his own purposes will prevail.

I would remind you of the verses from Isaiah quoted earlier in this article. Isaiah cries “woe” to those who mislabel good for evil and evil for good. He cries “woe” to the one who is “unjust” and issues “oppressive decrees”. It is a biblical way of warning “heads up!” to those who do such things. God is watching. If the biblical story shows us anything, it is that God judges nations that defy him. In God’s own ways and in God’s own time, he thwarts the plans of man and brings to nothing the nations that reject him. Nevertheless, there is hope for those who repent and call out to God for deliverance.

2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

On God’s Good Gift of Government

To those who know me, it is no secret that I have been very critical of the Canadian and Ontario government over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. By and large, I stand behind those criticisms. But I was challenged recently by a conversation with other believers that left me feeling like I was unintentionally giving off the wrong impression. It seems that my criticisms were leading some to believe that is the only thing I think about the government. Even worse, some may have gotten the impression this is the sum total of the Christian view of government. Neither is true. There are many things about the government for which I am incredibly grateful, and for which Scripture validates that gratitude. In a desire to correct and better articulate a biblical vantage point, this article will be in celebration of God’s gift of government, as Scripture reveals we should do.

If you read my last post, you’ll already know that human authority exists because it has been given to us by God. Humans do not have any innate authority over one another. Instead, the source of human authority is God himself. This delegation of God’s authority to mankind is meant to help keep an ordered and just society. The Bible testifies to this fact again and again. As I had quoted, Jesus himself said to Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). Jesus acknowledged that, humanly speaking, Pilate did have power over him. This power was given to him by God in his role as governor of Judaea. Jesus here is affirming what other Scriptures teach, which is that human governments indeed do have authority because it is granted to them by God. This, of course, does not always mean they use their authority in a way that God would have them. More on that later.

Let’s look at one of the most central passages on this topic, that being Romans 13:1-7. I will quote it at length first.

1Let everyone be subject 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, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I will try to walk through a few of the key principles this passages teaches us about human government. This is not meant to highlight every point, but the major ones for my purposes in this article.

Principle #1 – Human government is established by God. This point is actually mentioned three times in the first two verses. Human government is part of God’s plan for life on earth. This reality does not undermine the fact that God himself is Lord of the universe (Psalm 103:19). His rulership is ultimate. Human rulership is not. This, we will see later, does have some practical consequences. But the fact that God is King does not mean that human government has no business existing at all. That would be a false and unscriptural conclusion. Rather, human government functions (or at least is supposed to function) as an extension of God’s rule over the earth.

Principle #2 – Human government is meant to serve God. Three times the government is labeled as “God’s servant”. Again, this means their authority is not ultimate or innate. Rather it is limited and delegated to them. Human government may rule over people, but it is simultaneously ruled over by God. It is intended to serve God and his purposes for mankind. Anyone who is still awake at this point will recognize that this is often not the case. Governments often do not pursue God’s purposes. But again, the fact that human government is flawed does not mean it should cease to exist altogether. We should aim to bring it into conformity with God’s purposes instead of preferring to disband it altogether.

Principle #3 – Human government is for our good. The alternative to organized government is essentially anarchy, each person living as they wish. This may sound great, but only if one forgets what Scripture teaches about human nature. The Bible over and over again reminds us that people are evil. The evil that exists in our hearts causes us to sin, and sin hurts God, others, and ourselves. There are essentially two forces that resist sin and evil in the world (and in you and I as well). The first is spiritual. God has given us a conscience that helps us to resist sin, and he has given his Holy Spirit to convict and change us from the inside out. The second force is external pressure. Put differently, society has punishments for wrongdoers. Those who murder, rape, and steal will face the consequences of the law. Penal law is meant to deter the acts of evil in society. A person’s desire may be to commit sin, but they are more likely to hesitate or refrain altogether for fear of punishment. This fear of punishment makes society a better place to live because it restrains some of the evil that would otherwise run rampant. This is what the Bible means when it says the government is for our good.

Principle #4 – The government rules through force. Verse 4, “if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Why has God handed the government a sword? So that they can execute justice by force on wrongdoers. The sword forces compliance. In modern day, this is the reason why law enforcement officers carry weapons and firearms. This is the reason jail cells are locked. The law is not meant to be mere suggestions; they are commands. Those who are tempted to break the law are brought into conformity through the threat of force and those who do break the law are punished through acts of force. This is part of God’s plan for human government.

A Quick Interlude

Before I get to my fifth and final principle, I want to pause here and reflect on God’s good gift of government. Everything up to this point demonstrates in a very tangible way God’s love towards his creatures. God wants to see life on earth flourish. He wants to see the spread of evil slowed and justice executed for those who have been wronged. This is a wonderful and glorious thing.

In a thousand ways, I am incredibly grateful for the government. I am grateful for rights as a Canadian citizen. I am grateful for freedom. I am grateful for the rule of law. I am grateful for those who have risked their lives to defend our country. I am grateful for police officers who aim to serve and protect their communities even in the midst of personal danger. I am grateful for the ability to vote. I am grateful for the judicial system which aims to carry out the law of the land as best as they can. I’m grateful for these and many other things which make my life better, not worse. I’m grateful that, even though none of these duties are carried out perfectly, they are better as imperfect gifts than the alternative of a wholly chaotic and mob-ruled society. God’s gift of government, on the whole, is a good thing and we should thank him for it.

Principle #5 – The government’s purpose is to punish wrong and commend right. God’s purpose for government is inherently a moral one. The primary function (sole function perhaps?) of human government is the enforcement of a moral code of law in society. Those who do what is right are commended. Those who do wrong are punished. This seems simple enough.

But is it so simple? The thoughtful reader should have alarm bells going off in their heads at this point. If the government exists to punish the wrong and commend the right, the questions beg to be asked: who determines what is wrong or right? What is the source of the moral code which instructs civil laws? And what happens when a government gets this wrong? Is it still our duty to obey them?

These are extremely legitimate questions. I will be tackling them in future blog posts. But before we dive too deeply into them, I first want to challenge the reader not to see the legitimacy of these questions as reason to hate the government on principle. To do so would be to despise what God has given as a good gift. Living under a government that enforces a wrong moral code should be loathed, but not because the government exists per se, but rather because they have abdicated their responsibility as servants of God. The response should be to bring about reform, not do away with government altogether.

Remember that the author who penned Romans 13 is Paul the apostle, who wrote this letter to Christians living in Rome. Rome! Those who know their history will recognize that Roman rulership was not kind to Christians. Believers were often heavily persecuted by the Romans, who undeniably were an unjust, power-hungry, bloodthirsty, tyrannical government regime. It is to these believers Paul pens his letter, telling them to be submissive to the Romans and see them as servants of God.

It would be enough to make your head spin, if one weren’t careful. I say this because it is not fair to say that Paul desired believers to only see the Romans in this way. Rather, they are instructed to see human government this way in general. There are absolutely times and places where a different perspective is called for. But why can I say this, if this passage clearly calls us to honour and obey human government? Because it is equally true that Scripture also calls us to obey God, and that Scripture teaches that human authority is not absolute but rather delegated from God. This returns us to the questions raised earlier concerning what we are to do when human governments go awry. How should we respond to unjust human governments? I will seek to answer that question in the next post.

On Authority and Spheres of Governance

What does the Bible say about authority in general, and what does it say about government authority in particular? These are the questions this post aims to address. Scripture is not silent on these issues, and they are important ones we should grapple with so as to obey God’s Word in all areas of life.

The first thing that must be said is that God is not against authority. He himself has authority over the entire universe and exercises justly this authority. Psalm 103:19 says “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. This should not be a controversial point for Christians. It is a fundamental tenet of Scripture that Jesus is Lord of all, and there is no inch of the universe over which he is not King. Thus, God endorses and enforces authority.

But what of earthly authority? It is one thing to say that the sinless, perfect God of the universe carries authority; it is quite another to say the same of sinful, imperfect men. Does God promote earthly authority, and if so, under what parameters?

It is human nature to resist authority. We firstly resist God’s authority over our lives. We want to determine what we will do apart from God’s will for us. But our resistance to authority doesn’t stop there. We also resist human authority. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do. We may justify this resistance by noting that human authority can be arbitrary, incompetent, and unjust. Human authority is often arbitrary in that the authority someone has or doesn’t have seems to be inconsistently applied. It can be incompetent in that many people with authority are not good at leading those under their supervision. And it can be unjust in that some abuse their authority to hurt others or advantage themselves. Aren’t these good reasons to reject human authority?

Again, Scripture must guide us. Just because human authority is not always carried out well does not mean the Christian worldview is against authority altogether. Quite the opposite. Scripture supports the role of human authorities and calls for them to be consistent, competent, and just. Failure to execute authority well does not negate the value of authority altogether; rather, it calls us to strive for better.

Human authority is ordained by God. It is part of God’s will and design for life on earth. Knowing that God is the King of all does not undermine this truth. This is because all earthly authority is delegated authority. In other words, the authority that men have on earth is not inherent to them. Rather, it is granted to them by God. Jesus himself said to Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). God delegates his authority to human authorities that carry it out on his behalf.

This is where the concept of sphere governance or sphere sovereignty comes in. God has ordained that society not be one large mish-mash of random individuals with no structure of authority, but rather an organized and interconnected web of different spheres of social dimensions of culture. Scripture, for instance, mentions at least four spheres of life and a delegated authority over each.

The first sphere is the individual. People are not merely part of collective wholes. They also exist as independent, autonomous individuals. God created human beings in his image not just generally or collectively, but also individually. Each person is given responsibility by God to live a godly life under his Lordship. The authority in the life of the individual is their conscience. God has given human beings an “inner compass” as it were, known as a conscience, that helps guide their decision making. Our conscience is a gift given to man by God to help us live as God would have us. When we are tempted, our conscience alerts us. When we sin, our conscience guilts us. When we do good, our conscience is clear. Though it is somewhat outside the scope of this article, Scripture speaks much about the role of our conscience. We can harden our conscience through ignoring it and persisting in sin (1 Timothy 4:2). Thus, it is not fair to say that our conscience is always right. We ought to bring our conscience under the Lordship of Christ and his Word. Sometimes we damage our conscience, ruining its proper function. But doing something against our conscience is considered a sin by Scripture (Romans 14:22-23).

This is why personal freedom is a high value in cultures that have been influenced by Christianity. In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the freedom of conscience is the first protected right under the law. Why is that? Because forcing people to do things against their conscience is both coercing someone into sin and aiming to override God’s chosen means of individual governance. God gave us consciences. We should be very slow to resist that. The founders of Canadian law (and even more explicitly, American law) understood the importance of individual conscience. This insight they gleaned from Scripture.

The personal conscience, however, must not be the only governing authority in society. Such a viewpoint is seen in Scripture during the time of the judges, where the Bible tells us that “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Even a surface reading of the book of Judges reveals that chaos was the end result. This political philosophy, known in modern times as strict libertarianism, is unscriptural. This is because the Bible outlines other spheres of governance where authority from God is given.

The second sphere is the family. The family unit is not a Western social construct as many modern educators assert. Rather, it is a God-ordained means of organizing society. Right from the beginning of creation we see God bringing together a man and woman in marriage, with the design that they will bear children and become a family unit (Genesis 2:24, 1:28). Later, those children will age and splinter off to create new family units. This is the first and most fundamental communal grouping of human beings.

In the family unit, God’s authority is delegated to the parents. Exodus 20:12 tells children to “Honor your father and your mother”. Rebellious children become a grief to both fathers and mothers (Proverbs 10:1). Even beyond this, Scripture places a particular emphasis on the husband/father to be the primary leader in the home. Ephesians 5:23 makes it clear that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”. Furthermore, the consistent pattern of Scripture reveals the husband/father to be the representative of the family unit in both family and community affairs.

Once again, the fact that parents in general and fathers in particular do not always exercise their authority well does not mean God hasn’t still granted them that authority. Scripture never negates the authority of parents; rather, it calls on parents to exercise authority in godly ways (Proverbs 22:6, 29:15, Ephesians 6:4).

The third sphere is the church. The church of Christ does not exist as an individual person, nor does it exist as merely a family unit. Rather, it is a collective of individuals (that may or may not be part of the same family unit) that make up a unique and distinct entity, that being, the household of God. 1 Timothy 3:4-5 tells us that an overseer “must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” This verse clearly notes that a church family is larger than a single family unit. The two are not the same.

This same passage also notes that God’s delegated authority for the church are elders or overseers. Scripture uses the terms “elder”, “overseer”, “pastor”, and “shepherd” virtually synonymously. They all refer to the same office. These references are also always in the plural, meaning that local churches are not lead by one “pastor”, as is the model in many North American churches. Rather, they are local bodies led by a plurality of pastor/elders who function as a team. Hebrews 13:17 clearly states that God’s authority is delegated to these church leaders: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

Note the phrase “submit to their authority”. Local churches have leaders with authority. However, this authority (like the other spheres) is not without qualification. These leaders should lead “as those who must give an account”. This implies that their leadership will be judged by God as a right use of authority or a wrong use of it. Some authority is godly, some is not. Again, there is a temptation among many Christians to see the abuse of authority within churches and presume that God must not want any leaders with authority in the church. This is a false conclusion. Scripture plainly states that the antidote to ungodly authority is not no authority at all, but rather the godly use of authority. The Bible makes many other references to the need for church leaders to be men of character who use their authority well (1 Peter 5:1-5, 1 Timothy 3:1-16).

The fourth sphere is the civil government. The government (ie. “the state”) is another area of society to which God has delegated his own authority. Romans 13:1-2 is strikingly clear on this point: “Let everyone be subject 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, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Paul clearly understood that governing authorities are not a human cultural experiment. Rather, they are instituted by God himself. Government is God’s idea—even human government. Such authority is established by God.

The continuation of this passage (verses 3-7) reveals God’s purpose for human government. It exists to punish evil and promote good. Therefore, government authorities are called “God’s servant” on earth, those who carry out God’s punishment on evildoers. 1 Peter 2:13-14 elaborates even further: “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.” This verse notes that human governments often have various levels to them, with some authority being “higher up” and others carrying out a “boots-on-the-ground” role. Today we would include presidents and prime ministers all the way down to local police and everything in between. All levels of authority are to be respected and obeyed. Again, government authority is put in place by God to serve his purposes of punishing the wrongdoer, and so it remains under his ultimate Lordship. There will be times and places when government authority should be resisted if Lordship to Christ is to be maintained. For more on the details of disobeying government authority, a future post is coming.

It is worth noting that our current model is significantly different than that of Old Testament Israel. In those days, Israel functioned as the people of God and a literal earthly state combined. This is known as a theocracy, somewhat similar to what we might call today a “state-sanctioned religion”. In such a scenario, the inhabitants of a state were under the rule of a state religion whether they wanted to or not. The laws of the land were directly connected to the state religion. With the coming of Christ, the Old Testament theocracy model was disbanded and the Church and state were separated. God no longer rules as King through only one nation on earth. Rather, his Kingdom is currently a heavenly one that rules in the hearts of his people who are scattered over every nation of the earth.

There may also be other spheres of authority. The primary one that comes to mind is that of the workplace. Scripture, for instance, calls on slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22-25). It also calls on masters to treat their slaves with dignity (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1). While slavery is not an accepted modern-day institution, perhaps a comparable model would be that of the modern workplace. Workplaces have both employers and employees, and generally Christians have accepted that employers have delegated authority to tell their employees to do what they were hired to do. These passages on slaves and masters have often been used to speak to the relationship between employers and employees. It should be noted that some forms of ancient slavery closely resembled modern forms of employment, far more than the images of race-based chattel slavery such as would be commonly pictured in the United States. Again, another post for another time.

What is the purpose of outlining these spheres of authority? If we are to have a Scriptural worldview, then we must allow the Bible to guide our thinking. The Bible outlines various structures in society and different means God has put in place of governing those structures. He has ordained the conscience to govern the individual, fathers to govern families, elders to govern the church, and kings/magistrates along with appointed law enforcement to govern the civil realm. The reason many theologians have called these “spheres” of governance is that each appointed authority should largely remain inside its own sphere. Practically speaking, it is not the role of elders to govern a family unit. Neither is it their role to govern the affairs of another church body. It is not the role of the state to govern local churches. Neither is it the role of the state to govern the people of another jurisdiction. It is not the role of one person’s conscience to govern the conscience of another. And so on and so forth. These actions violate God’s order for society. Each God-appointed authority must remain in its God-appointed role governing its God-appointed sphere of life, ideally to its God-appointed outcome.

This does not mean that governing authorities will never overlap. Perhaps “overlap” is not even the right word to use since it implies that everything laid out in the above paragraphs is erasable under certain circumstances. Let me try to put it differently. Situations may arise where one governing authority will be forced to override another governing authority and would be right to do so. For instance, if a child is being harshly abused by his parents, the state should intervene in that situation. This would not fairly be described as operating outside of their God-given bounds, but actually operating within their God-given bounds, since they are called to punish the evildoer. This is not so much an “overlap” as it is the proper relationship between connected spheres.

Remember that for this to work best, we must begin with the foundational premise that all authority is God’s authority. Any human authority that exists is not inherent; it is delegated to them from God. Human authority does not get to determine their own goals and bounds. Rather, those goals and bounds are dictated by God. Without this starting point, all human authority eventually devolves into a war-zone between competing groups of power. This is precisely why human authority is often so disastrous. As the perspective of authority and society becomes more secular and disconnected from God, those in authority are more likely to pridefully govern by their own whims rather than in humble submission to God. Again, is the fact that authority is often so ungodly a good reason to discard it altogether? No. Rather, we must fight to bring all human authority under the authority of God as he intends.

One practical question might arise. How exactly should we “fight” for this viewpoint? How do we fight for a society that is governed in a way that God would desire, while we live among an increasingly secular culture? Should Christians try to force all of society to submit to God’s rule? Some Christians have indeed made this attempt in the past. However, nowhere in Scripture are believers called to advance God’s Kingdom through force. Efforts to do so either lead Christians to force their views onto the conscience of individuals (violating their free will) or erroneously merge the Church and state into one entity (a forced theocracy).

So, what can we do? Our first and primary order of business is always to share the gospel and allow the Spirit of God to turn people’s hearts toward Christ and his Word. A society where revival takes place will naturally develop a more biblical approach to culture and governance because enough of its own people voluntarily value it. If many people in a given region come to faith, it will have a major trickle-down effect on the beliefs, values, entertainment, education, and leadership of that region. It will become more in-tune with God’s Kingdom by default.

A second, and just as vital (if not more so) action is to pray. We should pray for revival. Psalm 85:6 says “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” We should pray for strong families. Malachi 4:6 says “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers”. We should pray for our churches. Ephesians 6:18 says we should make “supplication for all the saints”. We should pray for God to turn the hearts of government leaders. Proverbs 21:1 says “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” Lastly, we should obey Jesus in Matthew 6:10 by praying “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

There certainly are other actions we can take. I will detail those in a future post. But I believe we should not lose focus on our first priority which is the power of the Word and prayer. Through the unleashing of these we can demonstrate to the world the wisdom and ways of God which will ultimately lead to human flourishing.