As a professing Christian, if I am truly saved and believe that my Lord has spoken through His Word, I cannot be anti-authoritarian or anti-government, and it should never be my instinctive nature to resist or to rebel against governing authorities (Rom 13:2). Over the last few months I have had to wrestle daily with my own fleshly anarchist tendencies that I’ve fostered since my teens. Even in being apprehended by Christ, I’ve more often celebrated His appeal in His seeming iconoclastic ways rather than emulate His utter servitude to even those who hated Him.
In the wake of various reactions that were lead by some massive misinformation mixed with knee jerk dogmatism and political gaming, I’ve probably stirred the pot more than brought peace to the discussions in the public square. I’ve desired mostly to exhort people to think and ask questions, not just be contentious for contention’s sake. However the nature of social media seems to move us away from nuance and civility, rather than towards such ideals for the sake of higher level thinking and discourse. After all, then we’d have to take responsibility for developing our ideas and substantiate our reasoning, which would cause us to invest time in posting. I’ve posted my fair share of quips and sharp retorts impulsively, and that has too often led to misunderstandings by some and offenses taken by others. My offending others has not been intentional. I’ve always believed that individuals are as responsible for taking offense as we are for giving any. That said, because I’ve posted things that have been taken so offensively, I’ve quickly taken them down, in an effort to be a peacemaker rather than a pot stirrer. My calling is to draw people to Christ, not make it difficult for Him to be seen in me or His church. Over the last couple of weeks especially, although I’ve always been assured that my days are numbered by God, and He will take me or any of us home as He wills (Job 14:5, Acts 17:25-26, Psalms 139:16), I have been moved by The Lord to repent, as Christ changes and grows me. My repentance is in light of anyone thinking that I want to mandate thinking like me or that I am somehow seeking to organize insurrection against government authorities. I’ve never thought less of people, especially brothers and sisters in Christ, who’ve only wanted to be compliant, in terms of their character. But many of my comments taken at face value could be perceived as indicting to those who disagree with my position. For that I do truly apologize.
That said, neither is it Christian to blindly obey whatever directives come from governing authorities, for God has entrusted authority to them in order that they might be “God’s servant for your good” (Rom 13:3). They are supposed to use their power to establish and to enforce MORAL order in our world, largely by rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior.
As Christians, we ought to use sober judgment in order to determine when governing authorities have gone astray and are no longer promoting what is good. We must remember that God has entrusted all authority in Heaven and on Earth to Jesus, The Christ, who has been exalted as Lord of all, and we must therefore submit to the Lord Jesus as our highest authority, for He demands our undivided loyalty and obedience (Rom 1:4-6; Matt 28:18; Acts 2:36; 10:36).
Simply stated, we must discern if and when obeying our governing authorities would require us to disobey the Lord Jesus, and in such situations, we must obey the Lord Jesus rather than governing authorities and be prepared to endure the consequences. The Bible abounds with stories of God’s people exercising such judgment, including the famous story of Daniel enduring the lions’ den because he prayed to the Lord God of Israel in violation of the king’s edict that prayers be offered only to the king (Daniel 6).
If we apply this theological vision to our current situation, we can affirm that Christians ought to lead the way in obeying many of the orders some of governing authorities have issued regarding the coronavirus, for they do not conflict with our obedience to the Lord Jesus. We can wash our hands, sanitize, practice social distancing, and the like, especially when such simple practices can help to slow the spread of a seeming pandemic. At some level, we can even submit to more painful directives to the degree that we might wonder if the harm of the cure outweighs its benefit, such as shutting down schools and businesses, and cutting people off from their support networks.
HOWEVER, such directives ought to give us pause, again especially as professed followers of The Way, to compel us to exercise discernment, especially concerning governing authorities’ treatment of the church as non-essential. I personally have not been trivial or trite in giving careful consideration to how and why the church is essential for us as Christians and for our community. It has been with tremendous effort to pray and think and meditate and consider other Christian thought that I’ve sought to exercise sober judgment in determining at what point, if any, we should resist the restrictions being placed upon the church. I’ve also observed that many who have taken an opposing position to the one I’ve perpetuated, haven’t given the same thought with the same biblical considerations, and it has been painful, especially as a pastor. Because I believe what I have witnessed far too often is a people group who has been easily swayed by public sentiment and an ease in adopting isolation as comfortable rather than a loss.
For Christians, the church is anything but non-essential. The Bible teaches that we have been created for worship, and throughout the Bible, normative and prescriptive worship is conducted in a corporate gathering rather than a private setting. The people of Israel gathered in the tabernacle or the temple for worship, and Christians gathered in homes and public places for worship. In fact, by definition, the church is a gathering, for the Greek word translated “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly” or “gathering,” and Christians are commanded to gather together as the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25).
When we do gather as Christians, we gather for the primary purpose of discharging such duties as we’ve been commanded to undertake together by the Lord Jesus. Many, if not most of these duties can only be done CORPORATELY, as the body of Christ, not as individual Christians. These include the public reading of Scripture, preaching the gospel, praying together, baptizing, observing the Lord’s Supper, sharing meals and fellowship, submitting to our leaders, sharing our spiritual gifts with one another, and on and on. Very little of the New Testament can be accomplished alone at home. That is why I wholeheartedly believe and have so emphatically stated since mid-March that gathering is essential for Christians. Again, I can only pray and repent of my expressions that diluted or obfuscated the grace and love of our Lord and Savior.
It has been devastating for me to realize that so many of our governing authorities, as well as our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can seemingly regard church as little more than a form of entertainment akin to a movie theater, so that even as shutting down a theater can be replaced by streaming a movie at home, so also shutting down a church can be replaced by streaming a worship service at home or a compromising “drive in” set up. It has been just as devastating and even confusing for me as a pastor, to see how many churches so quickly jumped on board as if they agreed. Is not our gathering as a church far more substantial than a theater production or a cheesy piece of video entertainment or social media fodder?
Most importantly, in my opinion, if our communities, leaders, and even forever family members do regard our churches as non-essential, I humbly pray that together we use this season of shut downs and re-openings to fearlessly scrutinize what we have been doing as churches. Our commission to make disciples, in light of being explicitly commanded to love our neighbors ought to make the church the most essential organization in our communities throughout the world. The church is called to do and be far more than a gathering for worship. Our own church is walking through Ephesians right now, which is truly a blessing, in that we are reminded afresh that God intends to unite all things under Christ beginning with His Bride. Which means The Church is empowered to stand in the gap and potentially share the burdens of our local business owning parishioners, share our resources with the poor and the food-insecure. The church is equipped to aid at-risk kids living in unstable homes, protect the abused, advocate for the marginalized, support the unemployed, encourage the depressed, care for the sick, watch over widows, take in orphans, comfort the grieving, etc, because we’ve been blessed to be God’s gift to our world as the primary habitation of His Holy Spirit, who lives ONLY in each saved member of His Bride. So when there is a crisis, The Church is, or at least should be a light bringing, life giving source for the community. Pity the community that doesn’t have an active, God ordained church during a pandemic.
In this time of suffering for many, governing authorities ought to view the church as an essential resource of comfort, shelter, and aid, because that’s who and what Christ is. If allowances can be made for many essential businesses to remain open so long as they follow safety protocols, should not churches be afforded the same allowances so they can serve those who are hurting in their own communities? Tragically, and to our detriment, some governing authorities see no such value in the church.
Though I am but a proletarian under shepherd, I do pray that The Lord will strengthen me to continue to exhort our local body as well as the Bride of Christ at large to work together to make the church essential again, for the glory of God. We will always have an essential command from the Lord Jesus to love our neighbors, regardless of whatever restrictions might be placed upon us by governing authorities. Simultaneously, we are also the bearers of a sacred promise that if our foundation is truly Jesus Christ Himself, our church is planted firmly on The Eternal Rock that nothing, no one, not even the devil can prevail against. We are the keepers of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, binding and loosing, doing and being and offering all that is ESSENTIAL for eternal life (Matthew 16:18-19). If we believe this, and we are willing to take up our crosses for this, there is no way we can ever be non-essential. Let us commit together, inasmuch as we’ve been equipped and empowered to do so, that we will undertake our mission as The Church in such a way that when the next pandemic or social crisis rolls around, as they surely will, The church will be regarded as essential.
In service to The King – PC