“These men who have turned the world upside down have come also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
– Acts 17:6-7
The Pax Romana was that golden period of the Roman Empire punctuated by “peace” and prosperity – all at the point of Augustus’ sword. For decades the blood-sucking Roman government drained its “republics” of their wealth and dignity in exchange for military protection and internal peace. Wars occasionally surfaced on the frontiers, but in general, peace reigned throughout the Empire, albeit a false peace, one enforced by fear.
We know from the Gospels that leaders lived in fear of offending Roman authorities. They knew that at a moment’s notice, “Big Brother” could be knocking at their doors in the form of armed soldiers. The peace Rome provided produced external security, but within, the citizens of the Empire experienced a hollow peace – because they had no choice.
Then came the followers of Jesus, proclaiming “The Good News” of the Kingdom while demonstrating their allegiance to King Jesus rather than Caesar. In the eyes of many Roman citizens, this was frightening for they knew how authorities could quickly dispatch troops to their towns. Fearing the Gospel could gain traction, many citizens began persecuting the followers of Christ (1 Thess. 1:6).
Letting Jesus go was really not an option for Pilate. He feared, just as the religious leaders were warning him, that if he released Jesus, it would be interpreted as an act of disloyalty and even defiance to Caesar over a man who had declared Himself to be a King. The first two generations following Jesus’ death and resurrection were tolerated by the Roman government. So were pagan religions. But none – except Christianity – proclaimed a King superior to Caesar, whose Word had more authority than the government’s, and Who alone was to be obeyed when His way was found to be in conflict with Roman leaders.
This is why from the early second century on, Roman power attempted to crush the Christian movement. People who believe their ultimate wellbeing and direction in life depend on human government hate the message of the Gospel.
If all this seems familiar, it should. Look at our nation today. Government is attempting to make us rely on it more and more. Executive, legislative and judicial leaders resist the Gospel’s influence. They turn to secular powers, protocols and principles to influence social and cultural matters. Will this continue and will followers of Christ capitulate?
President Obama has already signed an executive order requiring pro-life Christians to pay for abortions overseas. The latest proposed health care bill will force Christians to pay for abortions in America. It comes at a time when the controversial Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) is moving rapidly through Congress. If signed into law by Obama – who has said he will sign it – FOCA will virtually wipe out all pro-life legislation now on the books. The government is forcing Christians to violate their consciences by disobeying what God has said is wrong. This is persecution. If that is not enough, consider this: Obama and the Democrat majority also favor the so-called Fairness Doctrine which would likely silence Christian radio.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives just passed the Defense Authorization Bill, but liberal Democrats tacked on a provision that extends the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes in which victims are targeted because of their sexual orientation. Homosexuals are given a special status, their behavior condemned by God as an abomination, but now endorsed by the government. Furthermore, there is concern the bill will attempt to silence preachers from declaring homosexuality a sin. Instead it will become a “hate crime.”
On a more personal level, House members who spoke against the sexual orientation provision were verbally abused by colleagues holding to a more secular view. Armed Services Committee Chairman Democrat Ike Skelton of Missouri, who supported the provision, was caught on microphone cussing out fellow Missourian, Republican Todd Akin. Why? Akin is known for his strong Christian beliefs and voted against the bill because of the provision, arguing it had no place in a defense authorization bill. Akin, and his three fellow Missourians who voted with him – Roy Blunt, Jo Ann Emerson and Sam Graves should be commended. Skelton would have fit in well with Caesar.
Christians are citizens of two realms – the earthly and the spiritual. Christians are commanded to be obedient to the Lord Jesus (Ex. 20:1-5). Romans 13 instructs Christians to be good citizens because God has ordained government to punish and restrict evil-doers and to reward and protect moral behavior. Christians are to support the government unless authorities require a believer to support or do evil in direct contradiction to their ultimate allegiance to God.
Christians are also commanded to be “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16). That means Christians are to be involved, whether it is voting for leaders who will be obedient to God or holding public office themselves. The Baptist Faith and Message confession of faith affirms this call to be involved, stating, “every Christian is under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in his own life and in human society.” It also says Christians not only “should oppose, in the spirit of Christ, every form of greed, selfishness and vice,” but “should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth and brotherly love.”
As Americans we are free – for the time being – to live out our faith. This means praying for righteous decisions by our government and actively opposing anything else – to the glory of God.