When the State Displaces God
The state is increasingly usurping the role of the church:
The recent images of a Canadian pastor being dragged away by the police for daring to hold church services should forever remain burned into our memories. The pastor was born in Poland and lived under Soviet rule as a child, so he knows all about life under totalitarian regimes. As one article reports:
Canadian Pastor Artur Pawlowski, who kicked police out of his church after they tried to shut down a worship service during Holy Week, and his brother, Dawid Pawlowski, have been arrested for holding an “illegal” in-person gathering as per COVID-19 limits set by a new court order. Referring to the Pawlowskis of Street Church in Calgary, Alberta, Calgary Police Service said in a statement that its officers “lawfully enforced” the court order by arresting the two men after church.
A video posted on YouTube shows that Calgary Police Service sent at least five police vehicles to arrest the two from on the street. The brothers knelt on the road and refused to walk on their own during the arrest. A voice can be heard telling the officers, “Shame on you guys, this is not communist China. Don’t you have family and kids? Whatever happened to ‘Canada, God keep our land glorious and free?’” https://www.christianpost.com/news/canadian-pastor-arrested-for-holding-church-service.html
I have written before about this brave pastor. In an earlier piece I offered this quote of his: “I grew up in Poland under the boot of the Soviets, behind the Iron Curtain. What I see right now, I see everything escalating and moving to the new level. They’re acting just like the Communists were acting when I was growing up when the pastors and the priests were arrested, and some were murdered. Many were tortured. That’s why I say what I say, because I see a repetition of history.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/04/08/signs-of-hope-scenes-from-the-resistance/
Those who have grown up in communist countries have every right to be alarmed at what they see happening all over the West. That is a major theme in the new book by Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies. See my write-up about it here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/30/a-review-of-live-not-by-lies-by-rod-dreher/
One of the major takeaways from the covid scare over the past year is this two-pronged reality: In the West we have had far too much statist overreach and far too much Christian capitulation. We see this occurring everywhere, and it does not look too good.
Plenty of churches are still in lockdown, or greatly reduced in what they can offer, while pubs and brothels and sporting events and hardware stores and so on are fully up and running. And most Christian leaders are not saying a thing about this.
One of the real sins of any age is when men and/or the state usurp the prerogatives of God, and seek to act as God. A key way of doing this is to determine what worship is, and where and when it can take place. The state may seek to prohibit all religious worship, or certain aspects of it.
During the past year under the guise of ‘keeping us safe’ the state has taken almost total control of most churches. Whenever that happens the people of God should be rising up and asserting the importance of fundamental human rights, including religious liberty rights.
Writing way back in 1986, Carl F. H. Henry said the following in his book, Christian Countermoves in a Decadent Culture:
According to the Bible, the state exists within God’s providential will and has limited authority. When totalitarian states presume to define human rights and duties at will, they illicitly claim divine prerogatives. The state’s biblically stated role is to maintain God-ordained justice, not to devise or manipulate it….
Religious freedom – that is, one’s right to worship and to obey God in good conscience – shelters and nurtures all other human rights, and in this sense undergirds them. Only if human beings have political and civil liberty to worship according to conscience can they worship and serve the living God meaningfully and resist the efforts of arbitrary powers who require subjects to do what God prohibits or to abstain from what God requires. In the absence of individual liberty to worship conscientiously, citizens fall prey to pretentious powers that arrogate to themselves the absolute authority and unqualified honor reserved only to God. The example of the Christian apostles, who when thwarted by civil authorities in fulfilling the Great Commission preferred physical imprisonment to spiritual disobedience (“We must obey God rather than men!” Acts 5:29), remains normative for Christians even today.
Yes quite so. Anyone familiar with one of the great religious freedom stories found in the Bible – the exodus – will see the obvious similarities. Moses told the state (Pharaoh and the Egyptians) to let God’s people go so they could worship God. Pharaoh refused, and a major power encounter took place.
After ten horrific plagues, and the climactic Red Sea incident, the pagan rulers learned the hard way that they should not mess with God, and with the right of God’s people to worship. It never ends well when the state seeks to keep the church under its thumb.
Yet so many Christians today would actually have sided with Pharaoh! We simply need to look at how many Christians, Christian leaders, and churches have fully and happily gone right along with all the draconian lockdown measures over the past year.
While a few have spoken out and sought to allow worship to take place (with sensible safety measures in place), most have simply caved in. They actually agree with the tough measures of the state, and seem to agree with it when it declares worship and church services to be ‘non-essential services’.
And worse yet, far too many Christians have actually denounced churches and leaders who have defied the state and remained open. Plenty of sheeple Christians for example would think the actions of pastors like Pawlowski are totally unacceptable, and they will attack them, instead of the authorities dragging them away.
They will drone on and on about Romans 13, as if that were the only biblical passage on our responsibilities to civil government. But the state, as Henry and others rightly point out, is never to be absolute. It is always a case of delegated authority, rightly administered. See my earlier piece on this for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/05/15/the-state-is-not-absolute/
And these rather clueless Christians would completely overlook all the passages in the Bible where God’s people rightly defied and disobeyed the state at various times. There are plenty of these cases found in Scripture. In an earlier piece I listed some of them: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/03/24/12-biblical-cases-of-civil-disobedience/
And there are many more. The point is, as the West becomes increasingly secular – indeed, increasingly anti-Christian – the conflicts are going to escalate and the sifting of real deal Christians from the fake ones will ramp up significantly.
Some will stand for biblical truth and religious freedom while others will slavishly just go along with whatever the state says. I know where I will stand. And thankfully so do some others. Getting back to the case of the Canadian pastor, some Christian leaders have rallied to his support.
For example, consider this pastor who is shocked by the way things are heading. As one report puts it:
Pastor Henry Hildebrandt responded swiftly to the vicious arrest of Pastor Artur Pawlowski after he performed church services on Saturday. Pastor Art was forcibly removed from his car after mass and dragged down the highway. The arrest came in the wake of a viral video of Pastor Artur Pawlowski telling police officers to leave his church. As reported at RAIR Foundation USA, the Pastor escaped communist Poland and has been warning citizens about the encroaching return of the genocidal ideology in Canada.
“This is one of those days when you wonder ‘Am I going to wake up from this terrible dream or not’,” Pastor Henry said on a video posted on Facebook. “We see some gut-wrenching images coming in this afternoon from Calgary, Alberta of Pastor Art being arrested,” he continued.
RAIR spoke with Pastor Henry back in August, who was “embroiled in court battles” for holding mass in the parking lot of his church. “They’re dragging this pastor down the highway… Do they not care? Do they not care that the whole world is watching? Unbelievable,” Pastor Henry said incredulously. “It is unbelievable, unbelievable – it’s something that none of us would have ever imagined,” he said. “You ask yourself again and again, ‘This is Canada’?”, he continued. https://rairfoundation.com/pastor-responds-to-brutal-anti-christian-arrest-of-fellow-clergyman-in-canada-what-will-it-take-for-us-to-wake-up/
As the state continues to wage war on the churches, Christians will need to decide where they stand. Will they remain faithful to the one true God, or will they become idolaters who worship at the altar of Big Brother statism? In the days ahead we will see this sheep and goat separation becoming more and more pronounced.
14 Replies to “When the State Displaces God”
Meanwhile, a looming legal threat to churches in most of the Americas:
Moses if he was like today’s Christians: I can’t ask Pharaoh to let us go he is really look our for us and not just us but all Egypt. We can’t be so self absorbed we only care about US and what we want and don’t concern ourselves with what our desires might do the to people of Egypt. We might cause great harm and suffering all because we had to be free. To be good servants of God we MUST be good servants of Pharaoh and obey him. Maybe I can talk to him and get a few concessions from him maybe some extra money or maybe some extra rations. God put Pharaoh over us for a reason and we can’t question God.
Too many millennials and like minded from other generations have no idea what life under socialism is like yet refuse to listen to those who lived under it because it disagrees with what they were taught (surely my professor understands socialism better than you) yet when things go bad and they start to feel the pain of socialism they will cry why didn’t any tell us about this OR why didn’t anyone warn us????
Even the progressive Christians will be placed under the boot of course they get the “honor” of be stomped on last. They too will cry why didn’t you warn us??? As if WE are responsible for their bad decisions and collaboration with the enemy. We shouldn’t need to tell you working with satan is a bad idea. We shouldn’t have to tell you some people LIE to get what they want from you.
They act more like children in some respects they screw things up blame you and then say “this is your mess and I’ll be blanked if I’m going to clean it up.” Then when we finally get thing right they will try to take the credit for fixing things!
Both the state and God have the same commandment “thou shalt have no other gods before me”. Only one of them is worth listening to!
And more along those lines:
A pastor known to us has been a long time loyal and valued customer of one of Australia’s big 4 banks. Yesterday the pastor’s credit card was declined when seeking to pay for medication for an unwell family member. Today the pastor went into the local branch and was told to wait for the manager. The manager and another formerly friendly staff member, behaving now like Gestapo, took the pastor into a cubicle and presented the pastor with a letter stating the bank had closed the pastor’s everyday account and credit card permanently and for no reason – and this despite the pastor having been an exemplary and loyal long term customer.
Last week the much respected conservative and Christian lawyer and former New York Lord Mayor Rudi Giuliani’s apartment was raided by the FBI at 7 a.m. His computers were confiscated, however the FBI had no interest at all in taking the copy of Hunter Biden’s disturbingly incriminating laptop that Rudi Giuliani had in his possession and offered that they may take with them.
Persecution of God’s people is escalating in the West, and has been reality for a very long time in many other parts of the world.
May these realities energize us all to stand shoulder to shoulder with courageous Pastor Pawlowski and our persecuted family in Christ across the world.
Voice of the Martyrs, The Barnabas Fund and Open Doors are very worthy recipients of our prayer and support as they are faithfully God’s hands and feet to our persecuted but voiceless brothers and sisters in the Lord. May each one of us also be God’s hands and feet in sharing His love and care in our darkening world.
Bill, this is a timely article, and the readers comments following it are equally prescient. However, the Trumpet has sounded for a very, very, long time and we Australian Christians have largely ignored it, becoming inoculated to it’s warning sounds, and cowards in the process.
I fear most Christians in the West could not be bothered reading your article, or at best will pass it off as “nothing to see here”, just so long as our ears are tickled with smooth words and we don’t offend anyone.
Many also sit comfortably with the bait of expecting a secret escape to take us out of the fight, while doing little but wait; instead of shouldering our cross daily and seeking first the Kingdom of God, representing The Almighty as his adopted sons, while the Master is away on his long journey.
We have really not done a very good job of standing up for Jesus, for God or for his Word/Law.
The “sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question” is, what are we going to do about it?
Why does it seem that it is only Christian churches are being targeted? I’m not hearing anything about other religions? Or am I missing something?
Yes quite right Karene. We are not hearing about any mosques for example being targeted like this.
No mosques attack?? Well one reason we get the attacks is we are passive to a fault “turn the other cheek” and all. Face we don’t stand up for our rights, our faith.
The other reason is Islamists will kill you Christians will pray for you and, in all certainty, smile daintily. Honestly which target would you go after if your trying to silence people??
Maybe mosques, synagogues, Hindu and Buddhist temples are doing what the government asks because they don’t want the police coming after them. Don’t know, none around where I live.
“What are we going to do about it?”
Maybe Gary North answers the $64,000 question?
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What will eventuate will be private schools having to employ transgender, pansexual and so on in order to stay open. Plus those schools will have to sign attestations supporting a whole laundry list of progressive ideology to stay open or receive any funding. Homeschooling will barely be legal and by that I mean ALL materials must be approved only by the state and they will be heavily monitored. It would not surprise me if homeschooling is banned in the near future. You would be aghast at what progressive liberals are teaching kids under the guise of diversity and inclusion these days. Churches will fall under the control of the state and will be monitored also. They will be monitored by officials and recorded.
Well Philippe private schools will just become for pay versions of public schools they will have to have the same curriculum nothing added and nothing taken away. And yes they will have to ban homeschooling because those students are beyond there reach even with same as public requirements since the parents wouldn’t fear the state like private schools would. And a home schooler could always say the unapproved teaching were off the clock and thus a parent to child situation not a teacher to student situation.
It’s also happening in Australia.
Wake up Aussie churches.
Quite right Joy.