One of the most serious questions that confronts our native Christian workers in certain lands today concerns their relationship to civil authority. The government requires them as citizens to pay respectful homage to the state by bowing before the emblem of national unity. While making this requirement, the authorities are careful to emphasize that it is in no way intended to interfere with their religious beliefs, but the problem to the Christian is, not new. It is the same old requirement that existed in the days of the apostles.
It may have seemed a slight matter to some early Christians to pay homage to the inscription of Caesar on the coin by merely making trifling obeisance as one passed his money across the counter in the purchase of a few necessary articles, and to many it seemed an ordinary thing to throw a little incense on the altar in the shrines along the Appian Way. And back in those days many confused the issue. Sir William Mitchell Ramsay says that the Nicolaitans were those who made those trifling compromises, but we remember that the Lord says He hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans.
When the symbol of national unity and the symbol of pagan worship are one and the same, we can immediately see the issue. To bow before such an emblem of national unity under these conditions is to violate the express command of God. This issue antedates Christianity. It was real in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, who set up the golden image and commanded all to bow in homage before this symbol of Babylonian unity and power.
The three Hebrews, who at that time were governors of provinces in the Babylonian Empire, understood the matter clearly, and refused to bow down. The king, unable to understand why one's religion should interfere with such homage, came to these men and said: "Is it true, 0 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do ye not serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up ?" In other words he said: "Is it because you do not worship my gods that you cannot bow down to the golden image?"
Of course he knew that they were not idol worshipers. That question had been settled twenty years before, when they were young men beginning their Babylonian university training. But this was a new angle to the matter which the heathen king was unable to understand. Why should a man's religion interfere with his homage to the government? These men of God stated the matter clearly when they said: "We will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
That same spirit of Babylon is dominant in certain parts of the world today, and the Christian is faced with the same challenging problem. Writing in the Presbyterian, Charles Allen Clark says:
"At the point of the bayonet or under threat of jail or after a session in jail, the larger part of the church's leaders have one or more times marched up the hill . . and bowed their heads to the abomination. The government has repeatedly declared that such acts are not religious, that they are only formal state rites. Other denominations followed the 'appeasement' plan, believing that if they did what the authorities demanded, the demands would be relaxed presently and . . . they would be free. They were beautifully deceived, and now many of the missionaries of those organizations look back upon their tragic mistake with tears."—Nov. 29, 1941.
In "Testimonies to Ministers" we have the following counsel:
"We are standing on the threshold of great and solemn events. Many of the prophecies are about to be fulfilled in quick succession. Every element of power is about to be set to work. Past history will be repeated; old controversies will arouse to new life, and peril will beset God's people on every side. . . . Study Revelation in connection with Daniel; for history will be repeated. . . . As we near the close of time, there will be greater and still greater external parade of heathen power ; heathen deities will manifest their signal power, and will exhibit themselves before the cities of the world ; and this delineation has already begun to be fulfilled."—Pages 116-118.
Let us pray that God will give courage to all believers who are facing these perils, and prepare our hearts for whatever tests may come upon us.
R. A. A.