A Christian's loyalty ultimately rests in God. A Christian recognizes God's sovereignty in their lives over human governments, administrations, organizations, or any other form of authority. Throughout history this has placed God's followers at odds with many of man's institution. Worldly men are always striving for influence over other men. Whether it is through social status, governmental institutions, or religious authority men are always placing themselves in a position where they are able to exert influence and control over others. When man’s influence over others is obstructed because of a peoples’ recognition of God’s authority man will often coerce, persecute, or manipulate God’s people to eliminate their recognition of God’s sovereignty. The Bible has many examples of this taking place. In the book of Esther a plot was developed to destroy the Jews because Mordecai would not bow down to a Medo-Persian official, Haman. When Haman made his case to King Ahasuerus that the Jews should be destroyed he said:
“There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain."(Esther 3:8 NKJV)
The Jews' law was different than the empire’s law. It recognized a different authority than the king of the Medo-Persian Empire. Haman saw in Mordecai's refusal to bow to him that the Jews' allegiance was ultimately to God, not to the empire and not to his authority. This infuriated him and he wanted the Jews killed.
Destruction of Gods people is not the only method man has used to suppress Gods influence on His people. Man has also been successful at accomplishing this through manipulation. Consider what happens in 1 Kings 12 after the nation of Israel split into between the northern tribes (retaining the name Israel) and southern tribes (called Judah). The southern kingdom retained the Holy City of Jerusalem within its boundaries. This greatly concerned the king of the northern kingdom, Jeroboam, because his people would be returning to Jerusalem. These are his words from 1 Kings 12:26&27:
And Jer-o-bōam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: “If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rē-ho-bōam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rē-ho-bōam king of Judah.”
He was worried his people returning to the temple would cause them to turn their hearts back to Rehoboam. He was worried about losing his influence and authority over his people because their devotion to their God would lead them back to Jerusalem. Jeroboam's solution was to build golden calves in the northern kingdom for his people to worship. In 1 Kings 12:28 it says:
Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!”
In order to maintain his influence over the people he manipulated his populace by providing them with his false gods to worship - Here are your Gods, O Israel. And he did not stop there. He created a new priesthood, established new feasts, and burnt offerings on the alters of the calves. This was all done so he could continue to maintain influence and control over the people.
These attempts to manipulate people into recognizing man as the ultimate authority in their lives as opposed to God have continued throughout history. Even after the recorded Bible history reveals men positioning themselves among other men so they are looked to as the ultimate authority. Just as Jeroboam did, men have created church offices and governmental positions and proclaimed them to be 'ordained' by God. Leaders were put in place over the 'church' and were proclaimed to be infallible, speaking with the authority of God. For hundreds of years kings based the authority of their lineage on divine right and claimed divine authority. The people believed they were ultimately subject to God so men of power positioned themselves between the people and God. These actions were all done so they could exert influence and control over men.
Does this continue to happen today? Does the world continue to coerce and manipulate those who recognize God as the ultimate authority? I would argue, yes it does continue to happen. Thankfully, in this day we are protected by our nation’s laws from physical persecution. As things stand today in the United States the church does not have to fear a persecution like the Jews in Esther had to face or the early Christians had to face. However, we would be foolish to think that men are not striving to have control over our lives and more importantly our minds. There are still men in this world who proclaim to have divine authority from God. There are still men in this world who manipulate people for influence and their own financial gain. There are also those outside of the church who are bent on belittling Christianity. They identify Christian beliefs as antiquated, intolerant, and label Christians closed minded followers of an outdated religion. There are even those who attempt to change the church, conform it to world, and make it more "inclusive."
Please realize, these actions are all about exerting influence and control. It has nothing to do with promoting truth. The people who proclaim divine authority are ultimately after power. The people who belittle Christianity are seeking to legalize and legitimize their immoral behavior. The people who change the church to make it more inclusive are trying to broaden their influence and avoid being alienated from the world. I think we need to examine our lives from time to time to see if we are looking to God as the ultimate sovereign. It is far too easy to fall into these traps. It took Jeroboam two golden calves to distract his people from the will of God. We need to ask ourselves - is it God's will that we are following or has something else gotten in the way?