A Really Inconvenient Truth
The following essay appeared in the Kairos Journal. It is published here in its entirety with their permission.
We Can’t Help But Tell the Truth
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 (NIV)
The world has asked the Church to sit down and be quiet, and the Church has largely complied. In fact, the Church itself has asked the Church to sit down and be quiet, and the Church has largely obeyed. The Church knows so many biblical things, but there are so many people who hate to hear them. So some pastors and teachers are tempted to water down the truth to maintain warm relationships within and without the Church.
Knowing that the truth of Jesus would undermine their authority, “the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees” (4:1) moved in to stop this preaching. They arrested Peter and John, jailed them overnight, and then brought them before the high priestly family. When asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” gave all the credit to Christ, the Savior (4:8-12).
Not knowing what to say, the Sanhedrin sent Peter and John back to their cell. Fearing public and subsequent Roman reaction, they decided to let the two apostles off with a stern command (parangelia) to stop their teaching, but the prisoners would have none of this. They explained that they were working under a higher authority than the Sanhedrin (and the Romans) and that they had a proclamation mandate from God.1 They also directed the judges to judge their own judging, to ask whether they might be setting themselves at odds with God.
This same Greek word for command (parangelia) appears repeatedly in the Gospels, but it is Jesus, and not the Sanhedrin, who issues the directives. In Matthew 10:5-6, Jesus commands the twelve to go to “the lost sheep of Israel.” In Luke 8:29, Hecommands an unclean spirit to come out of a man. In Mark 8:6, Jesus commands the crowd to be seated for a miraculous feeding. Thus accustomed to the divine commands of Jesus, the apostles were unimpressed with human commands contrary to Jesus’ Great Commission.
The Romans had delegated authority to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court, but this authority was tenuous. If the actions of the chief priests and elders fomented insurrection or chaos, then their power would be stripped from them. Rome would step in with more direct, secular supervision.
Jesus’ directives are distasteful and inconvenient. For example, pastors know that a strong stand on the sanctity of marriage, one drawn from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, elicits astonishment and contempt from the culture and retaliation from the “wounded” and their biblically indifferent constituency in the Church. Similar backlash can fall upon pastors who discredit cults and embarrass the backslidden. Pressure also arises outside the Church. In the face of many counter-biblical forces, pastors have to decide whether or not they will stand in the tradition of Peter and John or fall down in the interest of personal safety or “peace in our time.”