Blame Christians: An Old Practice Finds New Life in Malaysia

A recent editorial is making news in Malaysia. According to Free Malaysia Today (FMT), the Umno government in Malaysia is making scapegoats of Christians in order to turn attention away from their own failures.

The original scapegoat (Azazel of Leviticus 16) was an innocent goat who had the sins of Israel put upon its head and was sent away from the camp, signifying a removal of Scapegoat Azazel Lev 16 Christians Malaysia persecutionsins from God’s people. Since then, anyone who has taken the blame for another has been referred to as a scapegoat.

FMT argues that Christians are now being asked to take the fall for the sins of Malaysia’s government leaders. Things are going poorly in an increasingly Muslim Malaysia, so why not blame the Christians? Whether the accusations against Christians are true, these charges against Christians are nothing new.

From the beginning, Christians have been blamed: for unrest in Jerusalem (Acts 5); for social ills in Philippi (Acts 16:19ff); and for political unrest in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5ff). Less than four decades after the death of Christ, Christians were blamed for the destruction of Rome.  Nero famously accused Christians of causing Rome to burn in 64 A.D.  From that time forward, Christians were routinely considered a plague blighting an otherwise pristine and glorious Rome.

By the end of the 4th Century, Augustine had arrived on the Christian scene and finally had enough of the accusations against Christians.  As a result, he wrote his epic defense of Christianity, The City of God.  In that work, Augustine specifically addressed the folly of blaming Christians for the ills of Rome.  Christians, according to Augustine, actually brought light into the darkness of Rome. Consider this paragraph from the City of God (Book I, Chapter 7):

Window St. Augustine City of God Christian persecution

St. Augustine Window
Gnu Free License (source: Wikipedia)

All the spoiling then which Rome was exposed to in the recent calamity—all the slaughter, plundering, burning, and misery—was the result of the custom of war.  But what was novel, was that savage barbarians showed themselves in so gentle a guise, that the largest churches were chosen and set apart to whom quarter was given, and that in them none were slain, from them none forcibly dragged… Whoever does not see that this is to be attributed to the name of Christ, and to the Christian temper, is blind; whoever sees this, and gives no praise, is ungrateful; whoever hinders any one from praising it, is mad.

Augustine pointed out that Christians brought humanity to war through their church ministries. Still, Augustine understood that Christians would be easy targets as scapegoats.  He also understood that Christians had an obligation to be good citizens in the city of man precisely because they already were citizens of the city of God.  This clash between ruling powers and Christian citizens did not end with the fall of the Roman empire; it continued on.

Few people realize that John Calvin was not motivated to write his systematic theology for the purpose of fueling five centuries of debate in the western tradition of Christianity. Calvin actually wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend Christians from the persecution they were receiving at the hands of European rulers.  Christians were again being blamed for political unrest, and Calvin took up the pages of the Institutes for the purpose of stopping the slaughter. In his preface, Calvin addressed King Francis with these words about his reasons for writing:

For ungodly men have so far prevailed that Christ’s truth, even if it is not driven away scattered and destroyed, still lies hidden, buried and inglorious.  The John Calvin Institutes Christian Persecutionpoor little church has either been wasted with cruel slaughter or banished into exile, or so overwhelmed by threats and fears that it dare not even open its mouth. And yet, with their usual rage and madness, the ungodly continue to batter a wall already toppling and to complete the ruin toward which they have been striving.  Meanwhile no one comes forward to defend the church against such furies…

Calvin, obviously, hoped the Institutes would defend the church against the furies of persecution. What’s happening in Malaysia has happened before. There is nothing new under the sun with regard to persecution.  I am not surprised to read that the same scapegoating of Christians is continuing in Malaysia, but I am anxiously awaiting the next Augustine or Calvin to come to the aid of the Bride of Christ.

Then again, maybe we don’t need a single great man. Maybe, instead, we need the Lord to raise up an army of people like us to oppose injustice and exalt Christ. Why not us? History is certainly on our side. Even if history were against us, Christ would still be for us.

Why Christians Should Care About Who Is Elected in November

For more than a century, Christians have been stretched by the tension of a fundamentalist strand on one side and the evangelical strand on the other, each pulling backwards against the other like a rubber band being pulled apart by two opposing hands.  The result has indeed been tension.

On the one hand, the fundamentalists have sought to protect the purity of the gospel against outside attacks. This fundamentalist tendency seeks to shield the church from outside influences but also has the rather unintended effect of shielding those outside from the church’s influence. Not only is the church protected from the world, but the world is also “protected” from the church.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, have sought to establish the necessity of salt stinging and light shining. So, under the theological influence of Carl F.H. Henry and the Billy graham evangelical vs fundamentalistpopular influence of Billy Graham, the evangelical movement sought to engage the culture, taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ.  Henry would initiate Christianity Today magazine and Graham would begin the practice of meeting with Presidents.  Evangelicals clearly won the debate, but the tension still abides. There are still Christians who wish us to “stay out of politics.”

Because our culture feels so “politicized,” many would prefer we not to get mixed up in politics. Surely, it would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with the deceit and obfuscation made popular by modern magistrates. Even though withdrawing would be easier, I don’t think it is the faithful course for Christians to follow. Here is why.

In Deuteronomy 17, the Lord gave instructions to Israel before she took possession of the Promised Land.  In these instructions, Israel was taught about the proper function of authority (the king).  In effect, the king’s role was to institute the righteousness of God.  A primary function of government, then, is to administer and uphold justice; upholding justice demands following the commands God has given. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today.

Obviously, we do not live under the rule of a Davidic king in the land of Israel, but the basic principle of Deuteronomy 17 still holds. Paul explains (in Romans 13) that government is to approve of what is good and punish what is evil. No doubt, Paul understands that good and evil are established by God, not merely by man. Thus, government still exists to uphold the righteousness of God (which is good).

Christians have an obligation to do their very best to uphold the righteousness of God in every aspect of life—including public and governmental aspects of life. Such upholding of righteousness in the face of injustice is at least a part of what it means to be salt and light in an otherwise dark and decaying world.

Practically, this upholding of righteousness means Christians must participate in public debate, must participate  by voting, and must care about what happens in the greater world of government and civic life. To withdraw from these responsibilities is not to care more about God and the gospel; it is actually to care less about the gospel and about people in general.  Listen to how St. Augustine explains it,

st augustine politics authority governmentFor both the physician is irksome to the raging madman, and a father to his undisciplined son,—the former because of the restraint, the latter because of the chastisement which he inflicts; yet both are acting in love.

In other words, Augustine understands that doctors and dads must intervene if they care at all for their patients or their children. Love compels their engagement—even if their engagement is taken as a negative or unpleasant intrusion.  Augustine explains further,

But if they were to neglect their charge, and allow them to perish, this mistaken kindness would more truly be accounted cruelty. For if the horse and mule, which have no understanding, resist with all the force of bites and kicks the efforts of the men who treat their wounds in order to cure them; and yet the men, though they are often exposed to danger from their teeth and heels, and sometimes meet with actual hurt, nevertheless do not desert them till they restore them to health through the pain and annoyance which the healing process gives,—how much more should man refuse to desert his fellow-man, or brother to desert his brother, lest he should perish everlastingly…

If the Christian cares at all for his fellow human being, he will not withdraw or be silent on matters which others have politicized. The greatest commandment is to love God with heart and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two great loves compel our engagement in “political” affairs such as the protection of human life and the honoring of the institution of marriage.

In my opinion, then, each Christian should take up the shaker of the gospel and sprinkle its salt of truth into the world on issues important to the day. Likewise, each individual Christian should both live and act in a righteous manner to shine the light of truth for others groping in the darkness to see. That’s the way things look to me (and to Augustine).  Your opinion, as always, is welcome.