With the recent death of John Allen Chau, the internet erupted with many different reactions. Some news pages simply stated the facts as they knew them and moved on. Some painted a picture of just another white colonialist out to make the world more white American. Some in the evangelical world praised him as a Martyr, a hero, and someone to be modeled. Some said he was an idiot and stupid. The following is my humble take on the matter as I ask several important questions like: What is the great commission? When is it ok to break the law in regards to the gospel? What is the kingdom of God and are we responsible for its advancement? What exactly happened on that island that got John killed? Was he truly a martyr?
These are big questions and I must tread carefully. I will also state that due to time and space, I cannot be exhaustive in this undertaking though I hope to be thorough.
First off I must relay my condolences to the Chau family. I am a father of four and cannot imagine losing one of my children to natural or unnatural causes. So although I will be frank and will not mince words, I will not in any way question or deride John’s character, or doubt his belief in God and what he was trying to do.
What do we know about John?
Chau, 26/27(reports have both), was from southwestern Washington state, where he attended Vancouver Christian High School. He went on to graduate from Oral Roberts University, a Christian college in Oklahoma, in 2014, with a degree in health and exercise science. While there, he worked with the university's missions and outreach department.
"I have never known a more courageous, selfless, compassionate man and friend," said Bobby Parks, the department's former director. "John lived and gave his life to share the love of Jesus with everyone.” (us news and world reports)
By all accounts, John was an incredible individual. Skilled, courageous and lover of our Messiah.
Now I want to be careful not speculate as much as possible and to not make assumptions so I will tread carefully regarding the events of that fateful day. I will examine them and then do my best with the utmost of courtesy to preset my arguments with respect.
From what I have been able to read from John’s diary and other’s statements about his actions as I said before he was a courageous man. He had spent approximately 7 years gathering what information he could about a small Island off the coast of India called North Sentinel Island, which is home to perhaps the most secluded and aggressive group of natives the world. I have personally been fascinated by these people and island for years as I am sure many others have been for their particular aggressive nature and protected status by the Indian government.
It is important to note that the island is protected by law from anyone going there for any reason so that these people are not exposed to harmful bio-agents that most of us are immune to, but could wipe out their entire population in a matter off days. In fact, once an elderly couple and children were taken from the island to the mainland. The older couple died within days after becoming ill and the younger inhabitants were taken back to the island for fear of them becoming ill and dying as well.
A few incidents: (times of India)
• In 1967, the Indian government initiated contact with Sentinelese in association with anthropologist T. N. Pandit. They tried extending a hand of friendship by leaving gifts for the tribe and beckoning them. However, the tribesmen would turn their backs on the government delegates and sit on their haunches in a defecating posture. This gesture was obviously meant to insult.
• Again, in March 1970, when Pandit’s team made another attempt to befriend the Sentinelese, the tribesmen hurled cryptic words at them. When the group signaled and spoke to make them believe they wish to buddy up, the tribe threw another shocker at the unassuming party. A woman from the tribe joined a warrior man and sat on the shore in a cozy embrace; other women of the tribe followed suit.
After the 2004 Tsunami which wreaked havoc in South India and parts of the Indian Ocean, the government had sent helicopters from the Indian Coast Guard to render aid to the Sentinelese and drop food packets. At this sight, a member of the Sentinelese tribe reacted by shooting arrows at it.
In 2006 two fishermen were killed by the Sentinelese after drifting too close to the island. Since then a three-mile border has been enforced by the Indian government to keep both tourists, fisherman, and the isolated tribe safe.
So what happened that fateful day, November 16th, 2018?
Days before John Chau bribed several fishermen to bring him close to the island so that he could paddle ashore in a canoe. The reported amount of $350 would be approximately 1-month salary to a mainland fisherman in India. However, in this most remote of Island chains, it could be much more. Make no mistake all parties knew the risks and that this was illegal. In a note, John said that God had protected them from the authorities and they were able to reach the Island without detection.
John paddled ashore and in his diary reported that two men approached him shouting with bows and arrows. He said “My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you.” A small boy then shot an arrow at him which was apparently stopped by his Bible. John then fled and swam back to the fishing boat.
After this encounter, he gave notes to the fishermen to give to others if he was killed. One note said, “I have been so nice to them, why are they so angry and so aggressive?” And another“(I am) doing this to establish the kingdom of Jesus on the island.” He added, “Do not blame the natives if I am killed.”
According to the fishermen on November 16th, they saw his body being drug by the tribespeople and apparently buried in the sand.
Many have compared this tragedy to that of Jim Elliot but I argue that the two cases are very different and have very few parallels other than the fact that both stories involve indigenous hostile tribes.
I don’t have time here so I would encourage all parties to read the account of Jim Elliot in Ecuador and you will see that the two are very different.
Before I continue on to my editorial thoughts on the matter I want to ask in the most pleading of terms for you the reader to keep an open mind and to use your logic and God-given mind to analyze what I am proposing before you make an emotional plea. Yes, this is a tragic loss to many. Yes, this is sad, but we must learn from this as a community who believes that we are commanded to give a defense for the hope that is within us. Remember that your feelings do not determine what is true and what is false. A careful examination of the facts at hand can lead to a truthful takeaway.
These are the facts. John bribed multiple individuals with a vast sum of money to help him break the law which had been set up to protect not only him but the Sentinelese. He made his way to a shore speaking a language to a people who had no idea what he was saying or what he was doing. He was yelled at and not fired upon by the adult natives although a child/adolescent did shoot at him. He was apparently allowed to leave and swim back to the fishing boat. Upon return to the Island, he was killed by the Islanders.
I think to properly understand this case we must put ourselves in the preverbal shoes of the Sentinelese. In the past, they have had their children and elderly kidnapped by anthropologists who then in their eyes killed the elderly and then brought the children back. If I am in my home and someone tries to break in, I am going to defend my family and ask questions later. Without hesitation, I would shoot an intruder and protect my spouse and children.
In the eyes of the Indian government, John was a trespasser and those helping him were also breaking the law. It is unclear from the diverse nature of reports, but it may be that the fishermen are being charged/held responsible for John’s murder.
As cold as it may seem, I can not view this case as anything else but a man being killed during a breaking and entering. Regardless of his intentions for the B&E.
Some have said that we must die for the advance of the gospel and that John’s actions should be applauded and aspired to.
I must answer these individuals with the facts of the case and not the intention of one individual's heart.
We are warned that the preaching of the Gospel will come with persecution, death, tribulation etc. We know as much from the book of Acts, epistles of Paul and book of Revelation. However, the apostles did not purposefully break the law, or bribe others to do the same. They were killed because of the Gospel and its message which declared that Caesar was not God and that man was sinful and in need of redemption apart from our works.
But what about John? As stated before his intentions were noble. Righteous even. His courage and ambition for the gospel are beyond question. But is he to be hailed as a Martyr? Are his actions to be applauded?
I have to answer both of the questions with a reluctant “no”.
The apostles and the early church were martyrs because of what they were preaching. Not because they were killed while they were perceived as a physical threat to a people protecting their families. The examples we see in scripture and commands to live at peace with all men if possible should be heeded. Romans 12 is full of wise instruction for how we as believers should act. Was John Chau loving those fishermen by bringing them into trouble with the law? We have to say no. Was John a Martyr being killed for preaching the Gospel? I think we have to say no. He was killed as an intruder.
No matter how good his intentions he was operating, as I hope to show, under a false understanding of the great commission. He had been influenced by a false doctrine of the kingdom. And may have had a view of God’s sovereignty and power which is simply not true.
In Romans 13 Paul states the following regarding human governance.
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Was John Chau adhering to this wisdom from God to be subjected to the ruling authority in India? We have to say no.
Isn’t it possible and according to the above message from Paul to the Romans probable, that in the omnipotence of God, he has allowed world governments to rule as they are and given them the authority which in a way we can not and may never understand directs His will? (One good argument for who the “restrainer” is in 2 Thessalonians is the human government. I am doing more study on this but it is certainly worth considering.)
By acting against the human government in an unlawful way it seems we are specifically disobeying God’s plan for human government.
But what about the circumstance where someone in Nazi Germany was hiding Jews in their wall and Nazi’s came in and asked if they were hiding Jews? Were they supposed to tell the truth and expose the Jews to a certain death?? No of course not. When human government prohibits us from doing what we are commanded by God then we are to obey God and not human government.
Where do we see this in scripture?
Several places. The Hebrew midwives who hid the newborns from the Egyptians when they were being thrown in the Nile. Moses’ mother and his basket. Moses defying Pharaoh. The disciples in Acts 4 continuing to preach the gospel in the Temple after being flogged by Jewish authority and told not to. Daniel in Babylon. Yet we are to understand that we take on the full responsibility and consequence of rightfully disobeying human authority. In other words, God didn’t have to shut the mouths of the lions though he graciously did anyway.
The list goes on, yet we are continually presented with a narrative where despite preaching the gospel the early church submits to human government. Not resting arrest, or being combative, yet also never giving up proclaiming the truth. In the end, the gospel conquered the Roman world without a single sword being raised or riot being roused or if I may official being bribed.
In the following I have to begin to speculate a little bit so I can not be dogmatic nor do I want to be. I can only go off what I know that John said and where he went to school.
There is a popular view among American evangelicals regarding the great commission which teaches that Jesus will not return until we spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth and every single person tongue tribe and nation has heard the gospel and either accepted or rejected it. This view is demonstrably false and is found nowhere in scripture. It assumes that God is shackled by our will and desire to spread the truth. It is a view that ignores the sovereignty of God and ignores the doctrine of immanence which states that Jesus can return at any moment.
This view also denies a literal physical Davidic Kingdom where Jesus rules from Jerusalem. It propagates a view that the “church” is the true Israel and there is no future kingdom which Jesus rules physically. That Jesus “reigns in our hearts” now and we are responsible for extending “his kingdom” to the ends of the earth.
Now there are several variations of this false doctrine which I do not have time to expound upon, but the roots of the most errant form are found in a movement/theology known as “Dominionism” or “Kingdom Now”. Proponents of this false view are those in the Word of Faith movement, Bethel Church in Reading, CA, and those affiliated and proponents of the New Apostolic Reformation movement. All of which were heavily influenced by a man named Franklin Hall who married the new age occult with Christianity in the Latter Day Rain Movement.
Now I have no idea what John Chau believed personally. Again I can only speak on what he stated in his diary and notes. However, what he did state hints strongly at a Dominionist theology. That is we are responsible to take the kingdom of Jesus to the end of the earth and without us, it will not happen.
At face value when looking at the Kingdom of the Messiah I think it is evidentially clear that the Davidic Kingdom of the Messiah is a physical Kingdom where Jesus rules from Jerusalem and the whole world is subject to his perfect rule. Zach 14. 2 Sam 7. Jer 23:5-6. Micah 4. Zeph 3. Etc. Etc. Etc. That this world is subject to the rule of Satan, powers, and principalities of the air is clear and evident.
Bottom line, the Kingdom of the Messiah has not yet come and we are not responsible to bring it HE IS.
“This is the plan devised against the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).18
‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:3-11).
Now the previous two passages were of course given to Israel and at the center of almost every errant view of scripture is the misuse or supersessionism of Israel. That is, that people tend to take whatever is said in scripture and think that the “you” in the passage is always them (at least when it sounds good, forget about all that judgment stuff).
I cite the two passages above as examples of God’s will being accomplished by HIS HAND. God asks us to come alongside him and desires that we participate, but make no mistake. He will do what he has planned with or without us.
Ok. Ok. What does this have to do with John Chau?
John attended Oral Roberts University which was founded by Oral Roberts who was heavily influenced by Franklin Hall and the Latter Day Rain movement. Hall and Roberts championed Dominion/ Kingdom Now Theology and taught that we as humans can achieve the level of perfection that Jesus achieved and that the only reason for sickness, disease, or poverty is because the individual simply doesn’t have the faith to be healed, the faith overcome poverty, or hasn’t fasted enough to empower the Holy Spirit. Roberts was a false prophet who claimed that a 900 for Jesus appeared to him and commanded him to build a hospital and that it would be a success. Roberts swindled millions upon millions from people while preaching a prosperity false gospel and approximately 8 years after opening, the hospital failed and closed. It was not a success and apparently made the 900 foot tall Jesus out to be a liar.
I relay this not to say in any way that John Chau believed what Oral Roberts believed of course not. But it seems as though he was certainly influenced by this false view of the kingdom and commission of the gospel.
John Chau stated in his diary “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”
Another note from his stated “
“(I am) doing this to establish the kingdom of Jesus on the island.”
I think John clearly believed that without our participation the word of God will not go forth and that we are responsible for bringing the Kingdom of the Messiah, Jesus. Now I admit I am speculating and so I don’t want to be dogmatic here. I only want to draw out some important things to look at.
But I think this is a very good teaching moment about how dangerous bad theology is. Scripture is clear that Jesus brings his kingdom, in literal form, to the earth and reigns from Jerusalem. We are not responsible for “bringing the kingdom”. God is.
Additionally, Satan has a stronghold on the entire world not just in places where the gospel has allegedly never been heard.
We know basically nothing about this tribe. But we do know from Paul in Romans 1 that
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,7 in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
No man exists on the planet that doesn’t know of God’s nature and existence. God has used visions and dreams in the Muslim world in places where the gospel was not being preached. He can and does do what He wills without exception. So the argument which has been put forth time and time again in the public square that if John didn’t go do this they would never hear the gospel or know of Jesus is simply false.
Finally exactly what is our responsibility under the great commission?
First off we have to ask who specifically the great commission was commissioned to. So who was it? The 11 direct disciples of Jesus in person by our Messiah.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
A thing to note. Jesus commands his disciples to go and make disciples. A duplication process. And then commands them to teach their disciples to obey all his commands. He never tells them to spread his kingdom. (Some take the Lord's prayer out of context and twist it beyond recognition trying to make the point that he does there (Matt 9:6), but careful exegesis denies this possibility) He tells them to simply teach what they were taught, which was from the TNK. The Torah, Ketuvim, and Prophets. The Hebrew scriptures. And what do the Hebrew scriptures teach? That the Messiah King of Israel and son of David would rule over a physical kingdom from Jerusalem and through the revelation of Yeshua to John we know this will be a 1000 year reign while Satan is bound and then released before final judgment. We are to be salt and light, to give a defense for the hope that is within us 1 Peter 3:15. Yet with trepidation I must put forth that we are never in my understanding commanded to bring the kingdom of God, to break the law in attempting to share the gospel in this manner. We are also responsible for our own actions and God does not have to save us from unwise decisions which put us in grave danger just because we say that we are doing it for him or in his name.
Friends John Chau is in the presence of our Lord and Savior and creator of the Universe. He was a courageous and brave human being who thought he was doing the right thing. Yet I believe he was led astray by a false theology of the kingdom, a false understanding of the great commission, and an American “church” which doesn’t understand their own place in the outworking of God’s plan for the world.
I would caution and have cautioned those who hold this example as one to be praised. It is not. It is tragic. It is heartbreaking. And it could have been avoided. Few are as brave and courageous as John Chau. Let us not make the mistake of encouraging them to a most certain death when nothing of the sort is commanded or wanted by our creator who cherishes life and came that we might have it abundantly.
We should be willing and able to proclaim the truth of Yeshua of Nazareth to anyone and everyone. We should expect persecution because of it. Yet we need to be grounded in the Word Of Truth so that we are not lead astray to think that we have a role that we do not. God is in control. God’s plan will be completed by His Hand and His Hand alone. He will receive the glory and honor as He brings His kingdom to fruition as king of Israel and creator of the Universe.
David HaLevy is the founder of Builders of Israel and Jew and Gentile Radio