Should Christians Break the Law? Another Look at Acts 17 Apologetics

July 13, 2010 at 2:13 PM 6 comments

Everyone has an opinion.  In the end though, opinions only matter insofar as they agree with God’s Word on anything.  It appears I ruffled some feathers by posting the letter from Mayor O’Reilly, from Dearborn, Michigan regarding the actions of the group known as Acts 17 Apologetics.  Their Web site can be found here: http://www.acts17.net/

When I first learned that members of this group were seemingly harassed and then arrested for doing something that all Christians should have the right to do – evangelize – I was not only very concerned, but slightly angered.  I opted to write a letter to the Mayor of Dearborn expressing my discontent over the way these individuals had been treated.  I thought the city’s actions both unlawful and wrong.  The idea that Christians in this country can be arrested for doing the very thing that Christ calls us to do should not happen and here in America of all places, land of the free, home of the brave.  I also posted my concerns here on this blog.  After sending off my email to the Mayor, I forgot about it.  I assumed it was read, and then discarded.

A reader by the name of Wanda read my blog in which I posted the letter from the Mayor of Dearborn, and wrote to me with this:

You do not represent Christianity for the end times or ANY time when you post an apology to the Mayor of Dearborn without following up on this story.

Acts 17 apologetics is following in the footsteps of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, God Almighty who made heaven and Earth. He hit the pavement and confronted the devil with authority while showing undying love and compassion for humanity.

I was called to Matthew 24:11 concerning your blog. And then this came to mind: Luke 17. Woe to those who cause my children to sin.

Your apology to the Mayor can lead Christians to believe that Acts17Aplolgetics are wrong. That spreading the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ is wrong. It is not. Observing political correctness is an open invitation to the devil and things of this world that are not of God. Our job as Christians is lead humanity to the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.

In one swell swoop, Wanda decided that I am a false teacher and that I had caused people to sin.  As I explained to Wanda, the epithet “false teacher” does not apply to me because I am not preaching another gospel.  To my knowledge, I have not caused anyone to sin either, but has Acts 17 Apologetics?  In this blog, I am going to take the time to determine whether Acts 17 Apologetics did break the law, or do things that they should not have done.  While I would agree that “observing political correctness is an open invitation to the devil,” I would have only been politically correct if Acts 17 Apologetics is without guilt at all.  Ultimately, a court will decide, but I’m including my observations here.

To my surprise a few days ago, I rec’d a blanket response to my complaints and I’m assuming to the similar complaints of others who had also written.  I have to admit that when I first learned of this event, I was going by only what I had read in defense of Acts 17 Apologetics.  As far as I was concerned, that information was all I needed.  What else could be said to vindicate the city of Dearborn?  After I received the reply from the Mayor’s office, I was a bit dumbfounded.  The Mayor presented information that had not been included in the original story and his viewpoint and presentation made it appear as though the city had done nothing wrong, but in fact, the oneness was on Acts 17 Apologetics.  From what the Mayor stated, it appeared as though Acts 17 Apologetics considered themselves to be above the law.

Acts 17 made it appear as though they were fully prohibited from preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or from evangelizing in general near or around the Arab Festival that took place in Dearborn.  However, according to the Mayor’s letter, not only was space made available at the Arab Festival, but Acts 17 Apologetics was duly invited to participate in their evangelistic efforts from within the exact same area that other groups would be stationed.

What is the truth?  The Mayor’s letter offers some compelling reasons to believe that Acts 17 opted to work outside the established laws, doing their own thing.  It appears that after creating their own problems, Acts 17 was dealt with according to the laws they broke.

Acts 17 Apologetics derives its name from Acts 17.  This is part of their mission statement from their own Web site:

Acts 17 Mission Statement
In chapter 17 of the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul preaches the Gospel in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. In Thessalonica, “according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (vv. 2-3). Some of the Jews, a large number of Greeks, and several leading women accepted Paul’s message. After moving on to preach to the “noble-minded” Jews of Berea, Paul traveled to Athens, the intellectual capital of the ancient world, where “he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (v. 17). Paul even shared the Gospel with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When asked to give a full account of his message at the Areopagus, Paul began with creation, criticized the polytheism of the Greeks, and concluded with Jesus’ resurrection and a call to repentance.

Their statement goes on to state that they are carrying on the job of the Great Commission given to the Church by Jesus Christ.  Without doubt, this is the job of every Christian.  Let’s take a moment to look at the part of the mission statement quoted above.  We learn from Acts 17 that Paul went through various areas to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We also learn that in every town Paul went to, he always stopped at the Jewish synagogue first.  As a devout Jew himself, and someone who was a Pharisee, Paul knew that he would be given an audience in the synagogues.  Often, Jewish men who were visiting an area and who went to the synagogue, were invited to speak in front, or to read Scripture.  Paul knew that he would always be given an opportunity to preach Jesus Christ in these synagogues. At times, he spoke directly to all people from an area in the open market where free speech was allowed and encouraged.

Note also that often, Gentiles were part of the worship at these synagogues.  It was a way for Paul to hit two birds with one stone, but his main emphasis was to evangelize Jewish people.  Is there anything wrong with what Paul did?  Absolutely not.  He was allowed to go to the synagogues because of his ethnicity.  He was given an audience and a chance to speak because of his upbringing and training and his recognized status as a Jew among other Jews.

Even when Paul was eventually (and usually) kicked out of the synagogues, he continued to preach.  However, he did NOT go back into that synagogue to stir up trouble.  He often began preaching in the streets, or from a house he rented.  On at least one occasion, he rented a house right next to a synagogue from which he had been expelled (cf. Acts 18:7).  Notice though that he did not block the entrance to the synagogue, or do other illegal things to gain an audience.  He preached and God brought the crowd.  From there, he continued to preach and teach and the crowds that came to hear him preach and teach were larger than the amount of people that continued to go to the synagogue from which he had been expelled.  Now, in all of this, Paul did nothing wrong.  He broke no laws, while making the most of every opportunity.

The question becomes, why can’t Acts 17 Apologetics follow the laws of the land?  After all, they were not being told or forbidden to preach the Name of Jesus Christ.  They were not hauled off into prison for doing what every authentic Christian should be doing.  The place where the Arab Festival takes place is city-owned property.  Because of that, the organizers of the Arab Festival must purchase a permit and pay to use that property for their festival.  Even though it is city property, once organizers place money on the table for a permit to operate, and space to rent, that property becomes private property during the time it is being used by the organizers of the Arab Festival.  The city still maintains “rule” over the facilities and has the right to limit things, or put certain laws into effect for the sake of safety for all who attend that event (or any other event).  The organizers also have the right to create rules that keep order and maintain safety.

In order to maintain civility and safety, the city – rather than refusing to provide space for religious groups (which they COULD have done, by the way, since this was a pay-to-enter event), they chose to make space available to various groups from which they could talk to and evangelize people from that area.  In other words, the city said “yes” to the evangelization efforts of religious groups, which could have included Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Satanists and others.  The city is not allowed to play favorites, especially where religion is concerned.  Allowing one means allowing all.

So in the interest of fairness to all, the city provided an area from which any religious group that paid a small fee, could be.  It looks as if Acts 17 Apologetics refused to do this and believed the rules of conduct did not apply to them.  Because of that, they literally did their own thing, thumbing their noses at the authority under which God had placed them.  Please, let’s be clear here, the city of Dearborn did NOT (to my knowledge) forbid members of Acts 17 Apologetics from witnessing to people, or entering into discussions with them.  What the city of Dearborn wanted was for Acts 17 and all other religious groups to abide by the rules that they had set.  Those rules were set for the purposes of keeping all people safe.  That is the city of Dearborn’s primary goal, public safety.

It is clear that Paul never broke the rules.  In fact, when necessary, he used the legal system to his advantage (noting that he was a Roman citizen to those who had placed him in chains, and beat him – all without a trial).  When Paul was placed under arrest, he dutifully went, without resisting.  When Paul was confined to house arrest, he complied, realizing that Jesus Christ was the overseer of his life and if Jesus wanted him under house arrest, then by golly, that’s what Paul wanted too.

During his few years of house arrest, there is never any indication that Paul tried to break out of “jail,” or harass those who were instructed to guard him.  In fact, he used this house arrest to witness to and evangelize the soldiers that he was chained to throughout the day and night.  Sure, it was not a crowd of people, but merely two soldiers at a time.  It did not matter if it was two or two hundred two.  Paul preached and taught God’s Word to anyone within earshot.  He was not allowed to go outside his rented house though, so he did it all from within.  Imagine being one of those guards who was forced to listen to Paul preach and teach!  In all of this, Paul did not break the law.

There are cases in Scripture where disciples are foribidden to preach Jesus.  One such place is also found in Acts 5:27-29

Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’ Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him‘.”

It is clear that in this particular case, there is no way that neither Peter or the other apostles with him could or would comply.  To do so, would be to deny Jesus Christ!  The question then is, were Acts 17 Apologetics being forbidden to preach Jesus Christ?  If what the Mayor says is true, then they were not.  They were welcomed to preach Jesus Christ as long as they kept the rules that applied to everyone at the Arab Festival.

Now of course some Christians will balk at that, however, God does not seem to do so.  So, God is not able to bring people past the booth where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached?  I see, so then Paul should have forced his way outside his rented house in order to draw a larger crowd?

We also need to look at the culture of the New Testament period.  The entirety of the New Testament takes place within a small portion of the Roman Empire, with most of it happening in and around Jerusalem and the Lake of Galilee.  That culture is completely different than the culture of the United States today.  During Christ’s day, and the apostles’ time on earth, Judaism was by and large, the religion of Israel.  In fact, aside from Judaism, all that existed were pagan religions.  Jews did not participate in pagan rituals (for the most part), because too many of them were trying to live the Mosaic Law, to the point that it became empty ritual.  They turned God’s Law into a form of ritualistic salvation.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, it was not only permissible, but expected that itinerant preachers would preach anywhere.  There were generally no limitations in Jerusalem, except where the Temple was concerned.  It would be against Mosaic Law for a Jew to bring a Gentile into certain parts of the Temple and this was punishable by death.  Gentiles could come into the outer court and that was it.  Going further would result in an angry crowd grabbing the perpetrator, running him outside the walls and stoning him to death!  The Temple would have also been desecrated by this action, requiring a period of cleansing.

So Jesus preached anywhere a crowd gathered and often the crowd went wherever He went.  He preached because He was the Jewish Messiah and He preached to Jews and Gentiles alike, but mainly ministered to Jews (the lost sheep of the house of Israel).  Only on rare occasions did He personally minister to a Gentile.  Today, He might be accused of partisanship, or playing favorites.

In the Jewish area of the Roman Empire, Jews pretty much did what they needed to do, following their own prescribed Mosaic Law.  As long as they did not break Roman law, they were fine.  The Romans essentially left them alone, yet the Roman presence was everywhere and it was palpable.

When Paul went through Asia Minor, every new city he came to, he stopped and preached at the synagogue, to Jews.  When they rejected him and his message, he then took his message to the Gentiles.  At the next town, he did the same thing, going to the Jew first, then to the Gentile.

Acts 17 Apologetics want people to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Amen to that.  Yet, it appears as though they want to do it their way and only their way.  I cannot help but wonder if they are deliberately trying to call attention to themselves to cause their ministry to grow and expand?  In fact, it seems that they are gaining more attention than Jesus is throughout this process.

There are laws that prohibit me from going onto the private property of an abortion clinic if my purpose is to block the entrance and evangelize women who want to go in to have an abortion.  That is against the law.  If I do that, I am going to be arrested.  After I am arrested, I will not be there to talk to women, to attempt to keep them from going into an abortion clinic to be party to murder.  So, while I am standing on principle and in jail, how many women went into the abortion clinic while I was not there?

If there is a public sidewalk across from the abortion clinic, I am allowed to be there and I am allowed to talk to people, hand out pamphlets, and even pray.  None of that is against the law.  However, I canNOT grab someone, toss them into a car, and drive them out of the area, while I preach to them about the love of Jesus Christ.  That is called kidnapping, punishable by jail, a fine, or both.  It is also against the law to kill an abortion doctor, yet that has not stopped some individuals who actually call themselves Christian.

Recently, I read that man was across from an abortion clinic on a sidewalk, on his knees, praying.  He was not blocking anyone, or the sidewalk.  He was not even talking to anyone.  He was praying.  He was also arrested.  Unless he was too close to the abortion clinic, I’m not sure what law he may have broken.  If he actually broke no law, then his arrest is illegal and just as Paul did, that Christian has every right to use the law to his own advantage.

The difficulty with groups like Acts 17 Apologetics is that by wanting to skirt around the law (if that is in fact what they are doing), sends the wrong message.  It tells people that Christians are above the law, and do not need to abide by the laws that are put in place for the benefit of everyone.  I don’t need to drive the speed limit, because that’s for non-Christians!  I can take what does not belong to me, because I am under God’s law!

We are not living in a society in which Christianity is the religion.  This country is a true melting pot and it is becoming more and more difficult for politicians and lawmakers to enact laws that are fair to all people, irrespective of religious affiliation.  It is only going to become more difficult.  There will come a day when simply being a Christian could result in death, within the United States.  That day is not today, but if it were, it would absolutely not stop me from being a Christian or announcing it.

On publicly owned property, in most cases, it is not legal to preach from any religious persuasion.  For the city to allow it means that they have to allow everyone to do it.  Now ask yourself, do you want Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Satanists, Wiccans, and everyone else to have the opportunity to preach their drivel and error?  If one does it, they all have to be allowed, so the city says that no one can do it.

Can, or should Christians break the law?  Most of the time, absolutely not.  The only time a Christian should break the law is when they are forbidden by someone in authority to not preach Jesus Christ crucified, or to do something else that the Bible expressly forbids (like being forced to pay a special tax that profits one particular non-profit group, for instance).  In some cities and jurisdictions, they are trying to make it illegal for people to have home Bible study fellowships.  If that passes, am I going to stop having Bible studies in my home?  I doubt it, but I would want to know WHY they are moving in that direction.  Are they doing that for ALL religious groups or only Christian groups?

What does God want me to do?  Is this His way of telling me that I should now rent a hall or school to have my Bible studies in?  In any case, to be prohibited from having a Bible study in my home is not something I would immediately obey.  If the reason that they want to do this is because of safety codes, fine, but even then, I find it difficult to believe that the city can tell me how many people I can have in my home, but I may be wrong.  If they are going to outlaw Bible studies, then they will need to outlaw home parties.

I recall George Muller from Bristol, England.  He was a godly man who through prayer and faith, built numerous orphanages for children who had no parents and no place to go.  During one particular time in which he was attempting to purchase land to build another orphanage on, he came up against some individuals who did not want an orphanage where he wanted to put it.  Instead of demanding that he be allowed to build the orphanage there, he agreed that maybe the Lord had something else in mind.  It turns out, that he was led to purchase land that was larger and far cheaper than what he was originally intending to purchase.  Had he insisted on doing it his way, he would have missed the Lord’s leading.

As far as I am aware, there are plenty of places in every city in the United States where Christians can legally preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and many of these places are out in the open.  Acts 17 Apologetics could have done what all the other religious groups did during the Arab Festival.  For some reason, they did not feel they should comply, so they did their own thing.  Did God honor it?  I seriously have doubts because they were not being forbidden to preach, but simply asked to follow the rules.

Who received the glory the day members of Acts 17 Apologetics were arrested?  It is difficult for me to believe that Jesus was honored by their actions.  I know some will disagree with that assessment and you are entitled to your opinion.  However, what you are not entitled to do is to call me a false teacher, or someone who causes other people to sin.

A false teacher is someone who preaches another gospel, which I do not.  I have caused no one to sin by presenting my opinion about the actions of Acts 17 Apologetics.  It could very well be that Acts 17 has caused people to sin by making people believe Christians are above the law.  What might that lead others to do in the Name of Jesus?  One thing is clear to me though.  Before opinions are arrived at regarding situations like Acts 17 Apologetics, all the facts must be presented.

Ultimately, we will find out who is right – Acts 17 or the city of Dearborn – since it will be going through the court system.

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City of Dearborn Responds to Arrests of Arab Christians at Festival Mosque at Ground Zero Remains in the News

6 Comments

  • 1. Jack  |  August 4, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    This missive seems to have a problem with the idea that Acts 17 was allowed to be inside the festival in a certain area, but that they chose to be OUTSIDE the festival. If they’re outside the festival, is makes it just like any other street. How many people inside the festival gates do think would be going to the “designated area” to engage in conversation? It’s a Muslim Festival! They know what will happen if they attempt to leave the faith! By Muslim law, they can’t even talk about it, so why would they even approach the “designated area”? As far as Acts 17 is concerned, I think they were right in their expectation that they’d be able to talk to a lot more people OUTSIDE the festival than inside.

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    • 2. modres  |  August 4, 2010 at 4:06 PM

      No, I have no such problem. Ultimately, if the city is wrong, it will (hopefully) be shown in court. If Acts 17 is wrong, then that will likely come out as well.

      If they’re outside the festival, is makes it just like any other street.

      Not really. If you know anything about abortion clinics, you also may know that most have regulations that are supported by law that does not allow protesters within a certain footage of the door.

      How many people inside the festival gates do think would be going to the “designated area” to engage in conversation? It’s a Muslim Festival! They know what will happen if they attempt to leave the faith!

      For the same reason, how many Muslims do you think would willingly go up to members of Acts 17 if they were just outside the festival on a city street, but still in view of other Muslims? You’re also completely disallowing God’s sovereignty here. Do you for a moment believe that God cannot or will not save individuals if they have to go to a designated area, as opposed to simply walking around outside of the designated area? Like it or not, any city is not supposed to show favoritism toward any particular religious group.

      As far as Acts 17 is concerned, I think they were right in their expectation that they’d be able to talk to a lot more people OUTSIDE the festival than inside.

      And that’s your right and prerogative. But because you disagree with my position does not make you right, no more than me disagreeing with you makes me right. I believe that God’s Word will not return to Him void. I believe that if the city said you must be in that area, then they should have been in that area. If the city said, “We forbid you to preach Jesus Christ,” then the response is a calm, “We cannot obey men, and effectively deny Christ, or disobey His directives.

      You know, we can go back and forth on this forever, but the reality is that it will be decided in court. Neither of our opinions makes any difference to the court, would you agree? I think one of the potential problems with Acts 17 is that they are obviously well known at least in some circles. After the first or even second year of the city being forced to find some way to deal with what they considered to be a “problem,” they wanted to find a way to circumvent it. According to the mayor, though they were invited, Acts 17 did not send even one representative to the meetings with the city. Why not? That would have been the perfect opportunity to voice their concerns and explain to the city what they planned on doing and why they believed it to be fair and reasonable and within the confines of the law.

      Anyway Jack, thanks for sharing your opinion. I appreciate it.

      Like

  • 3. modres  |  August 2, 2010 at 8:39 PM

    Hi Tim,

    You may be correct. What I was able to discern from the original article and the Mayor’s response is that – to be fair to ALL groups – there was a designated area set up from which people could “proselytize.”

    According to the mayor, Acts 17 did not avail themselves of that area, but decided to do their own thing. Also, according to the mayor, Acts 17 were given plenty of opportunities to meet with the city officials prior to the event, but never did.

    I have not seen all the videos and I am not sure which particular video(s) the mayor may be referring to.

    I do agree that in the final analysis, it will be decided in court. If the city opts to drop any charges, it may be more from a pragmatic (economical) perspective than anything else, but who knows?

    Frankly, I hope for Acts 17 sake that they are in the RIGHT. I am NOT defending the city because I do not have all the facts. What is left is what the mayor says and what Acts 17 says. Obviously, any and all video evidence will likely come into play in the courtroom. Time will tell.

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  • 4. Tim  |  August 2, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    The question that the city has to prove in court is exactly what law did Acts17 break? They were not passing out anything. There were walking around and only talking to people when they came up to them to ask them questions. The city claims many things such as them blocking tent entrances which their video contradicts and that the city claims they were yelling and inciting a riot which the video’s also contradict. Yes having video cameras there and being recognized attracted attention but that’s not against the law and that’s not what they were arrested for. What they were arrested for is not supported in the video evidence and I truly believe the city will drop the charges against them based on the contradictory evidence against the policy/city.

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  • 5. Doug  |  July 14, 2010 at 8:13 PM

    Well thought out and written.I have been in contact with nabeel for a year after I saw his story on a website on how he converted from islam.google it was a video.very interesting.We all have flaws and learn from our mistakes. The bible has a bunch of people that made mistakes,we learn from them too.
    Have a peaceful sabbath.God be with you, Doug

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    • 6. modres  |  July 14, 2010 at 9:12 PM

      That’s one of the things that makes the Bible so believable. It is filled with people who have faults, foibles and SIN. The Bible does not whitewash any of it. We can absolutely learn from the, and SHOULD. Thanks, Doug.

      Like


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