Sunday, August 30, 2020

Kacer’s Biblical Politics: Enough is Enough!

 

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Kacer’s Biblical Politics: Enough is Enough! 

Where are we? 

Because extraordinary demands require extraordinary justification, it’s time for a gut-check on government’s “emergency” restrictions on religious freedom, and our obligations to God.

Nationwide, church leaders deferred to government and health authorities when faced with the potential of mass deaths and healthcare chaos when COVID-19 hit the United States. Because of the unknowns, extreme caution for the health of everyone seemed appropriate (see Matthew 22:39) and virtual ministry replaced the promised short-term suspension of in-person ministry, fellowship, and worship. 

But, after 5 months of inconsistent governmental mandates with dubious results, much of the nation is still suffering from heavy-handed government overreach. Even in states with reduced restrictions, ratcheting back to full lockdown remains an option at any time. With medical experts disagreeing with each other (and themselves), and political opportunists teaming with an unscrupulous news industry to manipulate anything COVID to disparage the Trump administration, churches need to return to basics to make an informed decision on what to do.

Our most precious freedom 

The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The term “free exercise” covers all matters of faith (doctrine), ecclesiology (organization), and practice (worship, ministry, etc.). With such a clear and profound protection of religious freedom, any infringement on free exercise must be: exceedingly rare, very limited in scope, temporary, and overwhelmingly justifiable. 

We know that both government and church are subject to the God that created them (see Colossians 1:15-17). Each is designed to benefit the other (see Romans 13:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16; 22:15-21), and neither has dictatorial powers over the other. However, the Constitution requires government to be deferential on spiritual matters and not control churches like they do secular businesses or governmental agencies. So, when government defines abortion clinics, large retail and food outlets, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and even mass protests as “essential,” while churches are not, this relegates spiritual health to the status of a hobby that can wait for a more convenient time. Arbitrarily limiting indoor church groups to 10 or 100 independent of a facilities’ size, even allowing or forbidding singing, is exercising unconstitutional control over what is explicitly protected from governmental caprice. 

A responsible government would be an advisor to the faith community as much as possible, providing guidelines based on solid evidence for pastors to consider as they make ministry decisions. When government unilaterally dictates what is or is not allowable for churches, then threatens noncompliance with contact tracing, fines, turning off power and water, forced closure, and possible prison time they’re sending a clear message: “I will tell you what you can do, when you can do it, and for how long. Period.” This hostility towards the fundamental rights of people of faith displays a profound ignorance of spiritual matters (see 1 Corinthians 2:14), and a worldview that believes government leaders are the final arbiters of virtually everything. 

Is this overstated, I don’t think so. Is it really that far-fetched to think secularists may be jerking churches around to see how far a compliant Christian community will bend to the will of government? Or, is it conceivable these actions are just meant to cause as much discouragement as possible within the faith community during this Presidential election year? 

Whatever the reasons may be, religious liberty is being subjugated to the whim of secular rulers. If we value the religious freedoms our nation was literally created to protect, unnecessary government overreach must be resisted with all moral, ethical and legal means available. However, at the same time it’s critical for every pastor to implement reasonable safeguards based on the best information available in order to protect the health of everyone involved in ministry (see 1 Peter 5:2). 

Who do we obey? 

Of far more significance than Constitutional issues is the biblical command to obey God. The Lord instituted government for our good (see Romans 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14), but if its actions cause us to disobey God, then it has exceeded its authority and must be resisted (see Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). The question is: have government restrictions been forcing churches to disobey God? 

The clearest command we have is to routinely gather together in worship (see Hebrews 10:24-25). Emergencies may override this obligation for a very short time, but God clearly calls the entire assembly to meet together, not just some arbitrarily small number over an indeterminate time period. Creative use of drive through worship or church parking lots only serves to vindicate government’s usurpation of authority over the church assembling together. Instead of looking for loopholes in government mandates, church leadership should be deciding how to best care for the spiritual and physical heath of the entire flock, not just a small portion of the church at any given time. Its one thing for church leaders to decide how to protect its vulnerable members during worship; it’s quite another for government to arbitrarily forbid people from worshipping together! 

But there’s more. What about the Lord’s Supper? The biblical pattern implies weekly participation in this visual reminder of the gospel and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross (see 1 Corinthians 11:26). Though weekly observance may not be the norm for many churches, the disruption of the entire Body of Christ routinely participating together is a direct prohibition of one of God’s clearest means of grace to His people. This is a very serious matter (see Acts 2:42-44; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34), and one that government is incapable of understanding, much less properly respecting (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). 

What about singing? Ephesians 5:19 (see also Colossians 3:16-17) clearly shows that believers are to gather together to sing to the Lord to praise Him and edify each other. How is this possible if we are masked, social distanced, limited to an arbitrarily small number, and prohibited from being inside? For that matter, what about the need for believers to fellowship together (see Acts 2:42), pray together (see Matthew 18:20), edify and encourage each other (see 1 Thessalonians 5:11), and comfort each other through physical touch (2 Corinthians 13:12)? Using electronic means can be useful, but it is far removed from the blessings God intended through the physical gathering of His people. 

What about weddings, funerals, baptisms? Each is an intimate, profoundly spiritual event with the body of Christ assembled together. Any government imposed limitation on the number present (even with social distancing) only serves to limit the blessings that God intends for us all. 

Since government does not have the authority to deny the means of grace that God intentionally created to build up the body of Christ, pastors are the ones that must decide how to best honor the Lord, respect the government where it is due (see Romans 13:7), and also exercise prudence in protecting the health of the flock. 

What about civil disobedience? 

Is a church disobeying government if it doesn’t conform to all COVID-19 mandates? 

First off, government is the one disobeying the law of the land when it prohibits the faith community from freely exercising their constitutionally protected right to worship and pursue ministry. After rejecting our nation’s highest law, government then requires the people of God to forsake biblical imperatives to worship together, participate in the Lord’s Supper together, and to freely fulfill all the other spiritual disciplines meant to build up the body of Christ while living out the gospel – together! So who is really the disobedient one? 

Second, are churches hypocritical if they obey building and fire codes, yet reject government restrictions imposed on worship because of health reasons? Not at all! Building and fire standards apply to everyone equally and are a public matter of common sense (and common grace), with objectively verifiable effectiveness. These codes help ensure ministry continues unabated, and are not intended to be a means to destroy worship, fellowship, ministry or any other church activity. However, if building and fire codes were actually used to cripple a church’s obedience to God, they would have to be rejected. 

Finally, it’s tiring to hear the argument that Christians are not to disobey government (see Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13) unless specifically ordered to disobey God, i.e. stop proclaiming the gospel (see Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). Scripture also says that government is intended for our good (see Romans 13:3-4), therefore, when it’s actions run counter to that purpose the legitimacy of those actions can and must be challenged. Concerning the gospel in particular, it is proclaimed in more ways than preaching. It is proclaimed in the Lord’s Supper, it is proclaimed in our singing, in baptisms, in weddings, in funerals, in small groups and in corporate prayers, and in honoring Christ by ministering to each other. It’s clear that governmental health mandates have significantly restrained the extent of these means to proclaim the gospel. Government didn’t have to be overt in restraining the gospel, it was able to do it indirectly (see 2 Corinthians 2:11). 

The bottom lines 

Any non-trivial impact on the gospel must be rejected (see 1 Peter 5:8-9), whether someone labels this as civil disobedience or not. In our fallen world, if government is blindly obeyed it will only be emboldened to do more damage to our spiritual health and gospel proclamation when the next emergencies occur. 

Although to us the future is uncertain, we know we’re in God’s capable hands (see Psalm 31:15). Therefore, let us be diligent to prayerfully ask Him to grant wisdom and unity throughout the Body of Christ as we face the future together (see James 1:5). 

Feel free to forward this article to whomever you think would benefit from it. Also, you can provide feedback using the email below. 

Your servant in Christ,

Frank Kacer

frankkacer@hotmail.com