The Rationale of the Christian Covid Rebels (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Reading several articles by the activist group of pastors, I find the re-interpretation of Romans 13 best articulated in a series of posts by Tim Stephens, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary.7 He begins by proclaiming the lordship of Christ over the church (all Bible-believing Christians agree with this). He describes the Scriptural pattern for church life as set down by the Lord Jesus Christ:

“We can all see from Scripture the pattern set down for congregational worship, singing, fellowship, preaching, public prayers, practicing hospitality, a host of ‘one-anothers,’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and living as a family of faith—brothers and sisters under the lordship of Christ.”8

In that description, we see a summary of the activities argued above as “commanding” always in person worship meetings as the “only” way we can fulfill this direction by the Lord. Covid-19 and government restrictions interrupted this pattern, pastor Stephens points out, and now we are confronted with a choice – either conform to government restrictions or not. However, Stephens terms the negative (not conforming to government restrictions) as “conscience.” To him, those who follow conscience means they “live their lives in a mostly normal manner,” that is, they mostly live without following government restrictions.9 He says that when the choice confronts the church, those who lean towards conformity follow Romans 13, those who lean towards conscience follow Romans 14. So, which should we follow? For that we need to understand clearly the meaning of Romans 13.

Romans 13 may not seem that hard to understand. The first two verses are very plain:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Rom 13:1-2)

The statement seems open and shut, we must obey government authority. We do have some Biblical exceptions, such as when the apostles refused to stop preaching in Christ’s name. In the main, however, governmental authority seems clear. We must obey.

Ah, not so fast, says pastor Stephens, consider the context. Romans 12 closes with a series of commands, including, in verses 19-21, commands to the individual to not seek vengeance, rather overcome evil by good. Next comes the commands of 13.1-2, and they are followed by 13.3-4:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Rom 13:3-4)

You see, God appoints governments for avenging evil, for matters of justice and injustice. “So, if we bring Romans 12 and 13 together we get a clearer picture. Don’t take revenge against evildoers, for God has appointed the state to be an instrument of his wrath against them.”10

But, you see, this appointment is really a limitation. It isn’t that government authority extends over every area of life, but only over areas having to do with evildoers and justice and injustice. Governments have no authority, pastor Stephens says, over “the common good.” He goes on to say:

“There is nothing in Romans 13 that teaches that the government is responsible for the common good. There is nothing in Romans 13 that teaches that the government is responsible for keeping people safe from a virus such that they even command what takes place in the church and in the home.”11

“Romans 13 defines the authority of the state to uphold justice and mete out God’s wrath according to God’s standards. It does not give power to the state to define justice or what is good and evil. It does not give authority to the state to outlaw gathering freely in worship, and then bring the punishment of the sword upon those who do.”12

According to Stephens, Christians may defy government health orders as a matter of conscience. If their conscience allows them to meet in church services, their conscience is the only authority they need follow, government has no authority in this matter at all.

“One might seek to argue that all matters relating to health restrictions all fall under Romans 14. That is, it is a matter of conscience and conviction before the Lord. So whether one chooses to gather or stay home, to submit to restrictions in all areas or defy in others, it is all a matter of personal conviction not to be judged by any other.”13

Now there is much more to say about Romans 13, but this sums up the arguments this group makes against government authority in the matter. In their minds, government has no authority to regulate public health, so Christians are free to disobey. Pastor Aaron Rock of Harvest Bible Church in Windsor, Ontario bluntly says:

“In Romans 13, civil authority is given jurisdiction over justice in the public sphere. Our Christian forebears were comfortable with that and urged churches to submit to it. But modern states have extended their authority well beyond matters of justice to include public education, public health, private property use, transportation regulations, right down to requiring dog tags for the family pet. To extend the biblical notion of subjection to any and all areas of life that the government chooses to control is a failure to acknowledge the discontinuities between the ancient and modern world.”14 [Emphasis mine.]

It is hard to imagine that the normal interpretation of language would lead someone to so narrowly conclude that governmental authority in the Bible is strictly limited to issues of crime and punishment. One suspects that this interpretation, a novel one as far as I can tell, came about as a consequence of the Covid crisis, not from a deeply held theological belief.

However, the argument doesn’t end there. We have the statement of GraceLife Church, posted on their website on Feb 7, 2021, and revised on Feb 16, 2021. Presumably the author is James Coates, but the author is unidentified. In any case, the final argument against conformity to government Covid restrictions comes down to a simple denial of the crisis at all.

The article is posted here. The following remarks summarize the points the article makes.

First, the article says that the Covid crisis isn’t really a pandemic because the definition of pandemic changed after H1N1. “Ten years ago, COVID-19 would not have qualified as a pandemic.” Further, the testing is faulty, “the number of Albertans who have actually contracted the virus is likely significantly less” than reported. Covid-related deaths are insignificant statistically, and ignore other deaths brought on by the lockdowns. The implication of this is, simply, “Crisis, what crisis?” We don’t need to follow government restrictions because there is no real crisis.

Secondly, the negative effects of the lockdown far surpass the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdowns aren’t effective in stopping Covid. There may well be some truth to this, but even if true, how is this relevant for GraceLife church to simply ignore government restrictions? The point is a value judgement, and reasonable people can disagree on this point (unless empirical data exists). The proponents of disobedience are simply saying, “My opinion is better than the government’s opinion.” (Keeping in mind that government officials have far more data available to them than average citizens.)

Third, the lockdowns have a nefarious purpose, “to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties.” The article goes on, “By the time the so-called ‘pandemic’ is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent.” Conceivably, governments could be motivated by the lust for totalitarian power. However, this ignores that governments of all political persuasions, left, right, and center, have all imposed at least some restrictions on their jurisdictions. And please note, the Conservative government of Alberta hardly has a totalitarian ideology! (One might suspect more dastardly intentions of the socialist government in British Columbia, but I truly doubt it.) This is conspiracy thinking, not sober analysis of the current situation.

Fourth, the article claims that love for the neighbor demands resistance to the lockdowns — because our activism will bring the lockdowns to an end. (Well, at least it makes the defiance noble!)

And finally, the article claims the public is living in fear to media hype — the media convinced the people “that yielding up their civil liberties to the government is in their best interests.” This is more conspiracy thinking. Although it is true that the media in general seems far more interested in big government and leftist ideology, these assertions are just fear-mongering. They seem to be trying to “out-media” the media.

In my summary of this argument, I’ve pulled threads from the various paragraphs. The statement jumps from topic to topic without much coherent thought. Check the link above to see what I mean.

~~~

I’ve tried to summarize the positions of the “Covid rebels” here in Canada. They aren’t an organized group, they aren’t even from the same denominations. However, their arguments seem to overlap with all of them holding, more or less, to some form of the views summarized in this article.

To close this chapter, I would like to strongly disagree with the positions I’ve summarized above. The “Covid rebels” are forcing Hebrews 10 to bear an absolute and dogmatic position that demands more from Christians than the original author intended. The recipients of Hebrews wrestled with the temptation of abandoning their faith, their apostolic teacher called them to maintain their commitments. There are scenarios when the whole church cannot gather, and likely it is a rare Sunday when a whole local church does gather in its entirety. No one should burden the conscience of Christians with something beyond the meaning of the text.

The “Covid rebels” are taking Romans 13 in a novel direction. They are narrowly limiting its application to matters of crime and punishment alone. We can’t accept that interpretation. The Bible itself demonstrates that this interpretation is far too narrow. The obligation to submit to governing authorities is a very high bar in Scripture. There are Biblical exceptions, but we must be sure that our exceptions are based squarely on Biblical precedent, not our personal preferences. As noted earlier, it is unlikely that this narrow interpretation of Romans 13 drives that activities of the “Covid rebels.” Rather, their dissatisfaction with Covid restrictions led them to a novel Bible interpretation.

Finally, with respect to James Coates’ dismissals of the Covid crisis itself, what can we say? There is a real crisis. Many fell sick and many died from it. Despite that, perhaps the crisis is overblown. Perhaps the government’s solutions are ineffective or nonsensical. Nevertheless, to base your flagrant disobedience to regulations on the claim “I’ve done the research, and I have concluded,” as Coates does, is shockingly arrogant to say the least. One may hold an opposition opinion, but no one gave special insight to James Coates and the other elders of his congregation so that they are free to act on their own initiative, apart from the God-appointed authorities of the land.

I plan to address the Biblical arguments of Hebrews 10 and Romans 13 in more detail in future chapters. I would like to also address some of the history of church relationships with government. Christians and churches need to think about these issues, because there are storm clouds of persecution on the horizon. We won’t face it over Covid, but over the rising “woke” mob, Critical Race Theory, and the homosexual agenda. These threats need some discussion as well.

Subscribe to Don’s substack to be notified of future posts.

Notes

7 See COVID-19: A Romans 13 or 14 Issue?, COVID-19: A Romans 13 Issue?, and COVID-19: A Romans 14 Issue?

8 Source: COVID-19: A Romans 13 or 14 Issue?

9 Source: COVID-19: A Romans 13 or 14 Issue?

10 Source: COVID-19: A Romans 13 Issue?

11 Source: COVID-19: A Romans 13 Issue?

12 Source: COVID-19: A Romans 13 Issue?

13 Source: COVID-19: A Romans 14 Issue?

14 Source: Our Stance on COVID-19: November 25, 2020, Article: A Call to Divine Obedience over Civil Obedience

2293 reads

There are 29 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the analysis.

I've been surprised by how much energy the COVID rebels seem to put into claims that just aren't relevant. If the question is "do we obey?" It doesn't matter whether government commands are effective for a particular purpose, whether they've exaggerated the problem, or whether their commands are beyond the scope of the ideal government.

Rome was not ideal, was certainly excessive at times, was often not effective, etc. but Christians were instructed to obey.

Now if the question was, "Is government making good policy in response to this problem?" Much of that would be relevant. So, it's like there's a conflation of "What should we think about policy?" and "What should we do about policy?" and "Should what we do include obedience?"

There are three things there, because you can obey and simultaneously act in any number of legal ways to oppose the policy. Well today you can. In Rome, you didn't really usually have the option of complying and opposing. You just complied! We should be grateful that as we comply, we can also oppose. (Though I don't see much reason to even do that in most of these cases.... though a few, yes.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dgszweda's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

Now if the question was, "Is government making good policy in response to this problem?" Much of that would be relevant. So, it's like there's a conflation of "What should we think about policy?" and "What should we do about policy?" and "Should what we do include obedience?"

I agree that this is the crux.  I believe it is still rooted in this idea or drive amongst many evangelicals to create a "Christian" nation. (obviously not the same issue in Canada).  There is a blurring of lines between politics and theology.  I think everyone would agree that there are problems with governments policy.  And like you said Rome was even worse.  The questions is how do we respond to it.  We shouldn't make light of the passage in Scripture where the Jewish leadership challenges Christ on taxes.  That was extremely controversial back then, filled with all kinds of problems (some similiar to today), including Scriptural, yet Christ answered it pretty succinctly.

Don Johnson's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 

I agree that this is the crux.  I believe it is still rooted in this idea or drive amongst many evangelicals to create a "Christian" nation. (obviously not the same issue in Canada).  There is a blurring of lines between politics and theology.

You might be on to something there, David. Many of the Canadians in this story either received their education from the USA (several Masters Seminary grads), or are Americans serving in Canada. Besides, though we do have our own history and identity, we consume American culture, so I think some of the rebels are following a more American model than a Canadian one. That is actually a topic I want to explore further later on in my writing about it. There is a lot of legal confusion as some are applying American laws and traditions to a Canadian situation. That''s my opinion, anyway.

 

However, I don't want to distract any discussion that might arise in a thread on my own article! So maybe we should leave that topic there for now.

 

My main goal in this effort was to try to understand what the Covid rebels are arguing. I hope I articulated their positions fairly. I got one little bit of pushback on Facebook when a Canadian friend shared my article. He claimed I misrepresented what they said, so I asked him how so, as I want to be accurate. His reply was to simply repeat their arguments which I had reported in my article. When I pointed that out, he had nothing more to say.

 

Quote:
I think everyone would agree that there are problems with governments policy.  And like you said Rome was even worse.  The questions is how do we respond to it.  We shouldn't make light of the passage in Scripture where the Jewish leadership challenges Christ on taxes.  That was extremely controversial back then, filled with all kinds of problems (some similiar to today), including Scriptural, yet Christ answered it pretty succinctly.

This points to why I am taking this issue up. I think this epidemic is giving the totalitarians plenty of ideas. The secularists among them have no love for the church and would love to repress it. Every time a news item about a church defying the health orders shows up on Twitter, the comments jump immediately to strong attacks (and the usual mantra, "make them pay taxes"). There are other, bigger, issues coming at us. We should expect some in government to want to put pressure on the church. How do we know what to do when that happens? When to defy? When to flee? How to negotiate when there is negotiating room? etc.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

One thing that strikes me is that serving Christ in church was not the only way the ancient believers disobeyed Rome--they also did so when the consequences of Roman law were evil.  Telemachus took a stand against gladiatorial fights (trespassing, disrupting entertainment for the masses), Valentine  performed marriages that were against Roman law (disrupted conscription and provided soldiers with wives, reducing rape), and Chrysostom is said to have stood against corruption by officials.  Paul told the magistrate to release him himself when Paul was whipped without a trial.  And then you've got Esther, obviously.

So we're free to disobey when government officials ignore their own governing rules, or when they're doing something really evil, IMO.  So our question, really, is whether the Canadian Constitution protects churches in this way as does the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, whether Canadian Christians can reference earlier law (1688 Bill of Rights comes to mind) protecting religious liberty, and whether the restrictions on churches are such an evil that they can and should be disobeyed.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Only Paul and Esther in your examples are Biblical. And in those examples, it is unclear to me which laws you think they were defying. I don't see a Biblical warrant for your conclusion, so perhaps if you could expand on that or would be helpful 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

....and for that matter, Naboth, who refused to sell his vineyard to Ahab.  Long and short of it is that the consistent witness of Scripture and church history is that we are not obligated to obey the government when they are doing evil and actively harming people.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....and for that matter, Naboth, who refused to sell his vineyard to Ahab.  Long and short of it is that the consistent witness of Scripture and church history is that we are not obligated to obey the government when they are doing evil and actively harming people.

That is not the story of Naboth.  First Naboth refused to sell.  A sale and offer is a voluntary discussion.  Second, Naboth refused to sell because of direct contradiction to Leviticus 25:23.  It was in violation to Scripture, as well as in violation of the laws that God set forth for this nation.  The US, a secular government, is not bound to OT laws established for the nation of Israel.  This is not a story of obeying government when they are doing evil or actively harming people.  There are times where we should resist, where I think that Don will eventually take this, but the current case is not one of them, nor does it align to the story of Naboth.  In actuallity Naboth was following the laws of the land, and Ahab was the individual who was not following the laws of the land as laid out in Leviticus.  As a result Ahab was punished for not following the law.

Bert Perry's picture

Shiprah and Puah were commended in Hebrews for breaking the law of Egypt (Pharaoh's word was law there, after all) and even God's law by lying to Pharaoh about why the Hebrew babies were not being slain at birth.

Again, disregarding government because there is a higher law is consistently commended in the Scriptures.  We need to keep in mind regarding Naboth as well that he is appealing to a law that was not consistently honored in Samaria--the kings of Israel were one in denying the Torah, starting with setting up false altars besides the Temple at Jerusalem.  So in a very real way, no, the Torah was not the law in the northern kingdom, and yet Naboth appeals to this in defense of his property.

We might say that just as a pastor's authority ends where the Scripture's grant of authority ends, a government's authority ends when its actions and laws are in contradiction to God's law.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joeb's picture

Now I do have sympathy for these people not wanting to take the vaccine. Boy Wednesday Night I thought I was going to die   Fever chills and I sweated up a storm Wednesday Night and last night.  Yesterday the joint pain was bad and it went right into my back I took 2 percs.  I hardly ever take them during the day.   Just at night before I go to bead.   Wow I can't imagine how Bert felt having Covid.  I climbed back in my bed just now I'm so weak.  
 

So the above being said I do sympathize with believers questioning the vaccine.  The only time I was ever in that much pain in my back was right after I hurt it and went to a Phillies game and that night I almost jumped out of my bed.  Of course I told my wife to call an ambulance and she said that won't do any good.  They'll just stick you in a room and let you flip flop around in pain.  Again I don't blame them.  It may be necessary but I would not wish what I went through to anyone.  

Don Johnson's picture

Bert, you didn't answer my question about Paul and Esther. 
 

anyway, it is clear that Christians are justified in disobeying some orders. We need look no further than the apostles and Acts 4 and 5. However, that justification is not subjective, ie, based on my own opinion of the validity of the law.

I will get to that point eventually, but first I am dealing with the arguments of the Covid rebels.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

Paul was defying the "executive order" of the magistrate on the grounds of the rights of Roman citizens.  Esther disregarded the prohibition (under penalty of death) of appearing before the emperor unsummoned.  Together with the prophets and Naboth disregarding the executive orders of the kings, we might suggest that this tells us some things about the way we ought to evaluate the executive orders which form the basis of the approach to COVID on both sides of the 49th parallel.  It's worth noting here that there are precious few actual legislatively passed laws in play here.

And yes, it's not an arbitrary opinion, but a real thought about the side effects.  For example, the COVID restrictions here in MN included a shutdown of schools, and many students appear to be responding to their isolation by suicide.  Given that COVID deaths are less than 1:10000 for young people,do we ignore certain parts of the COVID regulations to keep young people alive?  (should nursing homes have refused to take COVID patients to keep their patients alive?  Should hospitals and the CDC have pleaded for secondary "COVID homes" to actually isolate the sick?  I dare say "yes" to both)

In the case of Canada and churches, the claims I've heard are that (as was the case in Minnesota) the restrictions on churches were often far more onerous than for other institutions, and that falls afoul of Constitutional guarantees on both sides of the border.  You've also got the reality of the side effects of crippling one significant institution that helps people deal with the failures of other institutions.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Paul was exercising his legal rights. He wasn't defying the law.

Esther's approach to the king wasn't unprecedented, though had a legal risk.

As far as the Covid orders are concerned, they are lawful because they are backed by legislative authority. Health Officers are empowered by law to issue Public Health Orders. You don't get to pick and choose which ones you obey just because the orders aren't official legislative acts. You also don't get to play epidemiologist and decide which orders you obey. Civilized nations don't work that way.

As far as Canada is concerned, we don't have constitutional guarantees. We aren't like the States in that regard at all. We have freedoms, but clause 1 of our so-called Charter of Rights and Freedoms says the government can suspend those freedoms in an emergency. And they get to pick the emergency.

Anyway, if you want to check out how lawful "executive orders" are, try defying one and use your arguments on a judge and see how far it gets you 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

A  few observations that might be helpful:

  • We all know that Scripture authorizes Christians to disobey human government when obeying the government would be equal to disobeying God.
  • That exception can certainly occur because the law in question requires behavior that would be morally wrong.
  • Inflicting pain or loss is not the same thing as "morally wrong." That is, sometimes doing the right thing involves making someone suffer.
  • In Scripture the rule is obedience to authority and disobedience is the exception.
  • That places the burden of proof on anyone who wants to justify disobeying the powers that be.
  • The fact that a government order results in some suffering is not in itself evidence that the government order is morally wrong or that obeying it would be morally wrong.
  • There's a difference in Scripture between narrative description and direct teaching. When we see examples of individuals who appear to have disobeyed legitimate authority, that doesn't carry the same weight as direct teaching that we ought to obey authority. The reason is that, with narrative, we're often not told whether what the individual did was right or wrong; we're simply told that they did it.

(But I agree that the case of Naboth appears to be one in which Ahab was violating the law. I've written before about the situation where an authority issues and unlawful order. These cases are usually very clear, very serious, and very urgent--not situations where due process can be used to clarify whether a requirement is lawful or not.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

These cases are usually very clear, very serious, and very urgent--not situations where due process can be used to clarify whether a requirement is lawful or not.

Yes, that's exactly right. Your whole comment is right, I'll probably plagiarize it later. (Joke, if I use it, I'll attribute.)

The case of the Polish pastor calling the cops fascists in Calgary is a case in point. There is a journalist up here claiming that the government is in violation of the criminal code which says anyone who unlawfully interferes with a religious service is guilty of an offense. Through this crisis, I've made an e-mail acquaintance of a guy who is on the law faculty of the University of British Columbia. I asked him about this claim.  He pointed out the word "unlawful." The actions of the police here are lawful, because they are carried out under a lawful order.

There is some hope of lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of restricting our freedoms. The hope is that when other institutions (Costco, for example) are allowed to be open and crowded with "precautions" in place, why not churches? There are cases working their way through the system on that one, but it takes a long time and the government has unlimited resources.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

  • We all know that Scripture authorizes Christians to disobey human government when obeying the government would be equal to disobeying God.
  • That exception can certainly occur because the law in question requires behavior that would be morally wrong.

I generally agree with your comment.  I think the issue for many of us is that the exception does not require something to be "morally" wrong in the sense we usually think of it.  Most of the people wrestling with this are not wrestling over wearing masks, even if they hate doing so and find the government edicts about them to be overreaching.  The Bible says nothing about that, so this isn't something God commanded us not to do that I know of.  The issue about "assembling" is one that on its face doesn't seem like a moral one, except that God has commanded it, and that puts it in the same realm of seriousness as what we think of as moral issues.

There have been a lot of arguments over the last year about what constitutes actually meeting, and how long the restriction against the church meeting has to be in place before we consider disobeying it under scriptural authority.  A few weeks of virtual meetings?  Almost no one fought that hard about that.  A few months?  Now, people are wrestling with whether virtual meetings count as assembling.  A year or more?  Now people are wondering if this restriction is enough to disobey.  Assembly hasn't yet been "forsaken," maybe, but how long does it have to go on before it's practically the same thing?

If any pastor has a member who has been out of church for several months or a year, and then speaks to that person about being in church, it might go like this:

"Hello X, I haven't seen you at our church in a while, is everything OK?"

"Sure.  All is fine with me.  I know I haven't been there in a while, but I haven't forsaken the assembly."

"It sure looks like you have."

"But, I have been tuning in all your meetings."

"That's not the same thing."

Does a government restriction on meeting now make virtual assembly the same thing as really assembling?

I'm not ready yet to say that churches that haven't been allowed to physically assemble in over a year should do so anyway in defiance of the law, but at what point do "temporary" restrictions become disobedience?  Most of us have been content to think that this will be over in a few months.  Here we are, over a year later, and any letup of restrictions, at least in some places, is still months away, and places that have reduced restrictions are accused of "killing people."

I completely agree that we can't just call the police or government "fascists" because they are enforcing lawful orders during a crisis.  But let's not pretend that after more than a year deciding whether to meet anyway is an easy call, and that there is no argument for deciding that restrictions on the church being able to assemble do, in fact, after all this time now meet the definition of the government telling us to disobey what God commanded.

Thankfully, in my state this hasn't been an issue, since the "powers that be" lost in court and churches can meet.  So I have some luxury to think about this issue in the abstract, while being able to attend church normally.  That's certainly not true in many other places.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

dcbii wrote:
The issue about "assembling" is one that on its face doesn't seem like a moral one, except that God has commanded it, and that puts it in the same realm of seriousness as what we think of as moral issues....

Does a government restriction on meeting now make virtual assembly the same thing as really assembling?

You are touching on the subject of my next installment. I am working on it and will hopefully publish it next week.

A little preview, also known as a shameless plug: are we commanded to meet? That is not at all clear to me. I don't think you can actually find such a command in Scripture.

I'll have more to come. I am ready for Sunday, so my spare time today and tomorrow afternoon are set aside for this.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dgszweda's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

dcbii wrote:
The issue about "assembling" is one that on its face doesn't seem like a moral one, except that God has commanded it, and that puts it in the same realm of seriousness as what we think of as moral issues....

 

Does a government restriction on meeting now make virtual assembly the same thing as really assembling?

 

 

You are touching on the subject of my next installment. I am working on it and will hopefully publish it next week.

A little preview, also known as a shameless plug: are we commanded to meet? That is not at all clear to me. I don't think you can actually find such a command in Scripture.

I'll have more to come. I am ready for Sunday, so my spare time today and tomorrow afternoon are set aside for this.

 

Don, thanks.  I would love to see a fully fleshed out analysis of what "forsaking the assembly" really means.  I still struggle with the idea that it must always be in person face to face.  I have not studied every scenario in Scripture in detail.  While face to face is preferred, can we still be Biblical to do this via Zoom for a relatively short defined period of time?  If, as it says in Hebrews, that we should not forsake the assembly of ourselves so that we do not miss stirring up love and good works or exhorting one another, can that still not be accomplished with technology today?  Every pastor who has resisted the government has targeted assembly as meeting in person.  I just don't feel that we have done a good job in the theology of this, especially given technology and situations that exist today that didn't exist in the 1st century AD.  Is the mother who must sit in a cry room and away from the congregation and away from direct view of the pastor, still assemblying by hearing the pastors sermon through the loudspeaker?  Don't want to derail this particular thread but would love to see this discussed in detail.

You could argue that Paul's message to Ephesus via a letter was more powerful than his message to them face to face.  We have no record of what took place face to face, but the letter that they received was the very Word of God.

Don Johnson's picture

Yes, I think we can assemble via technology, albeit I recognize it is a poor substitute. Still, it is better than nothing. I mentioned in this article that I attended a business meeting via Zoom where we conducted business, elected officers, etc. It was not as good as in person, but we got some things done.

I also touched on this thought in the current article where I said that it seems that the interpretations the rebels are arguing are constructed as a response to the situation, not as a response to the Scriptures. In other words, if the pandemic had never happened and the restrictions never imposed, these guys would never have come up with their current positions. That doesn't seem to me to be "let the Scriptures speak" but "let me tell the Scriptures what I want to hear"

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

A little preview, also known as a shameless plug: are we commanded to meet? That is not at all clear to me. I don't think you can actually find such a command in Scripture.

Well -- that's a direction I didn't expect you to go next!  Looking forward to your next installment.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

dgszweda wrote:

While face to face is preferred, can we still be Biblical to do this via Zoom for a relatively short defined period of time?

It's pretty easy to say "relatively short defined period of time," but it's not at all obvious what relatively means, and "defined period of time" needs to be better fleshed out than "as soon as it's safe to get back."  If the goalposts keep moving, it will be easy for a "relatively short" period of time to turn into a long one, which it already has for many.

Quote:

Is the mother who must sit in a cry room and away from the congregation and away from direct view of the pastor, still assemblying by hearing the pastors sermon through the loudspeaker?  Don't want to derail this particular thread but would love to see this discussed in detail.

Yes, it would be interesting to see a well-developed theology of what "assembling" means, particularly in light of the new technologies we have that you mentioned.

Quote:

You could argue that Paul's message to Ephesus via a letter was more powerful than his message to them face to face.  We have no record of what took place face to face, but the letter that they received was the very Word of God.

While true, we don't have apostles today, nor do we have scripture being written any longer, so I'm not sure this particular argument is helpful to the modern church or the current Covid situation.

Dave Barnhart

dgszweda's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

While true, we don't have apostles today, nor do we have scripture being written any longer, so I'm not sure this particular argument is helpful to the modern church or the current Covid situation.

Understood.  Wasn't trying to equate anything more than throwing out how truth can be conveyed.  I agree it has no direct link to what we have today. 

I would say, like others on this thread, that we have been conducting business at my company fully online, with no in person for more than a year.  We hold business meetings, share stories, actually engage in aspects of our employees lives more deeply than we would have at work, and run a successful public company with no issues.  While face to face has its advantages, we have actually obtained other advantages that we would not have had if we fully met only face to face.  I think in light of technology today. assembly can take on an entirely different meaning than 1st century Christendom understood it.

dgszweda's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Here: Putting Hebrews 10 into Perspective - an Oxgoad, eh? (substack.com)

Don, this is great.  And I would align to this.  One question, are you going to take this further to define how we can assemble?  We know face to face is the most preferable route.  But is zoom an acceptable situation in either short term situations (COVID) or longer term situations (extreme age) where gathering in person may not be acceptable.  In the past we had an either or situation.  That meant that if you were ill or older you might have no options.  Hebrews says we gather to for the sake of such things as encouraging one another.  The focus is less on the assembly and more on assemblying to create an outcome (encouragement).  Can we generate the identical outcome by virtually assemblying? I have not fully studied this out, but I feel that we can worship, sing together, prayer for each other, encourage, help others to grow through something like Zoom.  The reason that I ask is that some churches have thrown that out as an option altogether.  Like I had said before my mother teaches a Sunday School class to those who are very aged, unable to get around...when the church went to Zoom it was the first time they felt a part of the church and a body of believers.  While I don't think a church should cancel in person services, I think there is even some value in continuing online and Zoom for those who cannot make it. 

Don Johnson's picture

The next topic I want to address is the horribly twisted take the Covid rebels have on Romans 13. I think I will address the things you mention eventually, but I want to explore our relationship to government authority further first. There are issues rising that have the potential to become issues where we will have to stand up to authority. We need to be clear about why and when. My hope is to present some clear thinking to prepare us for that. 
 

but to answer your questions, I think as long as we have access to online tools, we should use them

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don,

I have now had a few days to think a bit on your new chapter.  In light of what you wrote there, I guess I have a question or two for you.  After all the Covid mess is over, if you have an able-bodied (i.e. non-shut-in) member who only shows up once or twice in 3 months, but faithfully participates online, emails you questions about the sermon, shares prayer requests with you online, communicates and prays with others in your church, etc., would you tell them it simply isn't "best" that they stay away in that fashion, or would you consider this a matter of sin/church discipline?  If there is no command or imperative to meet in person, could you do more than just encourage them to attend in person -- i.e. could they be a faithful member without personally attending (much) if they participate faithfully online, communicate with fellow members, etc.?

It's obvious from what you write that you consider church attendance vital, but, from what I read, not a matter of disobedience to God if the government commands us not to assemble personally.  However, if we are not in disobedience by not assembling in person due to government, what makes us disobedient by not assembling personally at other times where there are other ways to stay engaged with the church?  Or is it just an "unwise" choice not to do so?

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

Hi Dave

It depends. We have a provision in our bylaws that drops someone from membership after a six month unexcused absence. (They go inactive - can't vote - after three months, but can reinstate themselves by simply attending.) That's for members.

Still, we have a situation where a member has had a job for some years that requires work on Sunday. He only occasionally shows up. It has hurt him spiritually. I recently had coffee with him and encouraged him to take steps to change his days off, which he agreed he needed to do.

If his attitude was "I don't need it, I'm doing fine" we would approach it differently. We have numerous attenders who are not members. We would always encourage them to be more active and join, but there is no means to exercise anything more than that.

I guess the bottom line is that for us a commitment to membership means active participation at in person meetings. It isn't commanded in the New Testament as such, but it is assumed everywhere in the New Testament. And we require it in our bylaws, but not as a matter of doctrine.

However, certain circumstances make attendance difficult or impossible (shut-ins, for example) and we put that in the category of "providential hindrance."

If someone was able to attend but just chose not to, I don't think we would make a big issue of it and hold a formal disciplinary meeting. If they persisted, we would simply let our bylaws operate and remove them from membership by attrition. That would mean they couldn't vote. They would always be welcome to attend.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don Johnson wrote:

The next topic I want to address is the horribly twisted take the Covid rebels have on Romans 13. I think I will address the things you mention eventually, but I want to explore our relationship to government authority further first. There are issues rising that have the potential to become issues where we will have to stand up to authority. We need to be clear about why and when. My hope is to present some clear thinking to prepare us for that.

Look forward to seeing that.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

Hi Dave

If someone was able to attend but just chose not to, I don't think we would make a big issue of it and hold a formal disciplinary meeting. If they persisted, we would simply let our bylaws operate and remove them from membership by attrition. That would mean they couldn't vote. They would always be welcome to attend.

Sounds like you have a consistent application -- not exactly a sin issue, but important and dealt with in your church's bylaws.  Our church would deal with this similarly.

I'm still not sure I 100% agree that there is no command to assemble, but I agree with you that it's both vital and assumed.

Dave Barnhart

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.