COVID-19 in Maine, May 2020, Part #3: Do churches meet?

Sam Caldwell, May 2020

1) All Christians and all churches should be seeking both to fear God and to honor the king at the same time

In the American context, “honoring the king” means submitting to governing authorities. See Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

I will list exceptions for civil disobedience here: (…)

2) In many cases, Christians should even obey unjust (or irregularly just) governments

Christians should obey the government even when they don’t agree with it and don’t see it as completely just. If we have grown cold to Romans 13:1–7, we should repent.

At minute 9:40 in the following video, John MacArthur articulates a balanced approach that is in line with all I believe about the primacy of Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, why we should not protest, leading a quiet life, and the fact that Christians are not currently being singled out of persecuted – in America’s response to COVID-19 on the whole.

On this topic also again see Don Currin’s April Facebook post, quoted in full here:

Notice that Paul goes to great pains to teach Christians how to be Christians under oppression and unjust authority. Paul’s most frequent counsel is NOT to rebel or practice civil disobedience, but rather to submit and be a Christian in the midst of injustice and even tyranny. For an extreme example, in Ephesians 6:5–9, Paul teaches Christian slaves how to function under a slave master who could potentially be oppressive and unjust.

Peter does the same in 1 Peter. Notice how Peter’s injunctions to obey the government (1 Pet 2:13–17) come in the context of teachings on how slaves should even obey unjust or harsh masters (2:18) and wives should even submit to unjust or disobedient husbands (3:1).

So the fact that you discern something unjust about our government’s actions does not necessarily give you the right to disobey the government.

3) Ideally, Christians should be seeking to maintain fellowship and assemble together while ALSO honoring government mandates

This maintenance of fellowship and assembling together should be as literal as possible. It should include preaching, singing, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and all other ordinances of the church. Where it is not possible to gather literally and do these things in person, we should make use of the blessing of technology in so far as it is possible to do so regarding any given ordinance of the church.

Here I am noting that all church ordinances (including the command to meet in Hebrews 10:25, “do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together”) are subject to the law of Christ. These ordinances can only be properly understood in light of Christ’s supreme command to love God and love your neighbor. See Charles Leiter’s book The Law of Christ. Also see points #4–6 below.

4) If this is not possible, it could be right for a church to meet in defiance of the government

In such a case, the church would have to be very clear that they have come to the point where they are justified in defying the government.

In general, civil disobedience is permissible for the Christian when 1) exposing evil and when 2) Christians are being persecuted. (See this related post for more details: …)

If Christians see clearly that they are in a position where civil disobedience is necessary, the decision to meet as a church in such a situation should take into account both external questions of obedience to the government AND internal questions of the well-being and spiritual understanding of church members.

By external questions, I mean that a church making such a decision should be crystal clear that this is a situation where civil disobedience would be encouraged by God Himself. Practicing civil disobedience when it is not warranted will lead to the promotion of disobedience and a bad witness among Christians (see 1 Peter 2:11–17), as well as the potential for seared consciences among the brethren (Romans 13:5).

By internal questions, I am especially thinking of care for the weaker brothers and sisters in a church – for example, those who are elderly, impaired, without means of meeting, or harboring a legitimate fear in this time. The Christian should always have an eye to “the least of these” in any situation (see Matthew 25).

Even if a church decides it is justified in defying the government, it should not do so if that means dividing the flock or alienating certain church members.

5) The final decisions regarding points #1–4 above should be carried out by local church elders

Congregants should submit to their pastors’ decisions, and should do so gladly, without grumbling or causing the pastors added anxieties or burdens.

Read Hebrews 13:17, and consider how absolutely vital it is to obey such a command in this time: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

6) Where it is not possible to do the ordinances of the church literally and in person, we should wait patiently, humbly, and penitently upon our God

It may very well be that we as the church are being judged, so we should humble ourselves (1 Pet 4:17).

Moreover, Christians should be reminded that there have always been periods where access to certain ordinances have been denied to certain parts of the body.

For example, in the 1700’s, a farmer who works miles from a church might have been stranded on his farm for months in winter. He was kept from the assembling of the saints by providential circumstances, but he was not sinning.

For another example, the thief on the cross was not baptized but was with Christ that day in heaven. He was kept from baptism by providential circumstances, but he was not sinning.

For examples of Christians having to suspend their assembling together throughout church history, see Joel Beeke’s Twitter posts here:

And here:

May Christ be magnified in every breath we take.

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