The attempt to silence the gospel, or a portion of it, is nothing new to Christians. Various means have been used in the attempt to suppress the good news of God’s sovereign redeeming grace. Various techniques have been employed by religious leaders within the church, as well as by opponents of Christianity outside the church.
A Plea for Peace
It is not unusual for religious leaders to plead for peace within the church by insisting that doctrinal distinctives are so divisive they should not be discussed. Twice during the course of my public ministry of more than 40 years an attempt has been made to silence me in specific areas. I was told on one occasion not to teach the Biblical doctrine of election, and on another occasion not to teach what the Bible has to say about speaking in tongues.
My experience is not unique. In the early church, Peter and John were commanded by the Sanhedrin not to speak, or teach, in the name of Jesus. “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Every faithful minister of the gospel is responsible for teaching the whole counsel of God, and dare not agree to be silent (Acts 20:27).
Politicians in America have tried to silence and intimidate pastors since 1954 with the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment refers to a change in the U.S. tax code made in 1954 which prohibited tax-exempt organizations from endorsing, or opposing, political candidates. In other words, a godless political person cannot be spoken against as John the Baptist reproved Herod Antipas for his open immorality. The sordid story is told in Matthew 14. The historical background is this.
Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, married the daughter of King Aretus, who ruled Nabatean Arabia. Their political marriage had been completed in an attempt to have a peaceful alliance between the two nations. Unfortunately, the marriage, and the alliance, was broken because of Herod’s sister in law, Herodias, who was married to his half-brother, Philip. Herodias seduced Herod Antipas who then proceeded to divorce his wife in order to make Herodias his bride. As might have been expected, King Aretas was outraged by the shameless treatment of his daughter for another woman. Aretas declared war against Herod Antipas. Herod’s army was attacked, and most of it was destroyed. Herod Antipas himself would have been killed if had not Rome intervened.
John the Baptist spoke out publically against the immorality of Herod Antipas and Herodias. He called them by name. John said unto Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matt. 14:4). By John’s example, a Biblical president is established. God’s people are to preach the truth of God’s Word. Name names, if led by the Holy Spirit to do so. Pay the price for being faithful in calling people to repentance, from the highest echelons of society to the common person.
Hugh Latimer was the Archbishop of Canterbury. As such, in his time, he was viewed as the highest church official of England. It was a time when Archbishops were appointed by the king, and the king expected loyalty. The conflict in the mind was intense. On one occasion the king visited Latimer at Canterbury, and evidently it was an unexpected arrival. Latimer began his sermon this way:
“Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. Henry the king is here.”
“Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of kings is here.”
People of God, be faithful. The King of kings is listening. Do not let any religious, or political figure, silence your voice with a pseudo plead for peace. Be faithful. Though the stars fall from the heavens, be faithful.
Formal Ecclesiastical Prohibition
In March of 1935, Dr. John Gresham Machen, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the leader of the conservative movement of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., was compelled to appear before an ecclesiastical court to defend himself against the serious charges of denying his ordination vows, disapproval of the government, and discipline of the church, and advocating a rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the church. In reality, what Dr. Machen was guilty of was refusing to obey the 1934 mandate of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to cease and desist from supporting the conservative Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Dr. Machen was the president of this gospel work. If allowed to exist, money would be taken away from the denominational mission board to support this independent board. That could not stand. There could only be one verdict. On March 29, 1935, the judgment of “Guilty” was rendered by the seven members of the Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Dr. J. Gresham Machen was suspended by the church, which wanted to formally silence his convicting voice that protested Liberal theology, and supported conservative missionaries. In his condemnation, Dr. Machen was like his Lord. He was unjustly judged and condemned by wicked men. Nevertheless, God was faithful, and the good work Dr. Machen continues to this day.
Verbal Threats, Personal Slander, and Physical Persecution
According to Open Doors, a Christian organization dedicated to ministering to the suffering church, 100 million Christians around the globe are currently suffering. “From verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions, Christians in areas with severe religious restrictions pay a heavy price for their faith. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death, are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis.
According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.”
Despite the pervasive sufferings of Christians, the people of God still long to see souls saved. Therefore, like Christ, first, Christians are to pray for those who despise and persecute them. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Second, Christians are to share their faith. They are to continue to speak of God’s love and grace. They are to tell others about sin, salvation, and the glory that is to come for all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. They are to say, “I love you.”
Nicky Cruz was a tough guy in a gang in New York City, the Mau-Maus. When he was approached by a young skinny preacher named David Wilkerson with the gospel, Nicky shouted at him, “You come near me and I’ll kill you.” David Wilkerson replied, “Yeah, you could do that. You could cut me up into a thousand pieces and lay them in the street, and every piece will still love you.”
Because of Christ, Christians can love others as God loves sinners. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
What should be said to those who try to silence the gospel? Christians are to say, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”