By: Mike Kelly
Recently a friend of mine has been caught in a place where he has had to decide to obey the civil law or to obey the Word of God as he sees it. It’s been a very difficult situation.
The authorities have a right and responsibility to make laws and codes that help keep people safe. They also have a responsibility to apply the law evenly and fairly.
In this case they have chosen to apply it to one situation while completely ignoring an identical situation.
In other words, they are using the codes to get what they want, not for the betterment or safety of the people they supposedly serve. That should embarrass them and expose their motives for all thinking people to see.
I wince at even writing this column. I know that I will get some folks riled up who can make things difficult for me in many areas.
Even though I am tangentially involved in this situation, I will most likely get painted with the same brush as my friend.
Much of me wants to explain the situation plainly for everyone to know the injustice that is taking place.
The other part of me must be concerned with the three ministries that I am called to direct and what could happen to them if I get personally embroiled in this battle. Even Scripture doesn’t seem to give me a clear directive.
When we observe such unfairness, what should our response be? Rom 13:2 reads “Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
So, that means that we are wrong to disobey these civil authorities even when they are not even-handed.
Certainly, the Roman government that Paul was writing about was anything but fair and even-handed yet he says to obey them. That is certainly the letter of the law.
However, Luke addresses it differently in Acts 4:18-20 “When they (the religious authorities) called Peter and John back, they demanded that they stop all speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus.
Peter and John responded, “It’s up to you to determine whether it’s right before God to obey you rather than God. As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
In other words, we cannot obey your laws or orders because we have a higher calling to obey God and not man. That’s the Spirit of the law.
So, here you have it, another dichotomy like often found in scripture. We are told we are conquerors, yet we are slaves. We are first yet last, if we find life, we lose it.
Jesus came to give us abundant life, yet we are to take up our cross and follow him. As we know, the eastern mind does not have a problem with paradoxes or dichotomies. Both can be true even though they appear opposite.
Jesus chose to heal on the Sabbath in direct conflict to Jewish law. Love is the fulfillment of the higher law to which we as believers owe our allegiance and can supersede the laws of men.
In my friend’s case, the decision needs to be made while weighing the costs of obeying the law or of obeying God’s calling to him. Obeying the law will place an extreme hardship on a number of people.
Failing to obey the law could ultimately cost him a huge fine and maybe the loss of his home if it were a big enough fine.
As I write this column, I do not know what path he will take. I don’t even know what I would choose if I were in his place and saw scripture in the same light as he does. Do you plant your flag and die over it or do you back off and live to fight another day?
The only thing I do know is that the law is being applied unevenly and with intent to make a church quit doing what it believes Christ calls churches to do…feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, set free the captives.
Since they can’t tell the church what to do, they are using civil laws to stop the church from doing what they don’t like.
Mike Kelly is the founding pastor of Bryan’s Grace Community Church (retired) and Board Chairman of Bryan’s Sanctuary Homeless Shelter and Williams County’s Compassion (free) Medical Clinic.