August 28, 2014

Riots in the Street: a Biblical Perspective

by Jordan Standridge

In April of 1992, a jury found two white police officers “not guilty” for their conduct in the arrest of Rodney King a year earlier. The verdict sparked week-long riots in Los Angeles; at least 63 people were killed, 12,000 arrested, and one billion dollars of damage was done.

On May 3 (a Sunday), 1,000 US Marines and 600 soldiers were deployed to the streets of Los Angeles to supplement 6,500 National Guard troops already there.

It was the first Sunday since the riots had begun, and Grace Church (where John MacArthur was in his 23rd year as pastor) is only a few miles away from where the King beating took place. Already five people had been murdered in rioting only blocks from the church, and there were questions as to weather or not it would even be safe for the church to meet that day.

The church did meet, and MacArthur paused his normal sermon series, instead preaching a message titled:  The Los Angeles Riots: A Biblical Perspective.  

He began by saying:

The problem in our city is not lack of opportunity or lack of education. The problem in our city is not too much possessions, materialism. Those are only symptoms of a problem. The problem in our city is the problem of the wretchedness of the human heart. And nobody escapes that. It knows no race. It knows no color. It knows no location. It is pervasive. Sin is the degenerative and damning power in the human stream that pollutes every man and every woman and every part of life.

He went on to explain why pastors were in many cases part of the problem, not the solution:

We live in a city with churches on every street corner. But most of them don’t make any difference, any impact in their community at all. And as long as these people keep meeting, these reverends with no churches and these churches with no gospel, and as long as politicians and policemen and whoever else meet, presidents and congresses and councils, and try to solve the problem of man educationally or economically, they will never succeed. It cannot be solved there. It is not an environmental problem, it is a nature problem. It doesn’t come from the outside in, it comes from the inside out.

The main point of his message was essentially that the human heart is source of evil and rebellion, but God mitigates against this depravity through common grace. He establishes government to be an authority, and he establishes family to teach the importance of respecting authority.

But Los Angeles as a whole had experienced a culture of corruption in authority, and a culture that systematically dismantled the family, and thus any concept of respect for authority.

This resulted in the riots. But he went even more specific than citing a breakdown in civil authority and family discipline. He went on to identify 13 different causes that combined to make Los Angeles a city engulfed by violence. Last week someone encouraged me to listen to this message, and I did (you can too, here). Today I want to repost his 13 reasons—13 conditions in society that lead to racial riots:

  1. THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY OF LIVING FOR PLEASURE

He described Los Angeles as a society into cheap thrills, wanting mindless kicks. The entertainment culture created a people that don’t think deeply about issues because they are simply into fun, feelings, and pleasure. People that only live for highs and who take pleasure into wickedness. He pointed to 2 Peter 2:13 which says, “They count it pleasure to riot” and showed how that was what was happening in that day.

  1. THE TERRIBLE REALITY OF SELFISHNESS

Racism, stealing, and pride are all manifestations of selfishness. When athletes claim that they are “the greatest,” and people think that kind of declaration is noble, then it reflects how selfish society has become. This selfishness causes people to adopt a mindset that “I matter above everyone else.” This is why the Bible says that God hates pride (Prov 8:13).

When people become consumed with themselves, everyone else becomes a means of self-gratification. Only humble people can love, only humble people can truly care. So in a world consumed by pride (like the one James was writing to), the people need to be asked this question:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? What is it that causes riots and quarrels and fights and wars? Is not the source your pleasure that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have, so you commit murders. James 4:1-2

  1. THE EVIL OF MATERIALISM

We live in a society where things are more important than people, and so then it is only a matter of time before people become a means to an end. For someone to be able to go into a store, shoot someone just to steal a CD player, they must have a materialistic mindset.

  1. THE TRAGEDY OF AMORALITY

MacArthur said that the sexual revolution has caused more deaths than any other revolution in world history. People like Hugh Hefner have advocated sexually deviant lifestyles, which has caused people to accept pornography, violently sexual music, and nasty sexual conversation. We have a culture of people who have substituted their life for their glands, and when people live only for their next sex thrill. They become accustomed to sexual immorality which prepares them to become accustomed to violence.

  1. THE DANGER OF ANGER

The Bible forbids anger, and MacArthur pointed out that anger used to be considered a sin. Society used to find self-control socially valuable, and kids used to get spanked for not exercising it. But now people feel that they have the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want. They feel they should be allowed to vent their venom, hostility and anger.

But the truth, MacArthur reminded people, is that neither police nor citizens have a right to be angry (Eph 4:31, James 1:20, Ecc 7:9). Matthew 5:43 teaches that anger should always be replaced by prayer.

  1. THE DEADLINESS OF VENGEANCE

MacArthur said that:

The child of anger and hate is vengeance. A man strikes a policeman, a policeman strikes back. Then society strikes back. The police have to strike back. And pretty soon you have war. You can’t stop it. There is no place for vengeance, no matter what is done. It is a sin and it is a dominating sin and again it’s that same mentality. “I am the king of my universe, I have a right to anger, I have a right to hate, I have a right to pleasure, I have a right to fulfillment, and I have a right to possessions. And if you get in my way, I am going to give it to you.

MacArthur called everyone who was wronged in the riots to pray that God will forgive the transgressors through Jesus Christ.

  1. THE ABSENCE OF FORGIVENESS

We live in a world where if someone builds a fence six inches into their neighbor’s yard, the neighbor is as likely to kill them for it as they are to forgive them. MacArthur pointed out that this is so unlike Christ, who forgave the unforgivable.

  1. THE DIVISIVENESS OF PREJUDICE

Underneath these other causes is often the disease of prejudice, which God hates. But while God hates it, our society is loaded with it. Our society has essentially fabricated the concept of race, and then uses that to divide and sow hatred. This prejudice will rip, tear and shred families, neighborhoods, cities, nations. (Here is link to similar teaching by Pastor Anyabwile).

  1. THE LOSS OF RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY

MacArthur said that the amount of chaos seen in a riot can only be the result of a concerted effort to destroy a people’s confidence in law enforcement and the entire concept of law and order. The result of that effort will always be death and destruction [at this point—Sunday—the death toll of the riots had already passed 50]. He went on to say that causing people to disrespect those that bear the sword is a deadly sin, and when it becomes accepted in a culture, riots are not far behind. By the way, efforts to sow distrust in police ironically lead to the loss of freedom in the form of curfews and the military deployed in the streets [that Sunday was the first day that the Marines had been deployed in Los Angeles]. MacArthur called it a small taste of a society under police control (1 Peter 2:13-14).

10. THE DISASTER OF CIVIL REBELLION

If pride leads to murder, then disrespect leads to rebellion. MacArthur pointed out a causal connection: if you destroy respect, you encourage rebellion.

11. THE DECLINE IN SWIFT AND SEVERE PUNISHMENT

The loss of fear of punishment for wrongdoing is inextricably linked to our society’s disconnect between a crime and a punishment for that crime. The California culture had embraced slow justice, and thus slow punishment. In that world, the fear of punishment does not restrain crime or cause fear of evil [it had been over a year from the beating of Rodney King to the conclusion of the trial for the police involved].

12. THE EFFECT OF DRUNKENNESS

MacArthur made the point that drugs and alcohol have wrecked families, and more than any other sin are responsible for the destruction of our nation’s cities.

13. WEAK, IMPOTENT, FOOLISH, SELFISH AND SINFUL LEADERSHIP

MacArthur closed by asking this question:

Where are the great leaders? Where are the godly leaders? Where are the virtuous leaders? Where are the great moral men and women? Where are they? Hosea said, “Like people, like priests,” because they’ll never be any better than their leaders. And now we see it. The sins of the fathers have reached the third, the fourth generation.

You look at the society, what do you see? Lust for pleasure, self and things, sexual perversion, anger, hate, vengeance, unforgiveness, prejudice, lack of respect for authority, civil rebellion, drunkenness, weak, foolish, evil leadership that’s more concerned about politics than it is about morality.

Finally MacArthur warned about looking for secular solutions to these problems. He warned:

Nobody can escape, I don’t care if you’re black or white, I don’t care if you’re yellow or brown, or whatever of those simple colors represent the races of our world, nobody can escape the devastating power of his own sin, the wretchedness of the heart… I’ll tell you this, they may put the lid on it this week, but it will go off again. There’s only one thing that’s going to change it and that is the saving power of Jesus Christ. And my final word to you is this, you have an obligation in this society, my friend, if you’re a Christian and so do I and it is this, you are to live a godly life free from all these sins I have mentioned. You are to live a godly life free from these things. Secondly, you are to preach the only message that can transform the human heart, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what this world must hear if anything is to change.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is also the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion. You can find his personal blog at surrender.us.
  • Andrew

    This is a wonderfully helpful post (as was your last post). Keep up the good work.

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  • vinas46

    I heard this sermon one week back. What an honest sermon! Really edifying. Every Christian should hear this sermon before jumping into protests.

  • tovlogos

    Spot on, Jordan — However, law enforcement is also made up of human beings. Civil disobedience is wrong, period. Nevertheless it doesn’t help that the legal system can be as corrupt as the people they judge.
    Yes, Romans 13 refers governments as minister of God, effectively, which does not mean by any stretch of the of the imagination that the government is “good,” as is. Yet to resist “authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (verse 2). For the true believer in Jesus it a question of obedience to God.
    Is jurisprudence corrupt the the hilt? Obviously; but God puts up with that as He did with the Assyrians, Philistines, Babylonians, etc. who were used to buffet Israel; since they couldn’t understand faith through grace. The same applies today.
    I am therefore glad you began this essay with the root cause of evil.
    Mark 4:39 can be seen as a micro illustration of the “thorns and thistles.” There was God Himself in the flesh; and everyone panicked because of the natural disturbances. God scolded the wind and sea like spoiled children; and every one was calm. Does the world constantly refresh itself with God’s words? Certainly not. Will Jesus even find faith on the earth when He returns?

  • pearlbaker

    Oh, how I remember those tumultuous days in 1992. I was living in the L.A. area during those riots, glued to the television, fearing for my safety. The reason I was so afraid is that I was not saved until the next year, 1993. The year after that, 1994, I began my career in law enforcement. Only by the grace of God, the next year 1995, I became a member of Grace Community Church. It was then, under the leadership of our beloved John MacArthur that I understood what you have put forth in this article. I saw plenty of room for improvement in my police department, perfect by no means, but I learned early, and was humbled by, the words of Romans 13:1-5. Those words were never intended to give the government a distorted sense of authoritarian lordship over the people, they were to remind the people (and the officers of the law for that matter) Who the ultimate Authority is and that He has placed those He designated into positions of executing His authority. Woe to the transgressor and woe to the officer of the law if they both do not humble themselves before God. I like Matthew Henry’s comment on Romans 13:1-7: “The grace of the gospel teaches us submission and quiet, where pride and the carnal mind only see causes for murmuring and discontent. Whatever the persons in authority over us themselves may be, yet the just power they have, must be submitted to and obeyed. In the general course of human affairs, rulers are not a terror to honest, quiet, and good subjects, but to evil-doers. Such is the power of sin and corruption, that many will be kept back from crimes only by the fear of punishment. Thou hast the benefit of the government, therefore do what thou canst to preserve it, and nothing to disturb it. This directs private persons to behave quietly and peaceably where God has set them, 1Ti 2:1,2. Christians must not use any trick or fraud. All smuggling, dealing in contraband goods, withholding or evading duties, is rebellion against the express command of God. Thus honest neighbours are robbed, who will have to pay the more; and the crimes of smugglers, and others who join with them, are abetted. It is painful that some professors of the gospel should countenance such dishonest practices. The lesson here taught it becomes all Christians to learn and practise, that the godly in the land will always be found the quiet and the peaceable in the land, whatever others are.”

    • Thank you, Pearl, for your service!

      • pearlbaker

        🙂

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  • Excellent!

  • russel

    Just a question. I don’t have a response afterwards and neither am I trying to start a fight. By the way, I’m white, not that it matters but I just don’t want to appear as if my question has ulterior motives. My question is did John ever preach on the Rodney King incident at all?

    I don’t know.

    Thanks

    • Jordan Standridge

      Not sure. I was six years old in 1992. I think the message is pretty balanced though, I don’t think it was targeted at any particular race, but just to the heart of every human being.

    • Hi Russel,

      He did an EXCELLENT sermon when the riots were happening here: (edit: as linked in the OP 🙂
      http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-104?Term=riots

      Also, you might be interested to read (or watch) John’s accounting of his time in Mississippi when MLK was murdered, and what came of some of the men he fellowshipped with: http://www.intellicast.com/Local/Forecast.aspx?location=USMN0138 I was blown away when I first heard this!

      • elainebitt

        The intellicast link goes to the weather forecast. =)

        • Haha! Oh dear…hate when a link sticks in queue like that! Thanks for the head up, Elaine ;p

  • brad

    I am curious why Grace Community hasn’t been a blessing to the community or caused much change there?

    • Jordan Standridge

      Hey Brad if it’s ok I’ll answer a different question.
      How has Grace Community been a blessing to their community?
      A while back Macarthur asked those who live within 5 miles of the Church to stand up and over half the people in there stood up (over 1500 people). So I guess I would say that thousands of people have been born again through the faithful preaching of the word and the faithful evangelism of the saints. I guess I might gauge success by souls in heaven more than belly’s fed.

      • pearlbaker

        Thank God Almighty for Grace Community Church standing as a pillar of truth in a community which contains one of the hugest most grotesque Buddhist temples – right down the street from GCC, a huge Foursquare mega-church with two campuses and an even bigger seeker- friendly mega-church a few miles away. GCC could have pulled up its roots and moved to a much more lovely area with much more affluent residents, less crime and less grime. But there it stands, available to all, so many hurting, so many in need. There it stands, year after year, teaching the truth of God’s Word and right and sound doctrine. It is my personal opinion that there is no place like GCC on earth let alone the little community of Sun Valley/Panorama City. I praise God for allowing GCC to grow and prosper, to serve the local community and the world.

    • Eric Davis

      Wow, Brad. Here we are again. Unfortunately your shameful comment is no surprise.

      So, let me ask you: How do you define “blessing” or “cause change”? You must be defining it some other way than Scripture b/c the arrogance of your question is only surpassed by the ignorance. But let me ask you, when was the last time you hung out with the faithful people in the Grace Community Korean outreach, or Arabic outreach, or jail outreach, or the neighborhood outreach, or the Thai or Mission outreach? When was the last time you hung out with the several hundred college students and asked them what God has done in their lives and how they are reaching out to their campuses? When was the last time you chatted with the faithful servants in the special needs or deaf ministry? And sat down with the countless families to hear about how their marriages were put back together by the powerful grace of Christ at GCC? And took a stroll through the youth ministry to hear how scores of children, younger and older, have come to faith in Christ there? And have you been down to the USC medical center to see how the Spanish & English-speaking outreaches faithfully pour their lives out at the hospital there? And when was the last time you had a sit down with the congregation to hear the real-life stories of how the nearly 5 decades of faithful exposition has been a blessing to them and caused change, by God’s grace?

      The blessing which God has brought through that church is incalculable, Brad. Please think carefully about what you are saying. And please, friend, you need to repent of this condescending pattern which characterizes your comments all too often.

      • Allen

        AMEN!!! AMEN!!!! AND AMEN!!!!!!! Just because Grace humbly doesn’t promote what they do doesn’t mean things aren’t getting done!!! AMEN!!!!! YOU DIRECTED THAT TO BRAD BUT THAT WAS ENCOURAGING TO ME!!!! THANK YOU!!!! AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Allen

      I don’t know about that Jordan. I’m not sure about the over 1500 standing being a sign of a blessing to a community. Numbers can be tricky. There are a plethora of reasons why people attend church that have absolutely nothing to do with Christ or the gospel. There is no way Jeremiah would have 1500 stand but his ministry was still a blessing to their surrounding community. The Lord informed Ezekiel the people are listening to you but their is absolutely no change in them. Brad, I would point you to 2nd Cor. 12:6b. Just listen to John, or Phil, or for example when my church was in a storm I called Grace and they directed me to Jim Pile who’s practical and biblical advice was essential in a very complex, tumultuous situation.

      I want to point you also to Jordan, Lyndon, Jesse, Mike and Nathan. Just go back and read their older posts. Even when attacked they respond patiently. Read Lyndon’s eschatology post and comments. If he felt he was wrong in information or attitude he readily apologized. PEOPLE DON’T NORMALLY DO THAT. Particularly, from a wide read blog.

      John Macarthur is far from perfect. I do to a degree understand your question. Could he and Grace do more in the community? I’m quite sure we all could do more in our community, Brad. you and I included friend. However, listen to his older sermons from the 70’s before Grace could boast on numerical statistics and listen to his sermons today. Same integrity. Same passion for truth. Same love for Christ. Same with the men here on this blog. I’ve been frequenting this blog for years now. Nothing but consistency rather from Jordan or Jesse or Lyndon.

      Thank you for this post Jordan. I am concerned however, how much pulpit time is spent on addressing the sin of rioting. While remaining silent on the expressed direct causes (rather real or perceived) of any riot. I am well aware that Absalom’s rebellion originated with David’s sin in regards to Uriah and his wife. However, the lack of acting justly when Absalom killed his brother or set Joab’s field on fire, did not help. Basically what I am saying is whatever you permit will increase. Plain and simple.

      If the threat is real….It should be addressed from the pulpit. If the threat is perceived…….It should be addressed from the pulpit. If the threat is both, real and perceived…..That also should be addressed. Absalom with all his injustice wanted to be addressed by the King. He didn’t get the audience until he set the field on fire. I’m not advocating rioting. I would like us as ministers of the gospel to address certain issues before, right or wrong, the field is set on fire and we’re regulated to playing Monday Morning Quarterback.

      Thank you for your post and service Jordan.

  • What an excellent breakdown of this message…I recently listened and I’ll be saving this article, thanks!

  • Thanks, Jordan. I love the last paragraph.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Good points all. But I wonder: Would we have ever had a Civil Rights movement, would we still have “white only” and “colored only” signs at water fountains, diners, and bathrooms all over America if Rosa Parks had said to herself that day in 1955, “I must obey the law; I’ll just give up my seat”? In fact, would America even exist if colonists hadn’t said something similar? The argument can be made that to have been truly obedient in either case would have changed history, and not for the better.

    Perhaps the larger question is, Does God even use man’s rebellion to bring about justice?