With the current unrest in America, it seems good to repost an article from five years ago addressing the eerily similar death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer. If the response to the death of George Floyd is any indication racial tension has only increased in the last five years. Until we accept the Bible’s teachings about race, humanity and sin there will be no peace among men.
The one year anniversary of the shooting in Ferguson has just passed. In the twelve months since Michael Brown was shot, there have been numerous racially themed conflicts. Racial issues have been a regular theme of major news outlets. As a result, race is a topic on a lot of minds right now. The answers to racial tensions are not simple, but the Bible gives the sound foundation on which to develop a comprehensive response to racial conflicts. Whether it be an exchange of insults on a street corner or an exchange of gunfire in a crowded building the Bible gives the framework by which we can make sense of these difficult issues. One of the crucial Biblical teachings for a proper understanding of the races is what the Bible says about the origins of the races.
Race as we describe it is not something addressed often in the Bible. Most often Scriptures refers to nations, languages, tribes and cultures. In fact, the term “races” is a misnomer. Humanity is a single race with members possessing a variety of superficial differences, most easily seen in skin coloring and distinctive faical features. These variations are relatively minor and do not divide the peoples of the world into distinct races. The Biblical terminology is “kindred (tribe or family group), tongue (language group), people (community group) and nation (ethnic group)”. Though each group possesses clearly defined features, all are made up of descendants from Adam and Eve. Whether black, brown, white or yellow, all nations and peoples are members of the same family descended from the same parents.
If all humanity is one race that originated with Adam and Eve, where did the different ethnicities come from? The Bible offers a clear answer to the origins of the nations which are the source of the major “races” in the world today. The division of the peoples of the world is described in Genesis 10 and 11. Genesis 10 lists the sons and grandsons of Shem, Ham and Japheth. This chapter has been called the “table of nations” because many of the people mentioned are the founders of the major nations of the world.
Genesis 11 tells of the Tower of Babel. At the Tower of Babel God punished mankind for its continued rebellion against Him. His punishment included the confusion of languages. Before Babel everyone spoke the same language. At Babel God miraculously caused different groups to speak different languages. The punishment at Babel also included the scattering of the people across the world. The individual language groups traveled from Babel to settle in lands across the Middle East and eventually the entire world. The family leaders mentioned in chapter 10 appear to reflect the language groups created by God at Babel. As groups spread out, married and reproduced, the distinctive characteristics of the parents became more pronounced. The unique languages and hardships faced by each people gropu resulted in the distinct culture and heritage of the various nations. From the tower of Babel and the resulting hardships came the formation of the ethnicities we see today.
Protests and riots are taking place in cities all across America. Thousands are protesting in the aftermath of the death of a Minnesota man at the hands of a police officer. This event has once again brought the issue of police brutality to national attention. I have intentionally avoided researching the specifics of the events in Minnesota. Nothining I say here is intended to justify or condemn George Floyd or any involved in his death. Regardless of the facts of this particular situation police brutality is an unavoidable reality. How should the child of God respond when any government official abuses his authority?
Excessive force must always be condemned. Force is often required in the enforcement of law. Not all force is wrong. Romans 13 says that God has given governing bodies the sword to use against evil doers. The violence of the sword is intended by God to restrain evil. However, force that exceeds the demands of the situation, force that exceeds the requirements of justice or force that is driven by hatred must be condemned.
Even though some officers of the law act violently or murderously the Christian must always treat all governing authorities with respect. Peaceful protests are not necessarily unchristian, but violent uprisings always are. 1 Peter 2:17 says simply, “Honor all men. Honor the king.” No matter what the actions or abuses of officers of the law, they must always be treated respectfully.
Christians may be wise to call for changes to laws so harsher measures will be meted out against officers who abuse their power. The Bible teaches that those who have greater authority are held to a higher standard. In Scripture, authority always brings greater accountability. A Christian is not unreasonable to seek to influence our justice system to impose greater accountability upon those who have greater authority.
The Christian should speak up on behalf of the innocent and the powerless. Psalm 82 calls for the defense of the fatherless and widows and for justice for the afflicted. If the powers of the state are being used to persecute the innocent, then the Christian should do everything legally possible to halt such abuse of power. The Christian, British statesmen who brought the English slave trade to an end is an excellent example of Christians using all legal means to bring about justice for the afflicted.
Be careful responding to events like the death in Minnesota. Information is always limited. The temptation is to see a video and think the clip tells the whole story, but there is always more. No news report is able to give all the information. No cell phone video or body camera can tell the entire story. Be careful to not jump to conclusions or to assume what cannot be known. Proverbs 18:13 says it is “folly and shame” to answer a matter before giving it a full hearing. A fool reaches a full conclusion on half-information. A Christian must not condemn or acquit a person without first gaining a deep, first hand knowledge of the situation.
The Christian must always remember that those who govern are God’s servants appointed by Him for the terrorizing of evil. Whether the government be tyrannical or democratic, just or unjust, each one who serves to uphold the law is a servant of God for our good. Never forget that. Pray for the government. Consider the unrest of the day and pray “for all that are in authority; that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
Pastor’s Roundtable: May 24, 2020
Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor Joe Herr
Pastor Tom Schierkolk
Diethrich Bonhoeffer was a young pastor in Germany when Adolf Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer believed it was his duty to oppose Hitler. He actively sought the overthrow of the Hitler regime, was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was eventually put to death for his role in the conspiracy against the Fuhrer. Were his actions against the ruler of Germany Biblical?
The mandates of our state and federal government is nothing like the tyranny or atrocities of Hitler, yet many people today are questioning the legitimacy of the orders imposed in response to the Coronavirus. Lawsuits have been filed and protests have been organized. How should a Christian respond to laws they disagree with or believe to be unconstitutional? This article is not concerned with whether the measures taken are wise, safe or helpful. The question is when a Christian genuinely believes a law to be wrong, hurtful or unconstitutional, how should he respond.
The Biblical answer is much more plain than many would like to admit. The New Testament leaves no doubt that Christians are required to obey the government and every law handed down by that government. 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
The words of the New Testament were written to Christians living under the dictatorial rule of some of the worst rulers history has ever know. The Caesar’s were incompetent, insane, indifferent or corrupt. The entire system of the Roman government was incredibly corrupt. Officials were willing to issue any edict they thought would promote their own wealth and power. Often the only time the power of local rulers was questioned by Rome was if the officials incompetence or greed diminished Rome’s revenue or caused so much hardship that the subjugated people began to protest Roman rule. Despite the wickedness and injustice of Roman rule the apostles instructed Christian’s to obey all the capricious, malicious, excessive, petty or ridiculous laws handed down by their rulers.
The situation in America is complicated by the fact that we are a nation whose government is, “Of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are under the rule of elected governors, legislatures, judges and president. We are also under the rule of the constitution. What is a Christian to do when he believes a law to be unconstitutional? As Americans we have every legal right to protest laws, but the dissenting Christian must still obey the law even while protesting a law he believes to be illegal. The laws of the land provide means to address illegalities, but the commands of the Bible do not permit the Christian to disobey laws with which he does not agree.
The only exception is when the government orders something which would cause the Christian to disobey the clear commands of God. During the spread of the Coronavirus many states forbade all gatherings, including church services. Yet, the Bible clearly commands Christians to not forsake the assembling together with other believers. Many churches continued to gather despite the prohibitions because the laws of the land contradicted God’s commands. When obedience to the law would cause a Christian to disobey a clear command of the Bible then the Christian is obligated to obey the higher law- God’s command. (Acts 5:29)
In summary, the Christian must obey every law, even those which seem unconstitutional. He may use every legal means available to protest the law or see it repealed, but as long as the law is in force it needs to be obeyed. The only law the Christian is not bound to obey are those laws which oppose the clear commands of God.
Most Christians look back on their lives and feel regret or shame for things they have done. Those who were saved later in life often feel this guilt more significantly. They consider their life before salvation and wish the past could have been different. Broken relationships, hurts caused, missed opportunities or consequences that continue until this day fill hearts with sadness. The memories of the past hurt.
Many attempt to forget the past, but some things cannot be forgotten. What should Christians do when they look with regret and heartache at the sins of their past? The answer is not to avoid thinking about them, but to learn to think correctly about them.
Sin is a terrible thing, and its consequences are horrible. Sin plunged the world into thousands of years of suffering, disease, despair and death. Sin separates every person from God. Yet, God in His overwhelming grace, forgives every sin of every one who asks Him for salvation. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20) The greatness of God’s forgiveness is better seen in light of the terribleness of sin. For those who think sin is no big deal, the forgiveness of sin is not that big of a deal either. Those who feel the weight of their sin, are better able to feel the magnitude of God’s grace. The old hymn says the grace of God is “greater than all our sin.” No matter what terrible things have been done, God’s grace is greater. Let your past sin remind you of the present grace of God.
Though the memory of sin remains, and sometimes the earthly consequences remain, never forget your guilt is gone. The guilty feelings may remain, but God holds you guiltless. He has forgiven all your sin. The promise of God is, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) Why should we allow ourselves to constantly think about that which God promises to remember no more? Every sin you have ever committed is completely forgiven by God. When you remember the sins of your past, remember they have all been cast into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:9) Praise the Lord!
Be careful to not become mired in feelings of guilt because of your past sin. In “The Pilgrims Progress” John Bunyan told of a man who was weighed down by the guilt of his sin. For a little while he was mired down in a slough, the Slough of Despond. His guilt threatened to drown him in despair. Only the kind help of a faithful man of God brought him out of the swamp. Do not let the remembrance of sin drive you to despair. Let sins past remind you to worship your God for His overwhelming grace. Never forget that where sin abounds grace does much more abound.
As you feel the sorrow of your sin, take comfort. God promises you, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) God comforts those who have repented and sought His forgiveness. He comforts you with the promise your sins are washed away. All guilt is gone, forever.
Baptism is a practice familiar to many people today, but it was unknown to the Old Testament Israelites. When John the Baptist began to baptize, he did something different from anything practiced by Jews in Old Testament times. Under the law of Moses the Israelites had regular ritual cleansings, like hand washings and foot washings, but the law gave no instruction for ceremonial bathing or for rituals involving immersion of the entire body.
The Old Testament is silent about baptism, but history gives some insight into when baptism began to first be practiced in Israel. Apparently, the Jews in the time period between the completion of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus began to engage in immersion as a form of ceremonial cleansing. This ritual bathing is still practiced by some Jews today as a rite of purification. John the Baptist was not the first to baptize. He appears to have taken the practice and administered it as a sign of repentance among the Israelites.
In Matthew 3 John preached a message of coming judgment. The nation of Israel had been through times of judgment before. The last Divine judgment cut them off as a self-governing nation. From the beginning of the Babylonian captivity all Jews were subjects of other nations. First they were subject to Babylon, then Persia, Greece and finally Rome. Israel suffered six hundred years of subjugation because of their disobedience to God. John’s warning of impending judgment affected many hearts. Those who believed the warning repented of their sin and were baptized. “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (Acts 19:4)
John’s baptism was not Christian baptism. John did not baptize those who confessed Jesus as their Savior. John baptized those who were looking forward to the coming Messiah. Jesus is the promised Messiah, but when John’s ministry began very few people in Israel knew this fact. John preached that the Messiah was coming, but did not point Jesus out as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” until Jesus began his public ministry. John’s baptism was given in preparation to receive the Messiah.
John’s baptism was also directly related to his ministry as the forerunner of Christ. John’s baptism was a picture that pointed the Jews to the greater work Christ would do for those who believe. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
John’s baptism did not bring salvation to anyone. It was a sign of repentance and of readiness to receive the coming Savior. John’s baptism also provided an important transition to the practice of baptism in the church. The baptism administered by John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christian baptism that today testifies of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for our sin. The baptism of John the Baptist was a testimony of readiness to receive the Messiah. Christian baptism is a testimony of having received Jesus