Protest, authority and the balance between the two. Can the Church achieve that balance? Can the Church both lend voice to protests and submit to authority? The Church plays a very important role in protesting against the injustices and iniquities in the world, and should rightly be seen as a revolutionary and subversive force, as I covered in the first part of this short series. The Early Church was said to have “turned the world upside down” and was opposed, in part, for this very reason. The authorities and powers of the world felt threatened by this movement which threw old assumptions and traditions away.
No Reason for Rebellion
Whilst accepting that the Church has a subversive role to play and that this brings a necessary tension between the Church and authority (just as the many protest movements have a similar tension with authority) we must also be clear that this should not be an excuse for rebellion or the overthrow of the authority structures.
We should bear in mind that the authorities that exist in the world are there because of God. He is the Supreme Authority, and all lesser authorities are forms of his delegation of authority. He remains the King of kings, and we need to respect and honour His will in those authorities He has ordained should exist.
Of course, at times revolt does occur and whether the position of the Church should ever be to support such revolt is not a question I feel able to satisfactorily answer in this article. The situation to which I address this post is more to do with the general attitude to be held whilst in by-and-large normal circumstances. Here the Bible is clear that we should have a submissive attitude towards authority, not an attitude of rebelliousness.
Regarding protest, the Church can and should speak out against injustice and corruption. This should be done with a submissive attitude, regarding such speaking and action as important civic duties in order to bring about Godly reform of the structures of society, and not as a means to further anarchistic purposes. It is also very important that we should not approach protest as a means of settling scores or the furtherance of personal gripes.
Protest is a holding of authority to account
Protest, especially but not limited to the Church’s role in such, should be seen as a holding to account of authority and a means of acquiring Godly reform of the authority structures rather than as a means of undoing or overthrowing the authority structures which exist. The time of the Reformation can show that, just as Luther, Calvin and others challenged the iniquitous institution of the Roman Catholic Church, they did not seek to overthrow the Church authorities but rather bring reform in order to restore the Gospel message. The result was that they were ostracised and excommunicated from the Roman church, but that was not their choice but a result of their holding to Biblical doctrines and seeking reform.
There is a great opportunity for the Church to speak for and encourage those in protest movements and there is also opportunity for the Church to bring a peaceable aspect to the many and diverse causes which people protest for and against. Yet we need to remember that protest should have at its heart a desire to improve governance, not do away with governance.