As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 5:41-42).
A resolution has been proposed in the N.C. legislature that would state that North Carolina, as a sovereign state, has the authority to declare for itself an official state religion. According to news reports, the resolution has been proposed in response to various court cases and court rulings regarding the opening of government sessions with “sectarian” prayers. The resolution states that the federal government and federal courts do not have the Constitutional power to regulate such matters at state and local levels.
I am not a Constitutional scholar or a legal expert, so I will not even attempt to deal with these issues. However, it was interesting to read this resolution as well as the various news reports about it in this week when we are reading the stories about the early church and the joys and trials they experienced.
In the Acts 5 passage above, we see joy and trial brought together. The apostles are arrested by the high priest and the Sadducees for preaching and teaching about Jesus, even though they have been ordered not to do so by the high priest. The temple council is ready to kill them for their perceived disobedience and blasphemy, but one of the council members stands up and argues that if this movement is man-made it will fail. However, he goes on, if the movement is from God, then any action of the council will not be able to stop it. The council is supposedly convinced by his argument, but they can’t let the apostles go without first flogging them and ordering them to be silent (so much for keeping away from them and letting them alone!).
And how do the apostles respond? Do they go running to the Romans complaining about unfair treatment? Do they demand new laws or new elections? Nope, they rejoice. They rejoice that they were considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. And then they go right on teaching and preaching.
It is interesting that so many Christians have become so enamored with responding to perceived persecution by turning to the powers of government to demand justice. The early church saw governmental persecution not as a call to legislate but as a call to trust more in the commission of Christ than in the powers of the world. When suffering and persecution came, they didn’t lawyer up, they rejoiced that they had the opportunity to suffer for Christ as Christ had suffered for them.
There will be other times and other opportunities to have conversations about the political and theological foundations of separation of church and state and of our Baptist heritage. For today, though, maybe we need to be reminded as Christians that sometimes faith and politics are going to be at odds with one another – they have been from the beginning. And when they are at odds, perhaps the question we should ask is not what legal action to take but whether the practice of our faith depends upon laws and resolutions. If it does, then perhaps the problem is not with government but with our faith.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.