Truth and social reform


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A society cannot be reformed unless it is first informed of what is wrong with it, what is right and how to get it put right. Some societies permit action for reform. They are called 'open' societies. They grant freedom to the citizens to oppose the evils of the rulers. These societies have inbuilt self-correcting mechanisms. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon in world history. Most societies even today are 'closed'. Insiders can hardly speak against the evils in their society, let alone do anything about them. Attacking social evils in these societies is virtually impossible; even preaching takes enormous courage. When centres of power have been taken over by corrupt vested interests, a reform movement has to awaken and organise the common man. In other words, to bring about a fundamental change in the evil institutions of a society, one needs to build up a mass movement. Preaching is the prerequisite for building up a movement, and this can be undertaken by an individual.
In a closed society, preaching is often the only tool available to the reformers. For example, Jeremiah was given the task of reform. God said to him, 'See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant' (1:10). What was Jeremiah's tool for reform? Nothing but preaching. God said to him, `You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them...'(7-8).
The fact that a person is only preaching does not necessarily mean that he is not a reformer. John the Baptist was a lone voice preaching a new kingdom. But he triggered off a movement. By the time of Paul, the fulltime preachers of the Kingdom were numbered in scores. Ultimately, it is ideas, not armies, that rule the world.
Social reform is usually a people's movement which seeks to remove the evils of society and transform its unjust oppressive values, ideals, practices and institutions into being just, humane and conducive to human fulfilments. A movement for social reform is based on:

  1. A critical awareness in a society that their values and institutions are fundamentally wrong.

  2. A hope that a change is possible.

  3. A faith that a better alternative is in fact available.

  4. A leadership that is able to organise and mobilise the masses against the evil status quo.

Piecemeal social reform is possible. A group of people may see one particular social evil, protest against it and set right the injustice. But from a Christian point of view evil is cosmic, it has a supernatural dimension. The conflict of good and evil is a conflict of two kingdoms - the kingdom of Satan versus the Kingdom of God. Therefore an evangelist aims at holistic, not piecemeal, reform. As St. Paul put it, evangelism or Good News implies 'the new has come' (2 Cor. 5.17). The evangelist seeks to bring the kingdom of Satan under the righteous reign of God, even though he recognises that until Christ returns all change is temporary, that the forces of evil will fight back and seek to corrupt the hearts and institutions of man.

Kingdom of Satan

Some years ago a non-Christian young man was sent to our community in ACRA. Though he was an intelligent and pleasant person, he had some deep personality disorder which we could not understand. He had been taken to the best medical and psychiatric experts in India, but that had been of no help. After he had been with us for several months some of us began to suspect, for a variety of reasons, that perhaps his problem was demonic. So we began to pray for him. One night as I was riding my motor-cycle back from the town to our village I felt in my spirit that it was going to be a crucial night for that young man. Soon I found myself praying out loud and singing as I rode. It was past nine o'clock on that wintry night when he met me at the gate and announced that he was leaving us. I requested him to wait till the morning and proceeded to call the community together for prayer. We prayed for him the whole night, but apparently to no effect. He disappeared the next day. We had a great sense of failure and I felt that we had simply made fools of ourselves.* {insertion from text: Months later we discovered that the personality disorder did in fact begin after the boys’ uncle has some sorcerers cast spells on him to enable the uncle to take over his father’s restaurant business.}

But there were three young people in our community who did not give up. They began to pray that God would bring a simple case of demon possession before us and initiate us into the realm of the supernatural reality. These three decided to fast and pray over a weekend. On the first night of their prayers, one 10-Year-old Hindu girl in our community had an attack of fits, which she had never had before. Because she was a girl, her parents decided not to disturb any of us at night, so they didn't tell us. But by the morning she was better, so no one took much notice of the episode.
Two days later she had another severe attack of fits. As I was walking back to my home after morning prayers, I saw her lying on her string cot. She was writhing with pain. She had high fever and in a rhythmic fashion she was lifting her head and banging it back on the cot in much agony.
One of the three young people who had been praying suggested to me that we ought to pray for her as she had an evil spirit. The young man's mother, however, insisted that the girl simply had an attack of fits and should be taken to a doctor. I was indecisive, hesitant to say that my Christian friend was mistaken, yet unwilling to make a fool of myself as before when the whole night of prayer ended in failure. I thought it best to have my breakfast before deciding whether to take her to the hospital or to pray.
While I ate breakfast one of our Hindu friends took his bicycle, went to the village and brought back a sorcerer. This sorcerer saw the girl and straightaway abused the demon in filthy language, asking it to come out. To everyone's amazement the girl became normal in an instant.
Naturally I felt humiliated. I had to admit that even though I was a Christian, my secular education had really made me quite naturalistic. Deep down in my mind I was not really sure that evil spirits affected human beings. My Hindu neighbours in the village understood the supernatural nature of the universe much better than I did and were therefore able to handle such a situation more confidently. Our community had another prayer meeting repenting of our unbelief, praying for another opportunity to discover the power of God.
A week later a 20-year-old man had a similar attack of fits, except that it was much worse. By the time we reached him, he was screaming out loud that he was going to die. He complained of a splitting headache and body ache. He, too, was lifting and banging his head on his bed in a rhythm. We felt that it was the same evil spirit which had earlier troubled that girl. So, we began to pray. We prayed for over an hour but nothing happened. Gradually people began to leave the room. The boy's condition became worse. There was a self-confessed agnostic in the community, who began to mock us as well as advise us to take the boy to the hospital instead of playing with his life.
Finally, only two of us were left praying. Doubts began to come to my own mind. There was nothing much left to pray about, anyway. So l had to choose again; do we take him to the hospital or pray more? With my eyes open, looking at the agony of our friend, l made my decision out loud. ''This time l refuse to be deceived. This is demonic and the evil spirit must go. 'At that moment, in an instant, the fever, pain and fits all vanished. The boy got up as if from a trance. He walked with us to the next house where many of the community members were having coffee, and announced, `I was dying; these people prayed for me and the Lord Jesus has healed me.'
Most Christians, I suppose, will have little difficulty believing that evil supernatural forces exist and bring suffering upon individuals. But in today's cultural climate many may have difficulty in believing that the evil supernatural forces also affect and seek to control the socio-political systems under which we live. The Bible says: 'The devil led Him [Jesus] up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours "'(Luke 4:5-7).
The devil was not bluffing Jesus. Jesus Himself acknowledged that Satan was the 'prince of this world' (John 16:11). St. Paul called him 'ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient' (Eph. 2:2).
St. John says, 'we know that ...the whole world is under the control of the evil one' (1 John 5:19).
It was Daniel in the Old Testament who was first given the insight that behind the socio-political evils lie supernatural powers. In Daniel, chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar saw the statue of precious metals that represented the four successive empires of gold (Babylonian), silver (Medes and Persian), bronze (Greek) and iron (Roman) and finally a mere stone (the Kingdom of God) which conquered the kingdoms of this world.
In chapter 7, as Daniel, the governor, sought to understand where history was going and God's role in it, he was given the vision of these same four kingdoms - not as the dazzling statue of precious metals but in their essence and spiritual nature - as beasts that devour: the lion (Babylonian), the bear (Medes and Persians), the leopard (Greek) and the 'fourth beast - terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left' (Dan. 7:7). This was the Roman Empire. In contrast to these beastly kingdoms which came out of the Mediterranean Sea, Daniel saw the humaneness of the coming Kingdom of God as 'a son of man, coming with the clouds' (Dan.7:13). As Daniel fasted and prayed to understand history further, it was revealed to him that the kingdoms of this world were beastly because there were evil, supernatural forces behind them. The angel said to Daniel:
“Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia ... Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come. (Dan. 10:12-20).”
I understood the Biblical teaching that the socio-political evils have supernatural dimension when I saw the Hindi film Ardh Satya (Half-Truth). It is a film about a police inspector in Bombay who seeks to fight political/bureaucratic corruption. The film says that courage and integrity are half-truths. When a man of great courage and integrity stands up against social evils, he destroys not the evil but himself. The film realistically shows that evil in our social system is far stronger than a heroic police officer, a journalist, a social scientist, an agitator for the civil rights movement, or a trade union leader. They can do little about evil, because they don't even understand its true nature or power. The film says that we live in a system where evil is greater than good and it rules. That is what I believe the New Testament implies by the teaching that Satan has taken over the control of this world's kingdoms. Without this perspective, it is impossible to understand adequately how political authority can degenerate to the levels of cruelty and wickedness that it so often does.
The Creator gave this earth to mankind to manage. Therefore Satan can rule here to the extent that we let him. For this reason, the kingdom of Satan begins in the mind. It began when Eve doubted God and believed Satan (Gen. 3:1-6). St. Paul also teaches the same truth in Romans 1:18-32. The kingdom of Satan begins when we turn away from truth to believe falsehood. When the mind is darkened, our behaviour quickly becomes immoral. Sin then begins to rule in our bodies. When most people in a society turn away from truth, then that society confuses right with wrong and wrong with right. After affecting our mind and behaviour, Satan then affects the social institutions which our darkened minds build and govern. The human institutions so affected become corrupt, wicked and oppressive. It was the authority and splendour of the oppressive political institutions of man that Satan claimed were his kingdom.
Because of their individualistic outlook modern Christians seem to think that Satan's objective is to lead individual souls astray. But the Book of Revelation reveals that Satan is out to 'deceive the nations' (Rev. 20:3,8). He 'leads the whole world astray' (Rev. 12:9).
What is Satan's basic deception? Again, Revelation says that the plan of the great dragon is to control the political power. The 'dragon [Satan] gave the beast [emperor] his power and his throne and great authority ... Men worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast' (Rev. 13:2-4). It is the 'beast' (the human king - Rev. 17:11) who makes war against Christ and wants to be worshipped as God.
The modern secular ideologies which deny God, end up making the State to be the Lord and Saviour. They violate the first of the Ten Commandments, 'You will have no other god besides me', and by making the State 'absolute' and independent of God they turn State into an oppressive beast, causing poverty, slavery and war.

'The Truth Will Set You Free'

The rule of Satan begins in our minds, when we choose to believe his deception, and culminates in the oppressive political institutions we build. This means that untruth is the foundation of slavery. Proclamation of truth, therefore, is a basic means of setting people free from oppression and exploitation. Jesus said, 'Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free' (John 8:32).

Often we fail to see that the oppressive and exploitative social structures survive not because of the strength of their institutions or their physical force, but by the spreading of their faith. People believe the falsehood, therefore they allow themselves to be exploited.
I grew up in the city of Allahabad in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India. Millions of devout Hindus come there from all over India to bathe in the River Ganges. They know that the Pandas (priests) will loot them. They do their best to protect their money from the Pandas. But they usually return home with stories about the way they were cheated. Later, they return to the Ganges and generally get looted again. Yet they continue coming. Why? Because they believe that the holy waters of Ganges will wash away their sins and give salvation to the souls of their deceased relatives. Slavery is a matter of belief.

Christians at the time of Martin Luther knew that the Papacy had become an exploitative Establishment, yet they sustained it. Why? Because they were made to believe that the Pope, as successor of St. Peter, held the keys to salvation.

'Justification by faith' is the heart of contemporary evangelistic preaching. It was also the heart of sixteenth - century Reformation theology. Then the doctrine of 'justification by faith' created titanic socio-political reforms. Today it creates no ripples. Why?
Then, Martin Luther had courageously added a significant word to the Biblical teaching on salvation by faith, which gave this truth a cutting edge in the then contemporary society. It was the word 'alone'. 'Justification by faith alone' consciously implied that the selling of indulgences by the Church for the salvation of the living and the dead was nothing but economic exploitation of the masses by a corrupt religio-political Establishment. This doctrine meant that the seven sacraments of the Church were, in the final analysis, irrelevant for salvation. Therefore, the entire army of priests, bishops, and even the Pope, which saw its role chiefly as sacramental, was an unnecessary economic burden.
'Salvation by faith' and 'the priesthood of all believers' were radical truths, not pious doctrines. These truths demanded that the Pope and the entire priestly hierarchy should be opposed because they had sucked Italy economically dry and were now threatening to rob Germany of its wealth.
Luther's preaching of justification by faith alone stirred up the masses because it offered spiritual as well as economic freedom. The masses are rarely moved by theological debates. It was not the theological truth which stirred up the masses. It was the politico-economic implications of the truth, perceived by the ordinary people to be beneficial to them, which generated the mass movement for acceptance of the truth.
Evangelism in the sixteenth century attracted crowds because it freed nations from the yoke of oppression; because it was 'good news to the poor' (Luke 4:18).
Paul's evangelism was exactly the same. Paul said to the Corinthians that when he visited them. he was determined to preach nothing `except Christ and Him crucified' ( 1 Cor. 2:2). He preached nothing except Christology and soteriology, i.e. the doctrines of Christ and salvation through the cross. Therefore, we need to look at these two doctrines of Paul to understand how evangelism set people free from the slavery of oppressive Jewish and Roman systems.

Paul's Doctrine of Salvation

Paul's preaching of salvation through Christ's death on the cross is summed up in two major themes in his epistles - grace versus law and faith versus works.

Paul preached, taught and debated that man cannot be saved by works of the law but by faith in the grace of Christ. Paul taught that by faith in the atoning death of Christ, man can find forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God. This, according to Paul, meant that there was no further need for circumcision, animal sacrifices, observance of Jewish rituals or special days. Under the traditions the Jews had added to the Mosaic law, man had to spend much money to earn salvation; now it was available freely. Believers no longer needed to live under the yoke of the law. This simple but evolutionary message undercut, in one fine stroke, the entire edifice of the exploitative Jewish structure.
Jesus said that he had come to set the captives free (Luke 4:18). Paul was showing how that was accomplished through Christ's death.
The Jews who went to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices knew that it was a 'den of robbers' (Matt. 21:13). Yet they came, patronised the temple and allowed themselves to be exploited by a corrupt Establishment. Why? Because they believed that they could be saved only through observance of the law.
Declaring that man cannot be saved by the law, but only by faith in the sacrifice of Christ, Paul was destroying the very foundations of the exploitative Establishment. The Jews were naturally threatened by this preaching and as we shall later see they persecuted Paul because of the threat his message was to their whole system.
Paul was perhaps first exposed to the basics of his theology by Stephen, who taught that the temple in Jerusalem was not the heavenly reality it was made out to be by the Jews. Stephen said that God gave Moses the vision of the heavenly reality. Moses made a shadow of the heavenly reality in the form of a mobile tabernacle. After Israel settled down, David wanted to build a temple. But because David was a man of war God allowed only his son Solomon to build it; which implies that the temple is not the ultimate sacred institution of meeting with God. In any case, God made it plain even in the Old Testament that He, who created the heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples built by human hands (see Acts 6 and 7). This was a message which undercut the whole Jewish system and predictably brought about violent retaliation.
Paul, after his conversion, preached Stephen's message with greater clarity and depth. The message that the work of Christ had made the Jewish law redundant was best summed up by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He said, 'By calling this covenant "new", He [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear (Heb. 8:13).
Paul was an evangelist because he preached salvation by grace. And his preaching was seen as 'Good News' because it freed his audience from their slavery to the law. When the Jewish converts sought to bring the law back into the Church, Paul fought them, arguing that if that happens, grace will be futile and Christians will be back in slavery. It was Paul's determined fight which finally made Peter declare in the Jerusalem council that the law was a yoke on the necks of the Gentile disciples which neither the Jews nor their fathers had been able to bear (Acts 15:10). Paul's preaching of salvation was thus a message of social reform, of freedom from a yoke.
The late Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the greatest leader of the untouchables in India, understood this same basic technique of social reform which Paul used. That is why he preached 'conversion' as the answer to the social evil of casteism. It is unfortunately true that Buddhism, to which he led his disciples, has turned out to be a blind alley, but it remains true that a society can be reformed in one of three ways:
(a) One can accept the basic structure of the society, e.g. the Hindu caste system, and seek to minimise injustices inherent in it by law, as the government of India has tried to do for the past five decades. But Ambedkar, who wrote much of India's constitution, knew that this approach could not transform the situation fundamentally.
(b) Therefore, a second option is to refuse to accept the basic structure of an unjust society and seek to change the people on top who are responsible for injustices. It is almost impossible to change the people on top merely by preaching, because they are usually happy with the status quo. As Jesus in essence said, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a beneficiary of the kingdom of Satan to enter the Kingdom of God. The oppressive, exploitative system is favourable to the people on top, therefore they don't want change.
So, one is tempted to use either violent or non-violent force to overthrow the oppressors. It is possible to overthrow the government by seizing or killing a few or a few hundred people. But what can one do if the oppressors number literally hundreds of thousands, or if they are too powerful to be overthrown by force?
(c)The third option then is to change the oppressed. One can refuse to accept the basic unjust structure of society and reform the system by changing the oppressed, e.g. if the untouchables cannot change the high-caste oppressors, their only option is to change themselves. This change has to be at two levels. First, they have to be set free from mental or ideological slavery. They have to cease to believe that they are born untouchables because of the karma (actions) of their past lives and that blessings of their future lives depend on their fulfilling the duties of their present low status. They are held in slavery by faith in a falsehood. The truth alone can set them free from this mentality of slavery. Second, they have to opt out of the socio-religious system, i.e. cease to be Hindus, in order to cease to be untouchables. They have to accept a new world-view which has a high view of man and the equality of man as basic doctrines and at the same time they have to join a community which practises these truths.
Oppressive systems survive by propagating falsehood. Evangelism liberates by spreading truth, i.e. by undercutting the intellectual foundations of an exploitative system and by creating an alternative social structure which seeks to live out the truth.

Paul's Doctrine of Christ

For Paul `preaching the Good News,' and `preaching Christ' were synonymous. The Messiah was Paul's `Good News.' Much of Paul's theology is therefore Christology. Paul's Gospel is that `Jesus is Christ' (or Messiah). The crucified risen, exalted and soon returning Christ is the heart of his message. Paul preached that Jesus, who was humiliated on the cross, has now been exalted over all rulers, powers, authorities and dominions of this age as well as of the age to come. This same Jesus, who is going to return soon to set up His Kingdom will destroy the man of sin - the evil ruler who sets himself above God. Paul's Christology was thus a political Gospel. Jesus was presented as King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus, not Caesar, was the One before whom every knee would bow and whom every tongue would confess to be the Lord.

In his Christology, Paul was not comparing or contrasting Christ with the deities of the then prevalent religious sects. Jesus was the alternative to the emperor and the religious sects. Jesus was the alternative to the emperor and the religio-political ideology of the day. The Gospel was formulated against the background of the imperial faith as the answer to the exploitative empire. Jesus was not another or more powerful god but the only God. He, according to Paul, was the Ruler, the final Authority, the Judge, the King - the Lord.
In a society where the 'dragon' has deceived people into worshipping the beast, Caesar becomes the lord, and 'statism' is official creed. When the State is the ultimate, the final reality, the absolute or the lord, it becomes the exploiter, the source of most social evils and oppression. In such a setting, preaching of a Lord who as a Shepherd or Saviour is above the State is exciting news. As Canon Michael Green said:
“If Jesus was going to return as the triumphant son of man in clouds of heaven...then clearly here was the final winding up of history for which they were all waiting; here was the break-in of the theocracy and the defeat of the impious Romans. This must have been a factor in the immediate growth of Christianity from its cradle in Jerusalem.”* {Insertion from text: Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church Highland Books, 1984}
It is true that many preachers of Christology teach the divinity of Jesus and His saviourhood, but fail to preach His Kingship. Most Christians therefore understand how 'Jesus saves' is good news, but fail to see how 'Jesus is Lord' is also good news. But the wise men who came looking for the baby Jesus in Jerusalem were looking for a king and not specifically for a saviour. Why? Because they were disillusioned with the kings and beastly kingdoms of this world. What were the kingdoms of this world? Brutal! Immediately after the visit of the wise men, King Herod ordered the massacre of boys under two, in and around Bethlehem! There was nothing their parents could do to protect the lives of their infants. In such a milieu the news that the Messiah, a new king, is born was indeed ‘good news’.
In the Roman world of the first century the message that 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand' received such a massive response in spite of brutal opposition from the state, because it was presented to a people who believed the prophet Daniel, who had taught that at the time of the fourth empire (after Babylonian, Persian and Greek) the God of Heaven will raise up His kingdom. In the first century the apostles’ audience in the Roman Empire would have heard the Gospel as a proclamation that the vision of Nebuchadnezzar was about to be fulfilled: during the era of the kingdom of iron, a stone uncut with human hands will smash and destroy the dazzling statue of precious metals (or human kingdoms) and itself become a mighty mountain, was about to be fulfilled.
The original New Testament readers were living in the fourth empire, in the oppressive kingdom of the beast, in the darkness of despair and death. The message that the Kingdom of Heaven has come, and that Jesus is Christ, naturally stirred up hope and excitement - as well as determined opposition.
Just as Paul's preaching of salvation as a free gift of God, by faith in the cross of Christ, undercut Jewish theology and set people free from the yoke of slavery to the Jewish Establishment, his preaching of Jesus as Lord undercut the theology of Roman imperialism and destroyed political totalitarianism. The common man's excitement at the realisation that Jesus was King was most visible on the first Palm Sunday, when He entered Jerusalem on a colt with a crowd following Him and shouting 'Blessed is the King of Israel” (John 12:12).
The Jews persecuted Paul for destroying their entire system through his preaching of the cross (Acts 21:28). The Romans persecuted him for destroying their imperialism by his preaching of Jesus as Lord. For example, in Thessalonica when Paul preached, `This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ' (Acts 17:3), his opponents understood him as 'defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus' (v.7). Did they misunderstand Paul? If it was a matter of misunderstanding a spiritual king as a political threat, then Paul and the other apostles could have easily corrected that misunderstanding. In fact they would have avoided preaching Jesus as 'Christ' and concentrated on preaching Him only as the Saviour. But they did not compromise their preaching. It was natural that such preaching would result in persecution. They knew Jesus as 'the ruler of the kings of the earth' (Rev.1:5), therefore they preached Him as such. They in fact believed that Christians would rule over the nations of the earth (Rev.2:26-7).
We Wrestle 'Not Against Flesh and Blood'
Some Christians may find it hard to accept this insight into Paul's Christology. Paul himself said, they might argue, that 'our struggle is not against flesh and blood' (Eph. 6:12). How can Paul then be concerned with political reform?
Paul did say our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but added in the same verse that we struggle 'against the rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms'. Paul did wrestle with evil spirits - the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. But much of his time was spent in struggling against the rulers and authorities of this dark world, who were humans. It was not the evil spirits who beheaded John the Baptist, crucified Jesus, stoned Stephen or persecuted Paul. The Church was and is pitched against the rulers and authorities of this dark world - against those in positions of power and authority, who prefer darkness over light. However, it is also true that there are spiritual forces of evil over these human rulers.
I can understand why Christians living in 'open' societies fail to understand Paul's oblique language of 'powers and principalities. 'But they ought to understand that Paul was not living in an open society with freedom of speech guaranteed. In fact, when he wrote the letter to the Ephesians he was under arrest with perhaps a Roman guard reading what he wrote or listening to what he dictated. How could he say openly that he was wrestling against the totalitarianism of Caesar?
Recently in one of our villages, a high-caste man beat an untouchable man to death. He ordered his body to be cremated that night, before the police could come or a post-mortem could be done. The untouchables were terrorised. As they have to live in that village they could not oppose the wicked village chief openly. They have only whispered against the 'rulers of this dark world', in a (oblique) language very similar to Paul's.

Evangelism and Political Freedom

The evangelists did not conceive of political freedom in negative terms of the overthrow of the Jewish and Roman Establishments. They understood and preached political freedom primarily in terms of submission of human kings to the rule of God. This is significant because history has not been able to throw up a better understanding of political freedom than this.
There are many nations even today whose understanding of political freedom is no more than skin-deep. In not a metaphorical sense, but literally. For an average Indian, for example, political freedom is when the white colonial rulers leave and brown, black or yellow natives take over the rule. Most often this colour-of-skin definition of political freedom means worse oppression and tyranny. One does not need to prove the emptiness of this definition. In almost any nation that has attained 'political freedom' since the Second World War, the new rulers are happy with their freedom, but the ruled are usually more oppressed and exploited than before. Colour-of-skin definition of political freedom generally means freedom for the new governors, not necessarily the governed.
Only where the freedom is understood as the rule of law is there some freedom for the governed. A people are free only to the degree to which the powers of their government are limited by law. The final test of political freedom is this: Are the rulers under the law or above the law? If any of the human rulers are above the law, then that is rule of rulers, not the rule of law. Potentially that is a dictatorship, not a free country. Freedom means the ‘Rule of law’ not human rulers (see James 1:25, 2:12, 4:12 etc.). This raises the fundamental question: What is the source of law - human or divine? If the law is merely human, then those who have the power to make the law have the power to change it, too, and thus they are above the law. Genuine freedom is impossible in societies which have only human law.
Only if law comes from beyond man, can it be binding on all men. Only before a transcendent law can there be a genuine equality of all men. Kings and prisoners alike can be equal before the law if the law itself is above the king. Transcendent law presupposes a transcendent law-giver. If there is no just ruler above the ruler of the earth, if He has not given His law to men, then political freedom or rule of law is a sheer illusion, a mirage that is impossible to attain. Man is condemned for ever to live under the rule of 'might is right' whether the might be of a few or of the majority. The concept of the rule of law becomes a superstition without faith in a just ruler above the human rulers. The European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century tried to spread this superstition through its concept of “Natural Law”. *(Footnote: No ruler or dictator in any Communist, Fascist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Animist culture has been able to see this natural law, because nature has no moral law regulating it. The moral law appeared “natural” to the Enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke, only because they inherited it from their Christian heritage.)
Proclaiming Jesus as 'The ruler of the kings of the earth' was, and is, the only genuine way of establishing politically free societies. In this sense evangelism does not overthrow the existing political kingdoms. But by bringing kings under a transcendental law it curtails the arbitrary freedom of the kings and thereby increases the political freedom of the ruled.
Political freedom is determined not primarily by whether or not the king himself is Christian, but by whether or not he is under the law of God. Political freedom will increase in proportion to the submission of the rulers to the transcendent law in their public lives.
Was Paul fighting a corrupt political establishment? No, if fighting is understood militarily, but Yes, if it is understood evangelistically. He was witnessing uncompromisingly that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord. Christ had chosen Paul, precisely for such political evangelism. God said to Ananias, 'This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings...'(Acts 9:15). For Paul socio-political reform was an integral part of evangelism, because it brought the kings of this world under the rule of Christ as it had been predicted in the Messianic Psalm 2 (the second most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament). Bringing totalitarian human rulers under the authority of a transcendent law, is the highest definition of political freedom that history has seen.
The New Testament teaching regarding the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment of man reinforces the perspective outlined above. The doctrine of the Final Judgment of man affirms the great significance and responsibility of each individual. What each individual does with his or her life is important to God. But this doctrine also establishes the equality of every man, whether high or low, before the law of God. Paul says to the slave-owners that they should treat their slaves in the light of the fact that both they and the slaves have a common master `in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him' (Eph. 6:9).
The same applies to the human rulers and the ruled, judges and accused prisoners. There is an ultimate equality of all men before the law of God. That is a radical Christian basis for political freedom now on this earth. When an evangelist tells the kings of this earth that they, too, have a king and judge over them, before whom they are as much accountable as any other man, the evangelist curtails the totalitarian powers of the human rulers and demands that they be just. That result is what political reform or freedom should ultimately means.
From this perspective, doctrines of the Second Coming and the Final Judgment do not give us the right to assume that the world will go from bad to worse, making reform impossible. On the contrary, these doctrines demand that our evangelism should result in curtailing the oppressive totalitarian powers of the human rulers.* (Footnote: For a detailed discussion of this see the chapter entitled “Christian Hope and Social Reform”.) The kings, presidents and prime ministers of the earth should be brought under the rule of Christ. That is evangelism, and that is also political freedom - curtailing and limiting the power of the State over the individual, demanding that the laws of the State be just in the light of the justice and righteousness of God.
Evangelism frees the powerless individual by putting them in a direct relationship with their Father - the Almighty God. Jesus gave authority to His disciples to go into all the world and to make disciples, because, He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” When the masses are in touch with the King of Kings, when they are assured of eternal life, they cease to fear their petty rulers whose power does not extend beyond killing individuals. The evangelized masses limit the power of government by making Christ the Ruler of the kings of the earth.
We shall return to the subject of evangelism and social reform in the second half of the next chapter. But before I am misunderstood as over-emphasizing the social dimension of evangelism at the expense of its appeal to individuals to repent and believe, let us consider the relationship of sin to social evils and salvation to social reform.

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