By Ian McKerracher
I am doing a little renovating in the basement of my house. It isn’t a big affair, mostly just moving existing stuff around. The idea is to create space for a multi-generational family home. After the reno is finished, there should be enough living space for my wife and I to live in the basement, while the main part of the house will be given to my daughter, her husband and their two boys.
The development includes moving a couple of walls, changing the bathroom to include a tub instead of a shower, shifting other fixtures around to accommodate a set of cabinets and a stove to make a kitchen, and cutting out a new bedroom window large enough for emergency egress. After a lifetime in the trades, none of this is too difficult.
It’s the paperwork that’s hard. To begin with, I knew I needed a development permit ($152.00), a plumbing permit ($100.00), an electrical permit ($100.00), and a heating permit ($100.00), all of which I was perfectly willing to purchase. I fully understand that permits are necessary to ensure a safe environment for me and my family. This is important stuff, and I was prepared to keep everything legal and safe.
There was only one problem, the stove! When city bureaucrats saw we were installing a stove, they automatically assumed we were building a secondary rental suite. That’s when I got a phone call from the city to tell me their version of the “real story”, along with their insistence that I spend thousands of dollars on upgrades, including a separate heating system, separate service meters, separate entrances, and fire-stopping insulation between the floors. All that, plus an extra $350.00 for a different kind of permit. (heavy sigh …)
For the record, I am not complaining, however much I may have something to complain about. The negotiations with the city are not yet done and it is yet to be seen whether the little guy can prevail against City Hall. I’m also aware that out of the vastness of life on planet earth, my story is relatively inconsequential. But an interesting question does arise. What is my Christian duty in the face of the government’s overwhelming might as represented by its omnipotent bureaucratic machine? Seriously, it’s in response to these daily aggravations of life that heroes, martyrs, and legends are made (of course, a lot of these heroes won’t be recognized until after the Resurrection). You see, Christians are supposed to respond to “all things” with a godly response base on a Christian Worldview! We need to remember that we can’t compartmentalize our faith; we’re not allowed to apply sub-Christ-like standards of behaviour when interacting with the world.
Worldwide, we are living in an age that is producing the greatest number of Christian martyrs in history. That means the question of how we behave before authority is becoming more and more important. Too many bad actors are using state power to murder believers, destroy churches, and oppose the gospel any way they can. Here in North America, it certainly isn’t as bad as all that, but there are enough whispers and hints about what’s coming to make people like me more than a little nervous. It is now assumed as fact that we are living in a “post-Christian Culture.” Does that mean the terrifying and deeply saddening circumstances seen elsewhere can come here? We are soothed by voices that tell us that it is impossible for persecution to arise in the open democracy under which we live! We’re further told that to fear a future Christian holocaust in Canada means we must be delusional, suffering from a kind of Martyr Syndrome, or some other such unfounded phobia or neurosis. But there is one obvious problem; the voices mouthing such soothing messages belong to the very people advocating for the incremental take down of the Church in North America.
Most Christians with a Biblical Worldview recognize that we have a duty to support those who have a God-given authority over our lives (Romans 13:1-7). Moreover, I suspect that most of us would agree that legitimate authorities would include police, doctors, teachers, bosses, etc., as well as politicians and the bureaucratic machinery that represents the extension of their power into daily life. When you think about it, it’s shocking how many people must exert authority over our lives so that we can live in freedom.
It is disturbing to realize how little information the Bible gives concerning how to live in a social democracy (fwiw, we’re aware that Canada is technically a federal, constitutional monarchy, but in practice it’s more like a social democracy). Thankfully, however, the Bible gives ample descriptions of the nature of man and the nature of God. Thus, as we seek to plumb the depths of Scripture, we discover the over-arching properties of reality and apply them to specific situations. By the way, this procedure is how you take first steps toward developing a Biblical or Christian Worldview.
One thing you learn as you develop a Biblical Worldview is that for most people, a position of authority becomes a doorway to absolute control. Moreover, this progression is almost impossible to avoid, as Lord Acton put it so brilliantly some 150 years ago. “Power corrupts,” he said, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This statement immediately commends itself because it is rooted in truth—the truth of experience and the truth of Scripture. It should not surprise us, then, that when dealing with people in a position of authority we discover that they have confused themselves with the position and are totally prepared to exercise their personal power on you! This confusion can come to a Prime Minister, a Supreme Court Justice, the triage nurse at a hospital emergency room, the person behind the return desk at a big-box store, and, yes, even a bureaucrat in my city’s development office.
Okay…Now let’s talk about my duty as a Christians when faced with this kind of bureaucratic obstinacy. First, we should remain aware that we, too, are sinners and that under the same circumstances we would run the same risk of corruption. Second, we should never lose sight of the Christian’s first order of business, to love the person in power! Losing our self-control, yelling and heaping abuse on a civil servant would simply ruin any future opportunity to share my faith with anyone who might witness my oh-so satisfying tirade.
But that should not mean giving up all opportunity to speak truth to power. That, too, is our mandate. When faced with unjust laws and regulations, we should not hesitate to try to change things for the better. And where appropriate, we must speak up for the ones who cannot speak for themselves. We must use this amazing freedom of ours for the common good. We need to pay our taxes to ensure that the government can do its job, but with the caveat that we hold them to account for the money we give them. We need to be involved in the political process, in the economics of life, and in the social sphere.
Christianity is neither for cowards nor the lazy. It never was. Our Lord’s mandate to “Occupy until I come” (Luke 19:13), includes speaking truth (and Truth) regardless of consequences. We have a mandate to seek freedom for everyone, not just Christians! So, when I have a face-to-face conversation with that woman in the Development office of my city hall, I have to bring my A-game. But then, I should bring my A-game to everyone’s office. Nevertheless, I don’t have to knuckle under to an administrator’s whims. I can pursue my desired ends with the same legal and political pathways open to everyone. But most importantly, I can approach this whole affair like a Christian! From the very bones of my Biblical Worldview, I can LOVE HER!