Another in the Fire
November 3, 2020
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not…” (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV 1984).
I follow him for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), but he spends his real life as pastor of a Christian church in a nearby town. He was sharing with me after I checked him over. “You know, the mayor came and told me I had to shut down my church due to the Coronavirus. Do you think I did?” “Knowing you,” I answered, “not likely.” “The police came out when my folks were cleaning up the property and told them they couldn’t be there.” “Did you stop preaching?” “I did not, and they never shut us down.”
This story is not addressing a political or public health question.
This story is asking, “What do people of God do when God is calls them in one direction and the government orders them toward another?” Perhaps more and more of us will face this in the future, whether we bleed blue or red.
What will you do if your government forces you to obey when God says, “You must not”?
Christians throughout the world are jailed or dying because they follow God’s direction when it opposes civil authority. There is good reason to believe this could be our future as well. If one group in power could do it with Martin Luther King, Jr., another group in power could do it with me.
Jesus was no stranger to the question. You remember the scene when He answered, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17, NIV 1984).
Jesus recognized the necessary authority of government and understood that we should separate our actions dependent on the authority they lie beneath. But He leaves us the choice whom to obey when the two loyalties conflict. That choice for me has been clarified by the blood of the martyrs, martyrs such as the Bishop of Beauvais in 1792.
After the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, the Constituent Assembly passed a law which required all clergy to take an oath subjecting their ministry to secular authority (similar to the requirements for the “official” churches of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Communist China). Those who refused were declared enemies of the revolution. In 1792, a mob formed searching for priests who had refused the oath. They found 150 priests and bishops in a Carmelite church awaiting deportation. Two by two, the priests were brought before the mob and interrogated. When they refused the oath, they were taken to the garden and hacked to death. Their allegiance to God was greater than their allegiance to the civil authorities. They made their choice.
What will I do when my government demands one thing and God demands another? What if the choice costs me my job, as it has for many, or my reputation, as it has for many, or my life?
I am not a brave man, and I don’t now know the answer, but when the question comes, I hope God will be with me and grant me the courage He gave to the Bishop of Beauvais in that Carmelite church. He was an invalid, and when his name was called, he replied, “I cannot walk. Will you please be so kind as to carry me where you wish me to go.” He refused the oath and joined the rest in the bloody garden.2
Help me to know when I should stand with you against the world’s authority. If it should ever be so, grant me your courage and your presence. Bless those who have done so and suffered, bless those who are presently doing so and bless all such servants of yours in the future, until your kingdom comes completely.
1 Another in the Fire, song by Hillsong United
2 As told in All Saints, by Robert Ellsberg. The Crossword Publishing Company, New York, 1997.