I’ve discussed here before Jesus’ arms-length relationship with the world. His concern was doing his father’s business and tending the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not making the world a better place. In fact, he spent no time at all confronting worldly powers about the evil they liberally dispensed. It was not his business.
What he did confront, however, was the worldly church. He set a clear distinction between those who did not know (the heathen) and those who said they knew but lived as if they didn’t (the hypocrites). The religious powers-that-be were constantly in his crosshairs, just as he was in theirs.
I have also had occasion to lock horns with religious powers-that-be and their supporters in the worldly church, and it is always an aggravating experience. Jesus was not a social justice warrior; he fought for Truth as it manifested in God’s Kingdom, not in the world. Jesus well knew that the world, being under the control of Satan, was not the realm of Truth. As he constantly reminded us: “My Kingdom is not of this world”.
Which is why I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall of unbelief when worldly Christians tell me that the evil of the world needs to be confronted by the church. Jesus never confronted the world. He never upbraided the world. He let the world be. It was not his Father’s business and therefore not his concern. God put the world under the control of Satan, so why would Jesus confront Satan? It would be like fighting against God.
Jesus didn’t advocate fighting against the powers-that-be in the world. When they came for him, he avoided them until it was his time, and then he submitted to them. In the worldly court, during his trial, he refused to defend himself. He submitted to the charges and then submitted to the punishment. Pontius Pilate was perplexed that Jesus would not speak in his own defense. In fact, he was so perplexed that he recommended that Jesus get the lightest possible sentence and be released. It was only at the insistence of the religious powers-that-be that Pilate decreed the death sentence.
The worst enemies of believers are not the worldly powers-that-be but the religious ones. It wasn’t the Romans who were hunting down Jesus’ followers in the early church, it was the religious powers-that-be, like Saul (later known as Paul). Our worst enemies, as believers, will always be those who call themselves Christians but show by their actions (if not their words) that they are anti-Christ.
Jesus warned us that our worst enemies would not be strangers but those under our own roof. And so they are.
I mention confrontation with the worldly church because of the issues currently being faced by many congregations in the form of attendance restrictions or outright banning of services. I am not in favour of openly defying worldly powers regarding attendance restrictions or closures, which puts me in direct opposition with most of Christendom. When Jesus was told not to go somewhere on pain of arrest, he didn’t go there. He worked around the restriction. When the early church was outlawed and told not to gather on pain of arrest, they fled and went underground. THEY DID NOT CONFRONT THE WORLDLY POWERS-THAT-BE or in any way protest the worldly decrees.
But there is a spirit of confrontation with the world that is growing stronger in so-called Christian congregations, and it is not a Godly spirit. I heartily oppose the face-covering mandate on any number of grounds, but I don’t protest it. I just don’t go where face coverings are required, or if I have to go, I state my exemption (which is part of the mandate). So far, I haven’t had any major problems. I don’t openly protest worldly decrees because Jesus didn’t, and I follow Jesus, not the worldly church.
I also don’t protest closures or meeting restrictions being imposed on congregations because these are the same restrictions being imposed on every other form of gathering, and the worldly church doesn’t deserve any special treatment in that regard. There are any number of work-arounds they could resort to, such as having three or four smaller services instead of one large one, or meeting virtually. These are work-arounds that are reasonable. I don’t attend weekly services (I’m in God’s church every day, all day), so I don’t have any particular sympathy for pastors who are openly defying attendance restrictions and getting themselves and their parishioners arrested and their buildings locked down.
Jesus would never have done this. There is no guidance in scripture supporting openly opposing or protesting worldly decrees. When believers in the early church didn’t agree with decrees not to gather, they quietly did work-arounds (like leaving town or going underground); they didn’t openly protest. The defiant pastors today aren’t getting arrested for preaching the Word; they’re getting arrested for not adhering to attendance restrictions. This is completely avoidable and has nothing to do with God’s Kingdom or preaching the Word. In confronting worldly powers and getting arrested, they are not setting a good example for their flock. Jesus never confronted worldly powers, only religious ones.
For us born-again believers, our worst enemies are not in the world but in the worldly church, just as they were for Jesus and just as Jesus warned us they would be for us. Our response to the world should always be the same: to keep it at arm’s length, but to be cordial and kind. Our response to the worldly church, however, should of necessity be confrontational, as Jesus showed us in his dealings with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and so on. Our concern is not evil in the world (God put the world under Satan and didn’t tell us to fight it), but evil in the worldly church. It is to be confronted and corrected. But in so doing, expect to be aggravated and occasionally have to overturn a few tables.