We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Christians Should Obey the Law


There has been a story going around for a couple days now about how a man in Phoenix, AZ has been fined and sentenced to jail because he holds Bible studies in his home.  Today I was given this link to an article at “The Blaze.”
Why is Michael Salman being punished?  Apparently because he has amassed 67 building code violations.  What type of violations could one commit by holding Bible studies? 
To learn more about what was going on, I went to a couple other links, the first one being included in the previous article, and the other to Fox News.
I read all the information and listened to Salman and his wife on the video.  And here is what I discovered:
1.  Salman has been having his “Bible study” three days a week, which was causing traffic congestion according to neighbors (Salman said “one” neighbor).
2.  Salman states that he secured permits for constructing a “game room” and then after it passed inspection for that use, he converted the structure as a church building, (whether or not he wants to call it such).  According to Fox News, “His building certainly resembles a church. It has chairs for as many as 40 people. There is a pulpit. There’s a sign out front – along with a cross.” 
3.  Fox News reported on statements by chief assistant city prosecutor Vicki Hill.  “She said he was given a permit to convert a garage into a game room. ‘Any other occupancy or use – business, commercial, assembly, church, etc, is expressly prohibited pursuant to the city of Phoenix building code and ordinances,’ she told Fox News Radio.” Hill is also cited as saying: “He built a structure that he said wasn’t a church — that is in fact — a church.  It’s a church.”  Hill stated that Salman had “mischaracterized the facts” of the permit.
4.  According to the Fox News article, the whole issue has been the same from the beginning, even before Salman built his structure:  “It came down to zoning and proper permitting.  Any time you are holding a gathering of people continuously as he does — we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire — and that’s really all this comes down to.”
5.  Also according to the Fox News article, Salman “was charged with not having emergency exit signs over the doors. He was charged with not having handicap parking spaces and not having handicap ramps.”
I came across this article which shows a photo of the front of Salman’s house, with the large cross and sign. The article also provides this bit of information:
“A January 4, 2010, ruling made it clear that the Salmans are not prohibited from running a church or hosting worship services on their property, but if they do so, they must be in compliance with fire and zoning codes.”

So here is the issue as I see it:
Salman is NOT being persecuted for holding Bible studies.  He is being charged with violations of building and zoning codes  He lied about what he was building to secure permits (which wouldn’t require the extra expense of exit signs and handicap parking availability).  He claims his building is not a church building, yet from all appearances it can’t be differentiated from any other church (perhaps not as fancy) in that it has a cross and sign identifying its location, chairs for up to 40 people, and a pulpit.  He also calls himself a pastor.  
Although Salman claims he is being prevented from holding his meetings, the January 2010 ruling makes it clear this is not the case because all he has to do is comply with the rules.  If Salman had complied with the building and zoning codes for his 3-times-per-week gatherings, he would not be in jail or suffer the fines and court costs.
The Scripture is quite clear that we are to obey the laws of the land, whether we like them or not.
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval.  For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the ⌊authorities⌋ are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 
Romans 13:1-7 (HCSB)
Submit to every human institution because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people. As God’s slaves, ⌊live⌋ as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17 (HCSB) 


Update 7/12/12:  I found this page with some additional information demonstrating that "Pastor Salman" has been perpetrating the fraud of "no church" for some time.


Update 7/14/12:  And the plot thickens!

19 comments:

Steve Bricker said...

I had read the persecution rhetoric coming from Christian supporters but figured there was more going on. Thanks for giving a balanced post. And I agree with your conclusion.

mrsdkmiller said...

Thank you very much for this post. I have been able to share it with friends who have been reacting to the original story from Fox Insider, and thankfully, cooler heads are prevailing.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Yes, more information coming out about this story seems to prove that the man was never persecuted for his "Bible study." The link I update with demonstrates he has been less than honest from the beginning.

Drew said...

In his defense, most of that stuff is tyrannical government overreach.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,

That doesn't matter. Don't you think the Christians of the first century thought Nero had "tyrannical government overreach"?

There are ways to properly deal with laws we don't like. But for the Christian, there is no excuse for disobeying the law, especially as deceitful as was done by this so-called "pastor." Very poor example from a leader.

Drew said...

Caesar would be JEALOUS of most of the taxes and legal machinery we have come up with today. The passage you cite, Romans 13, specifically says that Caesar exists to punish evildoers. Paul was referring to laws against evil. I don't think failing to put enough handicap parking spots in a driveway equates with evil.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,
Both passages together make it pretty plain that God established governments for the good of society, and that Christians are to obey government whether we like it or not. The ONLY time we are not required to obey the government is when it conflict with God's laws.

If the government makes laws about handicap parking spaces, that does not violate God's laws.

Whether or not you think government overreaches is irrelevant; God said to obey them.

Tobijah said...

I think it's significant that Salman has a pattern--since becoming a Christian--of breaking the law even when religion isn't in question. The website you posted in your update has another post now, giving a timeline of events in the case dating back to 2006. Salman applied five years ago for a permit to build a detached garage on his property. When he didn't get it fast enough to suit him, he just went ahead and built the garage anyway, without any permit. No religious question there: just Salman getting what Salman wanted.

http://crybelovedcountry.com/2012/07/michael-salman-what-a-tangled-web-we-weave/

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Tobijah,

I saw that new post and added the link as another update. We must have just passed each other in the hall!

Drew said...

//Both passages together make it pretty plain that God established governments for the good of society, and that Christians are to obey government whether we like it or not.//

This idea is basically the same bad theology that the government overreaches believe in. In truth, the Bible does NOT give government the authority to make any law that benefits society. The Bible specifically says that the government exists to punish evildoers. If a law would benefit society, but does not involve the punishment of evildoers, then it is not legitimate and God does not endorse it.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,
Can you show me from scripture where it says that God created government specifically to punish “evil-doers”? Yes, it says that is ONE of the functions of government. But read both passages I posted, and they are blanket statements that we are to “submit to the governing authorities” and that anyone “who resists the authority is opposing God’s command.” “Submit to every human institution because of the Lord”

I know from previous comments in other place that you seem to have a total disdain for government whenever it interferes with what you see as your right to anarchy. You don’t want to obey speed limits because in YOUR opinion they are arbitrary. You think this guy shouldn’t have obeyed the law because in YOUR opinion it was overreaching (did you read the articles in the update links?).

You say this is bad theology, but I challenge you to check with any solid theologian and they will tell you the same thing. I have commentaries from many solid Bible expositors and - guess what? - they say you are wrong.

Drew said...

Maybe those commentaries are part of the reason for the sad state of this nation. The Bible says that punishing evil is THE VERY THING that government exists to do. And it is THE VERY THING that we pay our taxes for. And it says if you we don't do evil, we shouldn't have to fear the government.

Romans 13
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
. . . .
6 For FOR THIS CAUSE pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon THIS VERY THING.

1 Peter 2
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF EVILDOERS, and for the praise of them that do well.

These passages were written to Christians who were likely tempted to reject the very concept of government, or at least the concept of being ruled by pagans. Hence, Paul explains that even unbelieving rulers are God's servants to punish evil, and that the Christians' tax dollars are being spent to punish evildoers. Hence, Christians should pay taxes, respect, etc. as far as it is owed. But we should not necessarily pay respect and fear where they are not owed.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,

Okay, so all the ante-Nicene Fathers who taught that we are to obey the gov't were wrong? So all the theologians throughout the centuries were wrong? And yet you are right?!?

You keep cutting the passage to say the government is established only to prevent evil, yet that is eisegesis. That is only ONE aspect. The passages give blanket statements to obey the gov't, and do not say only to obey if they are preventing evil.

You are like any cult leader who has decided every one since the 1st century is wrong and you have the new truth that no one else has. This way you can support you anarchist beliefs.

Drew said...

If your position were true that every law must be obeyed whether legitimate or not, then how did Jesus claim that he was exempt from the tax in Matthew 17:26?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,
The only laws we are told to not obey are those which conflict with God's laws.

The tax Christ was accused of not paying was the temple tax - not a tax by a governing authority. I suggest you read that passage in its context to understand what was going on.

Who are you to determine if a law is legitimate? One that you don't like?

You are trying to justify your subjective ideas about what you consider a valid law. If you don't like a law, there a ways to have it changed. Otherwise, you must obey it or suffer the consequences.

Drew said...

So a tax imposed by atheists is always legitimate and must be paid, but a tax imposed by the temple may sometimes be disobeyed? I hope you realize that sounds kinda ridiculous.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,

Are you being intentionally obtuse?

The TEMPLE tax was not of the Roman government. It was not a government tax. It was a religious tax!

And no where does it say Jesus DIDN'T pay the tax - he paid the tax with money he had Peter take from the fish.

But he was also teaching a lesson at the same time, in that he was the King of Israel and therefore was not required to pay the temple tax.

This has nothing to do with civil government.

Drew said...

I don't see how, either logically or biblically, you are distinguishing "religious tax[es]" from "civil government." The Bible does not say that you must obey "civil government," but can disobey religious government. In Jesus's analysis, he even specifically brought up the idea of kings. He obviously didn't emphasize this same dichotomy that you do.

And yes, Jesus did ultimately pay the tax, but first, he spent several verses first pointing out that he didn't have to. He was only doing it to avoid trouble.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Drew,

Would you please look at the contexts of the two passages cited. The whole thing is about civil governments. After all, religious leaders may or may not be worshiping the true God - would you think we'd be required to pay the Mormon tithe?

And look at Matt.17:24 in context: The issue in question with Jesus was the temple tax. The temple tax was established by God in Exodus. Jesus is God, and the King of Israel. As such, he does not owe tax to himself. As John MacArthur said: " the temple tax, a half-shekel tax, was collected annually from every Jewish male over twenty, for the upkeep of the temple (Ex. 30:13,14: 2 Chron 24:9). As kings did not tax their own sons, technically Jesus, as God's Son, was exempt from the tax (v.26). But to avoid offense, He pays on behalf of himself and Peter."

If you are exempt from tax, then you do not have to pay it! This is even in the case of civil governments; if you get a tax exemption, you do not have to pay the tax.