Love for God or Fear of Caesar
The early apostles set examples of how to relate with secular states and religious organizations. In the book of Acts we see them defy oppressive religious and government orders meant to suppress their freedom of worship, assembly, evangelism (both individuals and public), and expression of faith. Peter and John were put before the Sanhedrin and thrashed for healing a sick man and preaching in the public. James, the brother of John was executed and Peter was second in line but God intervened. Stephen like James was murdered by a fanatical crowd that wanted to please God at all cost. Paul faced the same wrath.
These men had one thing in common, their question to their persecutors was always “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! (Acts 4: 19). They knew that government, civil, and religious authority were to be obeyed but within limits. They never wavered in their loyalty to God despite their desire of being submissive to the civil authority which they considered as having been sanctioned by God howbeit being dictatorial (Rom 13:4; Tit 3:1;)
In the contemporary scene, we are going to face the same dilemma here in Kenya. The dilemma is going to be based on how to relate and tolerate a government that is overbearing and intrusive. A number of county governments have proposed laws that will demand Christians to pay fee or license before they can hold open air meetings. In Nyeri County, for example, they are proposing a fee of ksh 10,000 per meeting. That means a three day crusade will attract ksh 30,000.
Some might argue that churches are rich, since they have seen few pastors driving top-of –the-range vehicles while some denominations have constructed buildings worthy hundreds of millions of shillings. To the mind of someone outside the church, these plush lifestyle and buildings are interpreted to mean that all churches are that way and so they have a lot of money.
For your information, most of rich and big churches rarely hold evangelistic meetings. Their names and historic roots do the selling for them, while others have no evangelistic message to offer. The truth of the matter is that majority of churches are run on lean budgets. I know of pastors who earn less than ksh 3,000 per month. Less than house or farm helps. I know such pastors by name, men who struggle like majority of Kenyans. These are the men and women, who dedicate babies, baptize, console the sick and grieved, and bury our loved ones. They never ask for a “seed” but often get a love offering if families can afford but they are happy to do their work without complaining.
Majority of rural and slum church members only hear of rich pastors but they have never seen one in their midst. Their pastors are “called” by God and therefore do not need a salary since God provides for them. These pastors on the other have a burning desire and message that make them overlook the poverty surrounding them, and, therefore serve without much complains. They feel hurt when their fellow brothers cause them to be accused of opulence and wantonness as they rarely wear a new suit or shoe leave alone affording academy and college funds for their children.
These men are also seen in the rural and slum areas preaching the gospel with old public address systems. They are men and women who never dream of being in a TV station asking for a seed, leave alone owning a TV; but they may have an old radio. Despite these disadvantages, these dear ones end up taking a beating for the sins of others.
Another group that is going to be affected is made of youngsters who are sold to Jesus. I once belonged to such a group. Give them a drum and an old microphone and they will preach at top of their lungs in their marketplaces. These high schoolers and college students do what they know best: to take the gospel to every corner of their world. They depend on parents, churches and well-wishers for their material support. They are energetic, exuberance, and obedient: for them Mathews 28: 18-20 is to be heard and obeyed.
Here comes the county government with its levies, fees, permits, licenses, and who know what. Blinded by big cathedral they see in towns and few opulence archbishops, bishops, pastors, apostles, and others with unknown titles, they have devised a method to reap as well to what belongs to God. They think that by passing laws that target religious institutions they will leap colossal amount of money.
It is sad that our leaders rarely know the workings of religious organizations. Our media has not helped as it has focused its attentions to some few affluence individuals in religious orders. But how many know that there are pastors who rarely get a pay at the end of the month? Pastors who cannot afford to take their children to an academy. What about those ministers of the gospel who are tent makers including this writer? I doubt if the policy makers and media know of this class of foot solders whose identities are unknown.
Yes, we are talking of that class often considered as a nuisance by the middle class and privileged as they are accused of polluting the environment by their shouting, singing, loud prayers, and overnight prayer vigils. These lowly souls are as a matter of fact the one targeted by these laws though unsuspectingly. While the laws are camouflaged as bringing more revenue to counties, they are in fact persecutorial (not in dictionary), oppressive, unjust, harsh, tyrannical, and against God. They hurt the less fortunate.
Why is the government not happy with the amount they deduct from my pay slip which is more than what I give to my church? Why should the government demand from the church the little I give it; does this not ends up causing the government to claims more from my salary though indirectly? Doesn’t the government know the church reach some of the people it will find hard to reach? Drunkards, wife or husband beaters, prostitutes, rebellious youths, criminals, and the rest whom the government will more than likely send to jails than rehabilitate are some saved by the church. Yes, the church saves the state a lot of trouble when it reaches out and helps to transform those seen as law breakers by the state.
So, what shall Christians who believes that Matthews 28: 18-20 need to be obeyed do? What is a church or pastor in a rural setting, where ksh 10,000 is never seen on a Sunday offering plate, expected to do if they want to preach in their shopping center? Should they be forced to choose between expressing their love for God or fear the reigns of Caesar?
This is where I believe that a head on collision between the church and government is on the making. If the church believes the supremacy of their God given rights, then I believe the state is in for a rude shock. Otherwise acting on the contrary and giving in to the state demands, then, the Church is in for a ruder shock as the government will end up dictating on other issues as to what the church can or not do.
When you hear of calls about vetting of pastors this should be taken with all the seriousness it demands. No one outside a religious order should ever vet a minister. We are not in a communist, socialist, or dictatorship state. People are never forced to attend a church, people choose to attend or not. They are wise and know the voice and spirit they are following.
So, paying of levies, fees, licenses, etc. to county government in order to hold a Christian meeting is a dangerous demand. It seems Caesar is invading the church. Will the Church express its love for God or Fear of Caesar?
By Rev Douglas Ngatunyi (firstname.lastname@example.org)