Preparing for Social Collapse

If the economic crisis gets really bad, the fabric of some societies will be torn apart. If work gets scarce unemployed people might start rioting and looting. If the government runs out of money, it might stop paying the police. In the worst case scenario, gangs of youths might roam streets of the city terrorising the population. The city would be a dangerous place, but the country would be no better. If food is scarce, hungry hoards might trample the countryside searching for something to eat. Personal security would be a big issue.

I am not that pessimistic. Very few western countries will experience social chaos and mob rule as a result of this economic crisis. The powers that be will simply not let it happen. Troops have already been deployed in many countries ready to prevent riots and looting. When faced with a choice between disruption of their comfort and dictatorial government, the people of the West have voted consistently for their comfort. We are more likely to see autocratic governments than mob rule in the West. Repressive governments will not be a threat to Christians, as they will mostly ignore us, unless we become an irritant.

In some parts of the world however, where governments are less secure, economic crisis might collapse into social and economic chaos. Christians living in these nations would be wise to prepare. To assist their preparation, I will examine the scriptural teaching about protection in times of social chaos.

Another reason this teaching is important is that the whole world is moving towards the next epochal event in history called the time of desolation. This short season leads to a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a powerful advance for the Kingdom of God, but it will be a time of terrible dislocation. All Christians should be thinking about how they can prepare for this season.

God Protects in Many Ways

Our immediate response to thoughts of social crisis is that God will protect us. This is true. The scriptures are full of promises that God will protect his children.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble (Ps 46:1).

I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust." (Ps 91:2)

Every Christian should meditate on these promises.

We should also be careful, because saying that “God is our defence” is a bit like saying “God will provide”. We need to put some content around these statements, or they just become wishful thinking. God sometimes works miracles, but he mostly provides and protects us through other people. To obtain his full protection, we must understand how he protects his people. The scriptures show several ways that this will work in practice.

1. Prayer

Prayer is essential for protection from evil. When Peter was thrown into prison, the church prayed all night.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him (Acts 12:5).

When Paul and Barnabas were in prison, they spent the night praying.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25)

In times of chaos and crisis prayer is our best weapon.

2. Miracles

God will sometimes work a miracle to protect his people. He parted the Red Sea to protect the children of Israel (Ex 14). This option will be relatively rare. We cannot just assume that God will send a miracle, but should understand the full range of ways that God works.

3. Angels

Angels sometimes provide protection for God’s people. Elisha opened the eyes of his servant to see the multitude of angels that were protecting them

Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17).

Peter was released from prison by an angel (Acts 12:6-10).

4. Natural Events

God can manipulate natural events to protect his people. He sent a plague to destroy Sennacherib’s army.

That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (2 Kings 19:35-36).

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi, an earthquake shook open the doors of the prison. They did not take the opportunity to escape, but God used the earthquake to get them set free (Acts 16:25-28).

5. Good Guidance

Getting good guidance will be really important in a time of crisis. When Paul was on a Roman ship in the middle of a terrible storm, God showed him a dream what would happen. He encouraged the soldiers and sailors.

Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:23-25).

The solders and sailors listened to Paul, because he knew what was going on and what to do. They followed his instructions and protected Paul’s life. If Christians have insights into what is going on, they may be able to influence hostile leaders. This might be important for their protection.

During a crisis, Christians should seek guidance from God. Doing God’s will is the best protection in every season. Being at the centre of his will is the safest place. Joseph was able to protect his family, because he knew what to do. God spoke to him in a dream to provide the guidance that he needed.

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him" (Matt 2:13)

6. Wisdom

Wisdom will find the safest options. Moses was born in a hostile nation. His mother hid him in a place where Pharaohs daughter would find him.

So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses (Ex 2:9-10).

Moses was protected in the royal palace, because his mother was wise.

7. Small Groups Together

Christians are called to be salt and light in the world.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house (Matt 5:14-15)

Withdrawing to a place of safety must be a last resort, because we would be putting a lamp under a bowl when it should be shining into the darkness.

We face the challenge of living in the world, while being protected from it. This was easy while we were the dominant culture in Western society. We could expand our influence by spreading across society. Unfortunately, that world has changed and we have now become a small minority in a hostile world. We are now spread too thin to impact our culture and are too isolated to keep each other safe. Isolation in suburbia is dangerous when society collapses.

Once Christians could live anywhere and be safe. We now need to think much more strategically about where are live. The best way to keep safe, without losing visibility is for a group of Christians to live together in the same neighbourhood. If four or five families lived in close proximity to each other, their lives would be open to the people living around them, while being protected by the bonds between them.

About twenty houses in and around A Street have Christians living in them (shaded grey). Some moved into the area, but a few lived there before they became Christians.

There are fifty houses in the neighbourhood, so the neighbourhood has not been swamped by Christian, but they have sufficient presence to have an influence. Those living amongst them will see Christianity in action.

Living close to people we trust will strengthen our security. The people living in homes near the entrance from D Street could take responsibility for warning the rest of the community of coming trouble. The Christians could join together to stand against those who want to harm them. When they go out of their community, they could travel together to ensure their safety. If thinks got really bad, they could throw up barrier at the entrance to A Street to keep intruders out. Those living outside could move inside for a time.

During a time of crisis, giving and sharing will be much easier for people who live near to each other. Living in the right place will be vital, while isolation in suburbia could mean separation from those who can care and share with us. People who have never heard the gospel might choose to live among the Christians in this community, because it is a safe and secure place to live.

8. Selling Property

When a time of crisis is drawing near, God will tell some Christians to sell their property. After Pentecost, Christians living in Jerusalem sold their land.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36-37).

These people had heard Jesus prophecy (Matt 24:1-35) that Jerusalem would be destroyed. They knew that the day was coming when there property would be worthless, so they sold out while the market was still good. They used their money to provide food for people who had lost their income during a tumultuous time.

During unsettled times, some Christians will be lead to sell their property while it still has value. Some will use the money to provide assistance to those who are destitute. Others might some use the proceeds to buy a home that is closer to other believers. The objective is not to protect our property, but to use our property strategically to protect God’s people.

9. Christian Friends

A group of Christian people, standing together, praying and watching out for each other may be able to resist some evil.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place (Acts 2:1)

One hundred and twenty disciples were standing in one place. This made it quite difficult for the Jewish leaders to attack them. They were safe while they stayed together. The Upper Room was the safe place from which the church launched its rapid growth.

Every Christians should have a group of friends who will gather together to stand against evil. Paul was kept safe in Damascus and then Jerusalem (Acts 9) because he had other believers who watched out for him. Jeremiah had friends who took a stand and kept him safe (Jer 37,38).

Geography is important for spiritual warfare. Christians living in isolation will be outvoted spiritually in their locality. In contrast, a dozen Christians living the same neighbourhood will be able to unite in prayer to drive out the enemy and make their locality a spiritual stronghold for the Lord.

10. Neighbours

Most of the people living in suburbia hardly know their neighbours. During a time of social collapse, good relationships with neighbours will be essential. Christians can prepare for challenging times by developing strong relationships with their neighbours. This will be easier, if there are a number of Christians in the neighbourhood.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

When organising the security of their neighbourhood, Christians will need to draw in other people that they trust, so that they can contribute their skills and resources to the common cause.

11. Boldly Proclaim of the Gospel

In many situations, audacious proclamation of the gospel may be the best form of defence. When Peter and John were released from prison, they gathered together with some disciples to pray. They did not pray that God would hide them, but that he would equip them to proclaim the truth boldly.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:27-31).

Attack is often the best defence (in a spiritual sense). The disciples responded to persecution by proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick. If God’s people are healing the sick and releasing the captives, hostility will often disappear.

12. Hiding in Secret

In some situations, hiding in a quiet place may be a sensible option. If a city is in an uproar, just keeping out of sight until things die down might be the best protection. Two days after the crucifixion, the disciples were hiding behind closed doors in an upper room.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" (John 20:19).

Jesus did not condemn the disciples for hiding, but offered them peace. He had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit, so keeping their heads down made sense.

We should think strategically about where we live. A house on a busy public street might be a dangerous place to live. Those living in wealthy suburbs might be setting themselves up as unnecessary targets. Living in a small side street where the entrance can be closed off with a couple of cars might be a safer option. Christians should live where God wants them to be, but they should also think about where they will go during a temporary disruption of their city.

We do not always have to be heroes. Hiding from trouble might be the best option, if the crisis will be temporary.

13. Hiding Key People

Some of God’s people will have a role in hiding others from trouble. Obadiah was a key person in the court of Ahab. He hid a hundred prophets to protect them from the hostility of Jezebel.

Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD. While Jezebel was killing off the LORD's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water (1 Kings 18:3,4).

This was a short-term solution, as these people could only be kept hidden for a limited time. Obadiah was willing to risk his life, because he thought strategically. He knew these people would have an important role to play once the current troubles were over, so he protected them to strengthen his nation’s future.

Athaliah was the wicked mother of a king, who used violence to seize control of her nation. Jehosheba and some priests acted strategically to thwart her plans.

When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse … for six years while Athaliah ruled the land (2 Kings 11:1-3).

During this temporary hiccup in the life of the nation, going into hiding for a short time made sense. Wise, brave people made this possible.

14. Positions of Authority

Christians in positions of authority may be able to use their influence to protect people from unnecessary harm. When Paul was shipwrecked on Malta, Publius the chief official of the island cared for Paul after his father had been healed.

They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed (Acts 28:10).

Christians should be open to God placing them in positions of authority where they can use their authority to do good in times of trouble. Many Christians would assume that Obadiah had compromised when he accepted a key position in Ahab’s evil government.

Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. (1 Kings 18:3).

Yet God used Obadiah to protect many of his people. We should not be ashamed to take positions of influence in evil governments, if that is God’s purpose. God may put Christians in high places to protect his people.

15. Honest Officials

Paul was protected several times by honest gentile officials.

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city (Acts 16:38,39).

The town clerk of Ephesus protected him from a riot (Acts 19:28-41). Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to get protection from Gentiles rulers when he thought they might protect him. For example, he appealed to a Roman centurion when his life was under threat

As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it….. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains (Acts 22:23-30).

While in Corinth, Paul was protected by Gallio the proconsul of Achaia.

While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court…. So Gallio had them ejected from the court (Acts 18:12,16).

Christian lawyers will use legal means to protect people who are being persecuted by hostile governments or dishonest leaders. They should study the law to find ways to protect Christians in trouble.

16. Fleeing Trouble

Paul often fled a city when trouble was stirred up.

They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium (Acts 13:50-51).

There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country (Acts 14:5-6).

They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe (Acts 14:19-20).

When social chaos is confined, fleeing trouble is a sensible response.

17. Migration

In some situations, migration may be the best option. Jacob found protection by moving away from Esau. Jacob found protection from a famine by migrating to Egypt (Gen 46:5-7). The problem with this option is that migrants can be treated badly. Jacob was cheated by his Uncle Laban. The Egyptians eventually enslaved the children of Israel. Christians should only migrate to escape trouble, if they have clear guidance from God. Migration from the frying pan to the fire is not wise.

Jesus family migrated to Egypt to escape the persecution of King Herod.

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod (Matt 2:14).

Jesus was kept safe, when all other children were being slaughtered.

18. Powerful Benefactors

God will sometimes raise up a powerful benefactor to protect people who have migrated to another country. Joseph was rescued from prison by Pharaoh (Gen 41). Nehemiah was protected by Artaxerxes king of Persia. Joseph and Nehemiah were raised up by political leaders who recognised their wisdom, diligence and honesty in the way they fulfilled their calling. This suggests that Christians should always be diligent and honest when doing their work, especially if they are working for people with power and influence. If Joseph had been bitter, twisted and lazy, God might not have been able to protect him.

Depending on a powerful benefactor can be risky. The Egyptians eventually turned against Joseph’s descendants. Martin Luther was protected by Fredrick the Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony. Luther gained freedom to proclaim the gospel, but he had to compromise on political issues. When trusting powerful protectors, Christians should be careful that they do not compromise God’s standards.

19. Caring for the Poor

As society falls apart, Christians should ramp up their efforts in caring for the poor and homeless. The best way to deal with evil is to resist it with love.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).

Opportunities for helping people in trouble will abound. Rather than running away, Christians should be there to meet the need.

20. Prophetic Confrontation

Christian prophets will confront the people and power wrecking evil against the people of the land. They will expose evil at all level of government and society. Even as the leaders of Israel were fleeing into exile in Egypt, Jeremiah continued to bring God’s word against them. He spoke these words to the escaping military leaders.

"I have heard you," replied Jeremiah the prophet. "I will certainly pray to the LORD your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the LORD says and will keep nothing back from you." (Jer 42:4).

During a time of social collapse, Christian prophets should speak God’s word against those who are causing the chaos.

21. Christian Enclaves

In rare situations where the social order has completely collapsed, Christians might need to get together in enclaves for protection. This should be a last resort, but history shows that minority groups can survive in a hostile culture by establishing an enclave in which to protect their culture.

An enclave is not the same as a ghetto. In political geography and diplomacy, an “enclave” is a territory whose geographical boundaries lie entirely within the boundaries of another territory. An enclave become a ghetto, if the population is inward looking and shaped by fear, but it does not have to be that way. An enclave can also be a stronghold or beachhead from which influence pushes out into the surrounding area.

Forming an enclave is not defeatist, but is a sensible strategy. Every general knows that a city cannot be won by single spreading soldiers throughout the city. Establishing a beachhead in a strategic locality and then expanding outward is a very effective way to take a city. An army takes a city by concentrating its power where the enemy is weak and then expanding out street by street and neighbourhood by neighbourhood. That is an excellent strategy for God’s people.

David established an enclave near the cave of Adullam, well outside Saul’s sphere of influence.

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him. (1 Sam 22:1,2)

David was able to form a community that lived by his values and standards. He formed an army of mighty men, which eventually destroyed Saul’s huge army (2 Sam 23). David pushed out from this base and eventually established his kingship over all Israel.

In the chaos that follows the total collapse of social structures, forming a Christian enclave might be the only viable alternative, but these situations will be rare for Christians in the western world. Numerous small groups spread throughout the community will generally be a better option.

22. Weapons

When Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked his disciples if they had any weapons.

Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" Nothing," they answered.

He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one….The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That is enough," he replied (Luke 22:35,36,38).

This is an intriguing passage. Jesus reminded disciples that they did not take weapons when he sent them out on a mission. Even when going into hostile territory, they did not take weapons of defence. Paul confirmed this practice, as he never produced a weapon when he ended up in some messy situations. He was willing to take a hiding for the gospel. Jesus will not establish his kingdom with physical power, so those who are at the forefront of the kingdom expansion must not carry weapons. This ensures that the power of the gospel is never confused or contaminated with military force.

The situation after the Lord’s Supper was different. They were not on a mission, but waiting for something to happen. The opposition was attacking By checking that they had weapons, Jesus seems to indicating that defence would be appropriate in this situation. If this interpretation is correct, weapons can be used when protecting a community from hostile attack. A group of Christian men can use force to protect their families from attack.

There are several limitations to this principle:

  1. Jesus said that two swords among twelve men was enough. He was not starting a war. Two swords would be enough scare off half a dozen attackers, but not much more. This passage only allows a couple of weapons to provide defence against a limited attack.

  2. When a large crowd “armed with swords and clubs” came against Jesus and disciples, he refused to allow them to fight (Matt 26:47). When outnumbered by opposing forces, there is no point in getting into a brawl. It is better to surrender than to start a pointless fight (Luke 15:31-32). Using weapons for defence is permissible, but wise heads will prefer not to use them. The will not engage in futile fighting.

    If the government is doing the terrorising, as happens in many places, resistance will be pointless, because the power of a militaristic government is usually unbeatable.

  3. The sword the disciples had was a “marcharia”, which is short sword or dagger designed for defence. It is quite different from the “romphaia”, the sword carried symbolically by the king on the white horse (Rev 19:21). The latter was a sabre or broad sword designed for attack in an offensive war. Jesus was not giving his disciples to permission to carry offensive weapons like AK47s. He only gave his disciples permission to carry weapons that are intended for defence (a small gauge shotgun).

  4. The entire group must be in agreement that the use of weapons is appropriate.

    When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" (Luke 22:49).

    This was a good question. Before drawing weapons, each person should get agreement with from the rest of the his group. One of Jesus crew did not wait for consensus.

    And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear (Luke 22:50).

    John records Peter as the one who drew the sword. Jesus rebuked him. There must be consensus in the group before weapons are used.

  5. When Christians are sending out apostles, or going into the world to heal the sick or proclaim the gospel, all weapons should be left behind.

  6. This passage is not a justification for survivalism. Heading for the hills with a stash of food and cache of weapons is a recipe for irrelevance. Christians should focus on life in the city, because that is where most people live. Our hope is city, not an idyllic rural paradise (Rev 21:2). Our challenge is to develop lifestyles that are viable in a city, whether peaceful or violent.

A group of Christians who have gathered together in a house or neighbourhood to protect themselves from violent gangs or marauding mobs should have a couple of weapons. This might be enough to scare off an attacking gang or a single intruder, but they should not engage in a battle with a large mob.

If their society collapses and official defence forces cease to be effective, groups of people might need to come together to protect their city from external attack.

Conclusion

I have described twenty-two tools for security during the collapse of a society. The options chosen will depend on the circumstances faced. Some will not be needed unless the situation gets terribly desperate. Christians should seek God’s guidance before deciding on their response to impending crisis.

The book Being Church Where We Live describes a way of doing church that will allow Christians to be be effective during a time of econonomic or social collapse.