Are We Defying the Government by "Going to Church"? (during the pandemic)
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2)
There is an obligation as Christians to strive to live at peace with one another and the world around us. This is not only in the immediate context of Romans 13 (12:18 & 14:19), but a principle of Christianity consistently taught throughout the New Testament (II Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:22, I Thessalonians 5:13; II Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:14; James 3:18; I Peter 3:11; etc.) Christians should not be “rebel-rousers”, but should live the faith in fear of God.
Jesus is an example of this. He lived in very ungodly times amongst a very wicked generation. Both secular rule (Romans) and religious rule (Jews - Priesthood and governing class) were shrewd, unscrupulous, disgracefully sinful leaders. However, Jesus did not incite rebellion. He did not seek to overthrow those governments. He lived His mission - a mission that neither government liked - to God, and when challenged, both told and exemplified submitting to governing authorities. (Mark 12:17 - “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”)
At the beginning of 2020 with the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak there were many governing bodies that began taking steps to try to curb the spread of the highly communicable disease. As restrictions began to be enforced, at one point, many jurisdictions even prohibited churches to assemble in any fashion with the lone exception of virtually - online. Several congregations still chose to meet despite the orders from the local governments. Were these churches defying the government, and thereby defying God, in their continued assembling together despite governmental edicts? Maybe…
In the United States of America (like in most societies) there is a hierarchy of authority. Just because a governing authority makes an edict, does not mean it is legal (and especially doesn’t mean it is moral - i.e. - the original slavery laws of the U.S.) Many times throughout our history the government has taken illegal action (that’s right - illegal), been challenged in court for such illegal action, and found guilty (wrong) of illegal action. That is most assuredly going to be the case with all of the power hungry politicians who declared (and enforced edicts) that were clearly in violation of the supreme law of the land - the United States Constitution.
The United States is a republic. That means that we are a society that is governed by law (the constitution). No authority is above the constitution in the U.S. and all authority is required to submit to the Constitution or be found in violation of it - the law.
Amendment I of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” War and Disease were just as rampant (perhaps more so) in the time in which these rights were enshrined in the Constitution. There is no “War Exception” to the Bill of Rights. There is no “Pandemic exception” to the Bill of Rights. It is the supreme law of the land. Any governing authority which infringes upon those rights is wrong - illegal.
Not all churches across the world have the luxury and blessing of the Bill of Rights. There are corners of the world where it is still illegal to openly practice Christianity (China and North Korea for example). However, there are brethren who still take great risk of their own lives to practice Christianity without inciting rebellion and to live in peace. They follow the example of what we might find in Acts 8:1-4.
If, in America, we are “defying” a law of the government by peaceably assembling and practicing our religion, we are defying an unlawful (illegal) order. In such a case, it is not we who are “outside” the law, but the “authorities” themselves. It is akin to the Apostles who were charged not to preach Jesus (Acts 5:28) to which the Apostles stated, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) The Apostles didn’t want to be in the position of defying the governing authorities, but the unreasonable and godless authorities left them no choice. Let us not think that just because we live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that we will never likely face such choices ourselves. If you ever thought, “not in my lifetime”, I’m sorry to say, yes, it has now happened in your lifetime. We likely never thought we’d live to see such a day.
I hope we do understand that Romans 13 is addressing righteous rule. That when a governing authority demands we do that which is wrong/sinful, we will do what the faithful have always done - righteously (peaceably) defy man and obey God (Daniel 3 and 6; Acts 5:41-42; Acts 8:1-4; James 1:2-12; I Peter 4:13-16). There are those who will by liberty participate from home and there are those who by liberty will choose to physically assemble. May we respect and be at peace with one another.