God and Government

“The obligation of human beings to support and obey human governments, while they legislate upon the principles of the moral law, is an unalterable as the moral law itself.”
So wrote one of the greatest American evangelists, Charles Finney. I believe his statement speaks to our current situation. Indeed, although he is articulate, he is not unique. He simply is reminding his readers of what our Lord taught and was embraced by the earliest leaders of the Faith. And let us remember the political context in which they lived! Caesar’s shadow covered the land from the green hills of Britain to the banks of the Euphrates and all along the coast of Northern Africa.

Jesus paid his tax.

Although Jesus was and still is “Lord” He, Himself, recognized the proper place of government, even the government of Rome. Good government is certainly preferred, but even bad government is preferred to no government at all. This is called anarchy. “Anarchy” literally means “no leader.” It is an intolerable situation under which to live because it results in lawlessness and disorder, and it robs everyone of peace. No one is safe, and nothing is predictable under anarchy. So, Jesus didn’t hesitate to say, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” (Mark 12) As well, He gladly paid his tax to the Temple authorities. (Matthew 17)
The Apostle Paul followed Jesus’ example here and fleshed it out even further. For instance in 1 Timothy he writes, “I urge, then first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NIV) Then in his Letter to the Romans Paul says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted… The one in authority is God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:1-4, NIV)

Faith or compromise?

Yes, we are exhorted to honor our governmental leaders as long as what they require of us is in keeping with God’s ways and we are not compelled to deny the Faith or compromise ourselves morally.
Now, there have been a number of religious leaders across the country who have ignored the recommendations and pleas of our state and federal governments. I’m convinced that they are mistaken in doing so. They say that they are standing on religious conviction or principle. I would disagree based on what the Scriptures teach. All they are doing is putting people at risk and presenting a poor witness to the rest of the world. Interestingly, I just read about a Philadelphia area pastor of a mega church that would not shut the door of his church who contracted Covid-19 and passed away. How many of his congregants did he expose himself to, I wonder? Might they now be infected? I certainly hope not, but the chances are high.

Side of caution

It’s for this reason that I have complied with the guidance of our president and governor. Most have agreed with this position. Some have not, and that is fine. We can disagree about this. It is possible that the response of our leaders has been overblown. (In either case, I’m convinced we will discover whether or not the actions taken have been warranted or not and we’ll be wiser the next time something like this happens.) However, until that time I’d much rather error on the side of caution and defer to the leadership God has provided us with. (I sincerely hope my leadership would be honored.)

As much as I long to see our members face-to-face and worship and study in our regular groups and gatherings, I would feel terrible if through my civil disobedience I exposed anyone to this virus. How much greater remorse I’d experience if anyone of my fellowship would die because I encouraged us to meet, even while observing social distancing! (This is clearly a possibility.)

Let us disagree if we must on this matter, but let’s not let it separate us in any other way. Are we not one in Christ? Don’t our hearts continue to beat in tandem with His?

This crisis will pass, of that we can be sure. I’m equally sure that we will once again be able to join together to worship, pray, study, and serve Him together. Let’s pray that day comes quickly!

In Him,
Pastor Paul