Let us disassociate ourselves from the extreme positions on either side of this immensely emotional debate.
There are those who believe that the Christian should NEVER give in to governmental authority and our posture ought be that of continual pushback and antiauthoritarianism.
I would disagree.
I, for one, am NOT a rebel. I’m a proud American, a good citizen, and an ardent supporter of law and order. I was thrilled to watch the entire nation come together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual sacrifice during the early days of the pandemic. I talk about it here. You can even ready my thoughts on the necessity of temporary church closures here.
Conversely there are those who believe that the Christian ought ALWAYS obey governmental authority, quietly and submissively, regardless of law or mandate.
The truth, as it often does, lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. We shall see from Scripture, the Christian is both called to submit to governmental authority and also resist governmental authority.
How can we live in this seemingly contradictory worldview?
True Christians are neither rabble-rousers nor sheep-like simpletons. We have no desire to foment rebellion, overturn governments, nor participate in political coups. We’ve watched as the kingdoms of men quickly rise and subsequently fall. Still, we remain focused on advancing another kingdom. Despots, dictators, and kings come and go. We pay little attention, for we serve in immortal King. Yet occasionally, as seen throughout history, we will concern ourselves with the political affairs of men as we see opportunity of advancing our King and His Kingdom or bringing justice to the disenfranchised. But mostly we just want to raise our families, worship our God, and advance His name as we wait for His certain return.
Most of the time we make impeccable citizens. This is because our King has instructed us to follow the temporal authorities that be.
Romans 13:1-2 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Many of us take time every day to pray (by name) for the governmental leaders we’ve been given. This stands in sharp contrast to the political opportunists that typically surround such persons of power. We pray for them because our King has instructed us to do so.
I Timothy 2:1-2 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
Like I said, we just want to quietly raise our families, worship our God, and advance His name as we wait for His return.
I Thessalonians 4:10-12 But we urge you, brethren…that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
We are taught to pay our taxes (Matthew 22:21), not slander political authorities (Titus 3:1-2), and live in general submission to local and federal governors (1 Peter 2:13-15).
Alas, we are longsuffering with our government, but our suffering does have Biblical limitations. We are patient with our governors, but our patience does have a breaking point. Understand, this breaking point does not arise from emotional exhaustion or political frustration. It arises from the same well from which we are instructed to obey, submit, and follow our society’s laws. This breaking point is clearly delineated in the Bible – our written instruction manual from our King.
According to Scripture, Christians are to disobey government…
1. When they Breach our Sanctuary
The Church is NOT a building. However, we do believe that the space in which the congregation corporately gathers to worship is sacred (Matthew 18:20; 1 Timothy 3:15). Historically we’ve referred to this place as the sanctuary, whether that place be a modern auditorium, a living room, or a storefront. To us, this place is sacred. It is a sanctuary from the outside world. Reminiscent of the Deuteronomic Cities of Refuge, it is a place that the worries of the world, the demons of the world, and the governments of the world cannot touch us.
I ask an honest and urgent question. “Should there not be a refuge from the increasingly powerful and ubiquitous state?”
This is why Jean ValJean fled to a church as he fled the French authorities represented by Javert. This is why Esmeralda sought sanctuary in Notre-Dame. Within the walls of our place of worship, the government has NO authority. This is a staple of western civilization. Americans refer to this ancient practice as “The Separation of Church and State.” It means that the church has NO authority beyond the walls of its sanctuary (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), and the state has NO authority within the walls of the sanctuary (Acts 5).
This is not to say that the church should not willingly comply with building codes, fire protection requirements, occupancy limitations, and building permits as designed by local governmental officials. Every church I know is perfectly willing to work with the state in these important ways. Moreover, we believe that the local church has forfeited her right to privacy and autonomy if she is attempting to shield a sexual predator or financial conman. Out of partnership with the state, rather than an abdication of our authority, we turn over such villains to the judicial system of the state.
Nonetheless, the church must be viewed as a sanctuary. The moment I walk out of the sanctuary and onto the government’s sidewalk I am commanded, in Romans 13, to obey the government’s laws. This is one of the reasons I wear a mask wherever I go in the state of Nevada. This is why I only cross the street where I find state-sanctioned crosswalks. This is why I try (though often fail) to obey the speed limit.
It’s their world, we’re just living in it.
But the church must be viewed as an embassy of another kingdom. This is sacred ground. It is not part of their state system. We function under different laws and follow a different king. We will be good citizens while in their territory, but they don’t have authority in our sacred places.
Therefore, the government will have nothing to say about when we meet, how often we meet, what we wear when we meet, what we eat when we meet, what we do when we meet, how we meet, what we say when we meet, what we sing when we meet, how we pray when we meet, or anything to do with our meetings. It’s simply a matter of jurisdiction.
What if they insist on taking away our buildings? Then we will meet in our homes.
What if they insist on taking away our homes? Then we will meet in in the catacombs.
What if they insist on taking our lives? Then we will meet in the city of New Jerusalem.
Regardless, the church will continue to meet.
2. When they Restrict our Worship
The problem with giving in to governmental authority as it relates to how we worship, when we worship, what we worship, what we wear when we worship, and the words we use when we worship is that we unjustly and unwittingly give the idea to governmental authorities that they have the right to speak into these matters. They simply do not.
There is tremendous danger in giving even an inch in this regard. Like a family cowering to the demands of an undisciplined toddler, eventually the little tike is going to think they are actually in charge of the house. There has never been a governor, king, president, congress, dictator, or tyrant who had the authority to “shut down” churches.
This is why the vast majority of churches carefully selected their words in March of 2020 when deciding to temporarily move their worship services to online only options.
“The Lord has led us…”
“The Medical Committee of our church has advised us…”
“As the Pastor of this church I’m feeling led to…”
“The Elders and Deacons have decided to…”
“As a Congregation, we have felt compelled to…”
We were all extremely careful not to give the wrong perception to the Christian community, governmental authorities, or our future posterity that we saw the government having any right to restrict our worship – under ANY conditions. Why is this such a sticking point to us?
Because it is a fundamental belief of the Christian people that we worship without governmental approval.
Sure, there are state-sanctioned and state-controlled churches throughout the world who have sacrificed Biblical autonomy and authority for temporal safety. But we do not see these as true churches. They have apostatized. They have sold-out the faith of Jesus Christ. Their doctrine is corrupt, this mission is compromised, and their ministers are damned. It is the “underground” churches of China, North Korea, and the Muslim world with whom we align.
We are like Daniel. We are living in a society that once recognized our God-given right to worship as we please, when we please, and where we please. And, when laws are passed that even slightly restrict our worship, we must respond as Daniel did. Ignore the mandates and continue worshipping.
Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.
Doing this displeased the ruler of Babylon but it pleased the King to whom Daniel was ultimately loyal.
This act of rebellion earned him a night in the Den of Lions.
I’m concerned by the near-sighted Christians who cry out, “This is not persecution. This is not that big of a deal. Let us not overreact to these temporary mandates.” These voices sound eerily familiar to the ones who, nearly a century ago, claimed, “It’s just a little propaganda. It’s just a sign in a window. It’s just a patch. It’s just a railcar.”
Agreed! This is not persecution at the level we’ve seen in the past. I know this as well as you know this.
However, is this not how persecution begins? These are the moments a society will create the divergent paths of state-sanctioned church and underground church. Today’s compliance on “mandatory closures” will lead to next year’s capitulation on “tolerant content” in sermons. What if next June, during Pride Month, we were asked by governmental officials to TEMPORARILY refrain from any outdated sermons on morality and sexuality?
“NEVER!?!?” you say.
Are you sure? There may be some very compelling reasons as to why the government needs us to TEMPORARILY comply. There are always compelling reasons. What if it were for your own safety? What about the safety of your children? What if the mandate threatened civil or criminal charges?
“But the church has not been specifically targeted. When this happens, then we will support civil disobedience.” I’ve heard this argument from godly men who are very intelligent. I answer this question by asking one of my own.
Have you seen what is happening in my state of Nevada?
Casinos, which have had a a terrible time maintaining social distancing procedures, remain open with a 50% occupancy allowance while churches are limited to gatherings of 50 or less. This question recently came before the United States Supreme Court where Justice Gorsuch felt compelled to write…
“This is a simple case. Under the Governor’s edict, a 10- screen “multiplex” may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps six people huddled at each craps table here and a similar num- ber gathered around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from ad- mitting more than 50 worshippers—no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear face masks, no matter the precautions at all. In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment pro- hibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion. The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Yeah, but Josh, this is only a temporary measure. So, shouldn’t we just give in?
Let’s take a look at the plight of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. To refuse Nebuchadnezzar’s TEMPORARY religious mandate meant they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. Absolutely, most of the Israelite captives thought that these three were too radical and probably a little overdramatic. But they knew that they could not defy the living God by allowing a mini tyrant to restrict their worship of God.
Daniel 3:16-18 They answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
God would save them.
And, even if He didn’t, they weren’t going to bow the knee.
3. When they Regulate our Mission
This has not yet happened in the United States, but it’s the next thing up.
The mission of the church of Christ is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. One of the base tenants of our faith is proselytizing. We call it evangelism. We share the “good news” of Jesus with everyone we meet. It’s not merely a part of our faith, it is the central motivating engine of our entire belief system.
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
No less than five times we have these words of Jesus revealed in Scripture. We call it the Great Commission and it’s why we believe we are still here on earth rather than in the glories of Heaven.
So then, when the disciples of Jesus were brought before the governmental authorities of their day and it was demanded of them that they stop teaching people about Jesus, they were disinclined to aquacise to their request.
THEY REFUSED TO OBEY!
Acts 5:27-29 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.
Obey God rather than men.
Here we learn the great principle of choosing obedience to the higher authority. The Christian doesn’t disobey, not really. The Christian doesn’t rebel, nope. The Christian simply has a metric that most of the world doesn’t have, God first – then men. The Christian is called to obey men, only in areas where men are in alignment to God and not asking God’s people to disobey God’s law.
This leads us to our final point…
4. When they Ignore our Citizenship & their Law
The governments of the New Testament didn’t ease up on the early church. By the time Paul makes it back to Jerusalem they are ready to bind Paul, beat Paul, and have Paul executed for his noncompliance. But Paul doesn’t simply stretch out his neck, flutter his eyelashes, and tell them to swing the ax. He quotes their law and invokes his own citizenship.
Acts 22:25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”
Use your citizenship!
As the United States continues its rapid decline into decadence and eventual oblivion, let us remember the example of the Apostle Paul. We are to use our American Citizenship! Remember, we are American citizens who have been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We are not anti-government. Be believe “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.”
But weren’t the signers of the Declaration of Independence an angry mob of rebellious discontents?
It has been often questioned by Christians if the heroes of the Revolutionary War were justified in their rebellion of the British Government. A further reading of the Declaration of Independence will answer this question clearly. NO! The King of England refused to follow the laws of Britain.
The Monarch, not the Patriot, was in violation of the laws of England. For over five-hundred years, since the signing of the Magna Carta, it was known that even the King was not above the law. After years of having their grievances ignored by this rebellious King, the colonialists had but one option left. They would have to turn to a higher authority. “Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions” they declared their independence and official separation from the British Empire.
They, like the Apostle Paul, knew the law and used their citizenship to secure their God-given rights.
So, ought we.
We have a responsibility as citizens of the United States to actively engage in the public debate with grace and boldness. We must remember the nature of our Democratic Republic, the meaning of our founding documents, and the principles upon which this nation was founded. To do any less would be an abdication of our Christian responsibility. (I will be writing more on this subject in an upcoming blog post.)
Passivity is not a weakness to be celebrated. Apathy is not a virtue in any age. You will see, throughout history, Christians who were willing to use their citizenship to secure freedom, bring justice, and advance the Kingdom of Christ around the world.
Should we do any less?
So then, when are Christians to “disobey” the government? Like my friend Pastor Bryan Ries brilliantly replied, “in fewer situations than we think.”
Yet, I’m sure we can all agree, there are moments where the citizens of the Kingdom of Christ must help the temporal societies of men by standing against overreaching government bureaucrats.
- When they Breach our Sanctuary
- When they Restrict our Worship
- When they Regulate our Mission
- When they Ignore our Citizenship & their Law
During these days we must remember the words of our King. When asked a similar question related to the oppressive Roman government of his day Jesus said,
Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This is why I will continue to pay my taxes, wear a mask around town, honor the police, pray for my Governor, and try my best to stop speeding.
This is also why I will continue to go to church, sing loudly, attend Bible Studies, seek justice for all men, and try my best to reflect the love of King Jesus to everyone I meet.
What about you?
What are your thoughts relating to the Christian responsibility during days like these? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
If you agree with the Scriptural thoughts presented in this article, would you consider SHARING this post with your family and friends?
 When asking my friend Attorney Joshua Hershberger of The Good Citizen Project his thoughts on this unpublished article he stated, “As I have reflected on the shutdown across the country, my gravest concern is that so many government officials (and especially governors) failed to treat the church as a peer or equal institution. Instead of treating the church as a partner and working with us to protect the public health, the state treated the church as just one more organization to regulate. Clearly, many government officials do not understand the Biblical role of church and state.”