"Go, Stand, and Speak..."
By J.R. Ensey
Following the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when God had begun to confirm His word with signs following (Mark 16:20), the Jewish authorities set out to stop the new Christian movement. In Acts 5:17-18 we are told they put the apostles in prison for disobeying their orders to not preach using the name of Jesus as their authority (Acts 4:17; 5:17,18). But that night the angel of the Lord came and freed them. They then got their orders directly from God through the angel: “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:19).
Wouldn’t that be a violation the principle which Paul would later outline in Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1. Yes, it would. But that is exactly what they were told to do. When two principles seem to clash, which is to be chosen? The higher of the two should supersede. When leaders are doing the right thing, avoiding corruption, and judging fairly, they are to be obeyed and respected. But when such behavior is not the case, and they are violating God’s laws, which represent the higher principle, we are not required to submit to every mandate of ungodly authorities. That word came directly from the angel of the Lord: “Go…stand… speak.” Therefore, the answer of the apostles to the authorities was: “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19,20).
The attitude that seems to be most common among Christians in America today is, “Just pray. Those in authority are put there by God and we are obligated to obey them. Doesn’t the Romans 13 passage indicate that whoever is in authority has been placed there by the Lord? Let Him handle things. Just wait. Submit. Perhaps God will elevate someone, at some time in the future, who will be more accommodating to Christians.” Is that the approach of God’s people in the Bible? Is that the path the apostles chose? Is that an interpretation of Scripture that is to be wholly followed today? Is there an appropriate way to add action to our unction and put legs on our prayers in order to fulfill the Great Commission?
Regarding prayer, Paul admonishes us to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:2). Sometimes, however, nations elect (by hook or by crook) a leader who does not intend for Christians or any who would oppose their unlawful edicts, to lead quiet and peaceable lives. Such an administration is not marked by godliness and honesty but by tyranny and force supported by lies and deceit. Then what? Are Christians left with no avenue of redress, no voice, no meaningful action?
Prayer alone was not the procedure the apostles followed. They prayed, for sure, but they prayed for boldness to do what they were instructed to do—disobey: “...for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). They didn’t quietly retire to their bunker under the Temple when they were threatened and told not to use the name of Jesus in their preaching any longer. But the louder the authorities’ shrill voices of hatred and denunciation became, the more determined the apostles became to continue to obey God.
Did God back them up? Yes, with miracles and physical healings in sight of the people. But He did not shield them from the resultant political fallout and imprisonment. They would have preferred an easier path, but would that have ultimately contributed to the exponential growth they experienced? Shortly thereafter, the Jews stoned Stephen to death for publicly preaching the gospel from the same Scriptures that they professed to believe.
Conformity was not the path the prophet Daniel chose to follow. He could have prayed silently in his closet, but he chose the path of resistance to the king’s commend—not abject rebellion for rebellion’s sake, but to demonstrate his personal resolve. He raised his window and evidently prayed aloud. The king ordered him to be cast into the den of lions, but God honored his commitment by stopping the mouths of the lions. Had he submitted and ceased his religious practices, would we have ever had the Book of Daniel and his wonderful prophecies about our own day?
Daniel’s friends in captivity could have bowed before the golden idol and silently said to God, “We are bowing because we are being commanded to, but in our hearts we are still standing up.” However, they chose the path of visible resistance. They refused to bow. By disobeying the mandate of the authorities, they demonstrated their faith and made a statement about the God they served. The Lord honored their choice by making an appearance with them in the fiery furnace.
We all want God to help us kill our giants, but do we dare sling a stone in Goliath’s direction? Those would like to see Ahab defeated in battle often hesitate to put an arrow into the sky that God can guide.
The Old Testament prophets like Nathan faced an unrighteous and unrepentant king and called him out. “Thou art the man,” he said, and pointed his finger in the face of an adulterous David. Speaking truth in the right spirit to authorities does not seem to be a violation of some high principle of Scripture.
Who can point to the verses where believers are told they must bow to every decree or idol put forth by ungodly kings, particularly when those kings oppose the laws of God and by lies and tyranny attempt to remove the privileges and freedoms that rightfully belong to the populace? If there is one, throughout history there have been a multitude of transgressors who were backed up, comforted, and encouraged by the Lord Himself.
Who among us dares to condemn the Hebrew midwives in Egypt for saving the male babies alive? Here is their record: “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives… ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives replied to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families” (Exodus 1:15-21 ESV). Because the earlier Geneva Bible in its marginal notes applauded the action of the midwives, James I, King of England, wanted the people to not use the Geneva Bible, which was the most popular English Bible in Europe and the UK. At the first suggestion of a replacement for it among his English subjects, he ordered that a new version be made that would not appear to endorse disobedience to a king. There are limits to which God’s people cannot go, and there are times to disobey. It was the tyranny of King James that moved the Pilgrims and Puritans to come to the shores of America to find a place where they could practice their Christianity according to the dictates of the Word and their conscience.
We should obey the legal authorities, but only up to a point. We pay the taxes they say are due—“Render unto Caesar” that which is his, Jesus told us. We obtain licenses for our cars and the privilege to drive them, and we try to flow with the various government emphases that come and go with electoral seasons. But when those authorities demand actions that are in opposition to God’s laws and/or the laws of the land that they themselves are required to follow, it does not follow that Christians are obligated to conform to their misguided and burdensome mandates. The mandate the early Christians embraced above all others: “Obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
In the aisle of a government-run store in Canton, China (Guangzhou today), I met and talked with an Apostolic Chinese Christian named Lee Keen. Over twenty years before he had been converted through the Acts 2:38 message by one of our Apostolic missionaries. In time, he shared his faith with several students to whom he was teaching the English language. Under Mao’s Cultural Revolution he was arrested for the “crime” of also unlawfully teaching the Bible in the context of his classes. He was consigned to prison for twenty years. He was totally disconnected from his family during this time. When he could not find them after his release, he assumed they were all dead or themselves imprisoned. He had just been freed when I met with him in the store. In concern for his safety I reminded him that this store had security cameras and probably sensitive microphones—“You were just released from prison and they might send you back if they know that you are again mentoring students in language and witnessing to the in the process.”
“So what?” he replied. “Prison doesn’t frighten me. I know what it is. I have been there. What is more important is that we get this message out to the people and teach them about Jesus.” I marveled at his unselfless boldness. Should he be condemned for not following the laws of that Communist country? Will he be judged harshly for his disobedience and violation of Chinese dictums? We will be standing by him at the judgment seat of Christ.
The Bible, particularly the Book of Proverbs and the writings of the prophets, provide a look at God’s expectations of kings and rulers (Proverbs 16:10,12,13; 20:8,26,28; 21:1; 26:5; 29:14; et al). They were expected to rule in righteousness with a fair hand. They were to be honest and uncorrupted by bribes and the pressures of ungodly counselors with personal agendas. The Lord even laid out specific instructions for them to be fully acquainted with the laws that favored truth and righteousness. In fact, they were instructed to make a copy of the law and to read from it every day (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Selfish, corrupt and wicked rulers who ignore the principles of righteousness cause the people to suffer and mourn: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2). These words in Isaiah 28:14-18 should cause every ruler to fear and tremble: “Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves. Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.”
We fully understand that Israel was a theocracy, whereas America is not. It is a democratic republic, yet its laws were written to reflect and conform to those in the Bible. Our Declaration of Independence mentions God a number of times to express our reliance on divine providence. Judeo/Christian ethics are woven throughout our Constitution. Images of Moses, the lawgiver, appear in several places in the nation’s capital. Its most prominent monument is topped with words of praise for God.
Allow me to quote from The Journal of the American Revolution: “Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and edited by his fellow delegates, it contains a theory of rights that depends on a Supreme Being, not man, for its validity. The Declaration states that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It is possible to see in these words an affirmation of the Founders’ religious faith, but God-given rights had less to do with theology in the summer of 1776 than they did with rebellion. In stating that people’s rights were given to them by their creator, the Continental Congress endowed those rights with a legitimacy that knows no parallel in mortal sources. What God has given to man is not enjoyed at the sufferance of any monarch or government. Liberty is the inviolable birthright of all. The right of revolution proclaimed by the Declaration flows directly from this notion of inviolability: it is to secure people’s divinely endowed and unalienable rights that governments, ‘deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ are established. The people consequently have the right and indeed the duty to alter or abolish a form of government that becomes tyrannical. The Declaration contains several other references to a higher power. … In the conclusion, Congress appeals to ‘the Supreme Judge of the world’ for the rectitude of its intentions and professes its ‘firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.’ In each case, reference to a deity serves to validate the assertion of independence. (Journal of the American Revolution)
Christians carry dual citizenship, both earthly and heavenly. As a wise person once observed, “Christians are but sojourners in this world. A sojourner is a citizen of another country but is tasked with spreading his home culture to the land he is presently in.”
This author is not advocating armed revolution. I do appeal for and pray for quietness and peace and honesty, rather than an iron fist of tyranny that invites and virtually requires Christian disobedience. The corruption of our language, science, and history, upending the social structure that has given this nation prosperity, lifting people from poverty, and providing encouragement of honest and ethical government at all levels of society, is a travesty. The Constitution clearly assigns the government a “hands off” policy toward regulating religion, but that amendment is apparently being ignored in favor of political expediency. Sadly, the Millennials (under 40) seem to be somewhat blasé about the transformation of our country. As a friend said to me recently, “If darkness falls slowly enough, you don’t really notice that it is happening.”
No, America is not perfect nation, because people are not perfect. Whatever form of government people create and rule from is imperfect. However, because of a fair and equitable Constitution, America became the leader in Christian missionary work around the world, helping many nations to rise above tyranny that leads to poverty and crime. Only evil men would want to hinder that effort. The more rights that we timidly relinquish to such rulers, the more they will want to take away.
Under King James I of England, Christians were forced to embrace the doctrine of the Trinity. Those brave souls who resisted on scriptural grounds were burned at the stake. When government officials are corrupt and attempting to hinder the true work of God regarding worship, doctrine, assembly, and personal freedoms through undue restrictions, it does not appear that we are obligated to honor them. When leaders are corrupt and demand that Christians relinquish their “inalienable rights” of freedom of worship and peaceful assembly, do they not have the privilege to ignore their mandates and “go, stand and speak” in the public square? We vote in the elections, but we can also vote with our voice and our feet while we still have a semblance of the right of free speech, the right to assemble for worship, and to march in peaceful demonstrations. Exercising those rights are, in themselves, legal expressions of “resistance.”
The Bottom Line
It has become clear to many conservative doctors, politicians, attorneys, judges, and just common citizens that the current pandemic and vaccination mandates are not totally based on the health interests of the American people. They are being used to instill fear in the people and force them to give up their basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Doesn’t it seem strange that unvaccinated migrants crossing our border at will are not required to conform to the demands placed upon our own citizens? They come illegally and gain access to health care and other services and privileges while our citizens are being fired for nonconformity, losing their services and privileges.
Science does not support some of the government fiats or their published data. Only one year ago, unvaccinated physicians and nurses working in hospitals fighting Covid-19 were hailed as heroes. Today they are bullied by political hacks as traitors, haters, racists, and criminals. Many are losing their livelihood as well as their social standing. Their voices are quickly being silenced. Others are silent by choice. However, continued silence does not seem to be a viable option for lovers of freedom and future opportunities to preach the gospel.
By hatred and falsehood non-compliant Christians and others who dare to raise a question are being separated and “herded” into a “corral of condemnation” in which they can be more easily managed. They are daily labeled as “murderers” and even “terrorists” if unvaccinated, even though most of those now contracting Covid and passing it on are said to be fully vaccinated. Pastors have been arrested and jailed for noncompliance of edicts to abandon assembling together. How things have changed in only eight short months! Some are being denied health care because they are not in compliance with the heavy-handed mandates. This is happening before our very eyes. History doth repeat itself.
Only by “going, standing and speaking” as the early disciples were told to do, will we be able to overcome the tyranny of this moment in history and fulfill the Great Commission to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
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It seems imperative to again repeat the relevant statement by Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who spent several years in Hitler’s concentration camps for finally speaking out against the Fascists:
“First they came for the (Socialists; Leninists) Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The quotation and its variations express Niemöller’s belief that Germans had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people. He felt this to be especially true of the leaders of the Protestant churches.
1. For example, wives are told to obey their husbands (I Peter 3:1). However, if a tyrannical husband insist that his wife do that which would violate another principle of Scripture, such as demanding that she join him in a drinking binge at the bar, or in some criminal act, she should resist and refrain. She is obligated to obey only to a point.
2. King James was an avid supporter of the Divine Right of Kings, which stated that kings derived their authority directly from God, not from their subjects, and were to be obeyed in any circumstance.