In the midst of many other current matters of concern, we’ve witnessed the complex eruption of civil unrest across the USA this week. While one may value particulars within a culture that may be linked to ethnicity, the Bible condemns racism as all humans are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and as Christians, many tribes, tongues and nations of believers form the body of Christ and will spend eternity together (Rev 7:9). But what shall we make of civil unrest? Closer to home I have even heard of some churches planning a prayer protest to the Ontario Governments continued emergency order that does not allow meetings of faith groups to take place (when many businesses have been allowed this freedom). What should we make of all of these responses? In the 18th Century violence erupted in the French Revolution and in the following decades of the 19th Century there were revolutions across Europe; yet Britain was spared. Why? There were at least two reasons for this: a general, albeit minimal, care for the poor that did not exist in many country; but also the Evangelical Revival. Wesley, Whitefield and others, transformed nominal Britain into a much altered Christian nation. A Biblical belief lies at the heart of why Britain did not see violent upheavals for central to the Bible is the call for Christians to obey and to submit to the authorities (Ro 13; 1 Pe 2:13) in matters where they have not transgressed God’s laws (Mt 22:21). Submission to God appointed authority is a good thing, for God wills it. As we submit to Governments we submit to God. Like any other matter of faith, we cheerfully obey in faith. If we have questions or concerns, no matter how deep seated, we bring these forward peacefully and civilly. Why, for Peter goes on to say, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [un-believers] honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
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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