This is one of the longest words in our languages (and also very hard to say many times fast!).
It, along with its antonym, disestablishmentarianism, is what this post is about.
We live in a time of heightened individualism. Even institutions like the state are now commonly and even brazenly flouted. This tension has been heightened during the pandemic, with some heeding government orders and others protesting or even rebelling against them.
How ought Christians to respond to governments during a pandemic? During church closures?
There is certainly a wide spectrum of opinions on the matter of closures, with some radically wanting to keep things shut and others radically wanting things to open (I’m probably in the middle leaning towards cautious reopening). Wherever your opinion rests, such a reflection raises the question of how Christians should respond to government orders.
Jesus famously, and very helpfully said, in Mt 22:21: give to Caesar [the gov’t] the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s. In other words, there is the kingdom of this world which is ending and the Kingdom of God which has come/ is coming. There are two worlds, two cities; yet Christians live in both and so have a responsibility to God, firstly, but also to authorities whom God has set over us for our good. The general principle is that if the authorities ask anything of us that is contrary to God’s law then we are justified in thoughtfully disobeying; but if they ask us to do something that doesn’t go against God’s law we are called to submit, even when we may not like it. This is the spirit of Ro 13 and 1 Peter 2:13–5.
When it comes to the pandemic and church closures, if only churches were asked to close and not Mosques and Synagogues, then there would be an anti-Christian streak in the order that ought not to be obeyed. However, it is a level playing field with all public gatherings and though my thoughts or your thoughts may be this or that on the subject, whether we find it hard or believe otherwise, the government believes it for our good, it doesn’t contravene God’s law (for we have found creative, though imperfect, ways to fellowship by means of technology) and so we must submit.
But submission, the very word a foul stench in society’s dictionary, ought not to be for the Christian. We are called to gladly submit to God appointed authorities so long as they do not ask of us anything that goes against God’s laws (It is an act of faith/trust): I, as a pastor, submit to Christ; Christians are called to submit to their church elders; wives to husbands; children to fathers and mothers; employees to employers and all to the state; and even to fellow believers. When we are disestablishmentarians our hearts are filled with pride, rebellion, self-centredness, anger… Yet when we joyfully submit in faith to who God has called us to submit to, beginning with Himself, the Spirit produces in us love, peace, contentment and joy.
So whatever and whomever the Lord may be calling us to submit to today, may we do so as Christians cheerfully. And whether it be to governments, employers or churches, may our respect to them and God’s word enhance our reputation to the glory of Christ.
 I’m thinking here of churches that have rebelled against government closure orders. They have lost the respect of civil leaders. When persecution comes for other moral matters, they will not be remembered favourably. However, I pray that as the vast majority of Christians have submitted to these orders, the Lord would use this favourably in our civil leaders eyes when they think about persecuting the respectful and obedient for matters which we cannot agree to their laws, laws that God against God’s laws, that they would think twice and remember how we submitted, for a long time, by forgoing our Lord’s Day and other gatherings, so dear to us, out of obedience to them and our Lord.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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