As soldiers of Christ, we are to surrender to unbelievers at every level.
Carlos Chung, Master’s Seminary
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, [b]ut such as keep the law contend with them.
One of the most pernicious theologies in Christian history is a piously argued surrender to evil. It pollutes life, church, and culture:
A righteous man who falters before the wicked
Is like a murky spring and a polluted well. (Prov. 25:26)
Carlos Chung, elder at Grace Community Church (John MacArthur, pastor) champions this theology at the Master’s Seminary blog. While the Bible demands resistance theology, Master’s spearheads resignation theology. This theology invites the triumph of evil, and thereby hastens God’s judgment. Chung enlists texts in 1 Peter to support his view that at all levels Christians should eagerly surrender to evil even if it’s demanded by the wicked who occupy positions of authority:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as to one in authority, or to Governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God, that by doing right, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13-15)
As believers, [Chung writes] we surrender to every governing authority over us.
The battle cry of every believer is, “I surrender. I submit to your authority.” I want you to notice the comprehensive nature of this command. Peter says to every human institution, and then he refers to the king — which speaks of national authority, and then he speaks of the governor — which refers to local authorities.
As the government rages against believers at every level, whether it be at the national level, the state level, the local level, or the municipal level, we are to surrender to every manifestation of institutional authority placed over us. Thus, we are to surrender, submit to, and honor President Trump, President Obama before him, President Bush before him, and President Clinton before him….
The only time we are free to disobey the institutional authorities is when they command us to disobey our Lord and Master, but short of that, we are to be exemplary citizens, submissive and reverential to the authorities over us. That’s because every authority has been placed there by God Himself. This is what Pastor MacArthur refers to as evangelistic citizenship.
But Chung provides no context for Peter’s assertions. Primitive Christianity launched at a time when Israel was consistently rankled by revolutionaries intent on breaking the yoke, violently if necessary, of the Roman imperialism under which it lived. This revolutionary impulse was crushed in the Destruction of Jerusalem (A. D. 70) and finally eliminated over a century later. In our Lord’s earthly ministry, many Jews wished to make him king (Jn. 6:15), assuming (wrongly) that his kingdom objective was the military overthrow of Rome. Moreover, Jesus and the apostles continually depicted the gospel as a message of liberty (Jn. 8:32–36; Rom. 6:18; 7:3; 8:2; Gal. 3:28; 4:31), and they were concerned that it might be interpreted as supporting the very revolutionary Jewish fervor that surrounded the infant church. The abuse of Christian liberty was therefore one of their clear themes (1 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16).
Peter’s exhortation, like Paul’s in Romans 13 and Ephesians 5 and 6, is to reinforce the validity of divine institutions like the state, church, and family. Both Peter and Paul also counsel submission for slaves, despite the fact that slavery is not a legitimate Christian social institution. Slaves should try to obtain their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21), but they may not revolt in order to get it.
No Revolution, Know Resistance
The Bible stresses both (1) submission to divinely established institutions, and (2) resistance to evil. Christians may not overthrow divine institutions unrighteously wielding power, but they must oppose unrighteousness, even by civil (and all other) authorities. Examples of such opposition that demanded civil disobedience are not infrequent in the Bible. The godly resisted, and did not surrender to, evil:
The Hebrew midwives resisted, and did not surrender to, Pharaoh’s unrighteous decree to murder the male Hebrew newborns (Ex. 1).
Rahab resisted, and did not surrender to, the king’s command to deliver the Jewish spies to him (Jos. 2).
The three young Hebrew men in Babylon resisted, and did not surrender to, Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow before his image (Dan. 3).
Daniel resisted, and did not surrender to, Darius’ ruling that to him alone may prayer be offered (Dan. 6).
Amos resisted, and did not surrender to, Jeroboam’s command, communicated through Amaziah, to leave the land and quit prophesying (Amos 7).
Peter and the early apostles resisted, and did not surrender to, the apostate Jewish authorities (Ac. 4, 5).
These are instances of civil disobedience that Chung presumably supports. He observes, “The only time we are free to disobey the institutional authorities is when they command us to disobey our Lord and Master, but short of that, we are to be exemplary citizens, submissive and reverential to the authorities over us”; but he skirts the cases of the godly who resist evil by governing authorities even when they do not specifically require disobedience to the Lord.
Think, for example, of the old covenant prophets. Elijah didn’t surrender to Ahab and Jezebel’s apostasy but resisted it — and them (1 Kin. 16–22).
And then there’s the last old covenant prophet, John the Baptist, who rebuked Herod for his immorality (Mt. 14).
Our Lord resisted the report of the hostility of Herod and ridiculed him as a “fox [crafty or sly man]” (Lk. 13:31–32).
John wrote an entire book (Revelation) condemning in the most graphic terms the persecutors of the church, both apostate Israel and imperial Rome.
Chung offers an odd rationale for a theology of surrender to evil:
King Darius did relieve Daniel from his post, but there was sheer agony on the part of the king. There was total regret and a huge sense of loss for Darius, even as he let Daniel go because of his beliefs. In the same way, a day may come when Christians are released from their jobs because of what they believe….
The day may come when we are let go [fired] because of our beliefs. Even as our employers release us because of our faith, there should be, in the heart of our employer, a very tangible and palpable sense of loss, regret, and sorrow because of our integrity, our industry, our character, our submission, and our reverence toward our masters. We ought to be the most valuable, the most cherished, and the most prized employee that our masters have ever had.
But Darius’ “very tangible and palpable sense of loss, regret, and sorrow because of [Daniel’s] integrity … industry .. character … submission, and … reverence” is the exception in the Bible, not the rule. Neither Pharaoh nor Ahab and Jezebel nor Nebuchadnezzar nor Jeroboam nor the Jewish authorities in the primitive church nor imperial Rome exhibited any sense of loss or regret when retaliating against the godly who had resisted their evil. Most of the time they were infuriated.
Submission in Constitutional Republics
Chung cites Peter about submission to the governing civil authorities, but he does not probe more deeply in explaining who those authorities actually are in modern Western democracies. In the United States of America, for example, a constitutional republic, the governing authority is the citizenry reflected in their elected representatives bounded by a constitution and bill of rights. Earthly civil authority is not consolidated in a king or other royal figure, or an aristocracy, but in a complex web of institutional expression. Citizens vote; access courts; assemble to discuss grievances; consider a free (and often adversarial) press; and enjoy political decisions balanced between local, state, and federal government. To submit to governing authority in constitutional republics includes working to bring those authorities under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. While we must submit to authority, and cannot be revolutionaries or anarchists, to live in resignation and passivity is to defy God’s law and invite the triumph of evil.
Submission is Not Warfare
[I]n every aspect of life in the secular world, whether it be in the public sphere, at work, or in the home, the believer is to submit to every secular authority. That is how the believer conducts warfare against the secular world.
No, it is not. We are indeed to submit, unless required to disobey God, but submission is not the means by which we conduct warfare. We conduct warfare by rebuking wicked authorities, praying godly imprecations (curses) on those unrepentant sinners savaging God’s people, voting for and accessing courts to prevent or reverse evil legislation, and employing Christian influence in all areas of life and thought to restore the active recognition of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords.
This means, concretely, for example, overturning Roe v Wade and Obergefell; purging state socialism; reversing laws that privilege child sexual perversion, racist policies (Left or Right), and deprivation of free speech; and preventing the legal codification of Cultural Marxism.
These tasks aren’t optional. They’re not given simply to a few “activist” Christians. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” writes Paul, “but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). Paul is writing to the entire church, not simply its leadership. And he made clear that it does not suffice to avoid evil. We must expose it. This is true even — perhaps especially — when the evil is perpetrated by civil and other authorities.
Resistance, Not Surrender
The Bible overflows with instances of holy resistance, not surrender, to evil. While we may not resist God’s ordinances like civil government, we repeatedly encounter in the Bible instances of the godly opposing, resisting, and vanquishing evil. Noah resisted his godless antediluvian contemporaries. Abraham pursued, overtook, and spoiled Lot’s captors. Moses, Joshua, and the judges resisted the Jews’ Canaanite enemies. David resisted the blaspheming Goliath. Elijah resisted the apostate King Ahab and his reprobate wife Jezebel. The old covenant prophets resisted both errant Israel and the depraved nations surrounding it. Jesus came resisting the satanic works of demon possession and sickness as well as the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The apostles resisted Christ-denying Judaism and an imperious Rome. Paul resisted the Judaizers. No book in the Bible reflects resistance theology more than Revelation: against both unbelieving Judaism and imperial Rome, both of which God promised to crush — and did, in fact, crush (Rev. 11:15–19; 18:1–19:21).
Unfortunately, Master’s Seminary and Grace Community Church, which in other respects have stood without compromise for the word of God (for biblical inerrancy and against theological liberalism, for example), have always been wobbly and woozy in the face of cultural evil. But opposition to evil does not end at the church walls. Christians must oppose evil in the wider culture, and if we refuse to oppose evil in the culture, let us not be surprised if we suffer the very persecution that Chung enumerates. Satan will never consent to leave Christians alone in the church if only they leave him alone in the culture. He demands nothing less than sovereignty everywhere. So does Jesus Christ. Only one can win. We know Who.
A theology of surrender to evil allows evil to pervade. It is a misguided and unrighteous theology.
No Christian should embrace it. Hoisting the white flag before evil is never a Christian option.