Missionaries and the Theology of Resistance

The history of Christianity in the last two decades in Europe reveals a new pattern in persecutions of faithful Christians by pagan authorities. In the past, Christians were persecuted on the basis of laws or whims of rulers that specifically forbade Christian worship or gatherings. Such was the case in the Roman Empire. Such was the case in Eastern Europe under the power of Communist governments; such is the case today in China or the Muslim world. Christians were persecuted because they were Christians; the very religion of Christianity was declared against the law and attempts were made at its eradication.

In the last two decades the socialist governments in Europe are trying a different approach: While Christian worship on Sunday morning is kept legal, any practices for the rest of the week that are based on the convictions of Bible-believing Christians and the Biblical worldview are declared against the law. The laws in most European countries in essence are designed to extinguish any Christian practice while de jure allow Christian worship in designated places.

Prime examples of this, of course, are the laws in quite a few European countries against Christian homeschooling. Christian homeschooling, note that, because Muslim or any other form of homeschooling, or even unschooling is left alone. The situation with the legal persecution against Christian homeschooling families in Germany is all too well known to most American Christian families thanks to the decision of the Tennessee Judge Lawrence O. Burman to grant asylum to the Romeike family earlier this year for the violation of their rights to homeschool their children by the German government. Less known are the laws in other European countries like Sweden and France, where homeschooling is forbidden by law. In many places in Europe it is against the law to act as a Christian in your everyday life, and that includes also the economic and political life of the nation.

Most American Christian commentators usually look at this new reality in Europe as a proof for the progressive barbaric de-Christianization of Europe. Very few actually discuss the other aspect of it: The impact of it to the individual Christian families in Europe. More and more it becomes impossible for Christians in Europe to be both Christians and citizens of their own nations. In the last 200 years family, education, culture, and community have been redefined in Europe to become creatures of the totalitarian democratic state. They were first redefined ideologically; now they are being redefined legally. And this process of legal redefinition of the institutions of the social order is a process of redefining the very meaning of being a Christian. It is no longer possible to be both a Bible-believing Christian and a citizen of a European nation. The two are in such opposition to each other, ideologically and legally, that a Christian by necessity must live a deeply schizophrenic life.

In this new reality, the question facing every conscientious Christian in countries like Germany, Sweden, France, and others, will be: “How do I resolve the fundamental contradiction between my life as a citizen under the laws of my country and my faith as a Christian under the laws of the almighty God Creator and His Son, Jesus Christ?” This is the same question so many Christian martyrs over the centuries had to answer. The difference today is that European Christians are not asked to reject their faith in Jesus Christ or die; they are asked to reject any consistent practical life based on that faith and accept the standards of the pagan State as normative for their life and action. “Your religion is OK,” say the European legislators, “as long as you act as pagans in practice.”

So, how do we resolve this fundamental contradiction?

There is only one possible answer: A Theology of Resistance. Only a theology of resistance can give the solution to the schizophrenic situation our European brethren are forced into by their governments. The apostles Peter and John gave us that solution when the Sanhedrin tried to silence them: “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19–20). A Christian who is faced with the dilemma of either serving his God or serving a pagan state against God’s laws must have a clear, thorough Biblical understanding of how effectively to resist the rulers, and what degree of civil disobedience he must exercise in his specific circumstances.

Without such a theology of resistance, he is not effective as a Christian, and he is not obedient to God. When it comes to training and raising his children, the problem is obvious: he must know how to resist the State in order to train his children in the faith. If he neglects the commandment of God, his children are lost, and this will be a curse on him and on the church in Europe in general. The Remnant needs the ideological and practical tools to remain steadfast; a person cannot survive forever if he has to live in a schizophrenic world. He needs the weapons to fight the schizophrenia, and a theology of resistance is his foundation for his survival.

The problem is, there are no traces of theology of resistance left in the church in Europe. The horrible evils of Communism and Nazism in the past, with their open war against Christianity, did spark some resistance. Christians defied Nazi orders and helped Jews hide or escape. Christians in Germany planned assassination attempts on Hitler. Under Communism, members of the Reformed churches of Hungary and Transylvania resisted the demands of the Communist governments and privately taught their children in the Christian faith. There was some Christian resistance in East Germany and Poland and in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In general, it remained limited to a precious few individuals. Corrie ten Boom was an exception, not the rule among the European Christians. László Tőkés was an exception as well. They were lonely Christian warriors among thousands of passive church-goers who never raised their voices to oppose evil regimes.

After the fall of Communism, with the new political regimes in Europe that maintain some resemblance of tolerance toward Christian worship while legislating against Christian practices, Christian resistance against the pagan State has completely disappeared. And it is not because Christians in Europe do not see the problem. They do see it, and in many places they are raising the alarm. The few dozen Christian homeschooling families in Sweden, for example, are trying their best to use any “democratic” means at their disposal, including the courts and the media, to protect their right to raise their children in the faith of their parents. But to no avail. Democratic means do not work in a totalitarian State. Christians see the problem but they have no solution to it. And they have no solution to it because they have no Biblical theology of resistance. As long as Christians in Europe try to be both obedient to God and good citizens of their pagan States, they will be in a schizophrenic situation, and they will fail to obey God.

Therefore, they need to learn how to resist and disobey their civil governments. And since such a message has been lost in Europe for a long time now, someone needs to bring it to them. Just like the Hebrews in Egypt needed Moses who spent 40 years as a free man in a free land, European Christians need a Moses to teach them what they have forgotten.

And the best sources for such teaching are American missionaries. But only if they abandon their truncated, irrelevant, powerless theology and act in the spirit of Christian America once again.

If there is a nation in the world where the spirit of Christian resistance against wicked governments is still alive and well, it is America. Of course, the main reason for it is not necessarily the vibrant Christianity in modern America; in fact our churches and church ministers have fallen short of the standards of our forefathers, as we know it very well. But it is in the tradition of our country, in the very work of those heroic Christian men who founded this nation more than 400 years ago that American Christians still find the inspiration to resist wickedness in high political places. In the words of the Declaration of Independence,

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Of course, these words were not written in a religious vacuum but in the context of political rights given “by their Creator.” The American Revolution was an act of religious duty, obedience to God and His Law. The American spirit of resistance was based on the American faith in God and His salvation in Jesus Christ. That spirit of resistance was not an emotional outburst; it was the result of carefully developed, biblical theology of resistance. Led by John Witherspoon and hundreds of Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregationalist ministers, the American colonists did not hesitate to oppose the king, in obedience to the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

This spirit is not dead even today. As we have seen in the last decades, it repeatedly reminds of itself, in the homeschool and Christian school movement, in Operation Rescue, in the firearms rights movement, etc. All the major successful movements of resistance to tyranny in this nation were motivated by the faith in God and His theology of resistance. When we thank God for our liberties in our churches every Sunday morning, we’d do well to remember that we have them because courageous Christians stood against unrighteous governments in the name of Christ. No wonder our American socialists hate Christianity with such a passion and spend billions of dollars in legal, intellectual, and political battles to eradicate it. They know very well that only Christianity stands against their attempts at imposing tyranny on this land.

Being supported by this powerful tradition, American missionaries in Europe are in a position to make a unique contribution to the restoration of Christianity in Europe. A missionary that goes to the mission field in Europe believing that it needs his skill in evangelizing or planting churches, or even theology, is completely self-deceived. Local Christians in Europe, both Eastern and Western, know perfectly well the realities of their own cultures, and they can evangelize very well without American missionaries . . . if the problem was evangelism, of course. They also know how to plant churches . . . if the problem was planting churches. What they don’t have, and they can’t produce out of their own culture, is the solution to the problem I pointed to above: How to reconcile their obedience to God with living in a thoroughly pagan culture and political reality. An American missionary—based on the experience of his own culture—is the only one that can give them the solution. A Theology of Christian Resistance is the unique contribution American missionaries can bring to Europe. Anything else is by and large a waste of money and time.

Unfortunately, this opportunity for unique contribution to our European brethren is rejected by the large majority of churches, missionary organizations, and missionaries themselves. Under the false ideology that “a missionary is not supposed to be a political revolutionary,” our missionaries on the European field engage in peripheral activities that don’t need their presence in the first place. The logic of evangelism is that if a political power is opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in legislation and ideology, a missionary is by default a political revolutionary, whether he likes it or not, whether he is aware of it or not. When a military leader sends his troops to battle without weapons, he is producing only corpses. When a missionary claims to proclaim the Gospel, and then doesn’t equip his listeners to deal with attacks from all sides—including civil authorities—such a missionary only produces future apostates. Paul wouldn’t have spent time in jail, spoken before the Areopagus, or been beaten by the crowds, if his message wasn’t a revolution against the very culture and political reality of the Roman world. If a missionary claims to follow Paul, he must issue a challenge against all the powers that oppose the Gospel; political and civil powers included. And he must train his listeners to resist in the wisest possible way, firmly and uncompromisingly, until the wicked governments of Europe give in before the power of the Gospel.

It is hypocrisy when a missionary thanks God for the liberties we have when at home in America and then never gives his brethren in Europe the theological tools to achieve the same liberties for their children and grandchildren. It is hypocrisy when he thanks God for being born an American and then refuses to teach others those same principles that made America what it is. It is even worse than hypocrisy to call people to Christ and never tell them that this means war, and never equip them for that war. No wonder American missionaries are not loved in Europe and constantly fail: Europeans sense the hypocrisy. People are not converted separately from their culture; a missionary either converts the people with their culture or doesn’t convert them at all.

Europe can be brought back to Christ and American missionaries can have a great impact on it, if only they abandon their false theology that their job is to convert souls and nothing else. We can give Europe something she never had for the last 500 years: a Theology of Resistance to evil authorities in the name of Christ. If the European socialists have redefined family, politics, law, education, and everything else in terms of the State, American missionaries must re-redefine them back in terms of God and thus declare ideological war against the new European paganism, political and cultural. Only then we will be able to help our European brethren to escape the schizophrenic world of conflicting loyalties. And only then we will be able to make the masses in Europe look again at Christ and His salvation as relevant and applicable to their life, temporal and eternal. As long as we jealously keep the culture that produced our American liberties within the borders of America, we will be inadequate to the task of evangelizing the world. If we have a unique tradition, perspective, and knowledge that are based on our Christian faith, we must bring them to the mission field and teach the nations. A missionary is a culture-bearer for the King of Kings, not a tract-bearer, and not a church administrator.

May God help us understand our unique position and utilize it for His Kingdom.

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