Abstract of a Sermon Preached on August 2, 2000
by Glenn Conjurske
I have seen very little true teaching on authority in the present day. The principles of democracy have thoroughly corrupted the modern church, so that the Bible doctrine of authority is almost unknown. In democracy, authority is something which is created by man, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Authorities exist only by the sufferance of the people. In the Bible, authority is created by God, authorities are set over the people by God, and he who resists the authority resists the ordinance of God.
But there are two sides to every question, and I observe that most of those who have embraced the Bible principle, that authority is of God, have gone over to the other extreme. Such are Bill Gothard and Elizabeth Rice Handford. She teaches the wife to obey her husband “as though he were God”
—-though I doubt she would hold the same doctrine concerning the authorities in church or state. Gothard has taught that no man should disobey any authority unless he first goes through seven steps, of Gothard’s devising, supposedly based upon Daniel’s appeals when he had purposed not to defile himself with the king’s meat. Years ago a friend wrote to Gothard, giving him a number of examples from the Bible of persons who disobeyed the authorities without first taking any of those seven essential steps —-and Gothard never answered him. This might have been expected, for a man who will build up such a system on one scripture, regardless of everything the rest of the Bible says, is evidently careless of the truth, and really knows nothing of how the truth is to be learned. This is the very worst sort of “proof-text theology,” and the men who engage in such business ought not to be teaching the Bible at all.
Two things are clear in the Bible, on the one side, that authority is of God, and the authorities that exist are ordained of God, and on the other side, that those authorities are sometimes to be disobeyed. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Take the first side without the second, and you lay the foundation for all the priestcraft and tyranny of the centuries. Take the second side without the first, and you lay the foundation for all the pride and self-will and confusion of modern times. It may be hard to say which is worse. There are great evils on both sides, though it is a strange fact that those who are immersed in democracy can see all the evils on the other side, and none on their own.
But the Bible stands between these extremes, teaching us ordinarily to obey the authorities which God has set above us, but giving us both the right and the obligation to disobey them in certain cases. What those certain cases are is the question. I have taught in the past that there are two clear cases in which we must disobey the authorities:
1. When God commands something, and the authority forbids it, or
2. When God forbids a thing, and the authority commands it.
This much is clear, but it may not be the whole story. Are there any other cases? Are there cases in which our action is not strictly necessary, according to any direct commandment or prohibition of God, but in which we are yet free to disobey the requirements of the authorities? I think there are, on the principle that we are to render to God the things that are God’s. There are many things that are right, which may not be strictly necessary, and it is certain that no man has the right to forbid them. For example, it is right to read the Bible, and to read it often, daily if you please. But God nowhere requires this of you. It is not necessary. Many have walked with God without being able to read at all. Enoch walked with God without ever reading a word of the Bible in his life, for none of the Bible had been written in his days. Many prophets of God probably went weeks and months without reading the Bible, for they probably did not possess a copy of their own. We are pretty sure that Elijah had no Bible with him when he fled forty days from Jezebel, nor when he dwelt in the cave. Nor had many other saints of God when they languished in prison, yet they walked with God there. We suppose that David had no Bible when he kept the sheep in the wilderness, yet he walked with God there. We cannot pretend that reading the Bible is necessary to spiritual life, nor that God anywhere requires it of us, and yet we contend that no man has the right to forbid it. Nor has God commanded you to read the Bible daily, or weekly, yet no man has the right to forbid that. Parents have the right to require other things of you, so that you cannot spend all your time reading the Bible, but no parent has the right to require anything of you for the purpose of keeping you from reading the Bible. No man has the right to tell you that you can read the Bible only once a week, or once a month. In so doing he forbids you to render to God the things that are God’s, though you have no direct commandment at all on the subject, and God requires nothing of you in the matter. Neither has any man, parent or husband or magistrate, any right to forbid you to attend the preaching of the word, though you might survive without it.
Now turn with me to Daniel 6. First we are told, “It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; and over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage. Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” Here was Daniel’s real and only offence. He was preferred above the others, because an excellent spirit was in him. This the others could not bear. Inferiority can rarely bear superiority. They were jealous, and proceeded to act on that jealousy.
“Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” They were looking for occasion against him, moved by nothing but jealousy, but even lynx-eyed envy could find nothing against him. They must therefore create an occasion against him, and they knew that they could only accomplish this in something which concerned the law of his God. To the king, therefore, they go:
“Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree.”
The form of this decree, by the way, is the most telling commendation we could have of Daniel’s character. This decree was not framed to annoy him, but to destroy him. They did not aim merely to inconvenience him for thirty days, but to cast him into the den of lions. And certainly they framed such a decree as they supposed would accomplish their purpose. They expected to catch Daniel in this net. Would this net have caught you? Would you have prayed boldly with such a law in force? Or would you have said, “God does not require me to pray with my windows open to Jerusalem. He does not even require me to pray in an audible voice. I can pray from my heart lying in my bed with the covers pulled up over my head.” Daniel was made of better stuff than that. These men knew him, and they expected consistency from him. They expected him to disregard their decree, and pray as he had always done.
“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”
It was plainly necessary for Daniel to disregard this decree in some sense, but there was no necessity for him to disregard it openly. He could have prayed in secret. There was no necessity for him to pray with his windows open toward Jerusalem. He was not moved by any command of God in this, but only by his love for Jerusalem. Yet this was rendering to God the things that are God’s, and no man had the right to forbid him.
“Then these men assembled,” therefore, “and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.” We do not suppose that Daniel did this glibly. He had no more relish for the den of lions than you do. He had no doubt carefully considered the whole matter, to determine whether he could keep himself out of the den of lions, but after all his deliberation he determined to do “as he did aforetime.”
Understand, Daniel had no command of God to pray with his windows open to Jerusalem. He could have prayed in secret, in his closet, as Christ tells us to do. But what if he had? He would immediately have been labelled as a fair-weather Jew, who prayed openly when it cost him nothing, but ceased when it would cost him. He would have brought many reproaches upon himself. He would have been told that surely it was no matter of conscience for him thus to pray, or he could not have left it off. He would have shown that his religion meant but little to him after all. He would have brought himself and the testimony of his God into contempt. All this no doubt weighed with Daniel, and therefore, though he had no command of God to pray as he did, he continued to do “as he did aforetime.” We suppose it was no matter of conscience, either. He might have left off at some other time, for whatever sufficient reason, and there would have been no harm in it. But to be forbidden by the king, who was moved by nothing but the envy of his subordinates, this was no sufficient reason. Daniel therefore went on doing “as he did aforetime,” against the commandment of the king.
We observe also that the king’s commandment was for the duration of but thirty days. This was a very temporary matter. Daniel could have left off for but a little while, and left off a thing which he had no positive obligation to do at all, and so saved himself from the den of lions. But he would not leave off even for a day. He thus testified that the king had no right to command him in the things which concerned his God. He would render the things of God to God, though he was so faithful in the matters of the kingdom that envy itself could find nothing against him
—-”neither error nor fault.”
We never recommend courting persecution. We think it foolhardy, and the fruit of hyperspirituality, pride, and belligerence. If Daniel had begun to pray as he did while the king’s decree was in force, this would have been rash and reckless, and I suspect the lions would have devoured him for it, too. But to continue to do “as he did aforetime,” this was simple faithfulness.
And we observe that God set his stamp of approval on Daniel’s course, by delivering him from the den of lions, and that by a notable miracle. God is never prodigal of miracles, and miracles are rare in any age of the world. When God works one, it behooves us to pay attention to it, and learn what we can. In this case we learn indisputably that God approved of the course of Daniel, though it may appear to us as being righteous overmuch, and of unnecessarily courting persecution.
But I advise you all to scrutinize what I say with great care. I may be able to preach a sermon which will get you into the lion’s den, but I may not be able to preach one which will get you out. You must be sure of your own ground. Search the matter out. Can you find other factors, which I have overlooked? Can you find other scriptures which I have overlooked? I only suggest that in this case at least Daniel disobeyed the authorities in a manner which was not dictated by any command of God, and which was probably not necessary for conscience’ sake. His practice was right, though not necessary. It was rendering to God what was God’s, and no man had any right to deny him this.