Civil Disobedience – A Christ-follower’s imperative

 

Surely Jesus wouldn’t break the law, would he?

He was a peaceful citizen, obedient to the authorities he lived under, wasn’t he?

Remember, Jesus lived under two earthly authorities simultaneously. Both held enormous sway over society; the religious authorities – whose theocratic rule had almost complete control over daily life, and the state (Roman Empire – civil authority). To argue that Jesus’ disobedience to theocratic rule was not civil disobedience is to misunderstand the nature of religious rule in Jesus’ time entirely.

It’s probably not a stretch to posit that Jesus practiced civil disobedience every single day of his short public life.

Most of what he did was illegal and threatened the authorities.

 

He organized a movement, in the loose sense of the word, and built a community primarily among poor people to non-violently resist the empire and the unjust religious system that backed it in the name of God.

While the climax of that civic disobedience was the overturning of the money-changer’s tables in the temple, his campaign of non-violent civil disobedience went far beyond that event.

Consider his track record:

  • his proclaiming of the coming of God’s reign and his reading from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue: this was a subversive act of truth-telling that threatened the empire.
  • touching and healing lepers, which others thought would threaten everyone’s health; a radically civilly disobedient act, because it went beyond the designated boundaries of society. Lepers were “outsiders”, and by touching them, Jesus became a marginalized outsider too. He broke health regulations, as well as social and religious laws of behavior.
  • mingling, eating and associating with “public sinners,” tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the dying, the hungry, widows, women, fishermen, and other outcasts and marginalized people; he declared his total union with the poor and oppressed. By eating with the marginalized, Jesus publicly embraced all who were excluded by societal laws.
  • repeatedly breaking Sabbath laws by working and healing on the Sabbath: the picking of grain by the disciples (their first public action was illegal!), the healing of the person with a withered hand, the healing of the woman in Luke 14:1-6, and many other such unlawful acts. For Jesus, mercy and human needs preceded regulation and rule.
  • violating the cleanliness laws and eating codes: Jesus challenged the religious leaders by breaking the legalized religious dietary codes used to manipulate and oppress. Not washing hands before eating could result in condemnation and ostracization. Essentially, Jesus called for the breaking of these laws, and a return to the basics of justice and mercy. This particular act of civil disobedience evoked some of his strongest recorded language (“Woe to you!”).
  • visiting “enemy” territories and associating with the enemy (such as the Samaritans) and with violent revolutionaries (the Zealots): Jesus was constantly fraternizing with the enemy. Loving one’s enemy was dangerous, subversive activity and yet it is the hallmark of Jesus’ teaching and life.
  • engaging in symbolic action and political street theater by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy about the coming of a king of peace who will end war forever.
  • There are varying interpretations of what Jesus meant with regard to paying taxes, but there is certainly a valid argument to be made that he encouraged resistance to paying the onerous taxes of Caesar, with his revolutionary declaration in Mark 12 to “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” Once we give to God what is God’s, there is not a lot left for Caesar.
  • There are many ways of looking at the incarnation, however I posit that the resurrection was Jesus’ ultimate act of nonviolent civil disobedience, and also gave rise to the most radical life of civil disobedience in his followers.
Jesus Civil Disobedience – A Christ-follower’s imperative Terry Neudorf Kimberly Neudorf
 

 

Thomas’ proclamation “my Lord and my God” was an act of faith and an expression of love for Jesus, and an acknowledgement of His Lordship, and as such was, an act of political “blasphemy” because the emperor had been declared God. The resurrection inspired the disciples to practice nonviolent civil disobedience as a way of life towards the ruling authorities of the day.
 
If Jesus’ crucifixion was perfectly legal, then His resurrection was totally illegal. Matthew’s Gospel emphasizes this point: the Roman authorities placed guards at his tomb with the imperial seal, as though to stamp his death officially and irrevocably final.
 
But Jesus rose from the dead, broke the imperial seal and, indeed, broke the law that says, “Once you’re dead, you’re dead.” This ultimate act of civil disobedience changed everything.
 
There is no other way to view Jesus as an active, provocative, dangerous, illegal and civilly disobedient disturber of the peace; a troublemaker, a nonviolent revolutionary who broke the unjust laws and mores of an unjust society.
 
One, against whom, upon learning of his coming into town, the fearful authorities would have evoked “emergency orders”.
 
One whose contemporaries screeched for him to be “fined to the maximum” and arrested.
 
One, who would have been the subject of the local newspaper’s published screeds of vitriol, and op-eds and letters-to-the-editor lambasting this “childish” actor who was selfishly disrupting their towns.
 
One whom the religious authorities, in an adulterous joining with the civil authorities, martialled all resources to “do away with”.
 
This is the person I try to follow, and whose voice I should listen to.
The rest is noise.
 
It hurts the ears, and even shakes you to the core at times, but it’s just noise.

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11 Comments

  1. Logan W

    I wish every Christian would read this! It saddens me that so many misunderstand their religious duty and — to use Terry’s apt reference — “render to Caesar the things that are God’s.” Far from being Christ-like, this attitude places one with the public-acceptance-craving Pharisees. And it wasn’t only Jesus who practiced civil disobedience; remember that His earliest followers caused “trouble” for the authorities in practically every town they passed through. Tell me: if Christian ministry, in its most original form, clashed with earthly governments, has the devil gotten nicer to Christians since then, or have we maybe gotten a little too nice to him? Anyways, sorry for rambling. I can’t express how much I appreciate you all for the stand you’ve taken. God bless.

    Reply
  2. Josh Wiebe

    As believers, our civil disobedience is required when and only when the government asks us to sinfully abandon our belief in the sovereign laws of the Bible- either in part or in whole.

    Literally never before.

    This article and others like it not only miss the mark entirely of the reasons Jesus did what he did, they excuse and encourage inciting political unrest, division and the further disregard of one of the ultimate ethical mandates from Christ- to love our neighbours. For those forgetting, Jesus was “civilly disobedient” because he longed for the salvation of the lost souls of those blindly following men and laws that would and could not save them- and Caesar and other lawmakers stood in the way of that. By any metric you choose, as far as Christ-followers are concerned, to date, Public Health units have objectively not encroached on our ability to actively lead others to belief in Christ. It remains harmful, disinformative advice to suggest otherwise.

    As believers, our counter-position to these insidious claims is to be of the opinion that begrudgingly doing or outright refusal to do the bare minimum to protect the safety of those more vulnerable around us is anathema to the Christian faith.

    Reply
    • Terry Neudorf

      “As believers, our civil disobedience is required when and only when the government asks us to sinfully abandon our belief in the sovereign laws of the Bible- either in part or in whole. Literally never before.”

      Really? Every single example of Christ’s civil disobedience in this article had nothing to do with the government asking Jesus to sinfully abandon his belief in the sovereign law of God. This is an absurd comment, and leaves me wondering if you read the title of the article and nothing else, or if you just haven’t thought through what you’re saying here.

      “This article and others like it not only miss the mark entirely of the reasons Jesus did what he did, they excuse and encourage inciting political unrest, division and the further disregard of one of the ultimate ethical mandates from Christ- to love our neighbours.”
      Again, I don’t think you actually read the body of the article. How, specifically, does the article “excuse and encourage inciting political unrest” that is different in any way from how Christ’s actions (listed – read them again) encouraged civil unrest?

      “For those forgetting, Jesus was “civilly disobedient” because he longed for the salvation of the lost souls of those blindly following men and laws that would and could not save them- and Caesar and other lawmakers stood in the way of that.”

      To separate freedom in Christ from his physical ministry is to “miss the mark entirely”. Jesus set people free from all of their PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL bondage. Of course he longed for their salvation. But if that was all he longed for, he would have left them in their physical bondage as to not “excuse and incite political unrest”. I can’t fathom how anyone who reads the gospels seriously could miss such a basic thread that runs throughout. It’s beyond absurd.

      “By any metric you choose, as far as Christ-followers are concerned, to date, Public Health units have objectively not encroached on our ability to actively lead others to belief in Christ. It remains harmful, disinformative advice to suggest otherwise.”

      I hardly know where to begin here. The majority of non-believers are led to belief in the setting of worship services, and the physical congregating of God’s people. That has been absolutely imperilled by “Public Health Units”. It remains harmful, disinformative [sic] advice to suggest otherwise. Worldwide, weak pastors have not only abandoned their flocks, but abandoned their commission by following the diktats of the state (of which Public Health Units have simply become an arm).

      “As believers, our counter-position to these insidious claims is to be of the opinion that begrudgingly doing or outright refusal to do the bare minimum to protect the safety of those more vulnerable around us is anathema to the Christian faith.”

      As believers, our cowering to the insidious diktats of the state, and our refusal to counter them with the radical gospel of Jesus Christ, while parroting the mantra that our subservience is protecting “those more vulnerable around us” is an anathema to the Christian faith.

      Reply
      • Josh Wiebe

        While I’m quite positive it’ll bear no fruit given our conversations regarding government in the past, I look forward to this dialogue.

        Look for my reply in the next days.

        Reply
      • Dwayne

        Terry, I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on Romans 13:1-2.

        “Let everyone be subject 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, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

        Reply
        • Terry Neudorf

          Hi Dwayne. Thanks for your question. I’ll be happy to answer it as I find time this week, but I have a question for you as well. What are your thoughts on Acts 5: 27-29, Acts 16:19-40, Matthew 2:1-12, for example? Terry.

          Reply
          • Paul

            How are these verses in contradiction to Romans 13? In which instance did anyone gather people together and tell them to rebel against the governing authorities?

            These movements of “civil disobedience” have not been done because God requests it. The fight here is for freedom, but no freedom has been taken so the unrest caused by this “civil disobedience” is not done in the name of Christ but rather by selfish ambition. For God is not against persecution instead he says we as christians should take it willingly and with a happy heart. For persecution builds perseverance and perseverance builds character and character builds hope, and the Lord says hope will not abandon us. In essence this “civil disobedience” is
            a battle against flesh and blood which is most definitely not the battle field a christian should be on.

          • Terry Neudorf

            If you’re seriously saying that “no freedoms have been taken”, then respectfully, you and I are living in two completely different worlds.

      • Josh Wiebe

        [Really? Every single example of Christ’s civil disobedience in this article had nothing to do with the government asking Jesus to sinfully abandon his belief in the sovereign law of God. This is an absurd comment and leaves me wondering if you read the title of the article and nothing else, or if you just haven’t thought through what you’re saying here.

        Again, I don’t think you actually read the body of the article. How, specifically, does the article “excuse and encourage inciting political unrest” that is different in any way from how Christ’s actions (listed – read them again) encouraged civil unrest?]

        Yes. Really. Terry, I have no doubt that you will be simply ecstatic to find that I have, indeed, read the article. I would also say the real absurdity here appears to be that you don’t think I’d have ‘read the book before presenting the book report’. While it concerns me that you appear to ignore Biblically mandated civil obedience, the fact is that you and I fundamentally disagree on the functions of government. Your threshold for what is considered governmental overreach is dialled way up, not to mention alarming little tells like casual circle-a monograms in headers of articles.

        These examples in this article are absolutely instances such as the ones I am speaking of. Jesus was being asked to cease acting on what he believed would further the Gospel. Throughout his life, we can agree that whether directly or indirectly, Jesus’ actions surrounded his mandate of spreading the Gospel of Christ and establishing himself as the new way, truth and life (to the fullest, John 10:10). Conceding to the authorities and disobeying these servient convictions would undoubtedly be an example of the authorities asking him to abandon his belief in the sovereign law of God.

        I’d have wholeheartedly agreed with this blog post were it simply a retelling of the triumphs of Jesus against a totalitarian, anti-Christian, anti-God, pseudo-deistic police-state. Appropriately, there are numerous acts of civil disobedience in the Bible. Jesus in the temple, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel, Esther, the midwives in Exodus, the Apostles etc. The list goes on and on because at the apex of the Gospel is the hard truth that it will not be accepted by the world. This inevitably leads to very real scenarios in which we are asked to sin voluntarily and/or abandon our beliefs entirely- scenarios in which civil disobedience is required and even more importantly, mandated, by God. So again, I agreed right up until said triumphs were used to sanction uprising in our towns and cities against the current governmental restrictions. Mandates that have in no way required us to compromise our belief set, nor have they in any measurable way endangered our families, yet; there are restrictions and temporary changes, but none of them require revolt sanctioned by the Bible, yet. We can endlessly banter about with conceptual semantics or other reasoning that blurs the lines but in no way have we really seen the government perpetrate clear threats to our vitality or faith during the pandemic, yet. In fact, had the powers that be really had it in for us pesky Christians, churches would have been permanently shut down long ago- they don’t need a virus to do that. Leading me to deduce that, and keeping in mind those little innocent tells I was speaking of earlier, along with the anti-political undertones of the entire “Freedom Rally” movement, this all appears to be hardly about any Christian motivations at all. Rather, it most definitely seems to be driven by what I can only assume is a bit of boredom and a lot of general dislike for government institutions and being told what to do by them. The marriage of these mindsets is a sneaky, backdoor way of using self-authored moral high grounds to sanction unrest and non-compliance against the very concept of governmental authority.

        Governments often do things that taste like vinegar to all of us, but despite that, the citizens to those governments, children to parents, church members to elders, etc.: all of these are called to have an appropriate submissive spirit and to follow leadership according to Romans. Yes, the Lord also inspired the writings in Acts and Matthew. So we should agree that neither side is to be viewed as absolute. They all are subject to God’s ruling first. Therefore, both subservience and defiance are mandated by the Bible. The kicker here, however, is that the default course of action should not be defiance. It wasn’t defiance for Jesus, nor was it for Paul nor any other proponents of the early church and there is no Biblical evidence suggesting otherwise. The government is not a Christ-fearing institution; we are to be cautiously skeptical and alert while practicing obedience- right up until the point we are asked to disregard what is required of us in the Bible. I am required to serve my God and lead, protect, and provide for my family- none of which have been infringed upon…yet.

        [To separate freedom in Christ from his physical ministry is to “miss the mark entirely”. Jesus set people free from all of their PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL bondage. Of course he longed for their salvation. But if that was all he longed for, he would have left them in their physical bondage as to not “excuse and incite political unrest”. I can’t fathom how anyone who reads the gospels seriously could miss such a basic thread that runs throughout. It’s beyond absurd.]

        I would appreciate the assumption that I have a functional grasp on the workings of the Gospel; my answers to these comments are becoming painfully repetitive. Without question, Jesus’ ministry here on earth was riddled with active defiance of the authorities. Though I would heavily suggest abandoning the presumption that because Jesus was, at times, “an active, provocative, dangerous, illegal and civilly disobedient disturber of the peace; a troublemaker, a nonviolent revolutionary” (due to, and I absolutely can not repeat or stress this enough, the fact that the authorities were actively opposing propagation of the Gospel) we then default to dissenting government orders when it is inappropriate to do so. That is blind adherence to anti-government tendencies. At its core, that sows division and, in the case of COVID-19, endangers the physical safety of potentially millions of innocent lives. That mantra not only flies in the face of half of the functional implications in Romans, but it also adopts a perpetual us-vs.-them mentality adversative to the message of peace. What I can’t fathom, is how many can’t seem to reconcile Paul encouraging both timely obedience and timely defiance. Firstly, Paul being a Roman citizen, knew Caesar was going to read what he was writing and needed the authorities to know that Christians are not anarchists. Then he needed Christians to understand that they are also not to be swayed by the frustrations of being wronged by the government. Being wronged by authorities does not send people to hell; being bitterly angry, malicious and spiteful sends people to hell. It is a much greater evil to be wrongfully rebellious than for the government to mistreat us.

        [The majority of non-believers are led to belief in the setting of worship services, and the physical congregating of God’s people. That has been absolutely imperilled by “Public Health Units”. It remains harmful, disinformative [sic] advice to suggest otherwise. Worldwide, weak pastors have not only abandoned their flocks, but abandoned their commission by following the diktats of the state (of which Public Health Units have simply become an arm).]

        I will not ever deny the necessity of and crucial role the corporate body of Christ plays in our faith walks. That said, I’m not sure what your operational definition of “imperilled” is, but the temporary restrictions currently imposed on all types of meetings is hardly something we can call imperilled. And while some reports of pastors’ abandonment doesn’t surprise me, not only is that essentially disaster reporting, it’s also anecdotal. I could say also that many churches around the globe are banding together and becoming stronger than ever according to reporting by the Great Commission and the Global Media Outreach. We need to think foundationally: at this point, causally citing spiritual oppression is a stretch at best because temporary reduction does not equate total permanent loss. I get the whole “Nazi Germany, one freedom lost at a time” thing. But that is why we remain naturally vigilant, not stubbornly obstinate.

        [As believers, our cowering to the insidious diktats of the state, and our refusal to counter them with the radical gospel of Jesus Christ, while parroting the mantra that our subservience is protecting “those more vulnerable around us” is an anathema to the Christian faith.]

        Jesus was not a coward, nor have we been given spirits of cowardice and nor was it ever cited as a solution. Blind opposition, being equally as cancerous as blind obedience, renders a position like those “fighting for freedom” in this cultural moment untenable. Especially while masquerading as agents of God’s will.

        Reply
        • Terry Neudorf

          “These examples in this article are absolutely instances such as the ones I am speaking of. Jesus was being asked to cease acting on what he believed would further the Gospel. Throughout his life, we can agree that whether directly or indirectly, Jesus’ actions surrounded his mandate of spreading the Gospel of Christ and establishing himself as the new way, truth and life (to the fullest, John 10:10). Conceding to the authorities and disobeying these servient convictions would undoubtedly be an example of the authorities asking him to abandon his belief in the sovereign law of God.”

          If you’re going to stretch the justification of Jesus’ listed acts of civil disobedience into a matter that is solely related (“directly or indirectly”) to his inability to spread the gospel (to which I would fundamentally disagree), then it is easy to claim justification for civil disobedience today into the same.

          However, that’s a very long stretch.

          Further, the other example that you list (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel, Esther, the midwives in Exodus) most certainly don’t fulfil your criteria for what constitutes legitimate civil disobedience (the prohibition of the spreading of the gospel). I’m glad you brought those up and I have written about some of those elsewhere, but wanted this article to focus on Jesus’ example.

          Let me see if I have this straight, then:

          I. Jesus overturned the money-changer’s tables in the temple, overturning the corruption of the religious authorities, because they were asking him to “cease acting on what he believed would further the Gospel”

          Yet, resisting current government closure of houses of worship (in some cases, 100%, as has happened in Ontario, and is true at this very moment in a large swath of the world), and resisting the prosecution of pastors who defy government edicts and keep their houses of worship open is NOT asking us to cease acting on what we believe will directly or indirectly further the gospel?

          Really?

          II. Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue – a subversive act of truth-telling that threatened the empire – was because the authorities were asking him to “cease acting on what he believed would further the Gospel”.

          Yet, restricting the travel of people (including missionaries, pastors, humanitarians, and anyone else deemed non-essential) is NOT asking us to cease acting on what we believe will directly or indirectly further the gospel?

          Really?

          III. Jesus touching and healing lepers, a radically civilly disobedient act which others thought would threaten everyone’s health; and his breaking of health regulations, was done simply, because, to NOT do so would prohibit him from furthering the gospel.

          Yet, the mass quarantining of healthy individuals, and the mandating of healthy people to adopt unhealthy measures, is NOT asking us to cease acting on what we believe will directly or indirectly further the gospel?

          Really?

          IV. Jesus mingling, eating and associating with “public sinners,” tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the dying, the hungry, widows, women, fishermen, and other outcasts and marginalized people; was done, simply, because, NOT to do so would prohibit him from furthering the gospel.

          Yet, protesting against lockdown measures that, by the governing health bodies’ own admissions, mean that 300,000 people could starve to death each day in the coming months, deaths from illnesses such as cholera could far exceed those from Covid-19 itself, 60,000 cancer patients could die in the UK alone as a result of delays in diagnosis and treatment to due Covid-19 restrictions, over a million children and 56,700 mothers could die as an indirect result of the lockdowns, and the world teetering on the edge of a famine of “biblical” proportions – with 130 million people at risk of starvation – is NOT a protest against measures that prohibit, directly or indirectly, the furtherance the gospel?

          Really?

          V. Jesus repeatedly breaking Sabbath laws by working and healing on the Sabbath was done, simply, because, NOT to do so would prohibit him from furthering the gospel.

          Yet, protesting the closure of business, or simply breaking the law by keeping my business open, in the face of what the CFIB estimates suggests, that 160,000 small businesses across Canada may permanently close due to COVID-19, with the potential for the number to rise to 225,000, and in defiance of measures that are bringing about what is expected to be the most severe since the Great Depression, is not an act of civil disobedience against measures that prohibit, directly or indirectly, the furtherance the gospel?

          Really?

          VI. Jesus violation of the cleanliness laws and eating codes was done, simply, because, NOT to do so would prohibit him from furthering the gospel.

          Yet our defiance and protest against callous and pseudo-scientific and dangerous mask laws, our stand against mandatory vaccinations, and our civil disobedience in having more than the prescribed number of people celebrating and breaking bread together is NOT?

          Really? Seriously?

          With regard to your citing the functional implications in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
          Many Christians are quick to dust off their weapon of choice – the twisted and butchered interpretation of Romans 13 – as a justification for their own subservience (and calls to subservience, and demonizing of anyone in opposition) to evils perpetrated by the state.

          I’ve seen more sermons and articles in the last 6 months by ministers of the gospel based on this interpretation, and all of this, while completely ignoring the rest of the New Testament. I’ve been working on an essay with regard to this, but it’s quite complex, and can, for the time being, at least point to a starting point to the much better understanding of Romans, and in particular, Chapter 13: http://kingwatch.co.nz/Law_Government/romans_13.htm)

          To say that the evil mandates (which almost ALL of the politicians and their “public health” bedmates have hypocritically broken themselves) have in no way required us to compromise our belief set, or haven’t in any measurable way endangered our families, yet; is absurd and myopic. It reduces the gospel to making sure people have a ticket stamped for heaven (and restricts even that!), and as such is an abdication of much of any Christ-follower’s kingdom-centric commission while here on this earth.

          If opposing that is seen as blind opposition by an obstinate person masquerading as an agent of God’s will, I’m proud to wear the label.

          Reply
  3. TweetieB

    Kimberly,
    Thank you for a thoughtfully written article that should jar every professing Christian supporting this ungodly ‘pandemic.’
    We admire what you are doing and encourage you in the name of the Lord Jesus to not give up or give in. We are behind you!
    Friends from the US

    Reply

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