A Complex Knot

A Complex Knot
by Gerhard deBock

Trying to unknot the issues that have hit us this past year has been far more difficult than I
imagined. It is like having 10 cords of different color all knotted together. Under the garbled
knot, the colors have bled into each other, and it can seem impossible to separate one strand
from another. It is tempting to get out the scissors and cut here and there, but each line
represents an important issue that we cannot just throw away. For some, they are not really
worried about all the cords, so unknotting the issues seems simple to them. But for those
who are not ready to do that, we have the challenge of patiently tracing and untangling each

What are some of the different strands of thought that are so intertwined? The issue of how Christ relates to culture is foundational. 1 A massive issue is the nature of biblical submission, whether it is obedience in action or merely an expression of attitude. Are we submissive if we disobey another’s judgment call just because we are willing to face the consequences? Another line of thought is the spectrum of activism versus pacificism. What does Jesus’ teaching on
retaliation mean and how does it apply? How are we supposed to respond to persecution? Does it differ from our response to a criminal act? Is persecution not a criminal act?

Most Christians agree that we should disobey an authority when they are asking us to sin against a clear command or prohibition in Scripture. But should that disobedience be limited to when the authority is compelling us to sin? Or is it OK and even mandated to disobey and resist when the authority permits or encourages what God’s Word forbids (without forcing us to individually engage)? Is there a difference between resistance against government wrongs and
disobedience to its unwise orders?

Understanding what the Bible teaches is woven into the knot. Are we not violating the command to submit to governing authorities when the government is tyrannical? How about when it is making judgment calls that are not explicitly sinful yet clearly unwise? Or when it is acting outside the boundaries of how we understand the Constitution? Is it our
responsibility to resist ungodly governments? Can there ever really be a godly government unless Jesus is the King over it?

What is the mission of the Church? Are we supposed to focus on evangelism and discipleship only? What should be our role in bringing about social justice? How are we individually and corporately to act like salt and light in our world?  What is the ideal that we should be working toward? Should we lean toward being “reconstructionists,” who want to bring our government laws in line with the Mosaic Law? Or is the kingdom we are part of not part of this world? Do the
spheres of responsibility between government, church, and family overlap or not? If so, how?

For Americans, we must trace the cord of our sense of “exceptionalism.” Does the outcome of a country that has done much good mean that the revolutionary war itself was good? Was 1776 justified because “lesser magistrates” were stepping in and defending their people from a tyrant king in England? Do “lower” authorities have a duty to protect their people when the higher authorities make poor decisions or violate the Constitution, or just when they force people
to sin against the clear teaching of the Bible.

Most would agree that we should work for a better government by resisting bad government through the ballot box and the jury box. But should Christians ever pull out the cartridge box? Is armed rebellion by individuals a last option for us?  Are we allowed by Scripture to take up guns to defend our property and families? If so, in what circumstances? How
does this fit with Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation? Are we to stand and fight or flee like the early Christians did when Jerusalem was surrounded, as Jesus had foretold?

A very slippery cord that is emmeshed in all this is the issue of unity versus separationism. Are any or all these issues worth dividing the church, thereby violating the commands to be of one heart and mind? Or should we seek a “pure church” who has agreement on all these matters? Should we take out the scissors and cut ourselves off from other followers of the Christ? Or should we focus on the “die for” core of the Gospel essentials? Let us with wisdom, patience and a commitment to be “under the Word,” prayerfully work toward answers that exalt
Jesus as the world looks on and marvels at how we love one another. 2

1 See D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited.
2 See John 13:35.
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