The Government and the Church
As you can imagine, we’re continuing to work hard to figure out what church life might/should look like in light of current events. Clearly we have chosen to cancel all in-person gatherings as a part of our answer. And one of the main reasons for doing so is that our government has asked us to. The current recommendation (executive order) of our state government is that everyone should stay home unless absolutely necessary. Similarly, nationwide, the CDC is asking everyone to avoid groups larger than 10 people to help combat the spread of the virus. The main question that I mean to briefly address in this post is how we, as a church, ought to respond when our government issues recommendations (or, in some cases, laws) like these. Or, are we right in going along with their recommendations by canceling in-person meetings? And how do we justify that in light of clear commands to gather as a church (Hebrews 10:25)?
I think God’s Word gives us two key principles to keep in mind as we seek to answer those questions. First, God is our ultimate authority. I love that you know and love this, Grace Church. There is no authority higher than God and no authority outside of God. No king or ruler or heavenly being can stand before the LORD. Where God has spoken, nothing can come against him.
Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
Therefore, we do not acknowledge any authority other than that of God himself and those upon whom he has bestowed it. And that leads to the second key principle that I want to draw your attention to.
Second, God has established and entrusted governments to exercise a certain amount of God-given authority over its citizens for certain God-given purposes. That’s the point of passages like Romans 13:1-7.
Romans 13:1 Let 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.
To get to the heart of our decision as elders to accept the government’s recommendations, then, we need to ask another question: Is making the types of recommendations it has within the government’s God-given scope of authority? My answer to that question is twofold:
- The authority God has given the government is to work for the collective good of its citizens, especially in regards to our safety (Romans 13:4). Therefore, insofar as this pandemic is as contagious and deadly as it seems to be, and insofar as the government has good reason to believe that the best way to protect the most people is social distancing, then the current recommendations do seem to be well within its God-given authority. Further, the government is not singling out Christians or local churches in their restrictive guidelines. The current recommendations are for all people and fellowships.
- The leper camps seem to be a relatively close precedent (Leviticus 13-14). The rulers of Israel, by God’s edict, were to put lepers outside of the camp (group social distancing) to prevent the spread of the disease throughout the rest of the Israelites. And they were to take great care before reentering community life. This isn’t a perfect parallel, but it gives us the category of isolating and missing out on fellowship for a short-term, greater good. It gives us a category for staying home for a season and not violating the spirit of Hebrews 10:25.
For all of these reasons, then, it does seem to us as elders that this is a legitimate use of our government’s authority. And for that reason it seems right to us to eagerly, even if sadly, come under that authority as an expression of our being under God’s authority. As things progress and as more information becomes available, we will continue to assess this position. For now though we thank God for his wisdom, we embrace our sadness at not being able to see one another face to face, we make the best use of technology that we can, and we pray that this would quickly pass even as we find new ways to be a light in the growing darkness.