Our Lord instructs us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Sometimes, I think people misinterpret this to mean we are to be credulous as Charlie Brown running toward the football, and stuck in an ivory tower pondering deep mysteries of the universe. That’s precisely not what Jesus is saying. He is saying the opposite. An example from history will show us what he really meant.
In the days of the early church, Christianity was illegal. But for the most part the church was left alone. Oh, there were exception – gruesome ones. But between 65 AD and 314 AD, the church spent most of her time just being the church. Every decade or so there would be some local persecution. There were a couple of empire-wide persecutions. And Christians were generally looked down on. But they were mostly left alone. They worshipped, studied the word of God, and did the normal things churches do. How? They found a loophole.
Churches were not allowed. Those were dangerous, subversive, worked against the health and wellbeing of the empire, etc. So, in many places, there were no Christian churches. But, In ancient Rome, if you wanted a nice burial in a grave tended after you died, you would join a funeral society. There were dues to cover upkeep. There were meetings where graves would be tended, final wishes would be discussed. Oftentimes as the people grew to know each other they would discuss philosophy, events of the day, meet for social occasions, etc. These were legal, beneficial, a fine and upstanding part of public life. So, even thought there were no Christians churches in many towns, there the funeral societies that held strange superstitions about some criminal in a third world country who was crucified. They would meet once a week – usually on a Sunday morning before heading off to work – to tend graves, talk about what would happen after they died, listen to lectures about end of life issues, sing some good ol’ funeral songs they knew in honor of loved ones who had died, and have a light snack before they headed out. And no one batted an eye most of the time.
Nowadays, churches are dangerous gatherings – harmful to the health and wellbeing of our people and our nation. Protests, on the other hand, are a useful and essential part of our life together. Mayor Lori “Police raids on churches” Lightfoot of Chicago even publicly stated, “Hundreds took to the streets yesterday to express their First Amendment right to protest. I unequivocally support and will always fight for the rights of individuals to peacefully protest on any issue.” Some churches have already taken the mayor up on her offer. Christians have a deep and abiding interest in authorities unjustly murdering an innocent man. We could totally meet to protest such things. We could made signs or artwork depicting the horrors of this injustice. We could march down the street singing our protest songs, and then gather somewhere (out of doors if necessary) to hear readings from great justice-thinkers of the past, to sing songs of solidarity with other like-minded protesters, and to hear speeches by movement leaders about the implications of an innocent man being put to death by government officials. We can totally do that. We may have to meet outside. We may have walk around as we do it. But we are good citizens, we Christians. If that’s what it takes to exercise our first amendment right to worship (oops) protest, then that is what we will do.
The church is innocent as a dove. We want to follow the duly enacted laws of those whom God has placed in positions of authority over us, while we also worship the Triune God who made, redeemed, and sanctified us. And we will do so by any means necessary.