1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
From Romans 13, KJV
Recently heard from a pastor who preaches at a church that shut down for several months during the great Covid-19 panic of 20. Speaking to his congregation, he asserted, “Well, we had to close down for 2 or 3 weeks, but that was because of the governor’s decree.” Right away I pointed out three problems with his statement:
- He misstated the length of time the doors were closed. The church where he is a pastor did not meet for nearly six months; now that a little time has passed that becomes “two or three weeks.” I believe we can look forward to this sort of gaslighting from lots of people at every level of society soon: “Oh, I never wore one of those silly masks, I knew they were no good,” “I never thought shutting down small businesses was a good idea,” “I never quit going to church,” etc. If the clot shot turns out to be as deadly as some are predicting (for the records, I hope those predictions are wrong, but I’m terrified they’re at least close to the truth) then I’m not sure how people will gaslight themselves out of that. People are already intentionally misremembering, and then misstating, how they acted during the panic. I did talk to one pastor who agreed to go back and look at the financial books for his congregation, since it listed in-person contributions on Sundays, at he was startled to find that he had, indeed, shut the doors for multiple months. He truly did not believe he had done so until he looked at the numbers.
- The governor’s emergency decree problem 1: Well, the first problem with that is that in the state where I reside the governor made no such decree; in point of fact he specifically exempted all houses of worship from any shutdown orders. I realize there are other states where this is not the case, nevertheless it was at best a careless misstatement by the pastor who used it as an excuse, at worst it was a lie to cover up cowardice.
- The governor’s emergency decree problem 2: Does the governor of a state have the authority to prohibit the church from gathering together to worship? For that matter, does the President? Or a Federal Judge? Or the local mayor? The theological answer must be no; in the book of Hebrews Christians are directly commanded NOT to forsake the assembly, and the example of the early church is assembling, in secret when necessary, even in the face of government edicts that such assemblies were punishable by death. As for the political answer, the President, or the governor, or the mayor, or the local beat cop, all have authority under the law. As long as they act under (or in accordance with) duly passed laws, they have complete authority, even to the use of force if necessary. Nevertheless, as we discussed in an earlier post, the first amendment to the Constitution expressly prohibits Congress from making ANY laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and the 14th amendment applies this to the state as well as the federal government. In other words, any government functionary forbidding the free exercise of religion (including the assembly of Christians to pray, sing hymns and partake holy communion) is acting entirely outside the bounds of the law and hence has no authority whatsoever. He may have brute force, but it is nonetheless lawless and thus criminal, and should be treated as such.
Romans 13 does enjoin Christians to be obedient to proper civil authorities; it does not bind Christians to bend the knee to any thug with a gun. Verse 7 of the same passage says:
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Christians are not demanded to simply pay tribute to anyone who demands, nor custom, nor fear, nor honor. Paul says these things are to be given to those to whom it is owed. The thug who demands a cessation of the observance of the Lord’s Supper is no more due honor than the thug who produces a gun and demands your wallet. In point of fact the thug who demands your wallet is probably less guilty; he simply wants your money, which is a carnal possession that will eventually pass away. The government official who demands you no longer render to God those things which are His is endeavoring to intimidate you into giving up something far more precious than your wallet.
Purely gratuitous linkage:
What a real breakdown of respect for property authorities looks like: