January 14, 2018

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session


Trial by Fire
Daniel 3:19-23, 26-28

Read this article as a Word Document

When I was a child this was one of my favorite Bible stories. There’s an evil king with a fiery furnace, a supreme act of heroic courage, and the good guys winning in the end. The heroes even have uber-cool names: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” What 10-year-old wouldn’t like this story?

Even as adults, the story appeals to our natural desire for a clear “evil” and an obvious “good.” You don’t have to get far into the Ten Commandments to know that bowing down to a 90-foot idol is probably a bad idea.

If only the idols of our world were so easy to identify. If only avoiding idolatry in our day and age were as straightforward (if still as demanding) as this story suggests.

One way into this story for us is to reflect on two ideas: civil religion and civil disobedience. Civil religion, as the study material notes, occurs when the state or its leaders take on the role of a god—demanding allegiance expressed in acts of devotion, grounded in a founding narrative, and reinforced with meaningful symbols and rituals. It isn’t difficult to spot these elements of civil religion in American or Canadian society.

Civil disobedience, particularly of the peaceful protest sort noted in the leader’s guide, is an appropriate Christian response to the idolatry of civil religion, especially when there is a clash of allegiances between God’s kingdom and the earthly kingdom in which we live. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, so we can thoughtfully and nonviolently, yet resolutely, refuse to participate in the civil religion of our day.

However, to be effective this refusal needs to be more than simply not saying some words about a flag. It requires us to examine the deeper, supporting structures of our nation’s particular brand of civil religion—the power imbalances in society, the ethnocentric nationalism, the coercive manipulation of truth, the belief in redemptive violence—and reflect on how we can challenge or even change these realities.

  • How specifically do you see civil religion in American or Canadian society?
  • How have we as Christians unthinkingly bought into this civil religion?
  • How does this lessen our allegiance to Jesus as Lord or weaken our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  • What specific steps can we take to challenge or even change the deeper structures that support American or Canadian civil religion?

—Michael Pahl, michael.mmc@outlook.com

© 2017

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

Order the current student and teachers guides here. To begin a subscription or ask about bulk pricing, call MennoMedia at 1-800-245-7894.

MennoMedia Herald Press Job Openings Donate Contact Us Staff Directory