Pastor Matthew Littlefield, of New Beith Baptist Church, was one of four pastors who contributed to a series of talks last week on the Church’s future in Australia.
Yesterday, we shared with you the first lecture given by Pastor Warren McKenzie of Biota Baptist Church, titled, What Should We Have Learned From the Past Two Years?
The second talk, by Pastor Littlefield, is called, Prepared For The Coming Coercion. The transcript can be read below the video.
Last year, I stood here and spoke to you about how the spirit of antichrist appears again and again in history and seeks to mandate its will with coercion. I spoke about how to identify that Spirit and why we should not comply with coercion. This year I want to build on the same idea to look forward to how Christians can respond to the trends we observe in our society.
If you read the Bible, and I am sure most of you here do very regularly, then you will know there are many passages that tell us to be good citizens, obedient citizens, etc. But many Christians can forget that we are called to be good citizens of two kingdoms, not just one. We are told to obey earthly authorities and seek to be good neighbours and citizens, and we are also told to honour God with our life and conscience and obey him above all else as citizens of heaven. We live in the tension between these two truths. This tension is increasing because Australia is becoming more hostile to Christian beliefs and teachings.
This is creating a bit of a culture shock for Aussie Christians because Christians have had it so easy in Australia for so long. Our faith was still being tested, it was just being tested by ease and prosperity and abundance. It is very likely that going forward it is going to be tested by the taking away of these things.
This is hard for many Aussies Christians to accept because we all just want to be good and obedient citizens and we always thought we were part of mainstream society and we just grew up with the belief that government could never be against us. But in history, this happens often, even in the Christian West, and therefore we need to build new faith muscles that prepare us for the hard times coming. Australia is becoming increasingly anti-Christian and more and more coercive, and because of this, conflict with government commands is going to happen.
Let me demonstrate: If you are commanded to call a boy a girl, or a girl a boy, and therefore lie and blaspheme the image of God, will you do it? If you are told that the Bible is hate speech will you stop sharing its words? Such ideas and events are increasing, and the fat happy days of excess are fading, and more and more your conscience is going to be tested by the sword of government, and you need to be prepared for this, and for a peaceful and firm response like the Apostles, “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Are you prepared for this? Are you? We are told to aspire to live a quiet life, but we are not promised that we will have it. Are you prepared for what is very likely coming? Today that’s what I want to help you be, prepared to for the coming coercion. Let’s begin.
Increasing Coercion – First I want to establish why I am convinced that coercion is going to increase. I know for some of you here I do not need to establish this, you can see what I can see, maybe even more clearly. I am not a prophet and don’t claim to be one. I don’t claim to have supernatural foresight anymore than any other reader or preacher of God’s word does when he looks at the clear words of Scripture. I am by specialty a historian. I observe the trends of history and when you watch them closely you can see patterns, clear patterns.
The Bible itself does this a lot. Much of the word of God is one writer reflecting on what happened in a past era and learning from it, as Paul tells us, “11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
The Bible wants us to observe the patterns of history and learn from them, especially those in the Bible.
The patterns of coercion are building and they are obvious to those observing them.
History helps us with our topic today, specifically, Irenaeus and his famous work Against Heresies. Irenaeus describes well the final kingdom, and he was convinced it would be Rome. Much of the early Church did, it fit the description so well. He draws his description of the final kingdom from Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel, this is what he notes.
“Daniel 2:33-34 Then afterwards, when interpreting this, he says: And as you saw the feet and the toes, partly indeed of clay, and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided, and there shall be in it a root of iron, as you saw iron mixed with baked clay. And the toes were indeed the one part iron, but the other part clay. Daniel 2:41-42 The ten toes, therefore, are these ten kings, among whom the kingdom shall be partitioned, of whom some indeed shall be strong and active, or energetic; others, again, shall be sluggish and useless, and shall not agree; as also Daniel says: Some part of the kingdom shall be strong, and part shall be broken from it. As you saw the iron mixed with the baked clay, there shall be minglings among the human race, but no cohesion one with the other, just as iron cannot be welded on to pottery ware.”[i]
Daniel observes that the final kingdom, the last one to rule the earth, will be a great multicultural kingdom with one power ruling over the world, and ruling over the mixed nations (Rev. 17:15-18 says the same thing).
But I want to draw a different point for today. One thing we know from history is that ruling over big mixed empires, where every nation wants to live its own way, takes an iron fist, and increases power and coercion.
Much like we do today, Irenaeus looked at what the Bible says about the final kingdom, looked at the world in his day, and saw a lot of overlap. How could he not? Rome was the original multi-continent-spanning empire. In his day it would have looked invincible.
Irenaeus believed that Rome would be the final empire. It was exactly like the kingdom Daniel described, a mixture of nations living together, under one powerful beast, one powerful ruler. Strong, but fragile.
- Strong, because it was the military superpower of the world.
- Fragile, because many of the nations under its iron fist resented its rule.
What I want to focus on is the similarities between this ancient pagan empire and the increasingly pagan global empire that we live in today, the Anglo-American empire.
The Tolerance of Rome – Think about this, Rome ruled over many people from all over the known world, and, most people forget this, Rome was remarkably and famously tolerant. Romans were proud of their tolerant society.
- Marcus Aurelius said, “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
- J B Bury notes, “The general rule of Roman policy was to tolerate throughout the Empire all religions and all opinions. Blasphemy was not punished. The principle was expressed in the maxim of the Emperor Tiberius: ‘If the gods are insulted, let them see to it themselves.’”[ii]
Many Christians do not think of Rome as tolerant, because Rome persecuted Christians. But if you read the accounts of this you will see this persecution, though it could be severe, was sporadic and was often done at the instigation of influential and wealthy Jewish leaders. We see this in the book of Acts, and in the writings of the Church fathers.
The Romans’ did not care much about the intricacies of biblical law, we see this in the Bible, as well.
Hatred from Romans – However, there were some things that could stir the Romans directly against Christians:
“Blaspheming” Caesar – If you refused to honour the cult of Caesar, some Emperors and some local governors would turn against you for that. “The objection of the Christians—they and the Jews were the only objectors—to the worship of the Emperors was, in the eyes of the Romans, one of the most sinister signs that their religion was dangerous.”[iii]
“Denying the gods” – Denying the pagan gods was also hated, “The populace felt a horror of this mysterious Oriental sect which openly hated all the gods and prayed for the destruction of the world.”[iv] The Romans did not really care what gods you worshipped or did not worship, just that you recognized the validity of other gods. If you said that there was only one way to properly believe in one true God, they saw this as atheism, as mentally deficient and therefore dangerous. This they did not tolerate.
They would also not tolerate a people under their rule seeking to rule themselves. This they crushed wherever it appeared.
Rome was an empire of many peoples, and when many vastly different peoples mix together you get friction, and it takes a strong and oppressive hand to hold down this friction.
So, Rome was tolerant, for the compliant.
In fact, if you wanted to be left alone in Rome, then the more “Roman” you became, the better off you would be. No matter where you were from if you honoured the cult of the emperor, did not criticize the religious practices of others and spoke Latin or Greek, or both, you would be left alone.
Does this sound familiar? “When is Rome do as the Romans do.” And you will be fine. Claim a unique source of truth and you were public enemy number one.
Tolerant and Brutal – So Rome was tolerant and liberal to the compliant. But if you transgressed their cultural norms in the few areas where they said you could not go, the tyrannical symbol of the cross hung over your heads reminding you of their brutality to dissenters.
The cross was a threat of excruciating death for non-citizens who troubled the Romans. And it was just one of many brutal ways they could kill you.
Rome tolerated the compliant and furiously crushed all who they believed did not fit with their “tolerant” ways.
I hope you are starting to see parallels between our society and Roman society. Our society might not be quite as harsh yet, but still, there are similarities. Rome was coercive because it was pagan and it ruled over many disparate peoples with different ideas of how society should be run.
Our society is increasingly pagan, and increasingly multicultural and therefore, we live in a society where many disparate peoples with different ideas of how society should be run live together under one ruling ideology. Call it globalism, neo-liberalism, democratic socialism, cultural Marxism, or whatever you like. It is just plain old Satanism, and it will tolerate all kinds of vices and none of the true distinctive virtues of Christianity – like the word of God being the highest standard of truth.
The final kingdom will be much like Rome, but so too will all multicultural empires. This pattern keeps showing up in history.
So how do we navigate this kind of society? Lucky for us, the Bible was written to people in a similar situation, so we can learn from the Apostles, let’s have a look.
Bold Men of God – We see an example in Acts 5 where the disciples get caught between the concept of being citizens of two kingdoms. They have just been arrested for teaching in the temple and imprisoned, and this happens,
“But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:19-32)
I want to draw out of this just a few basic principles to help you navigate the coming increasing coercion.
Rely on God (vv.19-21) – Not just in name, not just in words, not just cliches. I mean really, truly and genuinely ask God for big things in your life, the life of your family, friends, church, community and nation. Why?
Because your God is the God who can send a supernatural being, an angel, to sneak you out of prison under the noses of the guards, without them even knowing what is happening. That is your God.
The God of the Exodus, the God of the conquest of Canaan, the God of Elijah and Daniel and Ezekiel. The God of the resurrection!
Am I promising that God is going to do this exact thing for you? No, God will answer many of your prayers just as you asked, and many of your prayers otherwise, and always according to his will. But if your God is the one who can do this, then why be afraid of petty governors, counsellors, or whoever telling you to transgress the will of God?
Practice asking God to work in power in your life, and build your muscles of faith, you are going to need them.
Be Radical In Your Devotion To God’s Word (vv.29) – The Chief Priests had told the Apostles not to preach in the temple, they ignored this got arrested, and then God told them to do it all again. So they did. This is devotion. This is radical obedience.
The Apostles were released the next time, after they were beaten. Their response to being beaten for sharing the gospel was to celebrate God.
Be radical in your devotion to peacefully obeying the Word of God.
Boldly Proclaim The Gospel Often (30-31) – The disciples were commanded not to preach about Jesus of Nazareth. In the middle of being grilled about breaking this command, they preach the message of Jesus of Nazareth, again, “30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
This is boldness. This is strength. They knew that this could get them killed, yet they did it anyway. This is why most of them were eventually killed. But remember, their opponents needed to hear the gospel just as much as anyone else.
Are you this bold to proclaim the message of Jesus, in the face of those who hate the message the most? To tell them to repent, turn to Jesus and trust in him? Could you do this?
Work In Teams (vv.17-32) – And lastly, don’t seek to do this alone. Whether you read this passage or any other passage in Acts, we see the Christians facing down opposition in groups or pairs. It is not good for man to be alone, and it is not good for Christians to face coercion, or anything in life, like radical individualists.
The secret to overcoming coercion is that there is no secret. What you need is to apply to your life the same old-fashioned Christianity that was handed down by the Apostles; trust and obey Jesus above all else.
That is the key.
Conclusion – Victory over Tyranny – We must remember that we are part of a faith that turned the cross, a symbol of terror and oppression, into a symbol of hope and salvation. The greatest terror made into the greatest joy. Think about that.
This happened, because generations of believers clung to Christ and followed the Apostles in their bold witness. This is our chance to continue their legacy, let’s be bold and live this out. Let’s pray.
[i] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book Five, Chaper 26, pg 513.
[ii] Bury, J. B. A History of Freedom of Thought (p. 17). e-artnow. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Bury, J. B. A History of Freedom of Thought (p. 18). e-artnow. Kindle Edition.
[iv] Bury, J. B. A History of Freedom of Thought (p. 18). e-artnow. Kindle Edition.