Let’s Fight the Lord’s Battles with the Lord’s Weapons! What Does the Bible Say About Defying Our Civil Authorities?
You probably have noticed by now there are nearby churches that have decided to open their doors for indoor, in person, worship even though the civil authorities in San Joaquin County still have us on the “widespread” list which precludes such activity. Some within the Christian community are saying “enough is enough, this is dragging on too long!”
So, what should we think about this? The first question must always be, “What does the Bible say?”
Here are the relevant passages…
1 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”
1 Peter 2:13-17
13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
1 “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”
It is instructive to note that the above passages were written at a time when Nero was the Emperor and the Pagan Roman Empire was the dominating power. The language of obedience is expansive and seems to provide no “exception clause.”
17 “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
21 "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
We note that when asked point blank if the people should break the law and refuse to pay the tax that funded their oppressors, Jesus’ instructions encouraged them to obey the law and pay the tax. The second phrase, “Render unto God what is God’s.” While somewhat vague, cannot be taken to reverse what Jesus clearly said in the first phrase of the same sentence.
Put all together, it is obvious that Christians are to be model citizens who obey leaders, pay taxes, and live good lives so that there is not a foothold of slander against the cause of Christ.
So, the question is raised, “Is there any time when we should defy our civil authorities?” The answer is yes and, again, the Bible gives us the answer…
28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!”
Here we see Peter, representing the arrested Apostles, determine that he will obey God and preach the Gospel rather than be silenced. From this passage, we see that when the church is not permitted to practice that which is essential to the faith (proclamation), we must disobey humans and follow God. A secondary principle is that if the human government would force the church to do that which would violate our core beliefs, we would refuse to do so, and obey God rather than civil authority.
Thus, the question concerns the actual matter being restricted by the authorities. If the restricted issue is content of the faith, we must disobey. If the restricted issue is the conditions of program operation, we must obey while we seek to influence.
(In a previous paper I have referred to the fact that if in our county we saw “ideological restrictions” develop, that is, treating churches different than other congregant settings, we may disobey, not on biblical terms, but on policy and fairness terms.)
Some would point to Hebrews 10 as a passage that commands us in this current situation…
Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
However, these words were penned prior to there being Christian church buildings. The gathering that is commanded is not envisioning the current “in church, indoor program” status that is the issue today. Indeed, the Lord has provided many ways for us to gather still, albeit that they differ from our preference of sitting in the church building.
If it is not biblical for us to outright defy the current restrictions, how should we influence the authorities toward a different way forward, with respect to the pandemic as well as toward opening up the churches for common-sense operation?
We must fight the Lord’s battles with the Lord’s weapons, not the weapons of the world. As humanly attractive as it may be to simply defy, take people to court or even to protest on Social media, I see these as the world’s weapons. What are the Lord’s weapons? Fasting and Praying! Some might call this a weak response; however, I call it a meek response.
Thus, on September 27, 2020 we will initiate a 21 day period of fasting and praying to seek God’s solution to the issues that we face. Quail is working with KYCC and joining with other willing churches in San Joaquin County to fast and pray for our county and our nation. The theme of our action is taken from 1 Samuel 17:29, “Is There Not a Cause?” taken from David’s words to Israel’s armies as they faced Goliath.
What comes next?
9/25/2020 – In next week’s newsletter, I will explain in more detail the nature of the efforts that will unfold county-wide for 21 days starting Sunday, 9/27.
9/27/2020 – for 21 days you can tune into KYCC and hear various pastors from the county discuss the importance of prayer and fasting for the purpose of seeing God move.
9/27/2020 – We will gather live and in person for an outdoor, “Concert of Prayer and Praise.” The seating capacity in the courtyard will be expanded and the service times will be altered to allow for two identical services that will focus on praise and prayer. At that time, I will teach on “prayer and fasting for a purpose” and I will give special attention to the “fast” since we at Quail do not talk about that often. A prayer card with focused prayer suggestions will be distributed.
9/28-10/4/2020 – Quail’s focused fasting week. Prior to this, I will outline fasting methods and give suggestions for implementation.
Throughout the 21 days, there will be a series of county-wide Saturday morning prayer gatherings in downtown Stockton (location to be decided). Quail’s publicity, along with KYCC, will give directions.
It is my hope that as we battle for the Lord’s purposes, with the Lord’s weapons, we will see a change that comes from the Lord’s hand and set our county and nation on a new course.
His and yours,
Quail Lakes Baptist Church has a variety of ministries for everyone, young and old.