I wish to thank Sione Lousiale Kava for the expression of honesty in dealing with the Faifekau (whichever denomination he might have come from) who once appeared in Pangai Si…i on the events leading up to 16/11. I am also glad that the opportunity for Mr. Kava to commit murder thankfully did not come his way while he was in Tonga. To do so would only exacerbate the already deteriorating situation in the country. However, in my capacity as a church minister (which by God…s grace I wholeheartedly embrace), I partly support his course of action relating to this particular church minister who in some way was involved (perhaps merely by his presence at Pangai Si…i) in inciting the violence of 16/11. However, I would suggest that we must be careful not to evade the message of repentance no matter who it may come from. Without distinction we are all in need of repentance … a radical turning to God believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Even Jesus taught his disciples to take heed of the ministers of his days taught (the so called …Pharisees) but not to follow their moral examples. To Mr. Kava…s credit, however, he raises an important issue, namely, the involvement of church ministers (and religious people in general) in the events leading up to and even during 16/11. How can we live as followers of the Lord Jesus under the political authority?
I believe that the confusion amongst most (if not all) people leading up to 16/11 was contributed to partly by the church leaders (i.e. church admins and church ministers). I am here focusing particularly on the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWC Tonga from hereon) which prevails as the mainline church in Tonga. Had the leaders clearly stated the biblical view on church and state relations and strongly affirmed it upon the church ministers and upon the people it is likely that the shameful events of 16/11 would have been dampened in its intensity (if not altogether avoided). Since the biblical viewpoint was not clearly stated by the church leaders, the ministers were divided in their political stance and even more so amongst their parishioners. In view of 16/11, I deem it necessary to introduce the biblical stance on how believers should relate to those holding the political rein.
The biblical perspective clearly states that believers everywhere are to subject themselves to the government. This means amongst other things that they must obey the Law of the Land, pay their taxes and give the King or whoever is in charge of the country the respect that they properly deserve. Jesus and all the apostles lived and ministered under a political regime incomparable in their determination to exploit and oppress their subjects. Anyone interested should consult the relevant sections in the first century Jewish historian Josephus. It is well known of course that Jesus urged his followers to give Caesar what is due him, namely, taxes and respect, and to God what is properly worthy of Him, namely, to love Him with all our being. The two chief apostles, Peter (the apostle to the Jews) and Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles) both lived, ministered and died under the oppressive power of the Roman imperial rulers. Yet, not for once in their writings did they incite their followers in any way to revolt against the political establishment. At the prime of their ministerial engagements both were working under the reign of Emperor Nero (c.54-63 AD) who burned the Christians as torches for his nocturnal parties (see relevant sections in Tacitus).
The apostle Paul, for instance, in Romans 13 only charged the believers who were living in Rome clearly under Emperor Nero to respect the King and pay their taxes. This position was not of course induced by fear of persecution or by a blind submission to a bad ruler. Far from it! It was rather based on the biblical understanding that: (1) Political leaders whether good or bad in character were put there by God for the good of the believers; (2) Political leaders whether good or bad in the administration of their responsibilities are …servants of god… for the administration of justice in society. In other words, it is the divine responsibility of any government to uphold justice … to punish criminals and reward those who do good. Paul understood from the Old Testament that even the atheistic Persian King Cyrus was considered by God as his …messiah… for the purpose of liberating his people from Babylonian Captivity (Isaiah 45).
The same can be seen in the apostle Peter. Writing to a group of Christians who were suffering under the heat of the persecution of the Roman imperial power, he made the seemingly ludicrous charge upon his followers: …Be subject for the Lord…s sake to every human institution whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Fear God. Honor the emperor… (1 Peter 2). Again, there is no instruction here for a violent uprising against the existing political establishment. It is very unfortunate that these clear teachings of the Bible on how believers ought to relate to their political leaders have either being revised, reinterpreted or shunned as irrelevant to the contemporary situation by those ministers (and professed Christians) who supported the pro-democracy movement in the events leading up to 16/11. The simplest explanation that I can gather for this effort is that church ministers have either utterly and totally lost confidence in the God of the Bible, the God who is in control of the daily affairs of this world or they have completely lost confidence in the Bible as God…s word.
Once the Bible is set aside as the ultimate determiner of Truth, its place is bound to be occupied by the sinful inclinations of the human heart disguised as …God…s will… or some such rhetoric. Those who still profess belief in the Bible (as most probably all who congregated at Pangai Si…i on the 16/11) may have picked only on the passages that support their political predisposition and came down on those who think otherwise like a ton of bricks. I can imagine them majoring on the Old Testament prophets who spoke openly to their Kings against immorality and so forth. There is indeed a grain of truth here but it is dangerously half truth. Those prophets audibly heard the voice of God in a way which is no longer available to us in the contemporary situation. In other words, the mission of the Old Testament prophets was unique and none of us today can claim to walk in their shoes. The prophetic office prevails today through preaching Christ (1 Peter 1).
It is indeed ironic that Jesus, Peter and Paul all died under the repressive power of the Romans without any hint of invoking their followers to rise against their political leaders. How can this be? Are their characters still relevant for us today? Jesus of course asserted that his Kingdom is not of this world (John 18) meaning that the forces which he was confronting were not this-worldly in provenance, but were spiritual powers and principalities which can only be disarmed by him going to the cross. We must therefore shun all nonsensical talk of Jesus dying as a revolutionary leader under Roman hands. The best of what can be gathered from the Gospels in the Bible is that Jesus died in the place of a man called Barabbas who was indeed a political dissenter. Jesus who was clearly innocent of any such accusation was handed over to take the punishment of a rebel and died in his place. I must repeat … Jesus was no revolutionist.
Peter and Paul for their part died as a result of disobeying the Imperial Roman power. In striking contrast to anything we have faced in the Tongan situation, these apostles and their followers were forbidden to proclaim the Lord who so loved them that He died on their behalf. Choosing to obey the Lord instead of men, they accepted the punishment they deserved under Roman authority. They knew full well that since the Roman Emperor was God…s minister of justice on earth, they would be dealt with according to the Roman standard of justice at the time. However, in the case of the Roman Emperor fulfilling his divine commission (by executing them as wrongdoers), he would only be doing them both …good… … the …good… that the Lord Jesus has in view for them and for his true people. Paul firmly testifies to this in his final letter. Faced with one last chance before the Roman Emperor…s Court of Justice, he wrote, …The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever… (2 Timothy 4). This is the …good… that the Lord has in view for his faithful servants who minister steadfastly on His behalf even unto death under a bad ruler. It is His heavenly kingdom that He intends to bring them safely into. From their viewpoint, the persecuting power of the State becomes the very hand of God…s providence in taking them safely …home….
I suspect that most (if not all) of my fellow ministers and Christians in Tonga (especially those who were deeply involved in the instigation of 16/11) has lost any confidence in the biblical vision of the world to come. They have probably succumbed to the temptation not only to being in the world but also to being of the world. This is the most likely explanation I can give for ministers who were strongly behind the dreadful event of 16/11. With all due respect to them, they must be asked to leave the ministerial office to those who still maintain some confidence in the world to come. As an ordained minister, our ordination vows include the commitment to the Scriptures and upon that basis to speak out against any …false teaching… that might threaten to defile the church of God. We must therefore first address the materialism that has so possessed the ministers of the FWC Tonga for this is the symptom of a deeper problem in the church. This materialism has so obsessed the ministers of the FWC Tonga so much so that their spiritual achievements are now measured in terms of the amount of their parishioners… misinale and in how much church buildings or church halls that they (i.e. the ministers) constructed. As long as the FWC ministers focus on these things, they (myself included), sad to say, have clearly lost the plot. It is no wonder then they can become deeply involved in invoking the people to revolt against the political establishment in Tonga. It evidently shows that they are no longer concerned for the things of God but only for the things of men.
As church ministers, the charge laid upon us (let me remind you and our readers) is to pray for the existing government and for our political leaders that they come to have a living personal relationship with the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 2). We must be convinced by the Bible that the only radical change that could possibly happen in any department of life is the revolutionization of the human heart. As church ministers we are entrusted with the only tool that is able to bring about this much desired transformation … the gospel message of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We are called to build a …spiritual… house and not the multiplication of church buildings and church halls that for a generation from today may be emptied by our lack of confidence in the God of the Bible. We are called to store up treasures in heaven by our generosity and not to exploit our people for funds in order to fulfill our own selfish and unbiblical goals of making a name for ourselves at the expense of our parishioners… spiritual destiny.
I must also call on our parishioners to refrain from believing the lies which has long since been generated by church ministers that to give money to the church is to give money to God. This is absolutely wrong! God does not need our money for he owns everything in the universe. In fact, we don…t get any blessings for giving money to the church or even working for the church. Absolutely not! The only blessing we can ever have is received through a renewal of our submission to Jesus Christ our Lord to whom the Bible is the only reliable and truthful witness.
Perhaps 16/11 serves to reveal amongst numerous other things the fundamental failure of the ecclesiastical establishment in Tonga to fulfill what is expected of them, namely, to win souls, not for this denomination or for that one, but for the Lord Jesus and for the Kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, we must not treat them with total contempt especially when they preach the message of repentance. In fact, we must be thankful to God if they do so since at least for once they…ve got something right.
Rev. Dr. Ma‘afu Palu
m_palu [at] bigpond [dot] com