By now, you would have heard about the escalating anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong that have caused much social tension as well as disruption to the public transport system including hundreds of flights being cancelled. What some may not be aware is that when the protests first began, the NY Times claimed that with hymns and prayers Christians help drive this protest. In fact, some observers even suggested that the constant chorus of “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has become an unlikely anthem for the protest.
As I read some of the comments from Hong Kong Christians who are supportive about these protests, I must confess I have trouble understanding their rationale. For example, a church leader said: “Wherever the flock goes, the shepherd should be there.” For me, I would differ because it should be wherever the Shepherd of my soul leads me, I will follow. And when it comes to the situation in Hong Kong, the Christian community certainly has much to grapple with in terms of the role that the Church and the individual should play during such a crisis.
Admittedly, I have to be more careful in commenting on such matters given that I have families and friends in Hong Kong. Siding either party can easily lead to a “crisis”. Here, I am also reminded by one writer from the Gospel Coalition who wrote that “the politicized nature of Western Christianity had witnessed the counterfeit gospel of activism that gives us “culture warriors” from the Right and the world’s “errand runners” from the Left”. The author warns of what happens when churches unite around a cause rather than the cross and the results are indeed averse.
When it comes to how Christians are to relate to authorities, Scriptures teaches us that civil authorities are ordained by God (Romans 13:1 – 8). Here, the word “ordained” expresses a definite, specific appointment; something deliberately planned and specially instituted in this case by God. The governing authorities or the magistrate functions like a “servant” of God and our submission unto them is to be to a religious obligation. The duty of civil obedience is made to rest on conscience, because God personally rules over the nation, in the “powers and principalities;” that is, in those abstract and fundamental principles which we call a Constitution, and in the laws of the nation; and, by his ministers, the magistrates of the nation.
What the apostle Paul had pointed to us is because men are prone to forget their civil obligations; and because self-will, or some transient grievance, or fancied hardship, prompts to sedition and rebellion. Simply stated, as good citizens of the land we are to pledge allegiance and compliance. Paul further bases these duties of loyalty on the ground of piety. As long as we can do so without denying Christ or compromising our faith, we must always strive to cooperate with the ruling powers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we will endorse all of their policies or approve of every specific action they take. Christians are responsible to uphold biblical righteousness in a hostile culture while also expressing respect for its leadership.
While Christians are to obey the authorities, we know that the Bible does not whitewash reality and gives us examples and warnings of abusive leadership.
Pharaoh’s Oppression (Exod. 9). The Passover is a celebration that commemorates resistance to a totalitarian dictator and God’s powerful deliverance of his people from slavery (Exod. 12).
Samuel’s Warnings They wanted a king “like all the nations”(1 Sam. 8:5). The Israelites were seeking conformity and security. What they failed to see was that unchecked kings would “become militaristic, conscript Israelite men, confiscate property, and lead ultimately to enslavement.” (1 Sam. 8:10-18)
Rehoboam’s Arrogance The king rejected the advice of his elders that he should listen to the people and took the advice of young friends who grew up with him (1 Kings 12:14). This misjudgement led to the division of the kingdom and a rejection of Rehoboam’s authority.
Although there should be a separation of church and state, it is rather unfortunate when in today’s culture, it may be misunderstood as if the state is answerable to no one but themselves—as if the government didn’t have to respond to God. But we know that God does hold governments accountable. It is he who ultimately raises them up and brings them down.
For many, they feel that they are living through perilous and polarizing times where the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith seem to be at stake. Thus they are inclined to this vision where the church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. But the more important question that we need to face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ, as disciples, require at this moment in our history?
The answer is to point back to everything the Gospels tell us. We must not isolate the sayings of Jesus we like and fit Him into our vision for how the world should work. Instead, let’s fall at the feet of King Jesus, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to fit our lives into His vision, a vision of the world to come that has crashed into the world that is.
In a time of moral and political crisis, let us recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (I Timothy 2:2). Since Jesus is Lord, there is always space for grace. I believe it is time to speak and to act in faith, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. God is always in charge. Under normal circumstances, we can demonstrate our trust in God by cooperating with the state, participating in the system and generally staying out of trouble. But should a situation ever arise in which there is a conflict between with one another, Christians are to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And we pray that situations of such nature will be few and far between.
Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)
August 11, 2019