Should a Christian Be Involved In Protests?

Posted: November 3, 2011 in Christian Living
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Everyone has heard about the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest movements. I began wondering; should Christians be involved in these types of demonstrations? Or should we, as followers of Christ, be involved in any type of protests against the government?

I believe that the OWS demonstrations and similar protests are not so much a protest against one particular group (Wall Street bankers in this case) as it is a plea that all people should have an equal share in resources.

And while some of the protests are peaceful, some can resort to, or result in violence; as we’ve seen in Briton, Greece, Egypt, and Syria. These protesters are drawn from all walks of life and though they may differ on other things, they are united in pursuing a common objective by the protest. United they may have a mutual cause, but their reasons for their protest may be widely different. Sometimes what seem to be purely social movements are used by extreme political activists in order to achieve entirely different ends from those at the grassroots of the protest.

While many of us could say we have never actively engaged in protest of any form, the general dissatisfaction prevalent in the world today rubs off on us all. Each of us at some time has probably grumbled about the conditions in which we live or work, and the wages that we earn. These feelings of inequality touch all of us and social networks like Face Book now makes it even easier for our individual views to be made known to the entire world.

But how should the follower of the Lord Jesus Christ react? Should we take part in these causes which seem to us to reflect some of the things we believe? Supposing violence is involved, should we still crusade when we feel passionately and regard the issue as a matter of conscience? And how are we to avoid becoming entangled with undesirable fellow-protesters in the movements we choose to support?

These considerations require careful thought. In order to better guide our decision we must:

1) Define the word “Christian” as meaning one who follows Jesus and the apostles in what they taught and practiced; and 2) Accept that the whole of the Bible is the Word of God.

After Jesus had ascended to heaven, the numbers of Christians increased rapidly, and were found in many countries within the Roman Empire. Society in the lands outside of Judah was filled with idolatry, widespread immorality, and much evil and corruption. (Much like today) But these factors did not cause the apostles to alter the teaching first given by Jesus. They never tried to adapt his teachings to make it more accepted to the majority of the masses.

The social circumstances at that time were not ideal. There was slavery on a large scale. Many of the Christians were slaves, and some were masters who had slaves. Slaves were not told to seek their freedom, and believing masters were not told to release their slaves. And those who were neither masters nor slaves were not told to urge the abolition of slavery. Instead, the commands of the apostles, time after time in the letters in the New Testament writings encouraged slaves and masters to treat each other with respect as brothers in the faith:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Eph. 6:5-9 (see also 1Timothy 6:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22; & Colossians 3:22)

Once again, it becomes clear that the Christian’s behavior is determined by God and His Son, and not by our circumstances, good or bad. Another man’s evil is not to make us evil. Another man’s violence is not to provoke us to retaliate. The Christian should strive to be beyond reproach and bring nothing but good to bear in every circumstance of life. Our heart should not harbor resentment and anger, no matter what others, whether friend or foe, might do. Jesus and the apostles taught that the Christian’s conduct is to replace evil with good; love instead of hate. We are to improve, by the quality of our own life, everything we come into contact with. And we must never be the cause of injury to our neighbor.

But while the Christian should aim to behave impeccably, the world around us is marred by many gross social and political evils. If the Christian is to behave in the manner commanded by our Lord, how can these glaring evils be put right? Is not the course suggested by the Lord a kind of Christian fatalism? If the Christian refuses to protest for change, how can bad things be eradicated? These are important questions but I believe there is a satisfactory answer.

The Bible’s view is much wider than the snap shot of our own time or circumstances in our life. It teaches us not to regard ourselves as having the right to seek political change or to protest for social justice. Such rights have not been given to us by God.

Was Jesus a protester? Did he form a group bent on bringing about political or social change by pressuring others? Did he seek to enforce his standards (which are the best standards) on those who did not want to follow him?

Jesus lived in a country which was controlled by a pagan power. The heathen Romans at this time occupied Jerusalem. Some Jews had formed themselves into a terrorist band known as the Zealots and planned to use violence against the Romans when the occasion was ripe. Most Jews despised the Romans and regarded them as “dogs”, even though they were powerless to remove them. From time to time, even within the grounds of the temple, there were scenes of violence which the Romans suppressed or quenched by appropriate measures.

What did Jesus do about these things? As the Son of God, what steps did he urge against the Romans? Absolutely none! There are no words of resentment, no threats, no instruction to his disciples that they must resist the Roman rule or seek to get rid of it. In fact, I’m sure it was remarkable to the followers of Jesus to hear him commend the Roman soldier for his faith. (Luke 7:1-10) The one disciple who some suspect may have had ties to the Zealots, was the one who betrayed the Lord in the end.

There is not one instance in any of the four Gospel records where Jesus came into conflict with the Roman authorities. Even at the time of his final trial when nothing but false charges were laid against him, he only responded respectably with truthful statements. The Roman governor accordingly pronounced him innocent.

When the tense political situation was brought to his attention and his opinion on the sensitive questions was requested, Jesus dealt instead with the root cause of the problem and not its particular manifestation in his own day. (Luke 13:1-5) There could hardly have been a better opportunity for Jesus to pronounce a judgment: a group of people quietly worshipping and then the bloodbath by the Roman legionaries as they hacked them to pieces. But Jesus made no comment whatsoever on the motivation of the soldiers or their commanders, but instead commented on the nature of the victims: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” He even linked the massacre with another contemporary disaster in Jerusalem when a stone tower collapsed, killing eighteen people. Both events, he suggested, were the result of the world in which we live that views violence as an acceptable means in various circumstances; and also accepts that certain inventions, while they create benefits upon mankind, occasionally can injure, maim and even kill.

Because the gospel Jesus taught concerned the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ message was a call to repentance: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (V. 5)

On another occasion it was the Roman taxation which formed the basis of a question to him:  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22) Again his answer made no reference to the extent to which a conquering nation should apply taxation to its subjects, but instead spoke about the demands of God upon His subjects:  “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  (Luke 20:25)

John the Baptist, whose preaching prepared the way for the message of the Lord Jesus Christ, gave very clear advice to the Roman soldiers who approached him: “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”  (Luke 3:14) Imagine the reaction of business owners and politicians today if this became an enforced law! This would be just as unpalatable today as it was then.

We need to remember that the Lord’s words and actions at this time were during the decline of Jewish fortunes because of the Roman taxation. Jesus behaved exactly as he commanded his followers to live. Here are some of those spiritual rules Jesus preached in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

A Roman soldier had the right to ask any Jew to carry his pack for one mile. Far from resenting this imposition, Jesus told his followers to volunteer to go a second mile. This would seem outrageous to a patriotic Jew and would even be regarded as ridiculous by many people today. Nevertheless there were sound reasons behind these commands, as we shall see.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

These words are far removed from agitation, retaliation, protest and violence. But note one thing about them: the Christian’s behavior is not determined by others, but by God. The Christian’s life is directed, not by circumstances, but by the commands of our heavenly Father.

It is understandable that many, particularly those who are young in the Lord, will be moved to admire or even emulate those whose protest appears to be stimulated by a desire for equality. Even those who accept New Testament teachings that the Christian must not resort to violence may wonder whether there can be any objection to joining in a peaceful demonstration. They may ask whether there is not a place for those who are ambassadors of Christ, our Prince of Peace, to add their voice to a growing public objection.

Clearly the duty of the Christian is to “seek peace, and pursue it”; (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11) and to “follow peace with all men.” (Hebrews 12:14; Romans 14:19; Romans 12:18) But do the teachings of Jesus suggest active involvement in a campaign for peace? Our responsibility to be peacemakers in the home, at work, and among the people we meet do not necessarily give us license to put pressure on those in authority.

Christians today should be very cautious in claiming for themselves the authority that Jesus exercised when he rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees, or overturned the tables of the moneychangers and relating it to social issues. Jesus’ action, as the Son of God, was directed at abuses within the religious system, and in regard to his Father’s house. He did not campaign for secular causes.

I think it’s interesting that there are so few Christians today speaking out against false teachers within the religious community. How many protesters have you seen in front of a Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen crusade? Dateline NBC in a show that aired December 27, 2002, showed evidence that Benny Hinn has been scamming people for their money with false healing claims that he cannot prove. Keep in mind that Dateline NBC is a secular news agency. Their agenda in exposing Hinn comes from a disdain for Christianity, and especially televangelists.  I do not agree with their ideology, but I’m glad that at least someone is investigating Hinn.  Shame on Christendom for not taking on this responsibility themselves, but instead standing by cowering in the corner watching charlatans like Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen take over Christian television preaching their lies in the name of God!  We have allowed heretics like them to basically overwhelm and take over mission work, bookstores, the radio and airwaves, churches, and the hearts and minds of an entire generation with their New Age ideas and practices.

Protests against a civil authority in any cause is an act of assertiveness: it is incompatible with discipleship. However peaceable one’s protest might be, however humble the approach to those in authority may be, one’s stance as a protester is that of a one who seeks to make demands on the worldly authority whom God has placed in their position of authority.

The Bible teaches that as Christians, we are to discount our earthly citizenship (Philippians 3:20) and make no demands upon those who govern us. Although we receive the benefit of the civil authorities and are grateful for them, we should neither expect nor demand them from our civil authorities, but only trust God.

Jesus relieved suffering where he saw it. He healed and comforted; so did his followers. Just to preach the Gospel, giving no thought to the needs and circumstances of those to whom we preach, cannot be right. We cannot say, “Keep warm and well fed,” without giving them things which are needful to the body. (James 2:16) But did Jesus or the apostles spend all their time ministering to the needy? There were countless sick that were not healed; 4,000 and then 5,000 were fed, but many times that number remained hungry. And even those who were fed were just as hungry again the next day! Ultimately, good works have to give way to the preaching of the Gospel. (Luke 4:40-43)

Yes, Jesus denounced the rulers of his day; he rebuked them for their hypocrisy, for grinding the faces of the poor, for lining their own pockets. But he was denouncing them as religious leaders, as shepherds of the flock of Israel — where plainly they had failed.

But Jesus did not denounce the political leaders, or Roman governors, in such terms. And though the “poor in spirit . . . they that mourn . . . the meek . . . they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5) received words of comfort, Jesus did not rouse them to rebellion, or even suggest passive demonstrations for equality or human rights. Rather, his counsel was to accept conditions as they found them: “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”

I think it is interesting that human rights are demanded only when a person or group is personally affected. Even by many who consider themselves Christians. We tend not to be concerned with rising crime rates until we become a victim. We tend not to be concerned with the homeless problem until we lose our home. I’m sure most of the Occupy Wall Street protesters would not be demanding their rights to a bigger portion of the 1% of wealth if they had enough to meet their own standard of living. So it would seem that the right to be rich and in need of nothing (Rev 3:17) has become a large part of the modern Gospel.

But what about the rights of God?

The rights of God seem to be sorely neglected. No account is taken of His will when politicians, social reformers or individuals express what they feel is desirable or undesirable. But the Bible makes it clear that God claims “rights” as Creator of us all. He has a right to our worship and obedience.

The Bible, in fact, has all the answers to man’s problems. It is because the vast majority of people ignores it and tries to use their own judgment on moral issues that the necessity of the “rights” protest movements have arisen. This way of thinking has brought us into an age of promiscuity and violence and millions of broken homes throughout the world. God’s rights have been abandoned and human rights have replaced them, disastrously so.

God’s laws are being flouted. Will what is good in God’s eyes ever prevail? Here is the plain teaching of the Bible: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”  (Daniel 2:20, 21)

“The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.” (Daniel 4:17)

It might be objected that this is Old Testament teaching and is purely Jewish and altogether out-moded. It is certainly Old Testament teaching but it is repeated even more emphatically in the New Testament writings.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1, 2)

These words were written to Christians in the city of Rome in a pagan empire. The Christian was not to seek to change the government. Protest, agitation and subversion were out of the question. To resist the government is to resist God’s appointment. Let it be noted that it is not a question of whether the government is good or bad. Because God is in control, we should not resist His ordinance. Remember that the apostle Paul was executed by the Roman emperor. He lived and died believing that human governments are in God’s hand. This is the only note of hope in our violent and perplexed world. If God is not in control, then man is; and if man is in control there is no hope.

But God has promised that He will send Jesus Christ again and he will put the world right when he reigns as King in Jerusalem:

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” (Daniel 2:44)

“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

“All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” (Psalm 72:11-14, 17)

These scriptures (and many more) make it plain that God will send Jesus Christ to earth to reign as King and to rid the world of its evils. This is clearly what the Lord Jesus Christ had in mind when he taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)

The Christian is primarily a citizen of the coming kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20, 21). He knows and believes that there is no solution to the world’s problems other than the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. He seeks to live according to the laws of the coming kingdom of God. The earth is merely an outpost while we wait for the coming kingdom and therefore we are “strangers and pilgrims” in our own country. (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11, 12) These are principles of the highest order. And they are realistic since they acknowledge the inability of man to govern himself and give us confidence in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the appointed Prince of Peace. Mankind, even Christians who have been taught the will of God, is powerless to change the world. When Jesus comes, however, he will have this authority, granted to him by his Father: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18)

Should Christians do nothing then, about the great distress of those around us? Even if we have no interest for ourselves, should not compassion compel us to raise our voice on behalf of those who have no say? I believe that there are ways other than joining a protest group that we, as Christians, can be a voice for the downtrodden and the vulnerable. We can write letters to our political leaders; get involved in community organizations that work to alleviate suffering; or volunteer in a group that share your views.

No matter how just a cause is, we must remember that it is the Lord’s example which is sufficient reason for our stance. The big question is: Am I prepared to believe this? The call of Christ demands a complete reappraisal of my life — not just part of it, but all of it. I must surrender my so-called human rights and submit to the rights of God. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, my Maker. His purpose and will are sovereign. I can no more save myself than the world can govern itself in peace. God does not blame us for this inability. But He asks for recognition of it and a faithful acceptance of His divine remedy, salvation in Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus was for our redemption. He showed us that man is lost without God and that the only way to true peace and equality and everlasting life is by faith in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Comments
  1. Elaura says:

    Hi Jonah,

    Thank-you for the very insightful article.

    What do you think about Christians protesting “peacefully” against things like abortion? Do you think there is such a thing as a peaceful protest?

    Thanks again, I look forward to your reply.

    • Everyone has a “right” to protest. The problem comes when we abuse that right to cause obstructions or worse. Peaceful protests that were done during the civil rights movement accomplished much, but there was also violent actions on both sides. As far as protesting against abortions, I have discovered that many of the “pro-life” people are more anti-abortion than they are pro-life since not many of them protest the fact that single mothers are left to fend for themselves financially, emotionally and spiritually. Where are the pro-life people after they talk a pregnant girl out of getting an abortion but has nowhere to go? Where are the pro-life people at when 1 out of 5 children are sexually molested and raped? Many of these same children also grow up and become pregnant with nowhere to go. And the cycle continues. I would like to see more pro-life groups create homes, mentoring, jobs, and education for these girls.

  2. Luke says:

    Hello. You’ve not referenced where some of this text came from (a Christadelpian booklet called Christ and Protest).

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