CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Should Christians Stand Up For Their Rights?

Jul 2, 2019

That there is a lot of sloppy thinking about Christianity should not surprise us – at least when it is non-Christians who are doing the thinking. What is surprising – and quite worrying – is to find so much sloppy and unbiblical thinking about Christianity coming from Christians.

That is a big problem indeed, and something we encounter all the time. It has emerged once again in the Israel Folau saga. All sorts of dopey and unbiblical thinking surrounds his case. I have rebutted much of it in past articles. But let me address some more of it here.

Specifically, some Christians have rather foolishly claimed that Folau should not seek to defend himself, he should just accept his persecution, and he should not seek to fight back. I have heard many of these claims of late, and I am not very impressed with them.

Let me quote from just one of them. A concerned Christian sent me a message asking what I thought of one such Christian’s thoughts on this. He had said:

“Christians are not called to fight for their rights. Christians are called to respond to God’s reckless grace by loving God, loving others, preaching the gospel, caring for the poor, looking after refugees, praying for the sick, planting churches, making disciples, and giving up their rights.”

My very brief and quick reply was as follows:

Baloney. We have as much of a right to stand up for our beliefs in public as anyone else. And we can evangelise and do other good things too – it is foolish to force us to choose one or the other. And when free speech suffers, we all suffer, so I just don’t buy his view. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/07/20/are-christians-forcing-their-morality-on-others/

But let me expand on all this. A big part of the confusion comes from not thinking clearly about the Christian’s relationship to Christ, and the Christian’s relationship to the surrounding culture. The two are different, and Christians have obligations to each one.

As to our relationship to God, yes, in one sense, we have no rights. As Paul could say, we are bondslaves to Christ. A slave has no rights, and exists simply to serve the master. So in that sense, yes, we say no to self, to our desires, to our rights, and to our plans. We lay everything at his feet.

But it is an altogether different matter when it comes to the Christian and how he relates to the culture around him. We have both obligations as well as rights as citizens of the country we live in. And there is nothing amiss in utilising those rights or standing up and defending oneself.

One simply has to look at the life of the Apostle Paul to see this. The last eight chapters in the book of Acts are all devoted to Paul and his relationship with the powers that be. They are all about him defending himself against trumped-up charges, and appealing to his rights as a Roman citizen.

And he was even warned ahead of time by the Holy Spirit and by prophetic words that he would face real trouble if he went on to Jerusalem. As we read in Acts 20: 22-24:

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

In Acts 21 we read about Paul in Jerusalem, and from verse 27 onwards we read about his arrest. And in verse 37 and following Paul makes his first defence. The remainder of the book of Acts deals with his various court appearances, his appeals, and his verbal and legal defences.

There is one defence speech after another found here. But according to these Christian critics, Paul was wrong to seek to defend himself, he was wrong to seek justice from secular rulers, and he was really just wasting his time. But Paul did not think so, nor did Luke, as he records all this under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In these chapters there is not the slightest hint that Paul should have just rolled over and played dead. He knows full well that he has rights as a Roman citizen and he fully intends to stand up for them. He seeks justice – even from pagan rulers.

Thus the many speeches he gives defending himself, and the many times we read about him making an appeal to Caesar. Some of the passages worth noting here include these:

Acts 22:25-28 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

Acts 25:11-12 “If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Acts 25:21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”

Acts 25:25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.

Acts 26:32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Acts 28:19 The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people.

For much more detail on all this, one can consult the various commentaries on Acts, or turn to some books on Paul, including the classic 1977 work by F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. They all provide a lot more background into the political, cultural and legal situation Paul found himself in.

But let me make a few more comments on this. It has been noted that we have some similarities with the trials Paul had to sit through, and those of Jesus. Felix for example knew that Paul was innocent, but for political expediency’ sake, he kept him imprisoned. So too Pontius Pilate. He could find no fault in Jesus, but he feared the crowds, and wanted to please them.

Some might argue that Jesus did not stand up for his rights when he was tried, so neither should we. But that ignores a very basic truth: Jesus was unique, he was a man on a mission, and he was born to die. The cross WAS his appointed end, and he would not let anything get in the way of him fulfilling his divine appointment.

You and I and Paul are not called to die for the sins of the world. Paul was called to preach the gospel, and so he made full use of his rights as a Roman citizen to be able to fulfil his calling. He knew he was being unjustly accused and tried, so he stood up for his rights.

And Christians should be able to do this as well. Each believer may need to pray about when they should seek justice and utilise their rights, and when they should be willing to just submit, even if injustice results. I have written about this before, eg.: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/14/sin-forgiveness-and-consequences/

When it comes to things like personal justice, the Christian can turn the other cheek. Let’s say a guy breaks into my home and steals a bunch of my stuff. Let’s say I happen to know who he is. I am well within my rights to report him to the police, and have him arrested and tried and convicted for his crimes.

But perhaps I have a relationship with this thief, am witnessing to him, and am praying for his conversion. I can, if I so choose, forego my rights of justice and simply say, “I forgive you, but I am praying that you come to know Christ, and stop your wicked ways.” However, another Christian would be fully justified in taking such a thief to court and see him get his just punishment, if so led.

So individuals can prayerfully consider when they seek justice, and when they might willingly allow it to be bypassed. In the case of Paul, he felt led by God to stand up for his rights, to defend himself, and to appeal to the ruling authorities. He clearly was not sinful in doing this.

Thus those critics who are attacking Folau, saying he should just act as a doormat and take everything that is being thrown at him are simply wrong – and unbiblical. Folau has every right to seek to defend himself here against his unfair dismissal and against all this ugly anti-Christian bigotry.

As I and others keep saying, Folau is not just defending himself here. He is defending all of us as he stands for the vital social goods of free speech and religious freedom. He has every right to stand up for faith and freedom in an increasingly hostile culture.

In sum, while Christians are to hand all their rights, longings, wishes and wants over to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, they do have rights as citizens and taxpayers in the countries they live in. There is nothing wrong with standing up for those rights, especially when grave injustices are taking place.

Public justice is important, and we need not be ashamed in seeking it. At times God may ask us to be willing to waive those rights. But normally we should seek to see that which is right be promoted both on a private and public level. Paul did that, and so can we.

[1766 words]

17 Responses to Should Christians Stand Up For Their Rights?

  • Israel Folau did not defend his own rights. He defended God’s name and everyone’s rights this includes Christians and people of every faith.

    Jesus did not defend His rights, but when God’s name is dishonored, He stood up for God.

    We read in the bible when the people selling in the temple as if like a market place. Jesus made a wipe and drove everyone away. But when Jesus was personally abused, spat on and beaten, He said nothing and did nothing to defend Himself.

    We need Christ-like people like Israel Folau.

  • reckless
    [?r?kl?s]
    ADJECTIVE
    heedless of danger or the consequences of one’s actions; rash or impetuous.

    Dear Concerned,

    I`d prefer we didn`t say God`s gift of grace or any gift is reckless.

    I believe Israel is anything but in how he is responding.

    brother Joh

  • Thanks Joh. Yes it is a popular phrase used by the SJWs and the religious left. However it is both rather foolish and unbiblical. There is nothing reckless about his grace: it is fully measured, reasonable and proportionate to all the attributes of God, including his holiness and righteousness. And as Sproul rightly reminds us, it is not unlimited:

    “We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.”

  • Yes we are to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our rights. The apostle Paul knew his rights as a Roman citizen and he used his rights. (Acts 22:25)

    Acts 5: 27-29. NIV The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name”, he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood,”
    29. We must obey God rather than human beings!. (rather than men).

    Psalm 119: 42 – 46 Then I can answer anyone who taunts me, for I trust in your word. 43. Never take your word of truth from my mouth for I have put my hope in your laws. 44. I will always obey your law, forever and ever. 45. I will walk about in freedom for I have sought out your precepts. 46. I WILL SPEAK OF YOUR STATUTES BEFORE KINGS and will not be put to shame. 47. For I delight in your commands, because I love them.

  • Many of are just happy to sit quietly and let God’s name be dishonoured every day, but when it comes to our, name, our interest, boy, we yell abuse, we sue this sue that, we behaved like the heathens.
    Jesus said whoever honours Him, He will honour them in the presence of His Father and all the holy angels.

  • John the Baptist got thrown in prison and got his head chopped off because he preached repentance.
    Jesus was nailed to the cross because He preached repentance.
    Folau got his contract torn because he preached repentance.
    Had they all preached healing, prosperity they all be millionaires like the wealth and health preachers of today.

  • Hi Bill. The 6th para from the end of this article reads to me like this: “I can, if I so choose, turn the other cheek. However, another Christian would be fully justified in not turning the other cheek, if so led.” Is that fair? (Are you talking about turning the other cheek at that point?) Could you please explain more on the correct application of turning the other cheek if you have time.
    Thanks, Dale

  • Thanks Dale. It once again has to do with the difference between personal ethics and social ethics. It is the difference between how individual Christians respond to evil, and how the state is to respond to evil – and the interaction between the two. As a follow-up to the hypothetical case I mentioned in my piece, it is perfectly possible to both personally forgive the robber, AND press charges, if that was deemed to be the best way forward. One can simultaneously turn the other cheek in a sense, and yet also seek justice. The two are not mutually incompatible in other words.

    But I deal with this in some detail here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/20/difficult-bible-passages-matthew-539/

  • What anti-Christian forces have characterised as ‘discrimination’ by Christians may be better understood as Christians exercising the right of self-preservation (of the immortal soul).

    For example, there is an increasingly long list of occupations for which many Christians are being cornered into having to chose between losing one’s livelihood ( whether it be job sacking or targeted business boycotting or denial of service) or losing one’s soul (or losing heaven or going to hell or however it may be phrased).

    It started with doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel being required to become complicit (including referrels) in the grave sins (for many Christians) of abortion, contraception and euthanasia.
    Then it was civil celebrants, adoption agencies, wedding cake bakers and other wedding related providers (including wedding magazines) being required to commit the sin (for many Christians) of in effect publicly endorsing (by way of providing services to) those in open same-sex relationships including same-sex ‘marriage’.
    Or a similarly, a Victorian Christian holiday camp being required to publicly endorse practicing homosexuality by catering to an openly homosexual teen group.
    Then it was Christian Churches within their own cultural spaces of churches, schools, hospitals etc being required to commit the sin of effectively publicly endorsing anti-Christian views by hiring active homosexuals (and presumably active adulterers and active fornicators as well), militant atheists etc. (Though keep in mind there may be limited scenarios where church and para-church organisations may need to hire or give business to people of anti-Christian morality, on a case-by-case basis, if suitable skill sets or providers cannot be found from the ranks of the faithfull).
    Now it is rubgy players (and other people in the general population) being required to either tacitly support the homosexual supremacist agenda by keeping quiet (in the case of some of Israel Folau’s team mates) or renounce Christian teachings on practising homosexuals (in the case of the outspoken Israel Folau).

    Left unchecked, Christians may well end up on the fringes of civilisations in enclaves or semi-underground networks (either self-imposed by Christian morality or imposed on Christians by government or corporate actions), after having been effectively excluded from wider public/government/commercial/corporate spheres by the array of anti-Christian forces.

    Thus, the right for individual Christians and Christian organisations for the right of self-preservation of the immortal soul (or however it is best phrased) needs to be urgently protected.

    Are there any online articles or commentaries that outline the dynamics of the stress that many Christians are facing along the lines this post has stated?

  • A slight clarification on my previous post above at 7:06pm today.

    The intent of the paragraph on wedding etc products and services, applies to scenarios where providing such products or services would amount to a public endorsement of grave sin, and does not apply to the general servicing of general population clientele.
    For example, a Christian baker being required to supply a wedding cake specifically for a same-sex ‘wedding’ should not be happening.
    In contrast, a Christian baker supplying general baking products to the general population (who may or may not be practicing homosexuals) is not an issue.

  • This country (United States) would not be here if the pilgrims were not fighting for religious persecution and freedom to worship God.
    People who are saying don’t fight are the ones who have allowed christian values, the Bible and Prayer to be taken out of school. These are the same Christians who sit back and accept sharia law into our country and tolerate phrase like “Easter Worshiper” and “merry xmas” They are also the group that has allowed the PC crowd and the LGBTQ to bully us into submission; enough already!!
    These Christians do not care that others fought so hard to bring Christianity to our country. Instead they Are more concerned about their fat cat comfortable lifestyles being maintained. These are the Christians who will use scripture to justify passivity, docility and (at the heart if it) laziness/selfishness. These are the same Christians who allow our government and our taxes to support planned parenthood. These passive “Christians” who say don’t fight are the same ones who would be found sitting in a Joel Osteen service listening to health and wealth preaching.

  • Paul was realistic about the need for Christian preaching to be accepted as lawful, so he publicly fought for his civil rights for the sake of the Gospel. A cavalier attitude about freedom of speech and religion is antithetical to Gospel mindedness.

  • God cannot be out smarted or be fooled by mere mortals or even by Satan.

    Grace is not on tap or unlimited or unmerited.

    The bible speaks very clearly that God gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud. There is a condition there.

    Go on, those who believe God’s grace is unmerited, why don’t you test Him and see.

    Grace do not condem but grace also demands repentance.

    Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery that He do not condem her and told her to sin no more.

    Revelation tells us that God will blot out the names of those who do not overcome from the book of life.

    For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. – Hebrews 10:26-27

  • David Skinner
    I agree with your previous comment.
    Here in Australia, as reported by the MSM:
    * Folau is attacked by the usual suspects.
    * Folau is attacked by the churches.
    * Folau is not supported by our neutral, Christian PM.
    * Folau is supported by ACL and their people.
    * Folau is supported by various agnostics in the media.
    * Folau is supported on various blogs such as CultureWatch.
    Even some non-Christians now realise, “eventually the mob will come for you”.
    The book Folau quoted from, provides the most reliable daily news. Revelation 3:14 (churches take note) to 22:21.

  • As soon as you see people quoting “reckless love” you know they are way off in la la land. God even chastises His children (Rev 3:19) so we know His love is nothing like reckless and certainly, vastly less reckless than human parenting.

    This is typical hyper-grace nonsense that pretends that sin is no longer sin. The truth is Jesus died for us to pay the price because there is no escaping that there is a price to be paid and every time we sin that price has to be paid. This is why the scriptures speak of a daily sacrifice.

    The reckless idea effectively claims there is no longer a price for their sin and in fact insults what Jesus did by treating it as a license to sin and even worse a means to ignore what is sin, but the entire scripture is all about how everything, sin included, has to be paid for. Samuel tells us clearly that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22) and Paul tells us that if people do deliberately continue in sin there remains no more covering of sacrifice (Heb 10:26). For people to deliberately continue in sin means their repentance was a lie and while Jesus’ blood is more than capable of covering all sin, it is only through belief and repentance and God’s covering of a robe of righteousness (Rev 3:17) that we gain access to that payment. Very obviously, Jesus’ sacrifice does not cover those who are not repentant.

    It is specifically because there *is* a reckoning (i.e. because God’s love is *not* reckless) that Jesus had to die.

    Claiming God’s love is “reckless” is just a way to ignore people continuing in sin and is what the iniquitous/lawless “goats” do and teach. It serves no purpose other than to condone and promote people ignoring sin and what God says.

    Israel Folau is making a claim for A$10m because that is the estimate of what Rugby Australia has cost him. It is not, as the media and others have falsely claimed, a money making exercise. It is recompense for what he has lost. If Israel was solely interested in making money he would have caved in and shut up and made that money but the fact that he has been willing to sacrifice and risk so much is huge evidence that he is *not* worshiping Mammon.

    People who support Israel are very obviously *not* doing it to help him make money but because what Rugby Australia is attempting to do is shut down not only Israel Folau’s voice but God’s voice. We do this because it is, very obviously, a defense of the Gospel. While God has given us dominion over this Earth every Christian should be fighting, by every means possible, to ensure that He is not excluded, as the forces of evil are obviously attempting to do. It is because we have allowed God to be sidelined that the delusion, that has taken hold of this nation and defiled it, has occurred, exactly as Paul’s prophecy in 2 Thes 2 gave warning.

    The freedoms we have in this country are all completely attributable to Christian culture and people in the past actually died for those freedoms. That people are so willing to give all of this up is not only an insult to what Jesus did it is also an insult to what people fought and died for but, most importantly, is an insult to what God has said and given. This is why the Revelation prophecy tells us the name of the Beast, that is used by the Second Beast to attempt to prevent people buying and selling, is “Blasphemy” (Rev 13:1) and we should, in no way, have anything remotely to do with that name and certainly not receive the mark of that name.

    I have always argued that the mark is a spiritual mark, not necessarily a physical one, and I would suggest helping to shut down God’s words could well be part of that mark. Working to shut down God’s Word should be seen as a very obvious blasphemy.

    People condemn Israel Folau but, even though through this they have slandered the scriptures and continue to call them a “homophobic rant”, the fact remains that this is the first time in a very long time that we have actually seen scripture in the news and in front of many people who would otherwise not even know what they say.

  • “Those who stop at the freedom-of-speech argument and ignore (or worse) chastise (largely Christian) people who accept the content, meaning and import of Folau’s position, are fuelling the coming turbo-charged age of persecution. I don’t believe I need to quote Martin Niemoller’s gut-wrenching poem.”

    https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2019/07/hell-and-other-destinations/

  • Regarding what Christians are called to, that seems to be a very very ideologically skewed view, or am I reading to much into it?

    When Christian fight for rights they may benefit, but the rights may equally be universal. Folau for instance is fighting against religious discrimination, the right to not be fired unfairly etc. While his critics try to spin this as a selfish action, a good ruling will benefit every Australian, not just Folau. On the flip side the clash of world views is ripping off the horrific level of intolerance lurking in Australian society, especially in the MSM. How many people knew things were this bad?

    Joh and Michael both mentioned the absurdity of defining God’s grace as reckless, but what of the other points? Loving God and loving other’s sounds great, but what does that actually entail? Preaching the gospel likewise sounds great, but which gospel? The prosperity gospel, the gospel of Marx, the gospel of Christ …? Caring for the poor is of course part of early Christianity’s mission, and not something the church has ceased, but hasn’t government largely taken over this role? What of Centrelink\Social Security, free health care\socialised medicine, National Disability Insurance Scheme etc? As for refugees, which refugees? The Left conflate genuine lawful refugees with illegal economic migrants. The two are very very different groups! Of course they also try to make out Jesus was a refugee so facts and reality aren’t their strong point. Praying for the sick is something I think most churches do, but again free healthcare etc. Government again has stepped into the arena. Planting churches and making disciples at least are strong points. As for Christians giving up their rights, where in Scripture does it teach that? When about to be flogged Paul pointed out his rights, stating that he was a Roman Citizen. So long as Christians are citizens do they not have equal claim to demand their rights?

Leave a Reply