In Britain the minor ity party is known as her majesty's loyal opposition. To oppose does not necessarily mean to be disloyal. Democratic government needs more than one party as a check on the party in power. Is there a place in the church today for a positive, loyal opposition? In religious circles, those who oppose are usually viewed with suspicion and often with hostility. If their opposition becomes too vigorous, they may be demoted or excommunicated. Now it is true that the wrong motivation lies behind the opposition of many—they are out to destroy rather than help—but are all this way? Does the church too need checks and balances?
No one likes to be criticized. There is something in human nature that likes to be right, that wants to be seen as being right. This seems especially true of those in positions of power, and church leaders have given us no reason to believe they are exempt from this desire.
But God commanded some of His servants: "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me" (Eze. 3:17, N.I.V.). "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa. 58:1).
Because power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, even in spiritual realms, God has often called individuals to serve as a loyal opposition. This has not been a popular position. Probably most who have served were as reluctant as Jonah (Jonah 1:3) and Jeremiah were (Jer. 1:6). Many of the loyal opposition were ignored, and their warnings went unheeded. Others endured worse treatment. Tradition says that Isaiah was put in a hollow tree and sawed in two. Jeremiah was cast into a quagmire (chap. 38:6). Zechariah was stoned to death by order of the king (2 Chron. 24:20, 21). Micaiah was imprisoned and given only bread and water because he dared to disagree with his ruler (1 Kings 22:26, 27). Elijah was threatened with death by the queen (chap. 19:2). John the Baptist was beheaded (Matt. 14:8-11). Others "were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goat skins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated" (Heb. 11:37, N.I.V.).
Some, like the prophets, seemed to make a career out of loyal opposition; others are recorded as opposing only once or twice. Paul found it necessary to rebuke Peter publicly (Gal. 2:11). Accompanied by eighty fellow priests, Azariah the high priest confronted Uzziah the king as he was about to offer incense on the altar in the Temple (2 Chron. 26:17, 18). When Saul decreed the death of his son Jonathan, his courageous soldiers refused to obey him (1 Sam. 14:45). Perhaps the most vivid example of loyal opposition occurred when Peter replied to the high priest who had just forbidden him to preach, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29, N.I.V.).
These individuals opposed not because they were traitors but because they were patriots. When laws, rules, policies, and actions went against the principles of the kingdom of heaven, they spoke up and spoke out. They often served as the nation's conscience, warning the people of the consequences of their actions. Along with messages of reproof came messages of encouragement.
When people listened to these individuals and followed their counsel, remarkable things happened. Nathan led David to repent of his great sin against Uriah (2 Sam. 12:13). The northern kingdom returned 200,000 women and children to their homes in Judah on the advice of the prophet Oded (2 Chron. 28:8-14). Huldah Encouraged Josiah in his reforms (2 Kings 22:14-20). Samuel, who was both priest and prophet, led out in the reformation in Israel that climaxed in the great victory at Mizpah (1 Sam. 7:5-13). Daniel was used by God to bring about the conversion of the greatest monarch of his time, Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:27, 37). Shemaiah reproved King Rehoboam, who humbled himself and was saved from destruction (2 Chron. 12:5-8). Peter and his fellow disciples helped convert thou sands to Christ.
The Bible makes it clear that there is a place for reproof and correction: "Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning" (1 Tim. 5:20, N.I.V.); "These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you" (Titus 2:15, N.I.V.); "Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear" (Prov. 25:12, N.I.V.).
Rather than fearing opposition, we should welcome it! When there is no reproof it could be that apostasy is rampant. Because of Israel's great wickedness "the word of the Lord was rare" (1 Sam. 3:1, N.I.V.). Could it be that loyal opposition is sent by God to warn and prepare us for His coming, but like the leaders and people of old we are blind and do not consider them as messengers from the Lord? Is it possible that we are in danger of suffering the same fate as Jehoiakim, who wantonly cut up and burned the messages of Jeremiah (Jer. 36:23)?
The Bible uses strong language for thos'e who resist correction: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid" (Prov. 12:1, N.I.V.). But how do we know when to listen? How do we tell the difference between a loyal opponent and a malcontent? Is everyone who has an ax to grind from the Lord? The answers to these questions will be the subject of a future editorial.
In the meantime may we have the courage and the wisdom to know when and how to cry aloud, sparing not, and lifting up our voices like a trumpet.— J.D.N.