Among my historical heroes are the Scottish Covenanters – those lesser-known contemporaries of the English Puritans – who stood (and suffered) for the faith during the reign of the Stuart dynasty in Britain in the 1600’s.
The issue in Scotland, in those days, was: ‘Who is king … in the church?’ The Stuart kings of England and Scotland seemed to think that, in fact,they themselves were! They presumed that, since God had put them on the throne of the land, then they should have ultimate say in the churches of the land, too … in determining who pastored where, and how the churches worshipped, and so on. To make matters worse, these Stuart kings proved woefully incapable of making such decisions according to biblical doctrine and principal. So it wasn’t just that they usurped a power that wasn’t their own … but that they used that power to infect the churches with bad preachers, bad theology, and unscriptural worship practices. And so the churches often had ungodly, sometimes infidel ‘ministers’ foisted upon them, along with forms of worship that still smacked of the superstitions of Roman Catholicism.
Now that’s a message and a commitment that we will do well to remember in the decades ahead. In civil matters, Christians are to be as loyal as we possibly can to the governments that God has given to us (see Romans 13.1-7). But no other crown has authority to rule in Christ’s church. No king, or president, or congress, or parliament has the right to tell the subjects of Christ how to worship, or what to believe, or what to preach (or not preach) in His church. In those matters, Christ alone is King!
And I say that we will do well to remember these things. For a time may well be coming (and perhaps the first small storm clouds have already arisen over the land) in which it will not be so obvious, to the pressure groups and powers-that-be in our own land, that Christ alone is King in His church. We hope, and pray, and vote, and work against such a turn of events. But it may well come anyway. And we, like the Covenanters, may someday be forced to answer – perhaps with a law-enforcement officer standing over us – which King we intend to obey: King Jesus, or the civil authorities.
In many such cases, when the Covenanters would not bow the knee – when they kept on preaching without the king’s permission; or kept meeting for worship outside of the ‘approved’ churches – they were imprisoned, tortured, shot, drowned, hanged, and even dismembered. All because they wouldn’t let the Stuart kings tell them how to worship King Jesus. But it was worth it to them, if only they might uphold ‘the crown rights of the Redeemer.’
Will the American church be so bold and willing to suffer for Jesus? Do we even give Jesus full authority in His church now, without much outside pressure? The evidence, in many places, is sparse. So what will become of us when the screws are tightened? How will the American church stand for Christ’s kingship against outside pressures when, in so many places today, we are standing against it by our own pragmatism, biblical illiteracy, and lack of discipline? Maybe government pressure would serve to harden us like steel. Or maybe much of the American ‘church’ will collapse under pressure. But let’s pray that we will stand firm under trial – even willing to go to the gallows for Jesus, if He should call us to it. And let us prepare ourselves for such days by giving King Jesus crown rights in His church, even today.