Civil Rights (Acts 25:1-12)

For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.” (Acts 25:11–12, AV)

In the United States, we have a foundational document called the Constitution. In it we find many things, including the Bill of Rights. These guaranteed certain rights upon which the government cannot infringe. One of those rights is the guarantee of due legal process to an accused in a fair and impartial court of law. There are forces today who would like to abandon the Constitution. This is a dangerous thing, since it stands to prevent an abuse of government power and protect the freedoms of the citizens.

Paul, being a Jew who was a Roman citizen had certain accompanying privileges. In this passage, he uses one of them. While under house arrest in Caesarea, he is awaiting trial for false accusations made by the Jews (v7-8). They wanted him to stand trial in Jerusalem so they could ambush and kill Paul on the journey (v3). Paul understood the ensuing peril of such a trip and to avoid going to Jerusalem he invokes one of his rights as a Roman citizen. He appeals to Caesar and thus, will travel to Rome instead.

It is interesting that Paul used his privileges as a Roman citizen under the legal system to fulfill his calling to preach in Rome. Paul understood the civil law and used it as appropriate to fulfill his commission.

Many Christians today have bought into a false understanding that our Constitution guaranteed a separation of church and state. Thus, they do not believe that Christians should be involved in government. Many are ignorant of the basic laws and rights of citizenship. Those that do know their rights often have a phobia about using them. Many would never consider using the political or judicial processes to ensure continued freedom to proclaim the gospel truth. The result is a slow erosion of our freedom to proclaim Christ and a slow eradication of our nation’s godly foundation.

Let me give you some examples of this. We constantly hear of various municipalities removing historical Christian landmarks. Every Christmas we see battles over displaying “The Nativity,” calling the holiday “Christmas,” and displaying any biblical reference to Christmas. We took the Bible and prayer out of the schools. When I was in Savannah, Georgia, we conducted evangelistic events on the beaches and parks. When I attempted to rent a pavilion for a gospel concert and evangelistic effort, the city refused to rent the facility to me for those purposes.

So, what do we do? We need to understand our Constitutional rights. The Constitution does not mandate a separation of church and state. It does protect the church from the state. It guarantees every citizen the right to worship without the interference and obstruction of the state. The Constitution guarantees us the right to free speech. We can, according to the Constitution freely proclaim the gospel.

There is a time coming when we may no longer have the right to speak freely of Christ and proclaim the gospel. The wind of this problem is already blowing. What shall we do when it has leveled our ability to legally preach the gospel? I believe that right now we must stand as a windbreak to slow the erosion. However, there is a possible day coming when the wind has eroded all of our rights and we will have to stand in obedience to our Lord in spite of legal opposition.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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