2020 – A JOURNEY, A JUDGMENT, A TEST OF FAITH
Steve Wilson, Pastor-Teacher, Elder
You’ve heard it said: life is an adventure. If that is true, then surely the Christian journey is the greatest adventure imaginable. The Lord Jesus Christ has made us into who we are and has set us on the path we walk. It is His prerogative to guide and direct us through the obstacles, challenges, and opportunities that He, himself, places before us. It is ours to be obedient to all He commands. It is not too simple a perspective to state: wherever He leads, I’ll go. That chorus from a familiar hymn is accompanied by verses that we don’t so quickly call to remembrance – the challenge they present is real:
Take up thy cross and follow Me, I heard my Master say; I gave my life to ransom thee, surrender your all today.
He drew me closer to His side, I sought His will to know, and in that will I now abide, wherever He leads I’ll go.
It may be through the shadows dim, or o’er the stormy sea, I take my cross and follow Him, wherever He leadeth me.
As the church has walked her journey, she has often found disobedience to be the mark of her path. For that, she faces the threat of judgment by God; not an eternal threat – but the sometimes-hard discipline of a loving Father.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline” (Hebrews 12: 5-7).
The writer of Hebrews, before warning us of God’s discipline, has just penned the chronicle of faithfulness of so many saints who have gone before. Chapter 11 is a Hall of Faith that celebrates the walk of faith. It is not a story of constant success and unfiltered blessing. No, it is a story of life, real life, that carries both the kind and the hard providences of God. Some, by faith, conquered kingdoms, obtained promises, and became mighty in war. Others, by faith, experienced mockings and scourgings, chains and imprisonment, were sawn in two, were destitute, afflicted and ill-treated. In it all, they were faithful. For that, God declares this world was not worthy of them.
What of our journey? More specifically, what of our journey in 2020? Should we expect that our year should not be marked by both kind and hard providences? Should we expect that our walk of faith is not to be tested, as with all the faithful? Is it even reasonable to consider the impositions of the 2020 Pandemic in the same vein as those experiences of the faithful of Hebrews 11?
This newsletter is meant to address those questions and to allow the fellowship at Grace to gain insight into the counsel of the elders, the wisdom of God mediated through His Word, and the always-faithful care He continues to provide for His own. Our hope is that we can find rest in troubled times. He has promised such, we need merely to trust His ways and lean wholly on Him.
WALKING FOR GOD’S PLEASURE
Dennis Toland, Elder
Since June we have been blessed to gather each Lord’s Day, albeit in two services in order to gather safely according to our government’s guidelines. And then on November 15 we had an even richer blessing by gathering all together in one service; something we haven’t been able to do since March. What a joy that was! But the very next week we were asked by our government to not meet at all, even though we had been safely meeting by the guidelines.
This is a frustrating disappointment to say the least. So, what do we do? We’ve done all that our government has said. We’ve been safe. So why don’t we just continue as we have been? Do we submit or do we resist? What would God have us to do? That is the most important question, and as Christians that is what we should always desire the most.
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought
to walk and please God (just as you
actually do walk), that you excel still more.
(1 Thessalonians 4:1)
Two important scriptures that guide us when it comes to the Christian’s relationship to government are found in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:1-4)
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
Consider the context in which these were written, a time when Christians were persecuted and tortured in ways that are too hideous to mention. And in that environment, they were exhorted to submit to their government. If they were to submit to wicked rulers like Nero and others, the likes of which we will probably never come close to knowing, what does it say about our own submission to our government? It can only mean the same as it did to those first century Christians because the Word of God has not changed. Submit means the same now as it did then. There are no qualifiers here. It doesn’t say submit if you like it or if you agree with it. The only time we may not, in fact must not, submit is if our doing so would cause us to disobey God.
Notice also that the governing authorities are “ministers of God.” Literally, they are servants of God. In America we think of them more as servants of the people, and in some regard that may be said, but that is not what the text says. Ultimately, they are accountable to God, so when we submit to them, we are submitting to God.
Search all of Scripture and you will not find a single occurrence of resistance, rebellion, or retaliation ever taught or encouraged. When God says that “rebellion is as the sin of divination” we better pay attention. The Christian life is never portrayed as one of resistance but of submissiveness. In the New Testament epistles alone, there are close to sixty passages that speak of how we should relate to one another and every one of them teach an attitude of submission. Again, the only time Scripture would permit a Christian to resist the government is when doing so would violate what God commands. And even then, it should not be with a rebellious attitude, but rather a willingness to submit to whatever consequence that resistance might bring.
Proverbs 3:5 says…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
That’s easier to do when the time of testing is short, or we know how long it will be. But what about when there is no end in sight? Trusting in the Lord means we will submit to the governing authorities, knowing they have been placed there by God. While it is true that in our country we have been given a voice in the process with opportunity to appeal when our own convictions are opposed, we should do so with a gracious and humble attitude, never in violation of protocol and always with decorum. Then we submit to the process. Just as we are submitting to God as we submit to authority, so we are trusting God from whom that authority comes. And whatever the outcome, it is according to God’s divine purpose which is always perfect and holy and good and right.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
There is no greater rest than to rest in God’s sovereignty. In this passage, the verb “cause” is in the active voice and “God” is the subject, meaning that God is the one who is “causing.” It’s much more than “all things work together for good”, as some translations put it. Things don’t just happen. God is causing all things to happen (including a Covid19 virus), and to happen for good. Don’t miss the word “all” here. It is utterly comprehensive with no restrictions or conditions. As R.C. Sproul used to say, “There are no maverick molecules.”
A Brief History
Most would immediately recognize the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the beginning of our Declaration of Independence. These three things were declared to be inalienable rights given to all men by their Creator. That is, they aren’t dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government and therefore they are universal rights that can’t be repealed or restrained by human laws. Simply put, you can’t take them away.
What may be less familiar is how these words came about, in particular the phrase “pursuit of happiness.” Thomas Jefferson, a main architect of the Declaration of Independence, was a man who had many influences just like you and me. One of those was a man named John Locke, an English political theorist and philosopher who lived in the 17th century. Thomas Jefferson referred to him as one of the three greatest men who ever lived. The other two were Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. John Locke argued that political society existed for the sake of protecting property, which he defined as a person’s “life, liberty, and estate.” Thomas Jefferson took that phrase and made it “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Many have written about why Jefferson made the change, but in any event, “the pursuit of happiness” has become famous and it’s safe to say that one of the men most responsible for it is John Locke.
John Locke has been called the Father of Liberalism and his work had a great influence on what is known as the Age of Enlightenment, a period of time from roughly 1560-1780 in which the primary source of authority and legitimacy was reason. It’s been said that the motto of The Enlightenment was “Have the courage to use your own understanding.” Compare that with what true wisdom says which is to NOT trust in your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Locke’s biblical theology was frail; he denied original sin. In fact, he taught that man is born a blank slate and that the mind is formed solely through experience and education. According to Locke the doctrine of original sin is a relic of a Pre-Newtonian mythological worldview.
Thomas Jefferson held Locke in very high regard and he must have read much, if not all that Locke had written, including Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding in which he said “The necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty.” Again, compare that statement with what Jesus said about liberty: “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
So, here is a man whose worldview was not Christian, who had great influence on several of the Founding Fathers, among whom was Thomas Jefferson, who penned what has become famous words now — “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
This kind of thinking also had a great influence during the American Revolution, where aside from the actual war, another battle was taking place between what was known as the Patriot preachers (those who supported the Revolution) and the Loyalist preachers (those who opposed the Revolution). The following is a quote from a sermon preached by one of the Loyalist preachers, Jonathan Boucher.
It might be hoped that Christians would not think it grievous to be doomed to submit to disappointments and calamities, as their Master submitted, even if they were as innocent. His disciples and first followers shrunk from no trials nor dangers. Treading in the steps of Him who, “when He was reviled, blessed, and when He was persecuted, suffered it,” they willingly laid down their lives, rather than resist some of the worst tyrants that ever disgraced the annals of history.
If there was anyone who ever really and truly had the “right” to rebel, it was our Lord. But what did He do instead? 1 Peter 2:23 says that, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Why in the world should we expect to be treated better than Jesus? As a Christian would I dare to expect better than my Savior? That is a presumptuous attitude of the highest order.
It is an irony of ironies that America, the land I love and would defend as did my father and many others, where I live with gratefulness to God who has blessed us richly, which many refer to as a “Christian Nation,” was born out of the sin of rebellion.
In all of the back and forth that’s going on these days, it’s easy to forget what’s most important. This portion of the December 1 devotional from Tabletalk Magazine will help us to keep the right perspective.
God is calling out to the world for repentance, and one of the ways He does this is by reminding us of our frailty. We cannot connect every natural disaster to a specific sin, but these troubles do remind us that we will die and therefore that we need to be prepared to meet our Maker. Let us consider our frailty and remind people that they need to know Christ before it is too late.
A QUESTIONG DEMANDING AN ANSWER
Nathan Ross, Elder Candidate
Why is Grace Community Church not meeting now? While other churches are still assembling, why are we not?
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;
4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
I couldn’t think of a better place to begin to answer the question of “why we are not meeting” than Romans 13. This is the place I think this conversation, as we find ourselves at this present time, ends. What I mean by that is, if you can sit, listen, and read all the best arguments to support the reasons of why churches should continue to have in-person gatherings you will inevitably have to come through Romans 13.
You might ask, what do I mean by, “come through Romans 13?” Well, say you’re of the persuasion that churches should, must, and need to be meeting no matter what. Then that takes you to the Bible (Heb. 10:25), to statistics (it is interesting how this virus has made us all statisticians), to anecdotal stories: you name it, a number of different ways you will try to persuade whoever you are trying to persuade. But a lot of this information goes down the path of, “your numbers say this”, “his numbers say that”, “her numbers support this take or spin.” Then you hear the “well I don’t know of anybody that has the virus” statement.
Inevitably, whatever argument you have for churches gathering in person has to eventually make its way to Romans 13; because it is government that God calls us to submit to, and it is government that has imposed the restrictions throughout this pandemic; presently recommending that churches do not meet with over 25 in attendance, that they be masked at all times with no singing.
Thus, with Romans 13 as an unavoidable consideration, one must ask whether Scripture allows churches to go against the recommendation from those that have been placed over us. Can you answer Paul when he says,
“1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
Would you say, “well Paul, the government is wrong on this”, “the government is over-reaching”, “the government is inflating the numbers”, or any other of the many ‘conspiracies’?
You could say, as pastors did during the Revolutionary War when the argument was to bear arms against their own government, ‘didn’t they also have to go through Romans 13’? Yes. Those in support of the Revolution said that Romans 13 only applied when the government was for the good of the people. They determined what Britain was doing was not for the good of the people and therefore rebelled, revolted, and had a Revolution against those in authority over them.
Preachers in the time of the Revolutionary War who supported taking up arms and rebelling against their government were called “The Patriot pastors”, and they understood Romans 13 to say something it did not say. Here is an excerpt from an article from historian Gregg Frazer:
“Duché (a patriot Pastor) claims that government “was intended for the good of the whole” based on the “fact” that “all Rulers are in fact the Servants of the Public.” That is not what Paul says in Romans 13. According to verse 4, government is a minister of God “for good,” but that “good” is determined by God, not the people. The only reference to the people in Romans 13 is to demand their submission and that they do good, but Duché interjects the notion that the ruler’s power is derived from the people. In the passage, God is the authoritative figure and source of power. Paul specifically says that government derives its power from God (verses 1 and 2), not the people. Thus, whoever resists the power that God has ordained will receive judgment (verse 2). Verses 4 and 6 specifically state that governments and rulers are servants of God, not the public.” 
In other words, there were/are those who say, “We obey the law when the law is righteous—when the people in authority are righteous. When they are protecting those who do good and punishing those who do evil. We only obey when we deem them obeyable.” But that is not what Paul is saying in Romans 13, and it certainly is not the context from which he writes. Paul is writing Romans 13 while governing authorities are all pagan and didn’t have any motivation to care about Christianity. The church was persecuted and Christians were killed under Nero the Emperor. From the context of the persecution of Nero, Paul writes that those who resist the government are resisting God himself. God’s Word says obey God and one of the many ways to do that is to obey those He places over us in authority.
That’s what I mean when I say you inevitably have to go through God, through Paul, at the point of Romans 13, and claim: that does not apply to me, or us; we are in a different context now. Or, Paul didn’t mean obey the government when he told me to obey the government. Yet Romans 13 is clear. Obey when you agree or like what the authority says, and obey when you don’t agree or like what the authority says: obey, submit, place yourself under the authority. By that we grow together in His Word by ultimately submitting to His Word.
Well what about Hebrews 10:25? We can’t go against that can we?
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
A few points here.
Not speaking for other churches which could have different circumstances, but for GCCBG we agree with this text 100%. But we also would stand by this text for those who are under a “providential hindrance”. If you were in the hospital, or were sick, or lived in a nursing home, or overseas at war, or like us in a pandemic, there is liberty there that would allow for not coming together as a full body for in-person gathering. It would be one thing if you were desiring to neglect the assembling together for no other reason than just forsaking. But when we are in the middle of a pandemic and your governing authority and both political ideologies are all saying the same thing, with no political gain to be made (now that the election is over), there is liberty here to not assemble.
Another consideration is whether we as the church are being mistreated. For example, if theatres, or concerts or other large gatherings of people were allowed to meet, but not the church, then that would have to be addressed.
We have not deviated from the very beginning on loving our neighbor. What I mean by that is, as of right now, the governing authorities deem this virus as highly dangerous and so the more loving thing for us to do is to not meet in large gatherings of 25 or more.
A few closing thoughts.
Our high calling to obey: We as Christians have a higher calling to obey our leaders than an unbeliever. An unbeliever needs to obey the government or suffer the consequences. But a Christian is one who understands Who put the government there, and so you not only have to deal with the earthly consequences of not obeying, but you also have to deal with the spiritual consequences. So, we are doubly obligated to obey the government because we know Who put them in that place. As God’s people, our obligation to obey the government is now greater and more strict, rather than less. Which is often NOT the stance it seems from Protestants where we show our desire not to be told what to do, instead of displaying the strong desire to obey our authorities that God has placed over us.
Our high calling to be courageous: The courageous act in obedience to governing authorities is normally the hardest one. The hard part is trying to work out in one’s mind how to obey our leaders when they seem to be so unreasonable. The easier decision is to just meet; ignoring their request to not. Then, easier than that is to just meet without any restrictions; ignoring them completely: just go on like normal. The decision not to meet is the hard one to make. Going from all of us assembling together in one service on 11/15, to now saying we are going to heed to a “recommendation”: that is the tough decision. But it does often seem that the harder decision is normally the right one.
Our high calling to be clear: Don’t hear me say we must obey our government and leaders no matter what, because that is clearly not the case in at least 6 instances in scripture: Exodus 1, Esther 4, Daniel 3, Matthew 2, and Acts 4-5. Governments are fallible, they are sinners as well. You obey as long as the government does not command you to do something God has commanded you not to do, or commands you to not do something that God has commanded you to do. And with that, the believer accepts the punishment from the government in disobeying.; submitting to God as the highest priority.
Our high calling to honor the king: When God through Peter tells us to honor the Emperor – 1 Peter 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king – Peter is calling us to honor someone who was a persecutor of the church. How much easier should it be for us to do the same?
Our high calling to die to self: Christians need to be reminded of the biblical teaching of dying to self. Not being able to go to church with our family on the Lord’s Day is a suffering. And accepting that and trying to work through that is a means of dying to self. Putting others before ourselves and trying to fight the “you do you” culture is a fight that we must fight. Dealing with what we believe to be an unreasonable request can put us in uncomfortable situations. Dying to self, putting others before our wants and needs, must be understood by us in this time God has us in.
I know this response might not suffice for some or all who see this different than what the elders do. But may we with gentleness and humility submit to those who have been placed over us: children to parents, employees to employers, church members to elders, people to their government, and God’s people to God. God’s means of governing the world find their roots in submission and may we not let our American individualistic viewpoints come in the way of a clear biblical understanding of obedience and submission that comes from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.
May God be merciful to us. Submitted in grace.
SERVING ONE ANOTHER THROUGH LOVE
Mike Troyer, Elder
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.
Many of us have experienced a moment standing at a street corner, waiting for a red light to turn green, with no approaching traffic. Our mind says, “go ahead and cross” there is no danger. We might be prepared to cross without waiting for the light to change. But what if, at the same time, we realize there is a mother standing there holding the hand of her young daughter. If we consider the good of the child, we might reconsider our decision to cross and realize that there is someone just beginning to learn that red means “stop” and green means “go.” While we have the freedom to cross, how would our action of ignoring the traffic light serve the needs of our neighbor, who in that moment happens to be this small child and her mother? A mother who, more than likely, is trying to teach her daughter the rules of the road so that she might protect her.
How do I best serve my neighbor in this circumstance even when I am in a hurry? Would it not be better to remain in place, in support of the mother and her daughter, waiting for the light to turn to green, indicating that all can go safely?
Earlier this year, when the recommendations about wearing face masks first came out at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not at all clear if this would have a beneficial effect or not in reducing the spread of the disease. However, it seemed reasonable that this small change in behavior on my part represented an example of serving my neighbor. From many sources, including medical and scientific experts, we heard over and over that we should not just wear the mask for ourselves, but, more importantly, for others. Wash your hands, keep six feet away, avoid assembling in close proximity; all this to safeguard our susceptible neighbors. And, if everyone were to do this, we would all be served.
In Galatians 5:13 the Apostle Paul teaches that in Christ we have much freedom. However, with that freedom also comes much responsibility. And part of that responsibility is loving others more than ourselves. I believe that if Christians truly follow Jesus’ command to love and serve one another as He loves and serves us, then His church should be among the last places people should physically gather during this pandemic. Perhaps the very last place.
With our constitutional rights upheld, we could claim our ability to be among the first to meet. We could also claim that we have a legitimate need to meet. As an elder at Grace I share in that almost desperate need to be in communion with others in our fellowship. If we consider again that moment on the street corner, we could believe, as many of us have: I need to cross, I am able to cross, so what is stopping me?
But then we think again of the needs of the child. In my heart I know it is Christ’s command to serve others that will cause me to reconsider my actions and place the needs of my vulnerable neighbors ahead of my own. Even my real spiritual needs.
Consider for a moment. If the church purposefully chooses not to gather together physically, for the reason that if by doing so it can eliminate the slightest possibility of harm to one of its own or to one of its neighbors, whoever or wherever that neighbor might be, what would be the message to a fallen world?
Consider if the church said: we surrender our rights, we give up our needs in consideration of the very small chance that even one person who might become infected would remain safe as a result. What would the testimony to unbelievers be if the church said, “yes we can, but no we won’t”.
Some people might think this to be a most counter-productive strategy for the survival of the church, for the meeting of spiritual needs; in effect, like signing a death certificate. But the beauty of this strategy is that we did not come up with it, our heavenly Father did. A little over two thousand years ago, Christians believe that this same strategy nailed the Son of God to a cross. The death certificate was signed, sealed, and delivered. And now consider, which of us have been served as a result?
Every single, living one of us.
May God continue to fill us with His love. May He grant us patience, wisdom, courage, and renewed energy to seek out opportunities for serving fellow believers as well as unbelieving neighbors and friends in these unsettled times. And, when this trouble passes may He restore our fellowship together. All for His glory and for the purpose of fulfilling His kingdom.
Then, when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’; and you are correct, for so I am. So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example, so that you also would do just as I did for you. John 13:12-15
A SUMMARY OF CAUTIONS AND DETERMINATIONS
Steve Wilson, Pastor-Teacher, Elder
The articles contributed by Dennis, Mike and Nathan are meant to provide insight into the Biblical texts and principles that have and continue to guide our decisions. This has been a challenging year in many ways, but I confess the decisions confronting the church have not seemed to us to be strangely difficult ones. The key to spiritual decisions is to ground one’s thinking in the text of God’s revelation and to wholeheartedly submit to its wisdom. We must fight the all-to-common temptation to believe we are living in the exception … that somehow our situation allows for a deviation from the believer’s confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture and its ability to direct all matters of faith.
2 Timothy 3:16–17
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
In the most recent Supreme Court decision in defense of religious liberty, the Majority noted that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten”. I concur with that – and am glad, with all Americans, when the Constitution is rightly defended with all the rights it affords the citizens of the United States. But the same conviction extends, at a much higher level, to Christians whose constant faith and practice are principally guided by a higher document, the divine revelation of the Word of God, the Bible. Christians must say, with even greater force: ‘EVEN IN A PANDEMIC, THE BIBLE CANNOT BE PUT AWAY AND FORGOTTEN’.
- Nothing has happened in 2020 at the hands of the pandemic or the government’s response to it, nor could it, to change the plain meaning of the principle texts that guide the church in its relationship to the government. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-20.
- For a church to remove itself from the burden of these texts that call for its submission to the authority that God has placed over them, requires that authority to demand disobedience to God. Such a command we would, without regard to consequence, most assuredly disobey.
- Such disobedience, however, is not a pursuit of rebellion against the authority. It is a refusal to obey, and with it, a glad submission to any penalty the authority might impose, including death. Thus, even in our disobedience, we are found obedient to God’s command and our testimony of submission is intact.
- We do not see that such a demand has been made; our inability to meet being a reasonable expectation as it regards the public health during the pandemic.
- We do not see that the church should expect to be exempt from a participation in the actions guided by our government regarding this or any other public health emergency.
- The government in view (at the Federal, State and local level) is rightly appointed both by the laws of men and the providence of God.
- The government is acting in its right realm of authority on matters of public health. This has been defended at the highest levels of jurisprudence (the Supreme Court of the United States) and is also a reflection of God’s own order of responsibility – having granted the same responsibility to Israel’s civil magistrates under the Mosaic Law.
- We also don’t see that the church has any liberty to determine for itself the dangers and right reactions to a pandemic. Christians can add their voice, expert, informed and otherwise, to the cacophony of opinions regarding the merits of this pandemic – but they have no granted authority by God to make determinations concerning it. In most cases, therefore, their opinions might be best kept to themselves.
- While the Constitution might be seen as offering some exemption to churches, no faithful Christian should seek such – guided by the call to ‘honor…submit…respect’ those whom God places over us as for the sake of ‘conscience toward God’ (1 Peter 2:17-19).
- I find it particularly alarming to follow the logic of many Christians pertaining to the government’s authority.
- It is admitted that we are called to honor and submit to those in authority.
- That call is limited, it is argued, to their honorableness; to their acting ‘good’. This has no merit in Scripture which explicitly commands that we honor and submit in all respects, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 Peter 2:17-18).
- Even with such honorableness in view, the call to honor and submit is, they argue, limited by the Constitution which restricts the government’s ability to mandate any imposition against the church; a First Amendment protection.
- Thus, the government is limited to only hoping for the church’s acceptance of their guidance if/when she deems it to be reasonable – which of course the church then rejects on the grounds that it is only a ‘recommendation’.
- The end: the church won’t obey unless commanded to by the government – and then she won’t obey because the government can’t command her!
- This is a refusal to submit at every level of an ordinary understanding of submission. It seeks to hide the biblical call to obedience behind an imagined relief from the Constitution – which couldn’t be further from the mind of God. This is nothing short of a heart of rebellion seeking shelter in a Constitution that was itself birthed in a similar spirit of rebellion.
The elders have kept all of these considerations in view as we’ve made our decisions since the pandemic’s first assault against our ordinary assembly and ministries in March. When the authorities asked that we dismiss all assemblies, we complied. When the authorities outlined safety measures by which we could again meet, we delayed until we could adequately meet the burden of safety that was required. At that point, we also began to consider most carefully the challenges of meeting in multiple assemblies (two Lord’s Day meetings). Not least in those considerations was a high regard for the unity of the fellowship and any threats such a divided meeting might introduce to that unity. As you know, we began meeting in two assemblies in mid-June. We did this with continued regard to the safety expectations requested by the authorities.
God honored our intentions, and we were blessed with many weeks of vital fellowship, worship, communion and the grace afforded through the preaching of the Word. In only a couple of weeks after re-assembling, we saw 90% of our fellowship coming together each Sunday. We sang – and didn’t. We fellowshipped – and didn’t. Always moving with each request of the authorities in a way that manifests our testimony of obedience; first to our Lord, and then to those He had appointed over us. We saw in powerful ways how He works for good, through His servants (government) appointed for our good … even when the situation was ‘not good’ by ordinary measures.
This current interruption that has the authorities requesting we not meet for four weeks (11.22-12.13) has presented nothing more or less challenging than the other interruptions. But we must acknowledge that the context has changed – time has moved now toward nine months with every citizen of the world being driven to uncomfortable, disquieting and often costly and painful accommodations. The measure of the pandemic’s power to disrupt has now moved from the disease and its physical effects, the lives taken, the lives weakened – to a power to frustrate and try the patience of all who are finding the navigation of its impositions insufferable. We all long for this to end. Yet still we must obey. Still we must trust God. Still we must depend on His strength. Still we must rejoice. Still we must be content. Still we must be thankful.
For Christians, our advantage is great again. We understand that our own longing for the eternal kingdom of Christ to begin – our understanding of how it all ends – is informed, indeed ground, in our understanding of how it all began. God brought all that is into being – and He will bring the end of all things, and with it the beginning of the eternally blessed kingdom, in His own timing. Until then, we occupy the time, we endure the strain, and we wait in joyful hope.
In the same way, this pandemic is His doing. He began it and He will end it when all that He intends by it has come to pass. Until then, we occupy the time, we endure the strain, and we wait in joyful hope. Our testimony is secured by our patient obedience. The benefits of His grace in our lives is manifest by our being able to keep our heads when all around us are losing theirs.
May He be pleased to grant us all the grace we need – for all that He will bring – for His glory alone!
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.
Mike, Dennis, Nathan and I stand at the ready to answer any questions you might have and to meet any need that might arise. You can look forward to multiple opportunities offered, starting next week, for you to come out in small groups (25 or less) to the church where we will dig deeper into these and other matters in an informal atmosphere of study, questions, prayer and encouragement. You will need to register – and the calendar will allow multiple options for you to join at varying dayparts. We don’t want to leave anyone out … let us know if a greater variety is needed, and we’ll work to accommodate that.
 Whate’er My God Ordains is Right. (Samuel Rodigast, 1675)
 Gregg Frazer, The Hermeneutics of the American Revolution, The Master’s Seminary Journal, Pg. 275, Volume 31, Number 2, Fall 2020, https://tms.edu/m/TMSJ-Volume-31-Number-2-Fall-2020.pdf
 Per Curium, Supreme Court of the United States, No. 20A87, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York.