Editorially Speaking

Resident Aliens At Home In The American Babylon

Although I was just a junior in high school, I remember the presidential campaign of 1960 being one that focused on whether a Catholic president would be nothing more than a pawn of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. John F. Kennedy was young and popular, but he was a Roman Catholic, and a Roman Catholic had never before been elected to the presidency. In that day and age, anti-Catholicism ran high, particularly in the South where I was raised. Many of my fellow Christians were convinced that a Catholic president would not be good for the country, in that Catholicism requires a “dual loyalty,” as Richard John Neuhaus has referred to it, which is to be identified as “an allegiance to America and a prior allegiance to the [Roman Catholic] Church” (“Our American Babylon,” First Things, Dec. 25, 2006. pp. 23-28).

JFK may have been a “good Catholic,” as that term is so often used, but he was a much better politician. Consequently, he was able to convince enough of the American electorate that his role as the president would always trump any allegiance he had to the Catholic Church and was, as a result, elected the 35th president of the United States. In other words, he was able to convince the American people that his allegiance to the Catholic Church would take second seat to his secular responsibilities as president, and during the last half century, the precedent Kennedy set has been imbibed by other Catholics seeking political election or appointment. The most recent of these are Justices Roberts and Alito, who both made it clear during their confirmation hearings that their religious beliefs would not impinge on their decisions as Supreme Court justices.

Hailed by many as a good thing, the pragmatic secularism of Kennedy, Roberts, Alito et al. is now the only acceptable philosophy to be granted permission in the very secular marketplace that is today’s America. Although the three men I’ve mentioned here were, and are, all Catholics, the “no religious convictions in the public square” syndrome so dominant in 21st century America no longer reflects just some sort of anti-Catholicism. Instead, it reflects the general idea that religion—any religion—has no place in the secular world of ideas.

For example, an intern dropping to her knees in the oval office to sexually service a lecherous president is defended as having nothing to do with the president’s official performance of his duties and, therefore, nobody’s business. His subsequent lying under oath was thought to be not worthy of an impeachment conviction by a majority of U.S. senators. However, when it was learned that the current president drops to his knees to pray every morning before he starts his official workday in that same oval office, it is viewed by the pundits with suspicion and scorn.

Whether we like it or not, this is America at the beginning of the 21st century. But at the same time, and this is one of the reasons why it is so hard to think correctly about this issue, it is also the America that has given shelter and sustenance to more New Testament Christians than any other country in the world. However, that America is no longer the country it once was seems irrefutable. Instead, contemporary America has become more pagan in its worldview and, during this process, Biblical ethics have been increasingly unwelcomed in the public square. Consequently, the public morals of America no longer obtain from the Bible. Instead, they derive mainly from the tenets of secular humanism. As such, the decisions of our judicial system have become more and more antithetical to Bible-based morality. As a result, it was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973 that a woman has the “right” to terminate the life of her unborn infant at will and upon any whim whatsoever. Anyone who disagrees with the “law of the land” is deemed to be “out of the mainstream” and “dangerous.” This means that New Testament Christians, by the very nature of who and what they are, must be viewed with suspicion by the secularists and anti-religionists.

Now, the highest court in the land has decided that there is a “right” to practice homosexuality. Consequently, anyone who is deemed to have discriminated against homosexuals because of their “sexual orientation” is again “out of the mainstream” and “dangerous,” and needs to be either prosecuted or treated (preferably both) for being, aghast, “homophobic.” Once again, this is but another reason why New Testament Christians, who view homosexuality as the sin it is, are looked at with suspicion and disgust.

In addition, some judges and public officials are already sanctioning the homosexual’s right to “marry.” Therefore, it won’t be all that long before such a travesty and mockery of God’s ordained order will be incorporated into the “law of the land.” When this happens, New Testament Christians—who believe marriage is a God-ordained relationship open only to a man and a woman—will be further estranged from modern society.

That the way America thinks has changed can no longer be denied. We no longer live in the country our forefathers founded and nourished. This is no longer the land that made the Restoration Movement of Walter Scott, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone et al. possible. And because of this, it is time for New Testament Christians to seriously rethink their relationship with the government. But before doing so, a short review will be helpful.

The “Most American” Of Churches

Because the Restoration Movement started here in the early 19th century, it is viewed by many as a uniquely American religion. In fact, in the Handbook Of Denominations In The United States, it is said of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches, and churches of Christ that “Among the half-dozen largest religious groups in the United States, [those making up the Restoration Movement] might be called the most American; it was born on the nineteenth century American frontier out of a deep concern for Christian unity” (Frank S, Mead, fifth edition, 1970, pp. 64-65). In Leroy Garrett’s The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches, it is said about those who have roots in the Restoration Movement that, “The heirs of the Movement now number upwards of four million, comprising the largest church (or churches) indigenous to this country” (1981, p. 2). Although those who make up conservative churches of Christ see themselves, and I believe rightly so, as being a part of that church to which the Lord added people to on the first Pentecost after His resurrection and ascension into heaven (cf. Acts 2:47), it seems to me there can be little doubt that they certainly owe some of who and what they are to the Restoration Movement and its American genesis.

The Blessing And Bane Of Church-State Separation

Alexander Campbell, the most prominent of the restorationists, standing on the shoulders of some great thinkers before him (like Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke [particularly Locke]), was very much at ease with the separation of church and state that was the American experiment—an experiment that was far different from the notion of the divine right of kings and the state church that had so dominated the European continent up to that time. Consequently, those who made up churches of Christ submitted themselves most willingly to the authority of the secular state. After all, the American form of government granted them the freedom of conscience and religion that their European experience had not provided. Consequently, it was not hard for these Christians to render their wholehearted allegiance to the American system of government, for it was a government not to be feared, but one that offered them protection to worship God the way their consciences thought best. And even though many of the major Restoration leaders were conscientious objectors, eschewing military and police service because they believed such to be against Scripture, they found that the American system was most tolerant, respecting their views as long as it could be demonstrated that they sincerely held them on religious grounds. In turn, they taught their followers that they were scripturally obligated to obey the government and pay their taxes. In other words, being a good Christian meant being a good, law-abiding citizen. Most of these leaders did not even object to the government fighting wars in order to protect its citizens, only that such was not something that Christians could be righteously involved in.

As a result, those who make up churches of Christ have, by and large, willingly submitted themselves to the state. As a result, they have become some of the most loyal, law-abiding citizens in America. This has generally worked well, with minimal friction between the government and Christians, for as long as American government reflected the moral truths taught in God’s word, it was relatively easy to submit to and obey it. But as secularization slowly but surely altered the theological-political face of America, the church-state equation, and our obligations in regard to it, has noticeably changed.  

However, and here’s my point, New Testament Christians, who had gotten very comfortable with the state’s authority over the years, have been extremely slow to honor the biblical truth that says there are times when the Christian is obligated to engage in holy disobedience. What I mean by “holy disobedience” is this: Because God never granted the state unquestioned, absolute power, there are times when its demands and laws must be rejected. In other words, and as Peter and the other apostles taught, there are times when the faithful Christian must obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 5:29).

To understand this truth, consider the following.

God-Ordained Government

In Romans 13:1-7, we find a description of civil government as it is ordained by God. It is important to understand the apostle Paul is not teaching that every government is ordained by God, as some have supposed. On the contrary, what he is telling us about is precisely what type (viz., its character) of government God has ordained for man. If one under­stands this, then the difficulties Christians face in reconciling their obedience to God and the state are somewhat mitigated. For example, although many Christians believe that the teaching of the Bible demands they be obedient and supportive of both good and evil governments, no matter what the circumstances, this is not the teaching of Romans 13; nor do I believe it to be the teaching of other scriptures dealing with this subject.

Paul makes it clear that the kind of rulers who have been ordained by God are the kind that are not a “terror to good works, but to evil” (Rom. 13:3). This does not so much describe the type of government (viz., monarchy, democracy, socialism, et cetera) so much as it does the character of government. This means that any form of government that permits those governing to carry out their God-given mandate will fit within this Divine framework. This does not mean that all forms of government are equal, for some are clearly “more equal” than others along these lines, for those forms of government that better facilitate civil servants’ service to the people are to be preferred. Paul describes such servants as “God’s ministers to you for good” (Rom. 13:4) and, as this verse points out, a part of this good is to “execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Therefore, Christians should be subject to civil government and its authorities not just because of the government’s power to inflict punishment on wrongdoers, but because their consciences—when properly instructed by God’s word—tell them that to do otherwise would be a violation of the Lord’s will.

To those properly schooled by God’s word, there can be no doubt that God has ordained the higher powers, not the other way around, and has placed responsi­bilities both on them and on those to whom they minister. If either the civil authorities or the citizens they govern conduct themselves contrary to the obligations and responsibilities God has placed upon them, then both lose their legitimacy. Governments that usurp God-given authority and citizens who fail to obey the state’s God-delegated authority are engaged in sinful rebellion against the one and only true God.

Justice And Righteousness

The Bible teaches that it is the duty of all governments to be about the God-given tasks of doing justice and righteousness, and although many have missed this point, Rome, even though a pagan state, administered a system of civil justice that was amazingly equitable for its time (Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, Book I, p. 2). This can be seen from several examples found in the Bible. For instance, when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, He was tried on a civil charge of fomenting insurrection (cf. Lk. 23:2). However, Roman law found Him not guilty (cf. Matt. 27:24). Therefore, He was put to death not be­cause Roman civil justice demanded it, but because Pilate was a weak and corrupt public official who gave in to the Jewish plot to destroy Him. Roman law and justice “proved” itself in its acquittal of Jesus. But Pontius Pilate “proved” himself by giving in to the Jews’ threats, sending to his death One who was totally innocent of the charges made against Him (cf. Jn. 19:12).

Further, when Paul was accused before Junuis Gallio Annaeus, the Roman proconsul of Achaia, his judgment was: “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes [i.e., a matter of civil law], O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you: But if it is a question of words and names, and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters” (Acts 18:14-15). In times past, this was the time-honored position of the criminal and civil justice system in the United States. In fact, in 1871, the U.S. Supreme Court declared: “The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect” (Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall [U.S.] 679).

Again, when Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, were accused in an unlawful assembly, the town clerk informed the people that if they wanted to assemble to consider some religious matter, it would have to be done in a lawful assembly (cf. Acts 19:39). If, on the other hand, they had civil or criminal charges against any man, the law and its deputies were available to them (v. 38).

Once more, when Paul was wrongfully charged by the Jews with being “a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” and one “who has even tried to profane the temple,” and would have been killed by the Jews, he was saved by Roman law and justice. Although it is true that Felix, the Judean procurator, was corrupt and held Paul for two years when he should have been released, hoping “that money would be given him by Paul” (Acts 24:26), nevertheless, the Jews were unable to kill him due to the protection offered by Roman law. When Festus took over as governor from Felix and decided to return Paul to Jerusalem to stand trial, the apostle was able to exercise a right provided under Roman law and appealed his case to Caesar (cf. Acts 25:11). So even though Festus thought Paul to be mentally deranged, he in the end judged him guiltless of any wrongdoing (cf. Acts 25:25) and would have been forced to set him free except for the fact he had made his appeal to Caesar. If so, why couldn’t Paul just be released? Because, the right to appeal one’s case to Caesar was a safeguard of Roman law, designed specifically to prevent any miscarriage of justice. So important was this right that once it was invoked it could not be rescinded. Again, just another safeguard of the “rights” of Roman citizens under Roman law.

So, at the time Jesus gave instructions to His disciples concerning their responsibility to civil government, we know there was a system of law and order practiced by Rome that, although flawed, was still beneficial to those it govern­ed. And even though Augustus (63 B.C. - A.D. 14) had done much to revive the ancient cults of the Romans, the Jews and, later, the Christians, who were considered at the time to be a sect of the Jews, were ruled to be exempt from emperor worship. Even though it is true that in A.D. 64, after the burning of Rome, the Roman government, under Nero, made the practice of Christianity a criminal offense, it is also true that after Nero’s suicide four years later, Christians were given a somewhat lengthy respite from persecution. Therefore, it is not hard to see that the general domestic tranquility provided by pax Romana was both benefi­cial and worthy of support and fits the description of a Romans 13 government, albeit a somewhat flawed one.

Satan-Ordained Government

In contrast to the God-ordained government of Romans 13, there is the Satan-ordained government mentioned in Revelation 13. In the latter instance, it was still the Roman government mentioned above, but something very frightening had taken place. In just a few short years, Rome had gone from a government that offered protection for those doing good and punishment for those doing evil, to a government that protected the criminal and punished the law-abiding. I think it’s a good possibility that the “mystery of iniquity” men­tioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 might have had to do with the transition that was already at work, but not yet accomplished, in the Roman government at the time Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians. Nero became emperor of Rome in A.D. 54, the same year Paul is believed to have written 2 Thessalonians. Nero, who is alleged to have committed suicide in A.D. 68, was described by Tertul­lian, in his Apology, as “the first emperor who dyed his sword in Christian blood.” Anyone familiar with the terribly perverse life of this man who murdered his own mother, a man declared to be a god by the Roman Senate, and who was the first to bring the unjust wrath of the Roman government against the Christians, would have very little trouble seeing Nero as a part of “the mystery of iniquity.”

The Sea Beast

I believe the sea beast of Revelation 13 represents the civil and military powers of the Roman government as it was used by the emperors and other authorities for evil instead of good. God never ordained civil government to be a “terror to good works”; therefore, any government engaged in such activities has come under the influence of Satan. As a matter of fact, this is exactly the teaching of Revelation 13:2, where it is learned that the sea beast was given his power, his throne, and his great authority by “the dragon.” According to verse three, this illegitimate power received a “deadly [i.e., a mortal] wound” that would later be healed. It is my opinion that the suicide of the tyrant Nero represented this “deadly wound.” After Nero, the next three emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius), all installed by the Praetorian Guard, came and went in quick fashion. In fact, they were so busy trying to keep from being killed themselves that they had no time to even think about persecuting Christians. There is no record that the next two emperors (Vepasian, A.D. 69-79, and Titus, A.D. 79-­81) ever used their authority to persecute Christians. In fact, there is no record of Christians being openly harassed until the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96).

It was during Domitian’s reign that the “deadly wound was healed.” According to the historian Eusebius, Domitian was Nero’s successor as persecutor of the church. About him he wrote:

Domitian, indeed, having exercised his cruelty against many, and unjustly slain no small number of noble and illustrious men at Rome, and having, without cause, punished vast num­bers of honorable men with exile and the confiscation of their property, at length established himself as the succes­sor of Nero, in his hatred and hostility toward God. He was the second that raised a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had attempted nothing to our prejudice (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter XVII).

Furthermore, it must not go unnoticed that Tertullian identified Domitian as “a limb [viz., an extension or continuation] of the bloody Nero” (Apology, Chapter V).

The Earth Beast

Then there is the earth beast of Revelation 13:11. It represents, I think, the perverted religion of the Romans which required citizens of the state to engage in Caesar-worship. This earth beast is twice referred to as the “false prophet” (16:13 and 19:20). The Concilia (i.e., the contingent of state priests) had the responsibility of promoting Caesar-worship and, deriving their authority from the civil and military powers of Rome (cf. 13:12), forced all citizens to acknowledge Caesar as dominus et deus, which means “my Lord and God.” That which had been instituted by Augustus (viz., the divinity of the emperor) was fully revived in the tyrant Nero and, after a short reprieve, was resurrected in Domitian (cf. 13:14). Under such a system, Christians who would not acknowledge the Roman gods, including the emperor, were referred to, ironically, as “atheists.” As such, they continued to be officially persecuted until A.D. 311.


Contrary to what many think, “666,” although it is definitely referred to as “the number of the beast” (Rev. 13:18), is not really the identifying mark of the beast itself. Instead, 666 is the “number of a man,” and is used, I think, to identify those who bow down to the state and its ministers as if they were gods. This could be called Babelism or statism. All who promote or engage in such activities make themselves enemies of the only True and Living God and are, without repentance, destined for everlasting destruction. The “mark of the beast” seems to have been the certificate or license to engage in the benefits of Roman citizenship. To honor the Roman gods and to acknowledge Caesar as divine were deemed acts essential to good citizenship, and all that was usually required of the Christians was for them to buy a little incense from the Concilia and burn it to Caesar as god. The Roman authorities made it clear that they did not have to stop being a Christian in order to do so. In other words, just burn a little incense today and tomorrow you can continue to worship Christ. For many, the temptation was too great, as burning a pinch of incense made the difference as to whether or not one was allowed to work in the trade guilds. No pinch of incense, no job. It was as simple as that.

Modern Incense Burners

I believe there are Christians today who are burning a little incense to Caesar without realizing the full implication of what they are doing. For example, after participating in a forum on whether or not a Christian could be involved in carnal warfare, I was approached by a brother who explained to me rather energetically that he believed a Christian was under obligation to fight in any war his government became involved in. This, he exclaimed, was exactly what the Bible taught on the subject in Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1. and 1 Peter 2:13-14. Whether this brother actually knew better and was simply trying to rationalize his predilections, or whether he was just plain ignorant of God’s Word, I had no way of knowing. Either will ultimately lead to a rejection of God and participation in conduct that is sinful. But here’s my point: when a Christian says he must always obey the government, then what he is ultimately saying, whether he realizes it or not, is that he will recognize no power above that of the state. In other words, and he would, of course, deny it, the state has become, in point of fact, his god (i.e., he has received the mark of the beast).

Although it comes as a shock to many Christians, idolatry did not cease to exist with the completion of the New Testament. Babelism or statism (viz., man’s effort to deify the state) is very much alive today. This is further demonstrated by a school teacher who wrote in one of the popular religious magazines among us in the 1980s about the “near panic” she believed prevailed in the minds of some preachers concerning the public schools and humanism. Although very critical of such an attitude, she went on to accurately identify some of the techniques used by the public schools to inculcate human­istic philosophy (viz., role playing, values clarification ses­sions, situation ethics, et cetera). She tried to justify all of this by saying: “The laws of our land, fearing interference with the parents’ right to teach their children religious beliefs and/or values, forbids the teaching of moral decisions based on God or the Bible, so the teacher must teach these decisions based on man and his limits and consequences, in relation to other members of society.” Her reason for believing it “must” be done this way is—perhaps you’ve already guessed it—Romans 13:1-7. In other words, this Christian believed that she must teach her students the anti-God, anti­-Christian, anti-Biblical philosophies of Humanism because this is what the state had commanded her to do; and she, after all, must obey the state because the Bible tells her to do so. Here we have, in my opinion, a Christian who has received the mark of the beast and doesn’t seem to know it. She may just be ignorant of God’s word, and this would be bad enough. However, it could be that she is simply trying to rationalize the type of behavior the government has forced upon her in recent years. But here’s my point: this school teacher, who was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, did not seem to understand the implications of Acts 4:18-19 and 5:29. These passages clearly teach there are circumstances in which the Christian must disobey civil authorities. In fact, the knowledgeable stu­dent of the Bible ought to know that when the authorities command a Christian to do those things that are contrary to the Word of God, he or she must be disobedient to those authorities.

Perhaps you realize that the brother and sister mentioned above are in error. Maybe you even agree with me they have received the mark of the beast. But permit me to turn your attention to some areas where we could be just as guilty but not know it. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” With His all-encompassing authority firmly established in the minds of those to whom He spoke, Jesus instructed them to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19). By this, we necessarily infer the gospel is to have free course in the world, regardless of the restrictions governments attempt to place on it. But if we truly believed and practiced this doctrine, then there would more than likely be at least a few of us occupying the prisons and gulags of those nations in the world that are antagonistic toward Christianity.

When governments tell us we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ within their borders, too many of us obedient­ly obey. When they forbid the importation of Bibles, too many of us dutiful­ly comply. This is all done under the guise of obeying the laws of the land. But what the church really needs today are men and women who are willing to be criminals, when necessary, for the cause of Christ. And make no mistake about it, as soon as we refuse to obey governmental authorities for the sake of Jesus Christ, we will immediately be branded as criminals. For sure, smuggling Bibles into countries that prohibit the printing or importation of such will be identified as a criminal act; however, such would not be a sin according to Scripture. In fact, we are engaged in wickedness when we obey such governments. Some understand this and have broken such laws when necessary. But it is very difficult when thinking about such disobedience being necessary within those governments that have not been openly antagonistic toward Christianity. In fact, such a concept is very difficult for most of us. Nevertheless, Western governments, including our own, are becoming increasingly hostile to New Testament Christianity. Consequently, it may be time to think seriously about our Christian obligation to engage in holy disobedience even here in the United States of America.

One example of our country’s becoming increasingly hostile to New Testament Christianity can be seen in the 1989 Oklahoma court case involving the Collinsville church of Christ and a withdrawn-from fornica­tor. In that case, the courts ruled that the Collinsville church broke the law when doing what the Bible clearly says they must do. The church, directed by the elders, was in the process of withdrawing from an accused fornicator when she “withdrew” her membership. (I know some brethren argue that we can’t withdraw from the withdrawn, but most brethren believe the local church can and must withdraw from such in order to remain faithful to the Lord.) The Collinsville church ultimately withdrew from the accused fornicator (who incidentally did not deny that she had engaged in fornication, only that it was none of the church’s business). She sued them for defaming her character in the community and the church lost. As a result, the court directed the church to pay the with­drawn-from fornicator $390,000 ($205,000 in actual damages and $185,000 in punitive damages) plus $44,737 in prejudgment interest (Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville, 775 P.2d 766 [Okla. 1989]). Subsequently, a church in California lost a similar case and was ordered to pay a ridiculous amount. As you can imagine, this all had a very chilling effect on church discipline. Now, a heretofore minority position held by brethren that says you can’t withdraw from the withdrawn has court precedent to back up its claim. How many elderships, fearing the results mentioned above, have thought it prudent to just go ahead and burn a little incense to Caesar rather than do what it is the Lord has commanded them to do, I do not know. But that times have changed should be obvious to all.

Unfortunately, our govern­ment has begun to exhibit the telling signs of a transition from a Romans 13 government ordained by God to a Revelation 13 regime under the influence of Satan. But don’t misunderstand me; I do not believe the United States government is a full-fledged Revelation 13 type government. Even so, there definitely seems to be a “mystery of iniquity” at work in its midst.

It is disturbing to me that so many Christians seem so unaware of what is actually occurring in our day. Many New Testament Christians associate being a good Christian with being a good American. However, this was never the case and certainly not now. Yes, in times past, because of the principle of govern­ment “under God” this country was founded on, being both a good Christian and a good American were easier than they are today. I am not saying those years were without controversy, for any time a Christian is trying to live consistent with the truths taught in the Bible, there will be difficulties both with society and government. But it can no longer be denied that civil disobedience, long ignored by Chris­tians living in America, will become an increasingly important subject as this country continues to sever itself from the Biblical base that has served it so well throughout the centuries of its existence.

Allan Turner
All editorials are written by Allan Turner. You can contact him at allan@allanturner.com

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