Strange Times in America
Tom Henry is pastor of Bible Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a past Chairman of the SGBF and conference speaker.
(This article has been edited for digital publication)
Not long ago it might have seemed strange to submit an article to the Sovereign Grace Messenger on the subject of how Christians should respond if persecution happened in America. But now it is not a matter of “what if”; it has become real. It would perhaps be even more strange to suggest that the oppression would come from government officials. After all, our public servants are sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Yes, everyone elected or appointed to office is required to raise his right hand and take this solemn oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Why is this important? Our founding fathers saw to it that religious liberties are not only guaranteed, but they are given foremost prominence and made basic to all other freedoms. This was made clear in the Declaration and then in the Bill of Rights, the first amendment of which grants us the freedom to exercise our religion, the freedom of speech and the press, the freedom to peacefully assemble and the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
These are rights that all government officials are sworn to uphold and defend. Yet, at the time of this writing, these rights are being violated by officials across the nation, particularly at the state and local level. Pastors and church members in many places are currently threatened with arrests and/or fines for not complying with mandates that flatly deny them their constitutional rights.
There is no liberty without religious liberty
The revolutionary idea contained in the Declaration of Independence is that certain fundamental rights can neither be granted nor taken away by government. They are gifts from God -- which makes those rights “unalienable.” Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are listed in that order, for without life there can be no liberty, and without liberty there can be no happiness. The central idea was the foundation upon which free people determined to govern themselves. The forerunner to the Declaration was signed over a century and a half earlier in 1620. The forty-one families who signed the Mayflower Compact knew their survival would depend on their ability to rely on each other, and that depended on their ability to rely on their God.
“In the name of God. Amen.”
These words began the extraordinary Compact which spelled out the terms of self-government that bound them to one another as they were each bound to God. Unlike the Magna Carta, the Compact was not a contract binding king and servant. It reflected the radical notion that by binding themselves together as equals before God, they could govern themselves. It was a sacred covenant.
Clearly the same spirit and conviction prevailed a century and a half later with the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, as they similarly pledged themselves to each other, and each to God: “We therefore the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that the United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; …and for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance of the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
The argument of the Declaration is straightforward: Because individuals equally possess these rights by nature; because they are God-given rights, government derives its just power from, and by the consent of the governed. We the people have established government for the purpose of securing the fundamental rights of the people, and essential to all is the freedom of worship.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, which make up the Bill of Rights, afford the protection necessary to secure our individual liberty. Together they guard the individual from infringements the Founders recognized would eventually result from instituting a strong central government.
The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” With this right, the Founders prohibited the establishment of any church or religion at a national level while protecting the individual’s free exercise of religion. The First Amendment was not written because the Founders were anti-religious, but precisely because they favored religion and religious freedom. Today, the foundations for religious freedoms are being eroded. The secularsocialist leftists have twisted the meaning of the First Amendment to fit a postmodern world they are endeavoring to create.
People of faith are being systematically marginalized. First, there has been a sustained effort to change the culture by spreading propaganda through the schools and media which promotes secular values while silencing and mocking historic Christian values. Second, there has been for some time a campaign to give secular values the authority of law through our courts, state houses and Congress, while removing religious rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
As a result, public expressions of faith have gone from normal to unacceptable. The abuses are well documented. Year after year, the courts are filled with hundreds of cases based upon the antireligious misconceptions of the First Amendment created by secularists on the left, and often reinforced by judges. The reason that the secular-socialist left tears down crosses, arrests people for talking about their faith in public, redefines marriage, prevents students from reading their Bibles, and removes God from society, is really quite simple. The Christian worldview is the single greatest threat to the utopian vision of the secularists.
This vision relies on a powerful, centralized government that must be the supreme authority in order to ensure compliance. Dissent cannot be tolerated. Thus, the present system of a constitutional republic with religious freedom at the very core must be torn down. America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles that uphold the individual’s rights of conscience. This explains why the secularsocialist agenda of the Left includes keeping Americans ignorant of their history rooted in Christianity. They have been rewriting American history for many decades. They must erase our Christian heritage and culture, and the Creator Himself, if they are to impose socialism on this nation.
Not only has religious liberty been under attack, but so has the right to freedom of speech afforded us in the same Amendment. Both the right to peaceful assembly and the right to speak freely and uncensured are essential to the practice of our Christian faith. Secularists have succeeded in getting laws on the books that prohibit “hate speech,” which undermines free speech.
Certainly, God’s people do not wish to use demeaning or offensive speech toward anyone, but we are required to preach the whole counsel of God. As we preach the Word, we need not offer personal commentary in order to be charged. By reading the very words of Holy Scripture, in which God condemns the sinful lifestyles of certain protected groups, we become guilty of what in their view is “hate speech.” The fact is, as we are constantly under the surveillance of “language police,” and as things continue to get worse, it is not only possible, but likely that some of us will be arrested for no crime other than simply declaring what God’s Word says. There is no denying that our Christian faith is under attack.
Along came the Coronavirus pandemic
It should come as no surprise that those on the left were quick to seize and politicize the Covid pandemic, especially in an election year. There are substantial reasons to believe that China deliberately released the virus, and it would not be surprising to find that some of these radical leftists conspired with them in doing it. In any case, they saw it as a great opportunity not only to try and win an election, but to advance their agenda in the process.
We are given a little taste of what will be in store should they ever succeed in gaining power. One thing that is now clear is that the shutdown was intended to target churches in particular. We are all aware of the abuse that churches on the West Coast are suffering at the hands of their elected governors and mayors, whose restrictions violate their constitutional rights – rights they have taken a solemn oath to protect and defend.
If the insanity resulting from Covid-19 weren’t enough, the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis, sparked protests in our streets, providing yet another opportunity for the Marxists to advance their cause. The protests were very quickly hijacked by radical left-wing terrorists -- ANTIFA and BLM. The heads of these two organizations, which leading liberals consistently refuse to condemn, boast openly that they are proud Marxists. The violence and destruction of institutions is clearly out of the Karl Marx playbook.
Make no mistake about it, these mobs of terrorist anarchists are not made up of opportunists who just randomly show up to get in on the action. They are well-funded and they are sent to do what they do. It was not announced in advance where President Trump would make his acceptance speech. Yet, the night of the speech there were at least 100,000 rioters flooding the streets, wreaking havoc and threatening the lives of those who attended. Marxism, which the American leftwing extremists are now embracing, is rooted in atheism, like all Communist and Socialist systems. This explains why, according to their stated purpose to destroy American institutions in a violent take-over, the church is the primary target. This is because, as stated before, the greatest obstacle standing in the way of the secular socialist agenda is the Bible and the Christian religion. Should they ever take over, what we now see will have been but a foretaste.
What is our duty as Christians and citizens?
“Let every soul be subject to the powers that be” (Rom. 13:1). This means simply and directly that every individual is to be obedient to the ruling authorities in the city, the state, and the nation. “The powers that be are ordained of God.”
Even though we elect people to places of authority and power, the Scripture states clearly that no authority exists apart from God, and that the rulers which are over us have been appointed by God. We certainly believe this and acknowledge that much of the violence, disorder, and disobedience today is due to the fact that people have no regard for God’s authority, and whether or not they realize it, this is the root cause of their disregard for ordained powers. “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:2).
This means that the person who rebels against the civil authorities in his community or in his country is really resisting the appointment and the arrangement of God. Surely no one who accepts the teaching of Scripture would disagree on this point, but does this mean that we must never under any circumstances resist the powers that be? What are we to do when those who are sworn to protect our right to practice our religion as we see fit, use their powers against us?
One thing we can and must do is vote. We sometimes meet up with people of faith who do not believe we should get involved in politics. But, as we see our freedoms being eroded and our religious rights trampled, it becomes our duty to get involved for sake of the Gospel. We have the special privilege as Americans to elect those who rule over us. Thus, we have the power as a people to remove from office those who offend, and to retain those who are good. We owe it to ourselves and those we serve to learn about what the candidates stand for and to urge other believers to do the same. We have a duty as Christians to cast our vote for those who will honor their oath of office and uphold and defend our rights.
As we see what is happening all around us, it behooves us to know the platforms of the two opposing parties in the coming elections, and cast our vote for the one most likely to put a stop to the abuses. The 110-page “Manifesto” of the Democratic Party could have been written by Karl Marx himself. This is the Biden-Harris platform, and we must do all we can to prevent them from winning in November. This is the most important election of our lifetime. Many of our freedoms are at stake, including our First Amendment rights.
Consider the example of the Apostle Paul
How is Paul, whose circumstances were so different, an example to us? He had no constitutionally guaranteed rights such as we have. He had no say regarding who should rule over him, and we might think he had no recourse when he was unjustly treated. Yet, he is an example. From a Roman prison where he was being unjustly held, he gave instruction to Timothy for the Church: “I exhort therefore that, first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for Kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1- 2).
Paul gives a specific reason why we are to pray for those who are in authority over us, and the fact that he was in prison awaiting his execution explains a lot. The stated reason was “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Paul was about to die at the hands of the state for no crime at all. His only offence was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Had Paul’s citizenship been in a nation that gave him constitutional rights to preach the Gospel, what might he have done? Yes, he would have prayed for his rulers, but he would also have protested the violation of his rights as a citizen. We know this because he did so on other occasions when his rights as a Roman citizen were violated. At Philippi, when the magistrates sent to have him and Silas released, he sent word back to them saying, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? Nay verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out” (Acts 16:36- 37).
He clearly accepted all that had happened as God’s will, and for that reason, he and Silas rejoiced, but that did not prevent him from protesting the wrong that had been done to him by the local officials. On another occasion when he was about to be scourged, “Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). His protest in this case spared him the whip.
Paul demanded his rights so far as they went, but what might he have done if he had the freedoms we have as American citizens. One thing of which we can be sure, had he lived in a democracy where the people elected their leaders, he would have exhorted Timothy and the church to vote for rulers that would protect their right to “lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.”
We Americans have that right and are fools not to exercise it. Paul knew and accepted the fact that all things he suffered were for sake of the Gospel. This he testified to Epaphroditus, who came from Philippi to Rome to inquire of his well-being. From prison, he said, “The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel” (Php. 1:12). In this he rejoiced. Nevertheless, he strongly protested the injustice he suffered at the hands of men. There is no inconsistency here. We can accept persecutions as God’s will, while at the same time demanding the justice and protection that is due us.
We are not, however, to avenge ourselves. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). We are assured from Scripture that not one single drop of the blood of the persecuted will go unavenged, and neither shall any other injustice be left unpaid. The Lord said, “I will repay!”
What about our right to self-defense?
Our Constitution grants all Americans the right to keep and bear arms. While our First Amendment right is being slowly whittled away, our Second Amendment is also in danger. This has become a major issue with respect to the coming election. While President Trump has vowed to protect our gun rights, Mr. Biden has assured us that, if he is elected, our gun rights will be taken away. In fact, he has gone so far as to announce that he will name the anti-gun Beto O’Rouke to be his “gun czar” if he is elected president.
The Founding Fathers, in order to preserve liberty from encroachment by government and politicians, gave us the Second Amendment, which says, “A wellregulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The secular-socialist left with their anti-gun agenda, argue that militias no longer exist as they did in the 18th century. Thus, the Second Amendment is antiquated and the right to arms is no longer relevant. This is a willfully false reading of the Amendment, as the writing and experience of the Founders demonstrate. They intended the Second Amendment to be understood as granting individual rights that exist outside the context of using weapons as part of service in a militia.
Whether or not you own a gun or desire to own one, and whether or not you would ever consider taking up arms for any reason, every American ought to be alarmed that his “right to keep and bear arms” is being threatened. We must ask ourselves, “Why would government officials want this right removed?” The question answers itself. Therefore, it is our duty to fight to preserve our Second Amendment.
What are we to do If worse comes to worse?
If we should lose or be denied our rights afforded to us in the First and Second Amendments, what can we do? Yes, we have a duty to obey the law, and to be subject to the powers that be (Rom. 13:1), but there is a law that supersedes human laws, and a King that overrules all earthly magistrates. Some of our brethren are refusing to abide by the unconstitutional mandates issued by their magistrates, and the unconstitutionality gives them the right of appeal, which they are exercising – successfully in some cases.
But what if we no longer had a right of appeal? We have some biblical examples. When the Apostles were ordered not to preach any more in Christ’s name, Peter and John answered, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more that unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). They were afterward imprisoned for the same offence, and when released by an angel, they continued to preach Christ. When they were threatened again, Peter simply answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
But, if we are put in jail, it is not likely that an angel will come and release us. The three Hebrew children realized that God might not choose to deliver them from the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s image. “If so be,” they said, “Our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning furnace…but if not, be it known…that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image” (Dan. 3:17-18). Likewise, Daniel, knowing that the lion’s den awaited any who dared to pray to any god or man except King Darius, went into his house and prayed to his God, “as he did aforetime” (Dan. 6:10). He did this, not knowing whether God would deliver him from the lions.
The present climate being what it is, and judging from what I hear many of my brethren saying, I think we all sense that we can expect Christian persecution to rise to a level we have not before seen in America. No matter how elections go, without divine intervention the danger remains. That is not to say that it doesn’t matter who wins, for I believe it matters a great deal. One party stands for the Constitution and basic Christian principles, while the other expressly does not.
Let us, therefore, do all that we can to preserve our liberties, particularly as they pertain to freedom of religion; let us pray to God for His intervention; and let us continue to cry out to Him for revival. Come what may, our duty is clear with respect to the Gospel and the Church. We must not be silenced, for we must obey God rather than men. God is able to save us from the “furnace” of affliction, “BUT IF NOT,” we know what we must do.