Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WE OUGHT TO OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN”

Acts 5.29

(Delivered on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, October 7, 2012)

I am a Baptist. I was not raised a Baptist, but was raised by parents who rarely attended church and never embraced Biblical values. I did attend a vacation Bible school when I was six or seven years old, there being taught a lesson that God used many years later to bring about my conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon my conversion, I did not initially attend a Baptist church, but was immersed in Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. Only later was I invited to a Baptist church, where I began to learn Baptist principles, which is to say Biblical principles that historically have been embraced by Baptists but only recently have been embraced by other professing Christians. Allow me to speak to but a single Baptist principle that seems to be once again gaining ground among professing Christians in the United States. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, it was labeled “civil disobedience.”

The term ‘civil disobedience’ was coined by Henry David Thoreau in his 1848 essay to describe his refusal to pay the state poll tax implemented by the American government to prosecute a war in Mexico and to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. In his essay, Thoreau observes that only a very few people – heroes, martyrs, patriots, reformers in the best sense – serve their society with their consciences, and so necessarily resist society for the most part, and are commonly treated by it as enemies. Thoreau, for his part, spent time in jail for his protest. Many after him have proudly identified their protests as acts of civil disobedience and have been treated by their societies – sometimes temporarily, sometimes indefinitely – as its enemies.

Throughout history, acts of civil disobedience famously have helped to force a reassessment of society’s moral parameters. The Boston Tea Party, the suffragette movement, the resistance to British rule in India led by Gandhi, the US civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others, the resistance to apartheid in South Africa, student sit-ins against the Vietnam War, to name a few, are all instances where civil disobedience proved to be an important mechanism for social change.[1]

 

Where did this moral authority to openly defy government when government was wrong come from? It certainly did not originate with Henry David Thoreau. Throughout human history, the willingness to defy government or heads of state was usually linked to ambition and a man’s aspirations to replace the rule of another by his own rule, with one notable kind of exception. That kind of exception was the man of God. When Moses openly defied Egypt’s pharaoh, it was not with the intent of replacing Pharaoh as the sovereign over the Egyptian people. Moses had no political ambitions. When he walked into Pharaoh’s court on those several occasions, certainly in violation of established protocol and likely in violation of Egyptian law, it was to represent God and to utter the words, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go.”[2] Many other examples of this kind of thing are found in God’s Word, but a few incidents are especially prominent. There was the prophet Nathan speaking to King David, who had committed adultery and impregnated Bathsheba, and had then arranged the murder of her husband to cover his guilt. In King David’s own court, the prophet told a story to circumvent David’s seared conscience and hardened heart before accusing him when he said, “Thou art the man.”[3] Nathan clearly had no political ambitions. Then, in addition, there was the confrontation of King Ahab before that famous incident that took place atop Mount Carmel. I read from First Kings 18.16-18:

16     . . . Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah.

17     And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?

18     And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD.

Notice the Prophet Elijah’s willingness to confront the king about his personal spiritual apostasy, without the prophet having any interest in fulfilling any political ambitions.

Shall we consider the New Testament, especially the gospels? Our Lord’s forerunner, of course, was the greatest prophet, John the Baptist. Most who oppose the existing political order do so for reasons of ambition and advancement. However, in Luke 3.13-14, John speaks directly to the tax collectors and Roman soldiers about their conduct and duties, and in Matthew 14.4, we are told that he openly criticized the ruler Herod’s immorality with his brother’s wife, saying, “It is not lawful for thee to have her.” Was John the Baptist seeking power or prestige? Again, no. He was proclaiming God’s truth to a sinner. By what right did these men say what they said, to whom they said those things, without regard to law or tradition, to their own position, or the position of those they openly rebuked, corrected, or instructed? Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar, ruler over the vast Babylonian empire during the lifetime of the prophet Daniel, said it best in Daniel 4.34-35 and 37, when he spoke of God with these words:

34     . . . I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

35     And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

37     Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Thus, despite whatever governmental authority may be in place, God still rules over all. Though the Lord Jesus Christ indicated to Pontius Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world, John 18.36, yet are His servants not expected to be silent at the command of any authority that is in conflict with obedience to God’s clearly stated will. On the contrary, we speak the truth.

Allow me to illustrate: My text for today’s message is Acts 5.29. The context of that verse shows the apostles of Jesus Christ had been openly preaching the gospel, despite opposition from the authorities in Jerusalem repeatedly arresting them and demanding they cease and desist proclaiming the truth in public. Once more they were taken into custody and reminded that they had been commanded to stop, whereupon Peter and the other apostles responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Would you be someone who is inclined to think this exercise of religious liberty is confined only to Old Testament prophets, to men like John the Baptist, and to the apostles of Jesus Christ? Think again. History is replete with examples of Christians who proclaimed the truth in the face of religious authority opposing them, in the face of political authority opposing them, and in the face of bloody repression and reprisal, and even when professing Christians attempted to convince them that speaking out was not the thing to do. Read of Martin Luther and John Bunyan, or George Whitefield and John Wesley. Protestantism was the result of Luther speaking the truth in the face of Roman Catholic opposition. John Bunyan spent years in the Bedford jail rather than submitting to government control of his preaching. Whitefield and Wesley preached outdoors when it was illegal because the Church of England would not allow them to preach the gospel in chapels and churches. Other examples are too numerous to mention here.

After this morning’s service, look at the portrait of Obadiah Holmes in our church foyer. Read the account of his beating in Boston on September 5, 1651, when he received thirty lashes for violating the law by daring to worship according to the dictates of his conscience in a private residence. My friends, the reason we have the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, specifically, the reason we have the First Amendment is because of Baptist brethren and others who were willing to stand up and speak out for Christ’s sake, and to openly exercise what is now termed “civil disobedience” by preaching when it was against the law to do so. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This amendment protects the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, as well as the right to assemble and petition the government. The “establishment of religion” clause meant that the federal government could not create or sustain a government sponsorship of religion or of a religious organization, but did not mean government was to oppose religion in any way. This is shown by the fact that many government buildings in Washington, D. C. were for many years used on Sundays for gatherings of Christians to worship. Thus, while government was forbidden to establish religion, government was not to oppose religious expression, as is the case so often today.

Thus, for almost 200 years pastors freely and openly preached sermons in which they explained and then applied Biblical principles to real life situations. This was changed in July of 1954 when Senator Lyndon Johnson introduced an amendment to pending legislation that forbade non-profit organizations from addressing political issues, including supporting candidates and advising about pending elections. Though there is no record of it being Senator Johnson’s intent, the Internal Revenue Service has interpreted the Johnson Amendment since it was signed into law on August 16, 1954 as forbidding religious non-profit organizations such as churches from endorsing candidates for elective office or seeking to advance a political agenda.[4] Over the past fifty-eight years, pastors and churches have gradually succumbed to the patently false notion that government has rightful authority over a church’s message and over a preacher’s sermons, and that churches and preachers should not meddle in so-called political matters.

Excuse me, but for pastors and their sermons, there might not have been a revolution that brought this country into existence. But for pastors and their sermons, there might not have been an energetic and aggressive abolitionist movement in this country that led to abolishing slavery. As well, though most white southern gospel ministers and churches were on the wrong side of the civil rights issue, almost every civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s was an ordained minister, and without the support of hundreds of church congregations the civil rights movement would likely have been crushed by the Gestapo tactics used by Bull Connor in Birmingham, Alabama and others like him.[5] The point that I seek to make is that governments are not always right, heads of state are not always right, and God’s people have always known that we have a scriptural mandate to think for ourselves and to live our lives according to the dictates of our conscience as instructed by God’s Word. Therefore, should be we driven by conscience to engage in civil disobedience we are willing to suffer the consequences. I have seen no evidence that John Bunyan bellyached about being in the Bedford jail for conscience’ sake. I see no evidence in God’s Word that Daniel complained for being cast into the lion’s den. God’s people are not supposed to stick a wet finger into the air to first see which way the wind is blowing before we make a decision regarding faithfulness to God and His cause. Therefore, if there are consequences, we take them. After he was given his thirty lashes in Boston, Obadiah Holmes is reported to have said, “Ye have beaten me as with roses.” Are those the words of an obstinate man, of an arrogant man, of a stubborn man? No, they are the words of a Christian man who found that God’s grace is sufficient.

Baptists have never been the official religion or denomination of any state. It has always been our conviction that it is an unholy alliance that joins a church to a government body, and one of our Baptist distinctives has been to exist apart from government. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Orthodox churches have historically been quick to embrace government sponsorship, and to take government support. However, an ever-larger number of professing Christians in our country are beginning to see the wisdom of the historic Baptist approach, churches and government being separate. Sadly, it has come about after governmental overreach and efforts by secularists to actively oppose religious interests by means of government interference into the subject matter of pastor’s sermons. They point to tax exemption and claim that what government gave government can take away. However, that viewpoint ignores the reality that our government never did grant the tax exempt status churches presently enjoy. Rather, our government recognized the tax-exempt status churches have always enjoyed since before our Constitution was adopted. Thus, what government did not actually give, government should not be allowed to take away.

This is obviously a big subject and opens to a great deal of debate. However, it actually has a minimal impact on our church, for two reasons: First, because I rarely depart from the delivery of gospel sermons and expositions of important Bible doctrine in my preaching and our church’s activities are almost exclusively outreach and outreach related. Second, because I know that emphasizing anything other than our gospel ministry will result in diminishing our gospel impact, something I do not want to see happen. Therefore, I bring this issue up on this Pulpit Freedom Sunday to accomplish three things: First, so there will be clarity in your thinking. It is clearly Biblical for church and preachers to take stands and proclaim truths that government authorities and even laws deem unacceptable. Thus, it is important for the Christian who engages in civil disobedience to make doubly sure he stands on solid Bible footing. If slavery were legal, would you have us be silent about the evils of slavery? Of course not. So, too, the issue of abortion. Second, I want to stand with the thousands of other pastors and churches in this country to declare and protect our constitutionally guaranteed religious freedoms. Freedoms not exercised are freedoms that can soon be lost, so I seek to exercise this freedom in order to protect it. Third, I want to provide spiritual leadership in applying the truth of God’s Word to your life in a practical way. I will do so by rehearsing some considerations and recommendations to you to ponder and pray about in preparation for the upcoming election.

First, THE ELECTION OF PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

I favor each Christian voting according to the dictates of his conscience, while at the same time making sure your conscience is informed. I speak especially in consideration of a third party candidate for president. Ours is a two party nation. I do not entertain any delusion that either political party is not completely corrupt, though one of the despised parties is closer to embracing my convictions than the other one is. If you are thinking of voting for a third party candidate, keep in mind that it was the third party candidacy of H. Ross Perot that twice elected Democrat Bill Clinton to the presidency. Twice. I will criticize no one for voting for a third party candidate, so long as he recognizes that those who voted for Perot ended up without electing Perot and guaranteed Clinton’s victory, though I have never heard of any who voted for Perot being unwilling to admit that the candidate he refused to vote for would have been better for our country than Clinton.

That said, the two candidates who are electable have similarities and differences to acknowledge: To me, race and ethnicity is not a factor in any way. To me, the declared religious position of each candidate is not a factor in any way, since both men hold religious views that I find profoundly distasteful. Though there are many lesser positions that are of interest to me, such as tax policy, defense, government regulation, and so on, there are two that loom very large in my thinking as a Christian and as a pastor, the two candidate’s stance on abortion and same sex marriage. Our culture is rapidly embracing the view that the determining factor in the rightness or wrongness of anything is related to the supposed harm it does to others, with most people seeing no wrong done to anyone they know by abortion or same sex marriage. However, abortion is homicide, and homicide always harms those whose lives are ended by violence. Same sex marriage and the entire issue of homosexuality is an issue that involves no hatred on my part. I know of no one who engages in homosexuality who I dislike, much less hate. However, being a Bible believer, the rightness or wrongness of a lifestyle is not for me based upon its perceived or not perceived harm to anyone. It is based solely on what God’s Word says about it, and the Bible clearly teaches homosexuality to be sinful. Thus, I urge you to vote in such a way as to express your endorsement of Bible truth concerning the sanctity of life and the Biblical concept of human sexuality and marriage. I encourage you to cast your vote for Mr. Romney.

Next, THE ELECTION OF CALIFORNIA’S UNITED STATES SENATOR

The two candidates appearing on the ballot are longtime Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein and Republican Elizabeth Emken. I first remember Diane Feinstein running for mayor of San Francisco, when she capitulated to the homosexual community in order to be elected by supporting their insistence on legalizing unrestricted sexual activity, even in city parks where children might be playing. It was featured in a CBS special report many years ago. I have never forgotten.

On the other hand, I know nothing about Elizabeth Emken, only that she is far behind Senator Feinstein in the polls, who has refused to debate her unknown opponent. I urge you to vote for the Republican candidate as a vote against Senator Feinstein.

Third, THE ELECTION OF YOUR UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN

I urge you to consider voting for the Republican if there is a Republican running for office in your congressional district. This is because I am unaware of a Democrat politician in California who is not pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage. The Democratic Party has a death grip on the state of California, a state that used to have the fifth largest economy in the world, but is now on the verge of bankruptcy. The Democrats control California and they are totally committed to abortion, the homosexual agenda, same-sex marriage, socialism, and just about everything else that will weaken the social fabric of our state.

I do not know how anyone can be a good Christian and vote for any Democrat without seriously violating your conscience.

Fourth, THE ELECTION OF YOUR CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLYMAN

My state assembly district is the newly created 41st district. The candidates are Democrat Chris Holden and Republican Donna Lowe. The Republican candidate gets a three thumbs up by the Christian web site electionforum.org. That web site also has several well-written articles about Christians and voting that I would recommend, and has a long history of providing guidance for voters who seek to vote in accordance with commonly held Biblical principles.

Donna Lowe is also endorsed by retired state Senator Dick Mountjoy (who is a very strong opponent of abortion and same sex marriage) and is given a very favorable rating by the California Rifle and Pistol Association, evidence of her support of the Second Amendment.

The Democrat party has always been the home of those who favored abortion. The Democrat party has always been the home of those who favored granting special rights to those who embraced a homosexual lifestyle. The Democrat was also the party of segregation until the civil rights laws were passed, at which time the Democrat party then embraced ethnic minorities as solid blocks of voters.

The Republican Party was actually formed in the mid 1800s to end slavery. The first Blacks ever elected to Congress were all Republicans. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a registered Republican. However, it would be mistaken to characterize me as liking the Republican Party. For one thing, though the Republicans should be expected to be the natural allies of immigrants who embrace strong family values and a vigorous work ethic, they failed to attract Hispanics moving north, Asians coming from the Orient, or Blacks moving from the Deep South. How did this happen? I am convinced the country club Republicans are for the most part racists who hold some conservative values, but are uncomfortable with ethnic diversity. Thus, many high-ranking Republicans are the very worst obstacles to Republican success in California.

That said, why am I more favorably inclined to the Republican Party than the Democrat party is? Abortion and same sex marriage. Eventually the old white racist Republicans will pass off the scene. Until that happens, I will hold my breath and vote for Republican candidates because they are not in favor of murdering the unborn and they are not in favor of same sex marriage. Sadly, Democrats are completely given over to abortion and advancing same sex marriage.

This brings to an end to my overtly political sermon designed to both exercise First Amendment rights and clarify some Biblical principles that should serve as a guide to responsible voting by a Christian.



[1] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/civil-disobedience/ 10/5/12

[2] Exodus 5.1; 7.16; 8.1, 20-21; 9.1, 13; 10.3-4

[3] 2 Samuel 12.7

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VPjn-qKURuo 10/5/12

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bull_Connor 10/5/12



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org