A few days ago the United States Supreme Court rendered a judgment on marriage. Some decades earlier the Supreme Court rendered the Roe v. Wade judgment that unleashed abortions. Over a century ago the Supreme Court held that blacks are not qualified to be American citizens in Dred Scott v. Sandford.
So courts make judgments—it’s their job. Yet those of us who aren’t professional judges, let alone supreme judges, are faced with a question: do we always need to affirm their judgments?
In asking this question a related question arises: must we remain law-abiding citizens when we disagree with the courts?
No and yes. We can disagree but the fabric of society is woven by our agreement to abide by the laws we’re given. And as Paul wrote in Romans 13 anarchy is an unacceptable alternative to ordered society.
But in the Bible we also learn that resistance without rebellion may be necessary at times. In Acts chapter four Peter and John refused a directive to cease sharing their faith, no matter the consequences: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge.” A similar resistance was seen in Daniel chapter three—a story of faith even in the face of a furnace.
Three decades ago I saw modern examples of resistance without rebellion in my hometown. A pastor, Randy, and a layman, Ron, continued to picket an abortion clinic even after their action was prohibited by a court judgment. They believed, against all court rulings, that abortions are wrong: living fetuses knit together by God must not be shredded like so much pulled pork.
Their non-violent approach had been used in an earlier era by Martin Luther King to resist rulings that treated blacks as sub-human. Such legal traditions need to be resisted even if consequences are sure to follow. So Ron spent time in jail; and Randy—facing garnished wages assigned to the abortion clinic—resigned his ministry.
Such challenges will always be with us. In Genesis three and Romans one we read of humanity exchanging “the Truth” of God for “the Lie.” The serpent’s ultimate lie is that we can “be like God” and determine “good and evil” for ourselves.
And, with new versions of morality, humans claimed “to be wise” but they actually “became fools.” The attempted takeover of God’s role brought with it a plague of moral and sexual reversals as “God gave them up to dishonorable passions.”
An associated Bible axiom is that just two spiritual forces operate in the world. Either God’s holy Spirit is active in a soul, or direction comes from “the spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:2-3).
Yet in the end we will find there is only one true and supreme judge. And “those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill” (Zephaniah 1:12) will be corrected. As Malachi promised, “Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve him.” We call this “the day of judgment.” Innumerable judges and politicians will finally face the living Truth.
In the meantime life may be hard for those who resist today’s upside-down judges. Last week in the television news I watched an almost gleeful report of a Portland bakery being fined $135,000 for refusing to supply a cake for an alternative wedding. One camera shot featured a Bible on the bakery counter—suggesting the unhappy basis for such “discrimination.”
It’s true, of course. We all make our discriminations—our judgments—based on the spirit we embrace. Some of us want to please God. Some want to please, unwittingly, another spirit.
Let me add one more example of the tensions faithful Christians face. In the 1930’s Germany’s National Socialist movement—the Nazi’s—came to power. Led by Hitler they promised to rule for a “thousand years” and warned Germans to adapt to their new Nazi values of racial-cleansing and world conquest. Most German churches quickly shifted to fit in with the new regime.
Yet there were some exceptions. A group of pastors and teachers gathered, at the risk of their careers and lives, to compose and sign the Barmen Declaration in May 1934. Take a look:
“The Barmen Declaration rejects (i) the subordination of the Church to the state, and (ii) the subordination of the Word and Spirit to the [unfaithful] Church. … We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” And we hold the Church “is solely Christ’s property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.” The Declaration points to the inalienable lordship of Jesus Christ by the Spirit and to the external character of church unity which “can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.”—available in Wikipedia.
Nazism in the end didn’t last long—although millions died in opposing it. The reality is that all the alternative approaches ultimately fail: when everyone does what is ‘right’ in their own eyes and God’s ways start to dissolve, many will turn back to truth. The real Supreme Judge—who loves us, who wants us to hear his heart, and who made us to enjoy the life he designed us to live—invites us to repent and to trust.
So may all who have God’s Spirit be discriminating as we love Christ and disagree with many of the world’s judgments. And may we, like God, continue to love those who hold alternative views.