Thursday, September 22, 2011

Couple Threatened with Fines for Holding a Home Bible Study

Given the animosity many local authorities have shown toward kids who set up lemonade stands, I can't say I was surprised when I read this story from California:
An Orange County couple has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that the meeting violates a city ordinance as a "church" and not as a private gathering.

Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, were fined $300 earlier this month for holding what city officials called "a regular gathering of more than three people".

That type of meeting would require a conditional use permit as defined by the city, according to Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the couple's legal representation.

The Fromms also reportedly face subsequent fines of $500 per meeting for any further "religious gatherings" in their home, according to PJI.

It reminds me of something I learned about China when my wife and I were there two years ago. Our guide explained that meeting and worshiping together as Christians is perfectly legal in that country...just as long as you first register with the government.

What do you think? Are the Fromms violating the command in Romans 13:1 to be subject to the governing authorities? Or is this a glimpse of things to come in a nation growing increasingly hostile to the gospel of Christ?


Anonymous said...

Such outright persecution. Whatever happened to freedom of religion? I guess it does not apply to Christians.

Stan said...

Baffled by the story. It says that they were fined earlier for holding "a regular gathering of more than three people", but the city representative later complains that "The Fromm case further involves regular meetings on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons with up to 50 people." So, which is it? Regularly 300 or "up to 50"? Sounds like trumped up charges to me, an alternative agenda.

Having said that, I would recommend 1) challenging the charges in court and 2) if ruled against, paying the fine. Render to Caesar what is Caesar's. No one is saying, "You can't meet." They're saying "You have to get a permit to meet here."

Chip said...


I would disagree with you on your use of "Render unto Caesar..." Not everything that Caesar says is his really is his. Governments are just as much under the authority of God as anyone else. They do not have the rightful authority to dictate anything they want on the basis of "We said so."

That being said, I think this body of believers needs to consider what course of action will most glorify our Father in heaven. If it is submission to the government then submit. If it is defiance of the government then defy the government. God's glory is the goal.

MJ said...

Chip, I don't think that what you suggest is in line with Romans 13:1-2. The government is put in place by God, and it is given authority by God. To defy the government is to defy God. This is a difficult teaching, I know, but it's in God's word.

If they disagree with what the government is doing, then they can find ways of legally challenging the ruling.

Chip said...

(continued from previous comment)

But what about the passages that command us to submit to the authorities?

Let’s look first at Matthew. It is true that Jesus said to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But, just as in Acts, there is more here than immediately meets the eye. In the first century Caesar was considered by many to be nearly divine. He insisted on absolute loyalty from everyone. In the Jewish world, there was great resentment toward Caesar, and this was the purpose of their tax question to Jesus. If Jesus says, “pay your taxes to Caesar,” he will alienate many of his Jewish followers who resent Rome. If he says, “Don’t pay your taxes,” he will likely be arrested by the Roman officials as an insurgent. They think they’ve trapped Jesus. But, when Jesus answers “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars,” he shows no disrespect for Caesar yet clearly implies there are things that do not belong to Caesar.

Jesus makes a clear distinction between God and the state. By telling them to give Caesar the things due Caesar and God the things due God he is clearly pointing out that the two are not the same thing. Furthermore, it cannot be stated strongly enough: Not everything Caesar claims belongs to him actually belongs to him.

Don’t forget, the time is coming when the Caesars will demand everyone within the Roman Empire worship them as gods. God knew this would happen. Jesus would not tell anyone to worship Caesar as god simply because Caesar said to. There is a higher law.

By drawing this contrast Jesus is telling them to give Caesar anything that is legitimately his — but he is also clearly teaching that those things are strictly limited.

So, how do we know what is and is not legitimately Caesar’s? How do we determine what our government legitimately has a right to ask of us? The answer is found in Romans 13.

Paul does plainly state every person should be subject to the governing authorities. But it is on the word “authorities” where our attention should focus. From this passage we can see God has authorized governments. We also can see specifically why God authorized governments.

See where Paul says, “…rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”?

That means God instituted governments for the expressed purpose of dealing with evil. Governments are God’s temporary instrument of justice.

Paul continues, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.”

Governments have a specific purpose — to prevent and punish evildoers. But, governments do not determine what is good and evil.

God alone, is the author of what is good and evil. Any government is illegitimate that tries to enforce laws contrary to God's laws or exercise power outside of the specifically God-authorized purpose of government.

Consider for a moment the authority a husband has over his wife — a father over his children. Does this grant the husband and father the right to beat his family? Of course not. Any man who does that has stepped outside of the God-ordained role of father and husband. He has no authority to do such a thing.
Governments are no different. They are authorized for specific purposes and have no authority to act outside of those purposes. Now, governments do have the power to do things not authorized by God. This is the difference between power and authority I mentioned earlier. Both power and authority may be used to obtain compliance from others. But only one of them is legitimate.

A thief who points a gun at me and demands my money has the power to get me to comply with his demand. But he has no authority to take my money and no legitimate claim on it.

Likewise, just because a government has the power to take things does not mean it has the legitimate authority to do so.

Chip said...

(Note: My responses got switched somehow — this is part 1)


I think your statement “To defy the government is to defy God” is inconsistent with Romans 13.

Consider the two Scriptures commonly used to support your statement…

The first is Matthew 22:15-21…
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And the second is Romans 13:1-7…
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

These seem to support your statement. But, doesn’t this beg the question — what if a government instructs us to do something God has forbidden? The typical answer is usually something like this: “If a government orders you to do something forbidden in Scripture then you are to obey God and resist the government.” And the text used to support that is…

Acts 5:27-29…
“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 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.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Biblical interpretation requires many things. Two of these things are proper context and careful reading. In Acts the apostles have already been told by the Sanhedrin that they can’t preach in the name of Jesus. They are even put in prison for it. During the night an angel freed them and they went back to preaching. That’s when they are brought again before the chief priests in verse 27. They inform the priests that they will obey God rather than men. The priests had the apostles beaten and told them again not to preach in Jesus name.

What did the apostles do?

Continued preaching in Jesus name. The chief priests did not have the authority to order the apostles to cease. But they had the power to exact a painful price from them if they didn’t. This difference between power and authority is key.

There is more here. When the apostles refuse to obey the chief priests they are demonstrating that when the laws of men and the laws of God come into conflict one is clearly superior to the other. God’s law is superior. Man’s law holds no authority when it conflicts with God’s law.
And, God’s law applies to everyone equally — even governments.


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