Dissent and the Law

The vanguard of dissent is punctuated with the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns, the crack of the billy club, the shriek of the defiant, and the slam of the door of the paddy-wagon.

When calm is restored, the debris and chaos form ghastly exhibits that must be placed in evidence to testify against man and his “Great Society.” 

There are no heroes, for there is no victory for those who follow the course of lawlessness. Dissent which arouses hatred, the root of murder, can only destroy; it can never build. Moral issues won by force are not won; the subjugated only wait for the moment of retaliation. 

Yet, in the eyes of many youth, the revolutionaries are extolled as saviors of society and the redeemers of humanity. They appear as the last hope for freedom and independence over against the despotism of the present “establishment.” The “now” generation is completely liberated from the shackles of historic Christianity. Through the development of sin, the youth of the world repudiate the morality of the Word of God. In addition, modern youth charges the church of the past and the ministry of that church with all the “sins” they may find in our present situation. To stay relevant, the modem church is now emerging with a new image; she rejects old truths and morals and is busy replacing them with up-to-date doctrines and morals that are more acceptable to depraved man, especially the youth. Since present laws, whether in government, church, home, school, or society in general have been framed by the past generation and cannot, as they stand, conform to the dictates of modern man, these laws must be replaced, they must be shown to be wrong and consequently changed. To break these present laws in the cause of the evolution toward a “better” society is not considered wrong. On the contrary, it, is considered a necessary means to the desired end of the society which shall not be influenced in the least by the law of God, but shall be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of human depravity. 

The present day spirit of lawlessness is one birth pang that shall very soon bring forth the “man of lawlessness,” the anti-Christ himself. This the Word of God makes very clear, elf. II Thess. 2:6-12II Peter 2 and II Tim. 3. The reality of this should caution covenant youth. There is much more to the dissent by the youth of the world than what meets the eye. Sometimes it seems as if the reasons for dissent are proper, yet the goal of the world is surely not to give freedom to the church that she may continue to proclaim the unsearchable truths of the Word of God; rather, it is to build the kingdom of anti-Christ that has a form of godliness, but denies, the power thereof, II Tim. 3:5. It is this “church” that will persecute the faithful church and occasion the great tribulation of Matt. 24:9-13.

We must exercise the same caution as we examine this aspect of the question, “May one ever break the law in promoting the cause of righteous dissent?” Granted there is room for dissent, and in fact this is true as it has never been before, may our methodology include lawlessness? 

Two things are included in this problem. The one is the aspect of conscience. If one feels that according to the law of God and the Word of God that an existing law is wrong, immoral, and discriminatory, may he and must he violate that law in allegiance to Christ? The other aspect to this problem is that of token violation. One way to determine the validity of any law is to have it tested in the courts. May one deliberately break a law in order to be accused, tried, and if the verdict is not in harmony with one’s conscience to appeal it to the highest court of the land? 

We quote two sources that enunciate the right of breaking a law to promote the cause of change. The first is that of Dr. Martin Luther King, “I do feel there are two types of laws. One is a just law and one is an unjust law. I think we all have moral obligations to disobey unjust laws. I think that the distinction here is that when one breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, he must do it openly, he must do it cheerfully, he must do it lovingly, he must do it civilly, not uncivilly, and he must do it with a willingness to accept the penalty,” spoken at “Meet the Press,” March 28, 1965. Closer to home is the decision of the Reformed Church of America, Synod of 1965, “There may come a time in spite of efforts to correct it, when a law prevails that keeps people from receiving justice and thus conflicts with the purpose of God revealed in the gospel. At such a time. . . a Christian. . . may engage alone or with others in an act of civil disobedience. . . if. . . his actions are taken in the spirit of a faithful servant of his faithful Lord and in sight of and knowledge of authorities and with a full willingness to accept the consequence imposed upon him by society under existing laws.” 

Those who advocate breaking the law, have a wrong view of those in positions of authority. A deliberate transgression of the law with a view to destroying the “establishment” is a direct attack upon those who are called to uphold the law. This holds true whether one thinks a law just or unjust. The seriousness of this offense comes into focus when we are reminded from Scripture that all those in government, whether legislative, executive, or judicial branches, whether Christian or not, are servants, ministers of God, Rom. 13:4. They are this not by virtue of their person, but their position, their office. Solomon declared that kings reign only by God, Prov. 8:15. This is true of all kings; God’s sovereignty is not limited to those who are Christian, but also exercised over those who militate against Him, Ps. 2:1-6. Even the heathen kings are made the unwilling servants of the sovereign God of heaven and earth. Hence, we are not to speak lightly of them, nor to undermine their God-given place, but to pray for them, I Tim. 2:1-4. 

To advocate the breaking of any law in order to advance a so-called righteous cause is an act of revolution and in flagrant violation of the Word of God. This must be distinguished from breaking a law which would require us to sin, e.g. a law banning the Bible from our churches. In this connection, we must exercise care in appraising a law, whether its observance demands sin or not. Calling a law immoral is serious business. There is indeed the possibility that a law demands one to sin, which law the Christian cannot obey. But, here is the difference between true Christian disobedience and that so common today. The Christian in disobeying a law does not try to overthrow the established government; rather if it is necessary to disobey, he will always submit to those in authority. If one disobeys for God’s sake, such disobedience is not an attempt to destroy the entire system of law and to do away with those in authority; rather such a one will bear the consequences willingly, recognizing that he then is suffering for righteousness sake. This is not rebellion, this then is faithful obedience. Let us be careful to note that this is the attitude advanced by Scripture. Christ Himself recognized the place of rulers over Him, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s and unto God the things which be God’s,” Luke 20:25. He told Pilate, “Thou couldst have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above; therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin,” John 19:11. Even though the government was corrupt, Christ did not try to overthrow it; He recognized that they were the servants of God to do God’s will. The disciples learned this lesson well. They too encountered injustice at the hands of the Sanhedrin. In Acts 4:19, 20 we hear them say, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” They had to disobey, but they did not revolt! They did not try to destroy the office of ruler. Paul respected the position of High-Priest and apologized for speaking evilly of him, Acts 23:3-5 and later, noticing that the government under Festus was so corrupt that he, Festus, was going to play politics with his life, Paul did not try to overthrow the government, but sought relief within the “establishment” by appealing to Caesar at Rome, Acts 25:9-12

The philosophy that the end justifies the means as applied to the sphere of government can only produce the state that characterized Israel, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” Judges 21:25. The advocates of this philosophy of citizenship sound very pious at times. It has a certain ring of appeal to covenant youth. If there are unjust laws which discriminate against the colored neighbor and the poor of our land, these laws must be removed or changed. This is a righteous cause, a defense of a higher law of love for the neighbor. In promoting the changing of these laws, it would seem entirely proper that any means be used. If it means that we break a law which bans a demonstration at a certain place, this we must do in obedience to the higher law. It sounds very religious. 

Yet, if this is true, we have exposed ourselves to anarchy and chaos. The Christian citizen cannot join in this motley throng. This is true because allegiance to Christ cannot demand of us to disobey Christ. Those who promote this lawlessness place the Christian in an impossible bind of conscience. We must obey all the laws that are over us; this is demanded of us for Christ’s sake. How is it then, that we may disobey one of these laws in supposed support for overcoming another law we deem unjust? The conflict should make clear that this approach is not of Christ, but anti-Christ. 

Besides this, pursuing this view to its ultimate end will lead to chaos in society. Let me illustrate. I believe that the law which permits stores and gas stations to be open for business on Sunday is wrong, the Sabbath is the Lord’s day. This is a higher law than the prevailing law which allows it. So in allegiance to the higher law I may violate a lower law to promote the overthrow of the immoral law. I decide the best way to do that is burn down the stores that are open on Sunday. Apply this to the moral issues of pornography, abortion, war, discrimination against the black American and you get the point. If it is all right to violate a lower law that prohibits public demonstration in promoting a higher law of racial equality, the door is open to public chaos, anarchy, and rioting. 

Rather, we should evaluate all laws within the framework of the existing government. None of the apostles advocated destroying or attacking the government that sanctions “unjust laws.” Rather, they sought justice within the context of the existing law and committed the safety of their souls to Him Who is Lord also of the heart of judges.

Dissent is to be expressed within the framework of the law or it is improper dissent. The principle for this is in Christ Who governs all spheres of life. Christ rules in the sphere of the individual heart when the laser beam of the Word penetrates the cosmic depth of the human heart and cracks open the stony heart and fills it with the warmth of His love. This He accomplished through the working of the Holy Spirit as He brings His Word to all those whom He has known eternally in Christ Jesus. In the sphere of the home this love of Christ is nurtured from infancy and when one comes to years of discretion, he expresses the Lordship of Christ in all relationships, including that with the neighbor. There is no more powerful force in all of life than that which God works in the heart of the sinner. Only with this power can the people of God live in daily observance of the whole law of God. The greatest Christian witness to this generation is not to join in attacking God-ordained institutions, but in living the full life of Christ in every sphere and working within the proper channels open to us, influencing the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government so that the principles of the love of the neighbor for God’s sake may be practiced. 

Even then, we do not expect a Christianized America. Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world, if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight,” John 18:36. The Christian does not fight with swords to win the spiritual battle of faith; rather he wields the Sword of the Spirit which distinguishes his citizenship as that which is in heaven. 

Act then as followers of Christ.