STAND UP FOR THE KING! [PART 2]

In part 1 we raised the issue of Standing Up for the King in the face of difficulty. We’re talking about King Jesus, King of the Kingdom, and we again are reminded that the only way we can stand up for the King is to stand up in the King. We looked at many examples, from the students at Tiananmen Square protesting against Communist excesses twenty five years ago to the brave Bonhoeffer protesting against Hitler’s idolatrous Reichskirche, from Queen Esther interceding for her people before the Persian King to the early Church confessing ‘Jesus is Lord’ when Rome declared ‘Caesar is Lord.’ At the conclusion I posed the question: how do I stand up for the King now – in my own country, in Africa, in the West, in the Middle East, in the Far East, etc?

Here I tread humbly. I can recall four occasions when I found myself in rather uncomfortable, even life-endangering situations. The first was on a mission in Mozambique during the civil war days of Frelimo and Renamo. The second was in Malawi when my Dutch Reformed missionary hosts, who had sided with some Roman Catholic bishops in criticizing the President, were put under house arrest and told to be out of the country within forty eight hours. The third was when the bus on which our small mission team was travelling was brought to a halt in the high Andes of Peru by Shining Path terrorists blocking the road into Ayacucho. The fourth was when visiting Central China and Tibet – somehow I (it would be me!) got drawn into a crowd of protesting Tibetan students in a university city and was busy taking a photo when a secret policeman grabbed me by the shoulder and told me to get lost very quickly [there was also a rather sensitive situation in Xian when meeting with two underground church leaders who were being monitored by communist officials]. Even these uncomfortable incidents could never give me any idea of living, on a daily basis, year in and year out, facing the powers of overt Communism or militant Shariah Islam. So, any readers in North Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and other places where more overt persecution is a daily experience, I have nothing to say except commend you to the God of Psalm 121. We pray for you (sometimes – God forgive us) – please don’t forget to pray for us in our often luke-warm Laodicean state (Rev. 3:14-20). 

Of course many of you have had your moments of confessing Christ when confronted by the machinations of traditional-institutional ‘Christianity’ – perhaps we should call it ‘Churchianity.’ My wife and I, together with our three young adult children, certainly felt the brunt of this some years ago when standing for what we believed to be biblical truth in our denominational-evangelical church, subtly controlled by powerful foundation-member families, using as their weapon the omnipotent ‘Church Constitution’ and denominational ‘conflict resolution’ strategies rather than the simple wisdom of the Bible. In the end democracy (the rule of man) triumphed over theocracy (the rule of God). Graciously God in his sovereignty and compassion rescued us from that situation, releasing us to pursue a more organic and simpler way of ‘being church’ in our city and beyond. Like the Anabaptists of old we are trying, in small ways, to go back to our NT origins that, together with exploding numbers around the world, we may find a new future in Christ and his Kingdom.

Last Saturday my wife and I were facilitating a group of young adults in the matter of Discipleship in the Market Place. During discussion, a university student raised the example of serving in the Army and being called upon to kill, should the need arise. A thorny issue that greater minds have wrestled with over centuries! The conclusion was that each one would have to hear from their ‘Commander-in-Chief’ (Jesus) as to how to act or perhaps not act. Somebody else mentioned the matter of facilitating an ‘abortion-on-demand’ in a state institution. My wife faced this challenge in a private hospital – fortunately her protest was graciously accommodated by the doctor in charge and she wasn’t forced to act against her conscience.

Even in the West there can be instances of persecution in subtler forms. My wife was once on the receiving end of a militantly atheist medical doctor who made it his life’s mission to embarass and harass her as much as possible because of her faith, to the embarassment of some of the other staff. When he couldn’t fault her work ethic he insulted her in front of patients and even resorted to false charges. These were examined by an independent panel of doctors, which vindicated my wife’s expertise and positive attitude. Not long afterwards the atheist doctor was dismissed from that hospital group. I thank God that in all this trauma my wife was enabled to abide by Mt. 5:11ff, 43ff. [of course, some believers revel in being ‘persecuted for Christ’s sake’ when simply bringing trouble on their own heads through stupid behaviour – 1 Pet. 3:8ff exposes this temptation and gives helpful guidelines in handling opposition to the Gospel]

There is also the matter, for the believer in the West or under Western influence, of daily confronting the energy-sapping powers of rank materialism, hedonism, competitiveness, idolatry, humanism, religion and even ‘success.’ Bonhoeffer once declared that man is concerned with success, God with obedience.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, it is a case of quietly and confidently walking with Jesus and in Jesus, leaving the outcome in God’s hands. Who said about the early believers that they were often filled with hilarity and more or less always in trouble?? We mark Jesus’ words in Mk. 8:34ff, “Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. ‘If any of you wants to be my follower,’ he told them, ‘you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross [definitely not a posture-pedic one], and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life!'” 

I conclude with something from German theologian Jurgen Moltmann (1926-), who during a recent interview suggested that there are two kinds of cross:

  • The real one, the cross of Golgotha, the cross the early believers bore as ‘atheists’ in the eyes of Imperial Rome.
  • The dream one, the cross of Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire (300 AD), the cross of institutional Christendom ever since, the ornament, the insignia on many national flags.  

Which one do we bear?

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

Ye soldiers of the cross!

Lift high his royal banner,

It must not suffer loss.

From victory unto victory

His army shall He lead,

Till every foe is vanquished

And Christ is Lord indeed.

 

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!

Stand in His strength alone;

The arm of flesh will fail you

Ye dare not trust your own,

Put on the Gospel armour,

Each piece put on with prayer;

Where duty calls, or danger,

Be never wanting there!

 

(George Duffield, 1818-88)

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STAND UP FOR THE KING! [PART 1]

Yes, we’re talking about King Jesus, the eternal One, focus of OT and NT, the God-Man, incarnate for a lost world, Head of the Church and King of the Kingdom. [of course, we can only stand up for the King if we stand up in the King…]

Recently I have been reminded of many who, over the centuries, have stood up for God (even though he can look after himself perfectly well), the Gospel, the truth, freedom and justice and all good things in the face of great difficulties.

A few weeks ago the world was reminded of the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing, China, which took place exactly 25 years ago. Who will ever forget the picture of the lone figure who stood resolute, shopping bag in hand, before 4 massive Chinese tanks rolling forward en route to Tiananmen Square, ordered to suppress the students’ and commoner’s protests against the violation of human rights and barbarous suppression of the people. Nobody knows the fate of that lone protester on the road to Tiananmen, nor the number of protesters later killed on the square – some say a few hundred, some thousands. TIME ran the story of 3 brave students who were there, almost killed and somehow escaped the authorities to tell the world. As Jonathan Chan arrived at Beijing airport eager to escape China with a film roll in his pocket (rescued from his smashed camera), he walked to the front of the line and waited for the inevitable question from the airport official: ‘Were you on the square?’ ‘I was,’ Chan said, expecting to be detained. Frowning the official leaned in,‘Then go and tell the world’ the official said softly, before waving him through. That’s exactly what Chan and his two colleagues have been trying to do, despite much opposition, for the past 25 years. Wow!

Until recently few know the story of Gino Bartali, the Italian champion cyclist who saved many Jews from torture and death in Second World War Italy. A multiple winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, he was invited to dedicate his victories to Il Duce Benito Mussolini, but refused, a very dangerous thing to do. Bartali, a devout Catholic, went on to act as a secret courier (concealing secret messages in his bicycle frame and handle bars) during the German occupation of Italy, helping to direct Jews and other endangered people to safety. If found out, he would immediately have been killed by the Fascist Secret Police. To the very end of his life he kept the story secret, telling his son, ‘You must do good, but you must not talk about it.’ (cf. Matt. chap. 6). Last September Bartali was posthumously awarded the honour of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and education centre in Jerusalem. 

Further back in history, Johann Gerhard Oncken (1800-1884), determined to be baptised as a believer, and destined to become a great pioneer of the Baptist movement in Germany, suffered much in his youth for the sake of the truth and his faith, and was often fined and thrown into jail. Once the mayor of Hamburg held up his finger and said, ‘Do you see this finger? As long as I can move it, I will keep you down!’ Oncken answered, ‘Sir, I see your finger, but I also see an Arm that you don’t see, and as long as the Arm is stretched out over me, you cannot keep me down!’ Throughout his life Oncken refused to give way to fear and despair and completed the work God had entrusted to him.

Of course there is the great gallery of saints portrayed in the pages of the Bible (Heb. 11, etc). Think of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, Daniel, etc. How could we forget Queen Esther and Mordecai’s solemn challenge to bravely act before a pagan king on behalf of God’s captive people: ‘Do not think because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows that you have come to royal posititon (KJV, ‘to the kingdom’) for such a time as this?’ Esther failed neither Mordecai, nor God, nor his people nor herself.

Think of all those many thousands of ‘ordinary believers’ in the Early Church who confessed Christ publicly in baptism and served him openly as King, despite every coin reminding them that Caesar was God and Lord over all. Heb. 11:37ff, ‘They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – the world was not worthy of them…’

I’m about half-way through Eric Metaxas’ brilliant biography of my favourite theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, entitled Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. What a feast! Following his academic achievements (PhD at 21, etc), studies in the USA, pastorates in Spain and England, warnings concerning the demise of the State Church in Germany, and then his appointment to head up the Confessing Church’s secret seminary at Finkenwalde in 1936, the Nazis with their evil anti-Jew ‘gospel’ (accepted by the ‘German Church’) upped their campaign against this brave young man. Quoting Metaxas, Bonhoeffer strove to see what God wanted to show and then to do what God asked in response. That was the obedient Christian life, the call of the disciple. And it came with a cost, which explained why so many were afraid to open their eyes in the first place. It was the antithesis of the ‘cheap grace’ that required nothing more than an easy mental assent, which he wrote about in ‘Discipleship.’ Bonhoeffer ‘was a person about whom one had the feeling that he was completely whole,’ said one Finkenwalde ordinand, ‘a man who believes in what he thinks and does what he believes in.'” What followed was Hitler’s devilish Nuremberg Laws against Jews, the arrest of Confessing Church leader Pr. Martin Niemoller among many others, and the Nazis’ eventual arrest of Bonhoeffer himself. He was executed by Heinrich Himmler (chicken farmer-cum-head of the SS) in Flossenburg Prison at the age of 39 in 1945, a few weeks before the end of World War 2. He left us some very inspiring writings, some unfinished (Ethics), his little gem,‘The Life Together’ and probably his best known,‘The Cost of Discipleship’ (an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount). Of the latter one reviewer said, ‘it reveals a fine mind and a noble character; it gives some inkling of that vision of Jesus and his Church for which Bonhoeffer was ready to suffer torture and death.’

And what of us?? i.e. 21st Century followers of King Jesus here in South Africa? What about believers in the rest of Africa? What about believers in Europe and the West? What about believers in the Middle East and Far East?

We hope to humbly share some thoughts in PART 2…