Where Does Christian Resistance Start?
Podcast: Axe to the Root
Topics: Christian Life, Culture, Political Studies
“Whatever Christians were not trained to do in the church, they won’t be able to do outside the church.”
– The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution, Alice M Baldwin
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Welcome to Episode 58 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes our focus will be righteous rebellion. Or, for those Christians who don’t like the word “rebellion” (even though it is just a technical term and has no moral connotations), we may use the expression righteous resistance. Although, in reality, “rebellion” is a better word for it because it literally means “fighting back,” that is, it includes an active element of response. “Resistance” means “withstanding” or “standing in opposition to,” and thus doesn’t really express the activist aspect of our conflict with injustice and wickedness. True enough, rebellion against God is sinful, but so is resistance against God; and neither word in itself carries any negative connotations, for rebellion against tyrants is just as righteous as resistance against tyrants.
For the churches in America in the last 50 years – at least for those that are trying to be faithful to God’s Covenant in Christ – coming to the idea of righteous resistance against the state has been a painful process. I said coming to that idea, but in reality I should have said returning to that idea. That rulers do not deserve automatic allegiance – and indeed, deserve even revolutions and even executions – used to be accepted by default in Reformed circles. During the Reformation and after, wherever the Reformed faith appeared, revolutions of one sort or another against existing authorities inevitably followed. The Huguenots were the first to develop the concept of righteous resistance based on the concept of the Sovereignty of God; obviously, if God is Sovereign, the king is only a servant to God, and failing to perform as a servant automatically stripped him of the authority to rule. Calvin left many paragraphs in this vein, using as strong language as to say that we ought to spit on the heads of princes who abuse their power rather than obey them. The French Wars of Religion and persecution of Huguenots continued for two centuries, and despite being severely outnumbered, the Huguenots were a serious challenge to the French crown in terms of military resistance. Calvin’s and Zwingli’s Switzerland fared much better, but it had to fight against different claims of political and feudal sovereignty within the Holy Roman Empire. The Calvinists in the Netherlands organized their resistance against Spain even before they had their churches organized; so powerful was the influence of the so-called “hedge preachers” upon the population that the local magistrates always lagged behind the people in confronting the Spanish monarchy. The history of resistance of the Covenanters in Scotland – the original ones, not the modern fake ones who pretend to be their heirs – is well known, or should be well known to all Reformed; and the history of the English Revolution and the Commonwealth under Cromwell should be even better known. It is under that same Commonwealth that for the first time in the history of Europe, a King was taken to court and executed for crimes against his own nation; a logical conclusion of the Reformed concept that a ruler is supposed to be a servant, and a failure to be such is tantamount to treason deserving of death penalty. (Remember that Luke 12:48 verse so conveniently forgotten by modern American churchmen, “From everyone who has been given much, much shall be required”?)
That propensity of Reformed Christianity to give any political ruler a serious run for his money was not limited to the period of the Reformation. The American War of Independence was almost entirely influenced by Calvinist preachers in the colonies who spoke of righteous rebellion as a moral imperative in the face of a tyrannical government. Even as late as the 20thcentury, Reformed Christians in Nazi Germany were very clearly opposed to the regime. In at least two of the assassination attempts on Hitler, military officers from East Prussia and Brandenburg were at the center of those attempts. East Prussia and Brandenburg – at least their political and economic elite – were traditionally Calvinist, and you can see the influence of their faith in the letters of Henning von Trescow and Claus von Stauffenberg, the two best known conspirators, both of whom came from traditionally Calvinist Prussian aristocratic families. Even as late as the 1980s, in Romania, the revolution against the blood-thirsty Ceaușescu regime started with the open civil disobedience of a pastor from the Calvinist Hungarian minority –named László Tőkés – against the dreaded secret police of the regime. Historically, them Calvinists are a dangerous bunch; their finger is always on the trigger when tyrants and would be tyrants are trying to terrorize innocent people.
Except for the Reformed Christians in the United States in the last 100 years. Sometime in the last two decades of the 19th through the first two decades of the 20th century, in one way or another, the leadership of the Reformed and Evangelical churches in the US developed a relationship with the political elite that was a little too comfortable and amicable. The War Between the States of 1861-65 was, of course, a clash of two political powers, both devoted to anti-Christian ideologies. When one of them won militarily, the two then united politically in an agenda to destroy the Christian roots and influence on the social and civil life of the United States. Christianity was still strong, and was even stronger among the millions of immigrants, so the elite had to act duplicitously: on one hand, giving lip service to the Christian faith, and on the other, slowly eroding the spiritual foundation of the civil establishment. Politicians would loudly profess to be Christians, and then would introduce laws that were in essence anti-Christian: government regulations on business, taxation of income and land, government schools, immigration restrictions, fiat money and legal tender laws (including confiscation of gold), standing armies at home and abroad, systems of government redistribution of wealth, destruction of savings through inflation, taxation, and social security, etc., etc., etc. FDR was probably the most duplicitous of all, openly paying lip service to Christianity while acting every day in opposition to the Bible in his career as a politician; but he is not the only politician to do that. For two generations, between the 1880s and the 1960s, there was barely a political figure in the US who didn’t do the same.
These anti-Christian laws were not only designed to undermine the Christian influence on government, they were designed to also undermine the very churches themselves, and the very Christian culture the previous generations of Christians had left as a legacy. Economic liberty was taken away, financial freedom was taken away, Christian children were taken away, the ability of the church to act as God’s agent of welfare was taken away. . . . What was given, however, was a special tax status for churches and pastors. The government was taking away everything that the Christian culture of America has produced over several generations, and left a small handout to the pastors in the form of tax exemptions. This was enough to produce deep loyalty in the pastors. Their spiritual ancestors – the Black-Robed Regiment – preached against the government and rejected any handouts in the name of Christian liberty under God. The pastors of the 20th century elevated a false interpretation of Romans 13 as their fundamental doctrine of dealing with the civil government – a doctrine of full obedience to Caesar, except when Caesar specifically orders them to sin. (A doctrine that is fallacious and dangerous, because it renders Christians passive when injustice is committed by the government.) By the 1960s, there was no voice in any Protestant churches in America that spoke against the government. The doctrine of righteous resistance was forgotten. Of course, this amnesia was not limited to that doctrine; many other Biblical doctrines were forgotten, and especially those about the Biblical limits on civil government. As long as the government had special provisions for the pastors and for their incorporated entities, it was OK.
The first bits of awakening to the reality of this deception came in the 1962 with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Engel v. Vitale case where the Supreme Court declared prayer in public schools to be unconstitutional. (Interestingly enough, the plaintiffs were an alliance between the Synagogue Council of America, a few other Jewish rabbinical organizations, and the atheist Ethical Culture movement.) By 1962, apparently, the political elite considered its hold on the institutional churches to be strong enough to not worry about any backlash. And indeed, there wasn’t any backlash from the institutional churches. But the bitter taste left after that decision made at least some Christians realize that the days of comfortable co-existence with the political elite are over, and the government would now start using its power – and the passivity and acquiescence of the church leaders – to advance its anti-Christian agenda. The 1960s, thus, saw the beginning of the Christian school and homeschool movement. These first signs of resistance were taken very seriously by the civil authorities everywhere, to the point of persecuting homeschooling parents. Almost every single state held one or more trials against homeschoolers. Even the few individual families that dared defy the civil government were already considered a serious threat.
Then came January 22, 1973, when a panel of 5 Republican and 2 Democrat judges, all members of good standing of institutional churches (one Methodist, one Roman Catholic, two Episcopals, and three Presbyterians) ruled in favor of decriminalizing abortion. The mask was now off, and there was no way for any sincere professing Christian to even begin to imagine that civil government in the United States – at any level, federal, state, or county – was the government described in Romans 13. January 22, 1973 clearly revealed that for the last 100 years, a Revelation 13 beastly power had replaced the Romans 13 government authority that was meant by the original colonists.
One would think that this would be the point where the institutional churches would realize what was going on and would start prepare for battle. False. No denomination and no institutional church raised their voice in the first several years after that decision. In fact, if anything, a few supported it. No, not just the liberal ones; supposedly conservative denominations also supported it. For a while, in the 1970s, even the largest Evangelical denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention, came up with a statement supporting the legalization of abortion. No, this is not a joke. Only a week after the ruling, Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, came out with a report in support of the decision, including the following text:
Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions. They are free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their personal or corporate faith.
The reverse is also now true since the Supreme Court decision. Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion if they so choose.
This continued for a while, in fact. As late as 1979, when Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and Howard Phillips were working to establish the Moral Majority, they discovered that for the majority of the churches, denominations, and Christian colleges and universities, abortion wasn’t even on the list of societal evils of our age. Some of those institutions were way more concerned how to keep receiving federal grants while maintaining a policy of racial segregation than that their own daughters were now free to go to the nearest abortion mill and murder their babies. When Operation Rescue started their work in the 1980s, their main opponents were not the atheists but the church pastors across America. Even today, the vast majority of denominations, churches, and pastors don’t really want abolition of abortion but only government regulation of the mode of abortion, and the mode of disposal of the bodies of the murdered children.
Or, if you take the case of government education, so far no large denomination has taken a stand against it. You would think that the very fact of property taxes (a real blasphemy, for only God owns the land) used to support it would have the so-called “conservative” churches up in arms. Not to mention that for the last 50 years the government schools have become openly anti-Christian not only in their sporadic practices, but also in their consistent, principled ideology. And yet, returning to that same largest Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptists, 55 years after that decision by the Supreme Court, and after all this evidence of the evil of government education, there is still no definite official statement in favor of Christian education. Not even from Baptist Press. Not even after Obama’s directive to public schools to allow boys in girls bathrooms. In fact, in a news release of last year, Baptist Press took a rather disinterested approach to the issue, noting that Baptist parents don’t seem to be much alarmed by the possibility that their daughters might be forced to share showers with boys. And, wait for the most important confession in that article: “The church has not made up its mind on this issue.” Indeed. Or, to be more precise, it has. It has sided with the enemies of God. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. Not to resist the enemy is to resist God.
The only true resistance and rebellion against the expansion of the pagan state in the US has been shown by individuals and what is called “para-church organizations.” (Although, thisterm is incorrect. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the visible church is not the institutions who claim to be churches, but all individuals who profess the true religion; under this definition, all professing individuals are the Church, and all Christian organizations are the Church, whether they are connected to an institutional body or not. If we are to be precise, the vast majority of institutional churches should be called “para-Kingdom religious clubs.”) The institutional churches have not only failed to organize a righteous resistance in accordance with their past history, in the majority of cases they have sided with the enemies of God, against those who have resisted. R.J. Rushdoony was threatened with excommunication from his denomination for speaking against government education, for Christian education. And he is only one case; there are thousands of such cases. And yet, the resistance has been mounting up among individual Christians and ministries, even where their so called “pastors” and “elders” have remained passive, or, since remaining passive is impossible, have remained faithful allies to more and more openly anti-Christian political powers.
Pressure from below, however, and especially pressure from the donations reports, can do miracles so powerful that even Evangelical churchmen sometimes can begin at least faking having a backbone, and faking involvement in the cultural battles of our time. Franklin Graham, who just 7 years ago declared that he won’t move a finger to fight the cultural war in America, last year played the role of unofficial campaign face for Trump among church-goers. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas intensified the spiritual battle by declaring that people salvation depends on whether they vote for Trump. Even John MacArthur, who for decades advised his followers to not worry nor participate in political or cultural struggles, now advised them to vote. (He didn’t explain how and why anyone would vote, if politics had nothing to do with “the gospel,” and we are only called to preach “the gospel”; but then again, this certainly is not MacArthur’s only manifestation of intellectual schizophrenia.) None of this, of course, is a return to the Reformed doctrine of righteous rebellion; it is only a political support for one side of the same secularist political elite, the one that is more willing to use seemingly religious language to advance the same secularist and pagan agenda. We can’t expect anything serious from there.
In all honesty, however, some individual churchmen are beginning to grasp the reality of the situation, and are beginning to call the church to its tradition of righteous rebellion. The historical memory of the Black-Robed Regiment has been revived in at least a few sermons and articles and books. Whether these churchmen are sincere or not is not clear, yet. Some may be sincere, and may indeed be preparing their flocks for a resistance that would be both effective and shrewd. Others may be just trying to ride what the see as a new wave, which may give them some advantages in more followers and donations. Similar to Paul’s sentiment in Philippians 1:15-18, whatever their motives are, whether in pretense or in truth, a return to the original spirit of resistance is preached.
That preaching is good and useful, of course, even if done in pretense. The problem is, however, it won’t work. I mean, yes, more preaching will inspire more individual Christians to seek ways to righteously resist and rebel against the secularism, statism, and paganism of state and its institutions. If more and more pastors start preaching it, perhaps more and more people will attempt it. But the real results won’t come. All we will have is people who want to resist the state but don’t know what to do. And in the final account, nothing is going to be achieved outside just words.
Why do I think so?
Because, following the Great Commission, I believe that Christians can’t do anything practical in the world outside the church before they have learned to do it within the church. The church is supposed to be the teacher of the nations. Or, as R.J. Rushdoony called it, “the recruiting station, the training field, and the armory” of the people of God. Whatever they have not trained for in the church, they won’t be able to do outside the church. If they were not trained to care for their families within the church, they won’t be able to do it on their own outside the church. If they were not trained to be entrepreneurs inside the church, they won’t be able to be entrepreneurs outside the church. If they were not trained to judge righteously inside the church, they won’t be able to judge righteously outside the church. (That’s why we had 7 judges, all members in good standing of their churches, judge in favor of abortion.) And I don’t mean the church as an institution bossed around by a few self-appointed men who imagine themselves to be “elders.” I mean the church in the confessional sense, namely, the community of all those who profess the true faith, and their children.
And now, fasten your seat belts: unless Christians practice righteous rebellion against corrupt church government within the church, they won’t be able to apply righteous rebellion against corrupt civil government outside the church. The church is supposed to be the teacher, the training ground. If it is, then we can’t hope to learn how to depose wicked civil rulers unless we first learn how to depose wicked church rulers. Unless we learn how to build a better church, free of tyranny, corruption, and false theologies, we can’t hope to build a better society, free of tyranny, corruption, and false ideologies. We can’t convince the world we have a solution to civil government, if we haven’t demonstrated we have one to church government. God’s judgment always starts from the House of God. That’s where our judgment must also start from. Otherwise, we won’t achieve anything. Before we learn to take care of the trash in our own backyard, no one will trust us that we can take care of the trash in the backyard of the society.
Consider this: No successful Christian resistance against political powers has ever started or has been successful where there hasn’t first been a large-scale rebellion against existing ecclesiastical powers. The Reformation and the political revolutions that followed from it – France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Scotland, and finally, the American colonies – are our brightest most recent global example of that truth. But there are multiple others as well. The early church was only capable of resisting the Roman Empire because it was born first in the context of religious resistance against the ecclesiastical power of the Jewish Temple. We today tend to underestimate the influence and the oppression the early church got from the Jewish religious leaders – mainly because in our modern world, the Jews seem to be a rather small group of no religious significance. But in the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, they were numerous (more than 20% of the urban population of the Empire; the Jewish quarters of the two most populous cities in the Empire, Rome and Alexandria, comprised about ¼ of the population); and not only numerous but also politically and economically powerful (Julius Caesar had freed all the Jews of taxes every seventh year, and during the other six years, their taxes were to be paid to the Temple, not to Rome, which gave the strong economic power). As we know from the New Testament, the Temple even had its own armed guards under local command, which was seldom allowed to the conquered nations. The religious establishment of the Jews was powerful and dangerous, and Christians had to first learn to rebel against it before they were able to turn the Empire around. Even after the destruction of Jerusalem and the weakening of the Jewish power and influence, different Christian groups had to resist corruption and tyranny within the church, and that before Constantine the Great. Tertullian and his struggle against corrupt church powers in Rome is little known today, but it reveals that the early church was not free of human ambition and tyranny; and it didn’t lack righteous rebels who stood against that tyranny.
The history of the dark ages gives us another example of it – and when I say “dark ages,” I don’t mean it in the secularist sense, that is, the centuries of Christendom before the French Revolution, but the period of invasions, migrations, and social chaos between the 5th and the 8th centuries AD, after the old Roman power disintegrated, but before Charlemagne consolidated his kingdom. It is not a well-known history for most Christians, and in a future episode, we will cover a grass roots movement that was unique in history, for it was the longest surviving grass roots movement ever, and yet, has the deepest impact on history, profoundly changing the moral rules for politics and government in the West: the Peace and Truce of God Movement. It is also the least known of all Christian grass roots movements, despite its enormous importance, that’s why we will cover it in a future episode. For now, suffice to understand that before the political establishment of feudal Europe could be trained to act in a civilized, Christian manner, there had to be first a series of church reforms where church leaders were confronted and often kicked out of their positions of power; and the monastic movement in the West played a revolutionary role in changing the leadership of the church.
I mentioned earlier the resistance of the Hungarian Reformed pastor László Tőkés against the Communist authorities. Even his mini-rebellion against the Communist government had to start with rebellion against the church powers; his bishop ordered him to stop preaching and vacate the church. László Tőkés refused. It is then that the secret police came to arrest him, and the events then unfolded. All righteous resistance starts with resisting ecclesiastical powers. Unless we start from the church, no political or social change is possible.
The only question we have to answer now is this: do we really have ecclesiastical powers that deserve to be rebelled against?
Just like every positive change in the society starts in the church, every negative change is also the product of negative change in the church. We didn’t get thus far in losing America and what she stood for without the active collaboration of our churchmen with the authorities. Christianity didn’t lose influence just because of nothing. As the Bible always points out, the problem always starts with the shepherds. Thus, if we are looking for churchmen to rebel against, there are thousands of them, here, in America. That is where we need to start from.
Ironically, even many modern pastors and even church celebrities unwittingly admit it. “We need a new Reformation,” I have heard preached from many pulpits. “Semper reformanda,” always reforming, reply other churches. And as I am sometimes sitting in the pews, listening to such rhetoric, I want to rise up and say, “Amen, pastor, but do you realize what you are asking for?” Because only a precious few of these pastors who are asking for a new Reformation or for continuing Reformation really know what they are talking about. It’s like modern Christians who are awaiting “the Day of the Lord,” and God says in the Bible, “You idiots, do you know what you are asking for? You who are longing for the day of the LORD, for what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light” (Amos 5:18). In the same way, for what purpose will a new Reformation be to you? The Reformation is not an affirmation of your ecclesiastical power, it will be a revolt against your legal powers in the church. A new Reformation will start with judging you first, and all of your pulpit buddies, and the standard by which you will be judged won’t be your meager standard by which you have measured yourselves to excuse yourselves from responsibility. A new Reformation would be a day of darkness for many church ministers, in fact, for the vast majority of them. And that new Reformation’s first fruit will be the purging of all pulpits of all the churches in America from the pastors and the preachers that have brought us to this disastrous situation today.
It is clear that the modern state of the American church is God’s judgment on it for being unfaithful over the last two generations. It is also clear that there are lessons for all of us in this judgment; and that eventually God will raise His Church back to her state of faithfulness. A righteous rebellion against the expanding pagan and secularist state is inevitable, just as it was inevitable in the 1760s and the 1770s. The enemies of God won’t sign a truce, and won’t stop until they have established their control over everything – or get beaten back. And beating them back will only be accomplished by a church that has beaten the enemies of God in its own pulpits first. And that’s where righteous resistance starts from: from our resistance to our own corrupt shepherds.
The book I will assign for reading this week is by Alice Baldwin, titled, The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution. Notice the subtitle: When American Pastors Preached Politics, Resisted Tyranny, and Founded a Nation on the Bible. The book is published by American Vision. Read and learn your true Reformed heritage, not the watered down milk that comes out of our pulpits today.
And remember in your prayers and giving Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission organization committed to preaching the comprehensive message of the Kingdom of God in Eastern Europe through translation and publishing of Christian materials for the application of the Gospel to every area of life. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to out newsletter, and donate.