Question or Topic
Is it right that brothers and sisters should sign petitions to the authorities?
In our view, it is not possible to give a simple answer to this question because it depends on the purpose of the petition and the circumstances under which it has been issued. As a general principle, we believe that it is necessary to observe, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (2 Timothy 2:4) If the petition relates to the "affairs of this life," we believe it is generally wise to abstain from involvement, lest we be entangled thereby. "The affairs of this life" might include such things as to whether or not a new road is to be built, a garbage dump relocated, a zoning change enacted in the neighborhood, a hospital closed, the water supply fluoridated, and so on. Even though our personal temporal position may be affected by the decision to be taken, it is the general principle of Scripture that we should not be concerned with the things that Gentiles seek after.
If, on the other hand, the petition concerns the well being of a brother or sister in need, in view of their position before the authorities, we believe the example of the apostle Paul may be relied on. There are two circumstances in which Paul sought the advantage of the protection of the judicial system of the Romans. The first occurred when his sister's son told him of the conspiracy to kill him and he directed the young man to share his intelligence with the chief captain.
"And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him." (Acts 23:16,17)
When Paul continued to be imprisoned by the Roman authorities in Judea, and was denied the process of justice in order to curry favour with the Jews, Paul made his appeal before Festus:
"Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. 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 25:10-12)
Both of these cases may be viewed as individual petitions to the authorities to serve justice on the needs of one who was suffering wrongfully as a Christian. If a brother or sister was in jail because of taking a stand as a conscientious objector and it was in our power to write on their behalf to seek their release and testify to their character, would it not only be our prerogative but also our duty in Christ? "Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."(Matthew 25:39-40)
Therefore, it is our conclusion that discernment must be exercised as to when petitions should and should not be signed; and the general basis of discerning is whether they concern "the affairs of this life" or the needs of Christ's brethren.