Fighting Off the Wolves

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”[i] The thirteen colonies  unanimously endorsed the Declaration of Independence which spells out the reasons the colonies felt compelled to break from English rule, knowing that it would come to war. The vast majority of the men of the Continental Congress that drafted the Declaration would consider themselves Christian or members of the universal church.[ii]

The Laws of Nature, as understood by the writers of the Declaration means that “all people have inherent rights, conferred not by act of legislation but by God, nature, or reason. Natural law theory can also refer to theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality.”[iii] In God’s relationship with His creation, according to Thomas Aquinas, He placed within each human a realization of natural law which teaches the person that “good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.”[iv] A mistake man makes, according to Aquinas is to believe that natural law, because of its name is non-religious but rather it is an instrument of God which helps draw true believers to salvation in Christ while also arguing implicitly against false religions.

If Natural Law and Nature’s God entitles humans to assume the powers of political sovereignty and separate from other political powers it is the responsibility of those seeking separation to state their specific reasons. A general consensus of the need for separation will benefit the fledgling country or political entity and its leaders should attempt to avert any opposition to their cause through reason, when possible.  

One such reason for which such separation is demanded is the physical threats of death inferred and consummated against Christians by political leaders and national powers. This can extend as well to the evil done in the name of a national power which is threatening the same and even committing murder against non-Christians. Christians understand a responsibility for protecting all persons and in so doing are doing good in the Name of Christ.  Good is to be done and evil avoided (Aquinas).

The logic of such an argument for the use of all legitimate means, including war, against the offending realms must then be weighed against the biblical commands to honor political leaders. Paul writes in Romans 13, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”[v]

It is believed by many that the creation of the United States through the Revolutionary War was divinely blessed by God. In the Twentieth Century, most who sided with Allied Powers against the mass murderers of the Third Reich and the Japanese Imperial forces believed their cause to be just and true. They believed their cause to be blessed by God and many believed that their protection of the Nation of Israel and Jews the world over was divinely orchestrated and victory was assured. How does that square against Paul’s writing that occurred during a time when the Roman government was sending Christians of all ages to be torn apart by vicious lions and gruesome deaths in  spectacular arenas?

Was Paul declaring a submissive attitude or a respectful attitude and what is the difference? An examination of the Greek verb phrase be subject in the Strong’s Concordance, is defined as:

ποτάσσω hupŏtassō, hoop-ot-as’-so; from G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively, to obey:—be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.

An explanatory example of the verb phrase is:

“a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[vi]

The question comes, is Paul directing his submission command to the church or to individual Christians in their daily walk? The statement Let every soul is a clear answer to this question. How does that play out in ‘real life?’ Let’s review one simple biblical event that creates a conundrum for us in this discussion.

When God, through His angel, released Peter from prison and he fled after making himself known to the church in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, was he not breaking the law and not submitting to government? According to the biblical record in Acts 12, the church was praying for Peter’s release and God answered  their prayer. There are more examples of Christians fleeing persecution in the New Testament. If they were to submit in the way we are defining it here, shouldn’t they simply have gone to the officials and stood in line to be executed rather than fleeing? Recall that in the 1st Century, when the church fled Jerusalem, God used it to spread the Good News across the region. Peter broke the law yet God ordained it and used it for His good.

Evil seems to be ever present in our society. How can a true Christian stand by and watch immorality such as mass arrests, deportations to concentration camps, and murder of people for any reason continue? Is there no command to combat evil?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

any disobedience is allowable only if a person is fully convinced that we stand at the eschaton and that this state is actually the particularized embodiment of Antichrist, which is to say totally of evil, the very incarnation of the demonic (which, by the way, is a judgment I would think sinful human beings are hardly qualified to make). And, Bonhoeffer continues, if that state is Antichrist, then Christians dare not render it obedience in anything. If the state is not Antichrist, total obedience; if it is Antichrist, total disobedience–these are the only options Bonhoeffer considers. Thus he leaves himself no room for the other biblical command about our obeying God rather than man.[vii]

During World War II, one Christian pastor in Germany knew he could not just stand by and watch. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Vernard Eller, writing on the works of Bonhoeffer, makes this conclusion based on  earlier Bonhoeffer’s earlier writings:

The passages Eller uses to sustain the idea that Bonhoeffer felt so strongly about simply submitting to government were all written before Bonhoeffer became part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. That is an obvious indication that he had come to a point where he either, believed Hitler to be an anti-Christ if not the Anti-Christ, or he had come to rethink Romans 12:21. I will illustrate what I mean there in a moment.

I think perhaps Eller would have done well to explore further one of his own earlier points.  The conclusion that Bonhoeffer left no room for anything but submission and no room for the commands to obey God rather than man. Earlier in his thesis, he quoted Bonhoeffer, “The whole of Paul’s doctrine of the State in Romans 13 is controlled by the introductory admonition: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). It is immaterial whether the power be good or bad, what matters is that the Christian should overcome evil by good.[viii]”  He quotes him again on the point of the world versus Christianity. “The world exercises dominion by force and Christ and Christians conquer by service”[ix] In this treatment of Bonhoeffer and the view on what Eller describes as Christian Anarchists, it is important to understand Eller’s own pro-liberal viewpoint. He writes, “I am not surprised to find a conservative, legitimizing tendency surfacing in Bonhoeffer’s thought.” Rather than see Bonhoeffer’s re-thinking of his position as growing in an understanding of the full meaning of scripture, Eller sees it as Bonhoeffer’s conservative values twisting the Word to fit the conservative narrative and supporting action against the state. An analysis of the change in his position is warranted to help us better understand what our role should be as Christians in the 21t Century.

Let us go back to our original question of how revolution, civil disobedience, the work of undergrounds to save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands, in the days of slavery in the U.S. and opposing Hitler in WWII. Are these actions legitimate when it comes to Romans 13? The entire book of Romans, remember, is one text, not written in chapters or in numbered versus when Paul penned it to the church in Rome. So, one needs to read the letter in  whole and, in this case, go back a few paragraphs to what we know as Romans 12:21.

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”[x] Overcoming evil with good is a command from Paul to the church. I am not playing a game of semantics here to justify something that would be illegitimate for a Christian to become involved. A misapplication of this command would be to infuse a political change of power only to replace one set of politics for another, neither God-honoring or divinely ordained. Seldom is that an answer and it does not fit in the schematic we have here of a Christian doing good in the Name of Christ to overcome evil. A Christian’s allegiance is always to God not to party.

When the cattle cars are lined up and your neighbor’s family is being herded away with certain death the end result, finding a way to stop that or prevent their arrest is doing good. Sending a runaway slave farther along the Underground Railway is doing good but against the law. When we can say our actions are in the Name of Christ  and not in the name of the GOP, we are on the right track. We must never wrap the cross in the flag. Hitler did until finally his flag replaced the cross. The question comes to each individual member of Christ’s body and to the body as a whole. Church leadership must be certain of their own theological understanding of Romans 13. To read into it a one-way only with submission the singular path and no contextual connection to Romans 12 is to err in such a way as to leave too many believers struggling with how they are to contend against evil in their own roles.

The church in America and around the world showed itself susceptible to the manipulation by governments during the recent pandemic when isolation, closures, edicts of masks and physical separation all but silenced the church for over a year. Sadly, the silence of the churches sent a message loud and clear. Driven by a narrow focus on Romans 13 and fueled by the fears of the congregants, the churches capitulated.

The church, not simply the pastors and leaders but every member of the Body of Christ must know scripture and must know how to read it correctly. Proof-texting, of which some may accuse me even in this instance, by taking one set of verses outside of their context to support a cultural stand is dangerous, divisive, and perhaps even, demonically driven. The whole counsel of God, the Bible in full must be brought to bear on such serious decisions as when to obey God and not man, not government. Our founding fathers took their role very seriously and much prayer and much contention came as they argued the merits of their actions. Each knew they could be killed under the current law for the insurrection they were planning. It was, without a doubt, treason under English law. Under God’s law, it was the right thing to do. Can we today, draw our line in the sand and say, ‘to here and no further for in all things I will obey God before man?’

Allow me to close  with a movie quote. You knew you would not get all the way through this sincere effort to bring today’s struggles with evil and the response of the church to bare without at least one  good movie connection! It comes from the movie, The Patriot. Reverend Oliver surprises everyone when he prepares to join the Revolution. His response is timely. “A shepherd must tend his flock, and at times, fight off the wolves.”[xi]

Reverend Oliver in The Patriot

[i] https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[ii] Universal church is not to be confused with the Universalist Church which accepts all gods, all religions. The Universal Church is the body of true believers, followers of Christ across time, across all political and denominational boundaries that are the hands of Christ reaching out to the world in His Name.

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law

[iv] https://taylormarshall.com/2014/06/thomas-aquinas-natural-law-5-points.html

[v] https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=government&version=NKJV

[vi] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5293/nkjv/tr/0-1/

[vii] http://www.hccentral.com/eller12/part6.html

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2012:21&version=KJV

[xi] https://quotegeek.com/quotes-from-movies/the-patriot/8024/

re•lig•ious [ri lijjǝss] (adj) free-dom [fre’edǝm] (noun)

Rev. Ross L. Riggs, D Min.  www.docriggs.com   Ministry Minute ~ when there’s only a minute for ministry  

An original work of Riggs Family Ministry and True North Ministries

The Human Rights Report “The annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – The Human Rights Report – cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political and worker rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.”[i] According to the May 2010 National Security Strategy, “We see it as fundamental to our own interests to support a just peace around the world – one in which individuals, and not just nations, are granted the fundamental rights that they deserve.”[ii]

In a recent report by Thomas F. Farr, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun: The Obama administration neglects a key foreign policy issue,” [iii] he reports that the U.S. State Department announced that it is dropping coverage of religious freedom from its annual Human Rights Report. According to the State Department it is to “avoid duplicating coverage available in the annual Report on International Religious Freedom.”[iv] On the State Department website where ‘current’ reports from both categories are to be found (neither has anything more current filed than 2010), the following quote is highlighted at the top from Secretary Clinton: “Religious freedom provides a cornerstone for every healthy society. It empowers faith-based service. It fosters tolerance and respect among different communities. And it allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.”

In fact, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the Human Rights Report pays homage actually does list, all the way at number 18, the following: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”[v] This may come as a surprise to most who read this, the U.N. by its article 18 gives more standing to the public practice of one’s religion than the current U.S. administration does! Article 19 continues the thought of 18 with: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This would certainly put a damper on those who seek to silence the National Religious Broadcasters and political pundits such as Mr. Limbaugh and others who utilize ‘any media and regardless of frontiers’ to ‘impart information and ideas.’

A further review of the Declaration also seems to logically read the description of marriage for the purpose of raising a family and seems to indicate it is between a man and a woman, although not specifically stated. It is logical to conclude however from the language. (Article 16: 1-3)

Before you look to your loving spouse, of the opposite sex, and say that it appears the kindly but aging Rev. Riggs has dropped his false teeth in the soup, and I am endorsing anything that comes out of the United Nations, I am simply pointing out that this administration’s favorite play toy in Manhattan seems to be utilizing terminology that gives support to those whom this administration is seeking to gag (maybe a poor choice of words, because many fundamentals and conservatives have gagged at the rhetoric that comes out of 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue), let’s use the word ‘silence.’ U.N. doctrine is supportive in written text at least, of exercising religious freedom even outside the place of worship and the U.N. does use the term ‘religious freedom’ rather than ‘freedom of worship’ which is in vogue in polite Democratic circles. (It keeps those Christians off the streets and out of the public square!) Granted, the Declaration was ratified on December 10, 1948 and that was at a time when the U.N. also saw fit to “grant” Israel sovereign nation status. Obviously much has changed in sixty-four years but the Declaration’s wording remains the same.

However, back to Mr. Farr’s article and the evidence with which he convinces us that while the administration is trying to distance itself from the notion of enforcing ‘religious freedom’ declarations on the international front, there is certainly a crisis of epic proportions world-wide. Mr. Farr cites two studies by the Pew Research Center. First, “…70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is severely restricted, by either governments or private actors.”[vi] In the second report (2011) “found that between mid-2006 and mid-2009 the situation deteriorated in twice as many countries as it improved.”[vii] This is not making headway at all but rather is steering the U.S. on a collision course with the countries having even less tolerance than a decade ago.

As many of the nations where the restrictions on religious freedom are non-Western, Muslim-majority; it should not surprise you that: “Of all the religious groups subject to persecution, Christians came out on top…”[viii]  The noted harassment of Christians was found in 130 countries. Muslims did not fare much better. They were reported as receiving harassment in 117 countries. The article states that a growing degree of anti-religion sentiment is in Western Europe which had been previously a purveyor of practicing priests and parishes. It does not indicate, however, whether the Western European disdain of religion is all religion or, perhaps because of the rapid spread of Islam there that it might be directed toward the Muslim. In any event, according to Pew, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Iran are all in the category of ‘high’ social hostility to religion. France has moved ahead of Cuba in government restrictions against religion. Again, one wonders if France’s disdain is directed more at the Muslim than any other religion but the information is not available from these sources to determine the answer.

Although Western Europe has not engaged in torture, rape, murder, unjust imprisonment and execution for religion as many more extreme ‘societies’ have; there is a belief that “religious freedom is not only unnecessary for human flourishing or social development, but that it poses a threat to these and other goods.”[ix] Especially troubling is that democratic majorities, as well as authoritarian regimes, are rejecting religious freedom. Canada sometimes mirrors and sometimes leads Western Europe where now an “aggressive secularist majority…refuses to permit religiously informed moral arguments into public life.”[x] A recent conference in Oxford brought to light the possibility that “Once same-sex marriage is legalized in the United Kingdom, (an audience to popular media on the matter), agreed, dissenters should be ‘pursued by the law.’”[xi] As I mentioned, sometimes Canada is ahead of their European relatives. “In Canada, it is estimated that since the adoption of gay marriage in 2005, between 200 and 300 proceedings have been launched against defenders of marriage in courts, human rights commissions, and employment boards.” It is reported that the Catholic bishop of Calgary was threatened and charged with a human rights violation for a letter he circulated on his teaching on marriage. According to Farr, the bishop capitulated and stopped his teaching.

Recently, sociologists have proclaimed that religious freedom is good for democracy. It is also linked to economic development, the equality of women and the ‘absence of violent religious extremism’ all of which one would think are things to be sought after in a democracy. From President Obama, however we hear statements such as March 2009, at Notre Dame: “It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God… asks of us.”[xii] Later that year, in December at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defined the content of religious liberty: “To fulfill their potential, people… must be free to worship, associate, and to love in the way that they choose.” So, it seems, the President and Secretary of State are out of step with even the Declaration on Human Rights set down by the U.N. I suppose that is to be expected since the U.N. has not done enough in line with the Declaration on Human Rights since about the time that it was enacted in 1948. If you doubt that, ask the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay. She is an Indian South African who seems to be a remarkable lady and jurist with an incredible record as well as a husband who was imprisoned under Apartheid. She said, in 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Declaration that: “The promises enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) remain unfilled for tens of millions of people worldwide.”[xiii]

Amen to that! (Oopps… can you say ‘amen’ to a statement by the U.N.)


[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Farr, Thomas F “Religious Freedom Under the Gun” The Weekly Standard  July 16, 2012 (22-24)

[iv] Ibid. 22

[vi] Farr, Thomas F “Religious Freedom Under the Gun” The Weekly Standard  July 16, 2012 (22)

[vii] Ibid. (22)

[viii] Ibid. (23)

[ix] Ibid. (23)

[x] Ibid. (23)

[xi] Ibid. (23)

[xii] Ibid. (24)