When to Hold and When to Fold

Categories: Life Christian › Persecution World › Political Science › Government


The persecution of Christians is not restricted to third world countries. The mainstream media would like you to believe that, and that we are just being paranoid, but I have been on the receiving end of hundreds of death threats, and threats to burn down our building, to rape our children. I have been slandered and my website has been hacked. To me it does indeed feel a bit like persecution. It’s not nearly on the level that my friends in Asia are experiencing, but it has come to America. Alliance Defending Freedom, Heritage Defense, Liberty Institute, and other organizations have seen a huge increase in persecution within our borders. Kelly Shackleford, the founder of Liberty Institute, said, "I have been doing these types of cases for almost 25 years now. I have never seen the levels of attacks like these and how quickly they are now proliferating."

And with the increase of persecution come questions that we are not used to answering. How can we obey God's commands to pray the imprecatory Psalms and His commands to love our enemies? Are those two things in conflict? When is it OK to use the court system? When is it OK to flee? Is there a time when Christians can resist tyrannical authorities, and if so, how? How do we balance resistance with God's call to submit to all who are in authority.

Biblical Options

In a previous message, I gave an explanation of the numerous ways that the Bible authorizes interposition—or resistance to tyranny. There are vertical and horizontal interpositions. There are cross-jurisdictional interpositions, and even family and individual interpositions. Our nation was founded on those principles. It would not have existed without interposition.

But this message is about knowing when to hold and when to fold. There are hills that Christians are called to hold even if it means their death. And Patrick Henry, in his statement, "Give me liberty or give me death," felt that he had come to a line in the sand that he could not cross over. In Matthew 23 Jesus warned His disciples that some of them would not be able to be faithful and avoid death. So there are some situations where you must press for the principle at stake no matter what the consequences might be. But you must do so lawfully.

But what about giving up? What about folding on an issue? Well, obviously we can never compromise. But there are other senses in which we can turn in our cards. In Matthew 10:23 Jesus commands His disciples to flee from persecution in at least some situations. How do you know when it is appropriate to keep fighting and when it is appropriate to flee? And in between are their tactical retreats that enable people to regroup? Yes there are.

And the Bible gives very specific guidance on this subject. There were cultural battles that Jesus absolutely would not back down on, and there were others where Jesus avoided conflict because it wasn't an issue He needed to fight that day. For example, in Matthew 17 Jesus made it clear that He didn't owe the head tax that the officials were trying to collect from Peter and Jesus (v. 25). But He had Peter pay for both of them anyway, and He gave as His reason, "lest we offend them" (v. 27). Why did He not want to offend them? He was quite willing to offend the governing authorities on many issues in the book of Matthew—why not that one? And understanding the answers to questions like that helps us to avoid the extremes of rash hot-headedness on the one side and sinful apathy on the other.

Give In (Matt. 17:24-27; Gen. 26:15-22)

When conflict arises, it is helpful to know what your options are. So let's start there. Are there times when it is Biblically lawful to just give in to the encroachments of tyranny? And I would say, "Yes, there are." In Genesis 26, the Philistines stopped up all the wells that Isaac had been using (wells that his father had dug, mind you), and Abimelech asked Isaac and his servants to leave. Now, Isaac could have insisted on his contract with Abimelech, but he chose not to. Why? Even Abimelech recognized that Isaac's group was more powerful than his own group. He could have won that fight. But Isaac rightly recognized that loss of water rights and a contract was probably better in his situation than loss of a lot of lives. So he moved. It showed him weighing options. Paul rebuked the church in Corinth for going to a secular court rather than allowing themselves to be defrauded. In effect he was saying that there are times when you fold. Yet Paul himself used a secular court in a different kind of situation—and we will look at that in a bit. You read the Declaration of Independence and you see that the governing authorities had patiently tried that option a number of times with King George. It speaks of the "patient Sufferance of these Colonies." They were not hot-headed revolutionaries. They were very wise in their evaluation of when to hold and when to fold.

Stick to Principle and Hope for the Best (1 Kings 21)

Now, I gave an example of folding with property rights. But let me give you an example of the exact opposite—where a person refused to fold and insisted on his property rights. In 1 Kings 21, Naboth refused to submit to King Ahab's request to purchase his vineyard. His family had owned that vineyard for generations and he felt that it would be wrong to disinherit his children. He was not about to submit to eminent domain being used frivolously for the king's personal gardens. Legally he was in the right. But when it comes to politics, being right does not always mean that you will win. Yet God will sometimes lead people to take a stand on even property rights. Naboth lost, but his loss provided a lasting legacy that has helped citizens in subsequent generations. And the Colonies did try to fight certain property issues in the courts of America and in the courts of England, and lost those battles. It was very frustrating—but there is a sense in which those losses were not total losses. They prepared the Colonies for independence.

Rebuke (Luke 3:19-20)

A third option is to rebuke the unbelieving civil magistrate for what he has done. I think there needs to be a lot more of this. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament were engaged in rebuking civil magistrates for violating their constitution. The Scripture I have cited on the overhead shows John the Baptist doing so. And John the Baptist didn't just rebuke Herod for being disqualified for office with his incestuous marriage to his brother's wife. Biblically that issue was important - character does matter for politics. But there was more. Luke 3:19-20 says that John rebuked king Herod "for all the evils which Herod had done" (v. 19). Like many of the Old Testament prophets, he died as a result. But the fact that the civil magistrate did not listen does not make such rebuke a bad option. Indeed, John would have been unfaithful to his calling if he did not preach against Herod's civil evils. And I believe that pastors and military chaplains and chaplains in state and national capitols are not being faithful when they are not preaching against statist evils. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is full of such rebukes against statists. In fact, the whole book of Revelation is largely a rebuke against statism. It isn't pleasant to do that and it isn't safe, but it is one of the options sometimes mandated. And I believe it is an option that lower magistrates need to engage in more often. The Declaration of Independence rebuked King George for inciting "domestic insurrection" within the Colonies. And it mentions that they had remonstrated against unconstitutional actions of the Parliament. Rebuke and remonstrance is one way of resisting tyranny.

Ignore (Luke 13:31-33)

But sometimes ignoring a tyrannical decree is an option as well. And there are numerous examples of this in the Bible. Daniel ignored the decree to stop praying for thirty days. He couldn't obey God and obey the king at the same time. So he ignored the unlawful statute. That's pretty clear cut. But what about when a judge or a police officer tells pro life picketers that they cannot hand out tracts at an LGBT parade or they cannot speak against the actions of an abortion clinic? The law is on the side of the picketers, but here are officers who are making commands that violate the law. What do you do then? Some Christians would say that you must submit to the officer. But in Luke 13 Jesus and the disciples illustrate that it is at least an option to ignore an unlawful order from any civil officer—even if he happens to be the highest authority of the land. Let me read that passage at length. Luke 13 says:

On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You." (Luke 13:31)

So he didn't want Jesus preaching on the public sidewalks (so to speak). And here is Christ's response:

And He said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.'" (Luke 13:32)

Three things to notice: First, He refuses to obey the order because Herod did not have the authority to give such an order. The law allowed for public discourse. It was on the side of Jesus. Second, he rebukes Herod. And third, He even pokes fun at Herod. When he said, "tell that fox," the word "fox" is in the feminine form, showing that Jesus knew that it was really Herodias, Herod's wife, who was calling the shots on this. It was a humorous jab that the audience no doubt appreciated, and it gives the basis for political satire today. There are many other examples of ignoring unlawful orders, but I think this is a clear one. Romans 13:1 says literally, "There is no authority if not from God." So ignoring an unlawful order is at least an option. It may not be a safe option (and that needs to be weighed), but it is a lawful option. There have been presidents who have ignored an order from the Supreme Court. There have been States who have ignored orders from Congress as well as from the State Department. There is a long history in America of one branch of government ignoring the unlawful orders of another branch of government.

Flee (Matt. 10:23; Acts 8:1)

I've already mentioned the fifth option—to flee. The Jewish authorities had forbidden the apostles from preaching. But since Jesus commanded them to preach, they were always getting into trouble. But in Matthew 10:23, Jesus also commands them to flee from capture if possible. How do you reconcile those two commands? Well, when Jesus commands them to flee, He gives as His reason that He wants them preaching in all the cities, not just one and then end up dying. There is a certain long term perspective that we must have when we are in conflict with civil authorities, and one is that we want to win the long term battle. There are strategic reasons for making one decision over another. The writers of the Declaration of Independence knew that without fleeing (secession) they would not win liberty for the longterm. This is why Paul escaped from Damascus in Acts 8:1 by being hidden and put over the wall in a basket. He didn't stop doing what the civil authorities wanted him to stop doing, but then, neither did he turn himself in when it looked like he might be arrested. So flight is often an option. You are probably all familiar with the mother who fled with her daughter to keep her from being forced by the court into the care of a lesbian. That mother has been judged by many Christians. But I don't judge her. Flight is one of the legitimate options. Our country was founded by Pilgrims and Puritans who fled from persecution. Kevin Swanson has written a book called the Second Mayflower that encourages people to look at options like this. They are not unreasonable. They are one of the commanded options in Scripture. I would note that the Puritans who fled did not judge those who stayed to fight in England, and the Puritans who faced the persecution in England did the Christian cause there a great favor. It sometimes takes guidance from the Lord on which option to take. But they are options. That is what I am wanting to establish.

Hire Lawyers (Acts 22:24-26; Tit. 3:13)

The sixth option is to hire lawyers to use the law against your persecutors. The American Colonies were sometimes successful in doing this, and sometimes not so successful. The apostle Paul frequently did this. He stymied his persecutors by appealing to their laws. I think this was why Zenas the lawyer is mentioned in Titus 3:13. Paul needed a lawyer because he was always being hauled before tyrannical courts. And this is why I encourage every church and every Christian family to start financially supporting organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom and Heritage Legal Defense. If every Christian family gave these organizations 100-200 a year, they would be far better financed than the ACLU, and because they have a better position to defend, they would be able to accomplish far more for liberty. We need lawyers like Zenas. In any case, the passage I put on the overhead is Acts 22. The Jews wanted to lynch Paul (a form of mobocracy) and the Roman soldier to keep the peace arrested Paul. Paul's the innocent guy, but he gets arrested. So Acts 22 illustrates that the extremes of anarchy and tyranny are both disastrous to liberty. In any case, once Paul was arrested for his own protection, the commander gave an arbitrary command to scourge Paul—a horrible form of torture. The Roman commander didn't have a clue about the rightness or wrongness of Paul's actions, but he was frustrated that Paul was ruining his day, much like some police officers who have had a rough day have been tempted to take it out on innocent people. And Paul scared the daylights out of that commander by pointing out that what he was doing was illegal, and he could be in hot water with his superiors. He asked, "Is it lawful for you to scourage a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?" And Paul's legal threat was successful. The commander immediately withdrew his unlawful order. And I believe that Christians need to use the law against unlawful actions. We need to network, get legally educated, be connected with Christian legal organizations, and start weighing our options in the culture wars that are coming. If we continue to be a bunch of mild mannered people teaching other mild mannered people how to become more mild mannered, we will never win the culture wars. I don't like conflict myself, but even if you try to avoid conflict, the conflict will eventually come to you. And you need to be prepared ahead of time.

Pit Persecuting Factions Against Each Other (Acts 23)

The seventh option is illustrated in the next chapter of Acts. In Acts 23, Paul gained support from one of the political factions by highlighting what he had in common with one party and why persecution of him could result in persecution of them. He basically slowed down the persecution by getting the enemies to fight with each other. Benjamin Franklin had some success in doing this on behalf of the Colonies. He pitted Pitt's coalition against George Grenville's coalition in Parliament. He managed to get the Stamp Act repealed, much to the joy of the Colonies. But it was only a slow down. It was not a long term strategy. But it is an option that needs to be in the Christian's arsenal in our culture wars.

Appeal to Civic Officers for Help (Acts 23:16-24)

The eighth option is to appeal to civic officers to defend you. The main reason for a civil officer is to protect his citizens from harm—and according to the Bible, that includes protecting them from tyrants. In Acts 23, when Paul's nephew found out about a conspiracy to kill Paul, he informed the Roman commander about it, and the Roman commander used his power to protect Paul. When I had hundreds of death threats coming against me because of my Biblical views on sexuality, the police were very nice to work with, and they patrolled our church and our house for weeks, keeping the agitators back. Now, historically there is a much better case that can be made for the existence of sheriffs and deputies than there is for a police department. The police serve the government whereas the sheriffs duties are to serve the public who put him in office. But is it legitimate for me to work with the police? Yes, just as it was legitimate for Paul to work with the Roman commander in Acts 23 to protect him from the Jewish terrorists. Was that commander a good guy? No. In fact, he had arrested Paul. But over time he became a major defender of Paul. Sometimes unbelievers can be used to fight against unbelievers. Daniel used Darius against civil officers trying to destroy the true faith. Nehemiah used Persian rulers to protect believers in Israel from the persecutions of Sanballat and Tobiah. The Bible gives honor and respect to officers that were not ideal officers. It is an option.

Suffer the Consequences of Resistance (Acts 4)

The ninth option is to stand your ground when asked to violate your conscience, and if other options fail, either be willing to suffer the consequences of refusal or flee. The apostles repeatedly served jail time, and all but the apostle John were eventually martyred because they would not stop promoting Jesus through evangelism and discipleship. In Acts 4 Peter was put into jail and forbidden from preaching. Upon release he went right back to preaching. They were arrested again in chapter 5, but went back to preaching. There are times when you simply cannot cave in no matter what the consequences. And a lot of that depends upon your station in life and your calling.

Secession or War (2 Chron. 21:10; 1 Kings 12)

The tenth option is to be an active part of an official secession or war of resistance. Several hours could be spent in the life of David in understanding the Reformation principles that distinguished times when a citizen could not lawfully raise a sword against a civil government (in other words, no revolution) and when a citizen had an obligation to join with civil officers in fighting for liberty, as happened in our American War for Independence. And even they would tell you that this is a last resort, and must be authorized by civil magistrates to be legitimate. It was not technically a revolution. It was a lawful war declared by lawful magistrates to interpose against unlawful tyranny.

Pray the War Psalms (2 Chron. 20:19-23; Acts 2,4; etc.)

An eleventh option is to pray the imprecatory Psalms against Satan and against his human agents who are seeking to destroy the church. The imprecatory Psalms are inspired weapons that would produce enormous change in America if the church of Jesus Christ would be manly enough to use them. The apostles used them. Christ used them. He used Psalm 69. You probably recognize the words from that Psalm, "Zeal for your house has eaten Me up." Or the words, "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." Those are the words of Jesus. But the very next words are, "Let their table become a snare before them, and their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; and make their loins shake continually. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let Your wrathful anger take hold of them." And He goes on to call down God's judgments upon His enemies. So those imprecatory Psalms are the prayers of Jesus, and the New Testament tells us that the Father always hears the prayers of Jesus, and Hebrews says that Jesus is willing to once again pray these Psalms in the midst of the brethren if the church is willing to take those words upon their own lips.

How do you reconcile that with His grace and His forgiveness? You reconcile it the same way that David did when he wrote His imprecatory Psalms against king Saul (whom he loved) and his son Absalom (whom he loved even more). By praying God's judgment, he turned his enemies over the Lord and was freed up to love them. Lord, you take care of them, while I love them. You see, there are two ways those curses can be answered. If the person repents and puts his trust in Jesus, Jesus bears that curse for him. And he is no longer an enemy; he becomes a friend. That is substitutionary atonement. If he refuses to repent and trust in Jesus, the enemy who is trying to destroy Christ's bride will be taken out by the bride's jealous husband. But the bride must cry out when she is being ravished according to the law of God. And if you want a book that teaches you how to use these spiritual nuclear weapons in a Biblical way, read James Adams' book, The War Psalms of the Prince of Peace.

Biblical Guidelines

Now, there are other potential options beyond those eleven, but I want to spend a bit of time analyzing how to know what to use and when to use it. And so, here are a few guiding principles.

Don't Treat Every Issue as Equally Serious

First, understand that not every act of tyranny is equally heinous. The American Colonists put up with a lot. David put up with a lot from Saul. And the Bible distinguishes between lesser sins and greater sins, the least of these commandments and the greatest commandment. There are issues that involve a person, family, or nation in greater guilt, which implies that there are some issues that involve lesser guilt. And this helps to explain why Jesus decided not to make an issue out of paying the head tax. Not every act of tyranny or robbery of liberty is a hill to die on. That is so critical to understand. We can be patient under tyranny. We have been for many years.

How Destructive is the Action?

Second, examine how destructive any given statist action may be. Does it destroy the family, as homosexual marriage does? Then you cannot ignore it. Does it pollute the land and inevitably lead to God's judgment (Numbers 34) as abortion does? Then it cannot be overlooked. Leviticus 18 says that some sexual sins are so heinous that even pagan nations are eventually vomited out of the land for engaging in those sins. If we love our country and do not want to see God's intense wrath falling upon it, then we cannot ignore the abominations found in the radical GLBTQ movement. So you need to evaluate how destructive the issue is. Is it serious enough that we have no option but to resist? Our founding fathers pledged their lives, fortunes, and their sacred honor to resist the tyranny of King George and Parliament, and what we are facing today is a whole lot worse than what they faced back then.

How Central is the Issue?

Third, is the sin central to a nation's problems? Is it a key hindrance to the Christianization of the nation? Is it a central idol of a nation? If so, the church must lovingly confront the idol. Saint Boniface struggled with his missionary work among the pagans of Germany in the 700s. It was not until he cut down the tree of Thor and challenged the weakness of Germany's central idol that the Christianization of the nation as a whole began to be accomplished. Prior to that, Christian converts wanted to worship God and find favors with Thor. But when a clear antithesis was achieved that showed Christ as the Lord over every square inch of Germany, people began to take Christianity more seriously. One of the central idols of our nation is statism. Even Christians make the mistake of thinking that politics is the solution. They spend enormous sums of money trying to get a president elected and when he does nothing, they are disappointed. Yes, we should be involved in politics, but Christians must repent of seeing the civil government as our Savior. Only Christ is Savior and only Christ is the ultimate Lord. We cannot cave in on any of the big government issues, because until Christians and unbelievers alike recognize that the state is not savior, we will not make progress. It's a slave mentality that looks to the government to solve all our problems.

Will the Issue Destroy the Chances of Covenant Succession?

Fourth, will the issue destroy our chances of covenant succession? By covenant succession I mean passing on the faith and building upon the faith generation after generation. You know the problems that happened in the book of Judges. There would be a godly generation of believers who would take back the land. But they were so focused on culture wars that they neglected the discipleship of their children. They were not spending all day (as Deuteronomy 6 commands) helping their children to figure out how to apply the Bible to every area of life. And the next generation became lukewarm in its worldview. And third generation became so compromised that God had to send judgment by way of statist tyranny. And there are issues that I am convinced will cause the church to completely lose the next generation. It is actually already happening—the youth are leaving the churches. And I blame parents who have been sending their children to the government schools for this problem. They have been asking the Canaanites to disciple their children all day long, five days a week, and they should not be surprised if their children think like pagans. Christian education is one of those hills that I believe I cannot compromise on, and I beg fellow Christians to not compromise on. I automatically write off a candidate if he does not allow the liberty of homeschooling my children because he is cutting off the biggest tool that I have for covenant succession.

Biblical Cautions

There is more that could be said, but let me end with three cautions.

Study the Biblical Issues—Don't Go Off Half-Cocked

My first caution is to not go off half-cocked. Study the Biblical principles that give balance. And the older writers are much better on this subject than a lot of what has been written in my generation. Junius Brutus' book, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, is a masterful treatise that helped our founding fathers navigate the minefields of interposition. Even though it was written in the 1500s, it still has much to teach our generation. Our second president, John Adams, said that it was one of the most influential books among the founding fathers. Another influential author was the Scotsman, Samuel Rutherford. Men like these two had carefully worked through many principles of knowing when to hold and when to fold.

Avoid the Extremes of Statism and Anarchism

My second caution is to avoid the extremes of statism and anarchism. Both are siren calls that will destroy our liberties, yet both profess to be able to help us. Statist politicians promise to fix everything. But that promise is statist itself. According to the Bible, the civil government on every level in America is statist from the national to the local. Ask government to quit helping and to downsize. We need to downsize DC. And really, we need to downsize the state and local governments. More government answers is not the answer. I think if Jesus were at this convention He would likely tell the national government to downsize by approximately 90%. Most of what Washington DC does is grossly unconstitutional and grossly unbiblical. Even the conservatives are statist by Biblical and Constitutional standards.

On the other hand, anarchists want to throw the government out altogether. They have seen the damage that the beast of unbridled government can create, and they want nothing to do with government. But America's founding fathers rightly feared anarchy more than they feared tyranny. Anarchy can become mobocracy, and that doesn't go too well.

Don't Allow Fear to Stop You from Being a Prophetic Voice Against Persecution

The third caution is perhaps the most important one. It is that we should not allow fear to make us quit having a prophetic voice in our culture. Fear is fulfilled just like faith is fulfilled. Because of the way fear kills faith, you tend to get what you fear. Fear and faith are incompatible. And since it is impossible to please God without faith, it is impossible to win our culture wars without a faith that clings to God and to His Word. In Revelation 2 Christ promises to fight against the church that lacks faith. It's bad enough to have the world, the flesh, and the devil against you, but if God Himself is fighting against you, you are in a world of hurt. On the other hand, if we walk by faith and not by fear, we can do the impossible things that are listed in Hebrews 11. It may seem impossible to turn this nation around, but if the church will submit to God's Lordship, embrace the blueprints of His law, and respond in faith, we can do the same things that the people in Hebrews did by faith. Yes, that faith led some to the privilege of martyrdom. And they faced death with a faith that their labors in the Lord were not in vain and that their deaths would not be in vain. But Hebrews also speaks of those

...who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (Heb. 11:33-34)

He didn't list those things as being irrelevant to our lives. He listed those things to inspire us to approach our own cultural battles with faith. May we do so. Amen.

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