Should a Christian promote or participate in Bible-distributing activities in a country which deems those activities illegal? And should a father and mother lead and encourage their children to do so as well?
We live in a radically disobedient age. The spirit of rebellion is at home even inside the church. We disobey our parents, dishonor our elders, and distrust the law. Seeing this propensity so potent in my own heart I am usually eager to encourage others to meekness of spirit, and a default assumption of obedience, even when the state annoys us. We need to believe the promise of God in the fifth commandment that things are more apt to go well for us in the land as we honor our parents, and by extension all those in authority over us.
That said, in each and every circumstance where God has put us under the authority of another person or institution, there is at least one critical limitation. Wives are to submit to husbands. Children are to obey parents. Citizens are to give honor to whom honor is due, all unless or until those in authority command us to do what God clearly forbids, or forbid us to do what God clearly commands. We see this principle at work when Peter is commanded to cease preaching in the name of Christ. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The spread of God’s Word would certainly fall into the same category. As we fulfill the Great Commission, teaching the nations to observe all that Christ commands, that means bringing them God’s Word. As such we ought to promote this good work.
We ought to do so, however, with eyes wide open. That our consciences are bound by the very Word we are called to spread doesn’t mean that the conscience of these hostile governments is so bound. If and when we find ourselves actually being persecuted for our obedience, we ought to do two things. First, we ought to rejoice. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that such persecution is an honor and a blessing. Second, we ought to humbly submit.
Our fathers in the faith were commanded to profess the Lordship of Caesar. They refused, resting their hope in the Lordship of Christ, denying that there could ultimately be two kings. They did not, however, take up arms to overthrow Rome. Indeed they went peacefully to their deaths, spilling their own blood as the seed of the church.
We are to pray for the persecuted church around the world, entering into their sufferings. We are to expect persecution in our own lives. And we are to learn to rejoice in all things. The war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is serious business. That our weapons are not carnal does not mean that the enemy’s weapons are not carnal. The glory of the gospel, however, is that our lives, like His, cannot be taken, precisely because we freely lay them down. Remember that when we signed on with this army, and when our children signed on, we agreed to follow Him wherever He might lead. We can do so with confidence knowing that He is, even in martyrdom, leading us to glory.