When They Persecute You

Many churches in the world are still closed because their elders desire to be compliant with government mandates that restrict their worship. Is there one biblical way churches should respond to such restrictions?

First, I have read many arguments against calling these closures “persecution”—arguments that normally go along the lines of “they are also restricting capacity at grocery stores, so this can’t be persecution”—but I don’t find those arguments persuasive. For example, some places (such as California, New York, Nevada, Washington, and Washington DC) have shown such hostility toward churches that it is naïve to pretend that churches aren’t being intentionally persecuted. Where I pastor, in Virginia, a court stepped in last summer and restrained the governor’s ability to effectively ban congregational worship, but the governor has basically ignored the court and justified his actions saying “Christians don’t need to sit in a pew for God to hear your prayers.”

So if a church is in a state or country that views corporate worship as in that sense optional, how should they respond?

The book of Daniel gives a menu of possible responses. Previously on this blog we looked at how Daniel’s responses varied by the kind of commands the king gave (here and here). But today I want to look at how those responses progressed through Daniel’s life.

When Daniel was a teenager, he was ordered to eat food that would have violated Torah. Daniel and his friends appealed to the government for an exemption, and their request was granted (Daniel 1:8-9).

Later, when Daniel was likely in his late teens, the King decided he was going to kill all the counselors, including Daniel. Daniel appealed to the king “with prudence and discretion”, and prayed fervently to God to grant that He might grant mercy (Daniel 2:14, 16, 49).

By the time of Daniel 3, Daniel and company would have been around 30 years old. This time they were commanded to worship an idol, and instead of asking for an accommodation or appealing with “prudence and discretion,” they moved into defiant refusal. They simply “paid no attention to [the law]” (Daniel 3:12). When confronted the king they said, “We have no need to answer you in this matter” (Daniel 3:16).

Later, when Daniel was likely close to 60 years-old, he was yet again dragged into the king’s debauchery. This time when he was summoned, he encountered the king defiling the vessels that were stolen from Israel’s temple. He was ordered to take gifts from the king as well as to read the hand writing on the wall. Here, I would describe Daniel’s response as indifference. “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another!” Daniel declared (Daniel 5:17). He went on to basically tell Belshazzar, “Your father was a good king…I knew your father…you are not your father” (Daniel 5:19-23).

Finally, when Daniel would have been well into his 80’s, the king banned prayer to Yahweh. This time Daniel responded differently than he had throughout his life. He didn’t appeal for an exemption to the local magistrate like he did when he was a teen. He didn’t make an appeal to the king like he did in Daniel 2. He didn’t respond with the indifference, as he did in Daniel 5. Instead, the best way to describe his response in Daniel 6 would be that of public disobedience. He prayed in front of open windows, “as had been his custom” (Daniel 6:10).

Taken together, you see Daniel’s responses:

  • Appeal to the immediate authority for accommodation
  • Respond with prudence and discretion
  • Defiant refusal
  • Indifference
  • Public disobedience

Now, I’m not arguing that the government’s restrictions on corporate worship are the same thing as prohibitions on prayer to Yahweh, the defiling of the temple, or the compulsory worship of idols. But I am arguing that the government’s restrictions on corporate worship are a form of persecution because they criminalize conduct which God himself commands. They impose a substantial burden on congregations such as that in order to comply, congregations either have ceased corporate gatherings, moved them to different states, appealed to courts, sought to find some mediating position (I know one church that does a lottery system to see who gets to attend), or simply disobeyed.

For those that desire to open, the book of Daniel provides examples of many ways to do so. Some churches might go to court for exemptions, while others may simply ignore the rules that restrict their gatherings. Other churches might appeal to the governors, and still others might more openly defy (“throw the windows open,” so to speak). There are good arguments for all of those responses, and all of them were tried by Daniel and varying points in his own life.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

2 thoughts on “When They Persecute You

  1. I agree with you. I think there have been some instances against Christians both young and old, in the form of bullying and harassment. Definitely spiritual warfare taking place in schools, universities, and the workplace.


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