Last weekend, there was an annual festival being held in the town of Morganton which is held every year in September. This festival draws around 50,000 people or so, and with the crowds that come, you see all kinds of people. A Youtube video began circulating on social media that portrayed three men who were in a faceoff with city officials and local officers over their alleged right to carry a large cross, wear cardboard signs, and distribute Christian literature. (See the video at the bottom of this post.) In the video, city officials were informing the men of their violation of a city ordinance which restricted their activity to a specified area. They were told that they would have been welcome to have their own booth if they would have put up the required fee. The men claimed that they had a constitutional right to demonstrate, and that their liberty was being infringed upon. Of course, this set off a firestorm on Facebook as many claimed that the men were being persecuted for their faith. I will not attempt to debate the ordinance in this post, but what I do want to address is the behavior of the men in the video and weigh their actions against Scripture.
Is it really fair to say that these men were the targets of unfair persecution? Under no circumstances were they told that they could not share their faith. Nor were they asked to leave the premises for simply being believers. In this case, aggression was not directed toward them, but instead they were clearly the aggressors. The Apostle Peter instructs believers in 1 Peter 2:13 to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake. He doesn’t ask us to form picket lines and insist on our rights. He says that we are to submit to officials, not for their sake, but for the Lord’s sake. Thus, these men were in clear violation of more than a city ordinance–they were in violation of their Scriptural responsibility. Rather than advancing the gospel and the cause of Christ, they hindered it. Think of it this way. Can you imagine those first century Christians forming picket lines and insisting on their rights as they were being marched to their deaths in the Roman coliseum? Consider the example of Perpetua, a young Christian girl who was martyred for her faith in Christ. Upon being given the choice to recant Christ and worship the emperor, she humbly refused to do so and was led away to her death in the arena. She didn’t go kicking and screaming and insisting on her individual rights. She counted it a joy to suffer reproach for Jesus Christ. Or what about the example of Polycarp, one of the church fathers? He was condemned to burn at the stake for his faith. When given one final opportunity to recant, he humbly said, “These 86 years I have served Christ, He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme the King who saved me?” No word of protest came out of his mouth. Instead, he simply kept the spotlight on Jesus.
This brings up the question, “When is it ever okay to disobey the ordinance of man?” We disobey the ordinance of man when the ordinance of man is a clear violation of the ordinance of God. For example, these martyrs I have previously mentioned disobeyed the government of their day because the law said that they were to worship the emperor. That would have been idolatry and was a clear undermining of God’s law. Thus, they humbly went to their deaths.
So, what about the three men at the festival? In no way were they forbidden to worship Jesus. In no way were they attacked for simply being Christian. What they experienced from city officials and police officers (one of whom I know personally) in no way could ever be rightly called persecution. Perhaps they would like to move to North Korea and carry around a 12-foot cross and street preach. Then, perhaps, they would find out what persecution is.
In conclusion, believers have a God-given mandate to be upstanding, model citizens. Our witness to a lost world is more than our signs, our protests, and our constitutional rights. It involves the very way that we respond to those whom God has placed in government leadership. Instead of arguing with officials for 20 minutes, they could have humbly submitted in the name of Christ, and their witness would have been much more effective.