Government Regulations and the Gathering of the Church

"The conclusion of a syllogism cannot be valid if either premise is false. In this case, I think there is good reason to doubt both premises. To demonstrate that, I want to begin with the second premise, with plans to address the first premise in a future post." - Ben Edwards

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Premise 1: Christians/churches must submit to all government regulations unless there is a clear command/prohibition in Scripture to the contrary.

Premise 2: There is no clear command in Scripture that a church must gather

Conclusion: Therefore, Christians/churches are sinning when they gather for worship in violation of government regulations (i.e., not submitting to government regulations)

The conclusion of a syllogism cannot be valid if either premise is false. 

He's correct that the conclusion fails if either premise is false. But premise two is not the real premise. The premise is this: There is no command in Scripture that a church much gather all at once in one place.

This is what's actually at issue in the Tim Stephens case. The church can meet, in multiple gatherings of a smaller number. Last I checked, the rule was 15% of building capacity, if memory serves.

Looking at the situation biblically requires getting the central question in focus.

 

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

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But premise two is not the real premise. The premise is this: There is no command in Scripture that a church much gather all at once in one place.

While you may disagree with his conclusion on that point, he does deal with exactly what you are saying:

DBTS article wrote:
Better Argument: There is no clear command in Scripture that a church must regularly gather, as a whole, in-person

Here we have added three additional elements: gathering regularly, gathering as a whole, and gathering in-person. Let’s briefly consider each, again with the caveat that I do not intend to present a developed argument for these practices in part because I think those claiming the novel Christian position bear the burden of proof, not those maintaining the historic Christian position (i.e., that churches must gather regularly, as a whole, and in-person).

Again, you may disagree with how and what he presents, but it's not like he hasn't considered what you are saying.  He just believes it's novel to think that assembling doesn't mean gathering as a whole, in-person.  While arguments about modern tech providing us the ability to "meet" in different ways are interesting, they are in fact new, and can hardly be considered the historic Christian position on the church assembling.

Note: I'm not claiming that historical positions are always right, but I do believe that something held for a long time by a large percentage of orthodox Christianity should be set aside only with a lot of study and careful consideration.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

Here is my comment to Ben on the DBTS site:

Ben,  I think you show a fine example of reasoning, but you have little Scripture to back up your reasoning. Tim has at least tried to justify his position Scripturally. I think he has failed, but of course, that is a matter of opinion.

When you say this: "Suppose a government came out with the regulation that, from this time forward, Christians are not allowed to gather together for worship, full stop."

That is just a straw man. No government in North America has given that kind of order that I am aware of. We aren't arguing about that at all.

Finally, as one who argues that Hebrews 10.25 is not a command to assemble, I offer two challenges. Prove that it is a command to assemble. Also, if it is not a command to assemble, where is the command found in the New Testament?

I think assembly is spiritually necessary, it is simply assumed in the NT, but never commanded as such. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but you will have to use Scripture, not logic.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Andrew K's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Premise 1: Christians/churches must submit to all government regulations unless there is a clear command/prohibition in Scripture to the contrary.

Premise 2: There is no clear command in Scripture that a church must gather

Conclusion: Therefore, Christians/churches are sinning when they gather for worship in violation of government regulations (i.e., not submitting to government regulations)

The conclusion of a syllogism cannot be valid if either premise is false. 

He's correct that the conclusion fails if either premise is false. But premise two is not the real premise. The premise is this: There is no command in Scripture that a church much gather all at once in one place.

This is what's actually at issue in the Tim Stephens case. The church can meet, in multiple gatherings of a smaller number. Last I checked, the rule was 15% of building capacity, if memory serves.

Looking at the situation biblically requires getting the central question in focus.

 

Premise 1 is also false. Or at least not universally true. I think most Christians only take it so quickly at face value because they're used to largely benevolent, rule-of-law governments. 

I can think of many situations, hypothetical and otherwise, without clear instruction from Scripture where disobedience to the govt becomes necessary or unavoidable.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

BC's Restart: A plan to bring us back together - Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)

Check third bullet point in our Phase 3 reopening, which starts tomorrow:

No capacity limits or restrictions on religious gatherings and worship services

There will be SINGING in our church

Great to hear, Don!  I rejoice with you.  Since our church never faced the level of restrictions placed on churches in your area, in some ways I have no concept of what your church went through, but I can imagine the joy at being able to get back together.  We certainly were very happy when after a couple months we could first meet together again outside last year.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

Last night was still Phase 2, but most of us had no masks (individual choices, not church decision) and we sang favorites... it was great

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dgszweda's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The premise is this: There is no command in Scripture that a church much gather all at once in one place.

I would also go a bit further.  Scripture doesn't clarify what "gather" means.  Scripture also doesn't dicate whether gather is under a single roofed building, under multiple roofed buildings or even outside.  It was very clear that the early church was challenged with gathering, so what it looked like day by day, month by month or year by year was quite fluid given persecution, size constraints, government mandates....  We are a bit spoiled when we get upset that our 500 person congregation is temporarily imposed from meeting in their multi-million dollar sanctuary.

pvawter's picture

I think someone has already pointed this out over the past months, but the reality is that we rarely have every single member of the body present at any one time. Even in a very small church like the one I serve, someone is absent nearly every Sunday. Does this mean that we have not fulfilled our obligation to gather? How is this qualitatively different from a capacity limit that requires multiple gatherings? 

Even if you could prove that gathering is commanded by Heb 10:25 (and I think Don has put his finger on an important clarification here), I think our churches would be in violation every Sunday unless we accept that less than 100% still counts as obedience.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

pvawter wrote:

I think someone has already pointed this out over the past months, but the reality is that we rarely have every single member of the body present at any one time. Even in a very small church like the one I serve, someone is absent nearly every Sunday. Does this mean that we have not fulfilled our obligation to gather? How is this qualitatively different from a capacity limit that requires multiple gatherings? 

Again, though you may not agree, Ben has dealt with this in his article:

DBTS wrote:

If the church is required to gather as a whole, are you not fulfilling that requirement if a family is gone on vacation for a weekend or a mom stays home with her sick children? But this is not a serious argument. It is akin to the accusation against the pro-life position that argues one cannot be against abortion and for capital punishment. Both take one thing in common (not everyone in the church is present at the gathering; a life is being intentionally taken) and ignores something that clearly distinguishes the two. For the pro-life argument, the key difference is the reason the life is being taken. For the gathering of the church, the key difference is that in one situation an individual is choosing not to come to the gathering of the whole church while in the other the church leadership is deciding not to allow the whole church to gather. Anyone should be able to distinguish between the church leadership intentionally dividing the body up into multiple services/gatherings and the leadership hosting one service/gathering even though not every member may be able to attend every week. Even if some people are not able to be present, churches should work to allow the whole assembly to gather.

While there indeed may be no command for the entire church to meet together in one place at one time, someone being out on a Sunday is most definitely different than intentionally dividing up the assembly into groups to meet separately and not together.  Is that last a problem?  That's what we're trying to determine, but I agree with the article that bringing up someone being out due to providence or their own choice doesn't really help answer the question.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

Last night was still Phase 2, but most of us had no masks (individual choices, not church decision) and we sang favorites... it was great

Don, I am curious as to how you justify this. You were adamant that we must obey the government but then didn't. Why was it okay last night but not last week, last month, or last year?

Don Johnson's picture

Larry wrote:

Last night was still Phase 2, but most of us had no masks (individual choices, not church decision) and we sang favorites... it was great

Don, I am curious as to how you justify this. You were adamant that we must over the government but then didn't. Why was it okay last night but not last week, last month, or last year?

I expected this question!

First, you know the saying about consistency, right?

Second, we were less than five hours from "phase 3" and we had no concerns that an early change by us would materially change anything.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

While there indeed may be no command for the entire church to meet together in one place at one time, someone being out on a Sunday is most definitely different than intentionally dividing up the assembly into groups to meet separately and not together.  Is that last a problem?  That's what we're trying to determine, but I agree with the article that bringing up someone being out due to providence or their own choice doesn't really help answer the question.

This does get to the crux of the issue. What is Hebrews 10.25 about?

Clearly, if someone is out for a providential cause (sickness, what have you) they are not in violation of whatever Heb 10.25 is teaching. Likewise, I don't think  you can say that Christians who are gathering in make-shift ways (a few groups in homes, or some kind of multi-site situation, or a Zoom meeting) are in violation. While their make-shift isn't ideal they haven't abandoned the assembly. They have done what they could to preserve it.

Abandon is the key word. Do a word study on "not forsaking" and you will see. The issue in Heb 10.25 is a rebuke to those who think they can abandon the assembly because times are tough. They need to encourage one another, serve one another, and do what they can to keep the assembly together, even if they have to use make-shift means for a period of time.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

First, you know the saying about consistency, right?

Yes but it would seem hard to make that claim about obedience to God wouldn't it? 

Second, we were less than five hours from "phase 3" and we had no concerns that an early change by us would materially change anything.

So the real issue was timing and material change? How does that come out of Romans 13? Are we allowed to disobey if it's close or if there is no material change?

Honestly, Don, it's hard to see a significant difference between you and the ones you condemned such as Tim and James and others. If anything, maybe yours is more significant because it was just hours. Surely you could have held on for a few more hours. Theirs was at least a matter of conscience.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Not sure if that was a response to me since it didn't address anything I said. You said I have a wrong opinion but no explanation as to why.

But here's the bottom line: you were adamant that these men were disobedient to God and a harm to the gospel and fellow churches like yours and that there was no room for Christian conscience. Romans 13 simply does not allow it. And yet you did the exact same thing with no hint of an apology for your comments and attacks or even a willingness to defend and explain what you did and why it was okay while their actions were not. Romans 13 didn't change. The law didn't change. But you seem to have changed.

I am fine with your original position and even your service the other night. But your attacks on fellow pastors were strong and adamant. To pretend there is no problem is a problem. 

If you are going to be that adamant against it and then do it, it seems to me that some sort of explanation should be forthcoming. There are people who paid a pretty high price for doing what you did and you attacked them.

Don Johnson's picture

I'm perfectly fine with my opinion, and don't feel any need to discuss it further

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

I will give it a rest but I think you miss the point. It's not just about your opinion. It's about the fact that you spilled much virtual ink both here and at your blog attacking men for doing the same thing you just did: It was wrong for them to do it but it is okay for you to do it.

You should at least understand why that looks bad. You can't just wave it away with "I am okay with my opinion" and "give it a rest." If you can be "fine" with that, then that's on you. But don't expect others to be, especially when, as you already admitted, you expected the questions. That means you knew there was a problem with what you did. You want to question them and impugn them but you don't want anyone to question you.

Don, you publicly attacked men who lived according to their conscience and accused them of harming the gospel and then you want a free pass when you do the exact same thing. One could be forgiven for wondering if perhaps you did it when you were finally assured there was no price you would pay for it. 

I'll bow out unless there is something directed specifically to me but understand why this is an issue.

Don Johnson's picture

Larry wrote:

I will give it a rest but I think you miss the point. It's not just about your opinion. It's about the fact that you spilled much virtual ink both here and at your blog attacking men for doing the same thing you just did: It was wrong for them to do it but it is okay for you to do it.

I don't agree. We were gathering under the rules of our province (for the last month or so, we were allowed indoor meetings up to 50, distanced and masked, no singing, only a soloist). We relaxed the last two within the last five hours prior to the new rules (ie, no restrictions) coming in force. 

You can play Pharisee if you want, but I think you should learn to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

To respond to your comments ...

We relaxed the last two within the last five hours prior to the new rules (ie, no restrictions) coming in force. 

So you only broke the law by five hours? Whereas others did it by five weeks or five months? Can you show us that time frame allowance in the Scripture you used to condemn those who did it five weeks or five months early? Or can you show us where your previous arguments about rebellion included something along the lines of "unless you are within five hours of it being legal"? It seems to me that if you have to obey the government (a point which you made clear and condemned those who violated the order), then you have to obey the government. So what is your justification for "it was only five hours"? 

Again, Don,the reason I press this is because you attacked men for doing exactly what you did. Otherwise, it would be uncontroversial. The only difference is you were closer to it being legal than they were. But it was not yet legal. If government is to be obeyed, how is "five hours" an exemption from that?

You can play Pharisee if you want, but I think you should learn to rejoice with those who rejoice.

I am not playing Pharisee at all. I think that is actually what you have done. You placed burdens on men you were unwilling to bear yourself. For the sake of five hours, you gave up your entire premise.

I don't have a problem with what you did either refraining or allowing when you did. The problem is that you attacked others for doing it. You made the point very clear and then violated your own point because "it was only five hours."

Don Johnson's picture

On June 29, they province announced that the restrictions would drop, that masks would be optional on July 1. On June 30, we have a Wednesday night service. We could have delayed until midnight, and been perfectly compliant, but I didn't choose to do so. I see no sense in insisting on a legalism that will be moot in less than five hours.

In the midst of the regulations, however, we did follow the orders. The difference is that the other guys were publicly defying the orders and almost daring the province to come after them. They weren't just opening up early on the last day before a change of orders. They were making a stand, and then twisting Scripture to justify their stand.

Furthermore, they are causing division in the churches over their fraudulent stand, especially James Coates. I don't think our position is at all the same and I have no problem raising charges against them

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dgszweda's picture

Larry wrote:

 

I don't have a problem with what you did either refraining or allowing when you did. The problem is that you attacked others for doing it. You made the point very clear and then violated your own point because "it was only five hours."

The difference here is that the others who made the choice to meet despite the rules had no line of site of whether it was 5days or 5 months.  They chose to break the rules because they did not agree with following them.  Don had guidance from the government that the restrictions were lifting.  The date was not a date around safety, but was stuck at July 1st based on review guidance.  Whether you want to criticize Don for jumping the gun by a few hour or not is one thing.  But comparing him to what others were doing is not the same by any stretch of the imagination.  Don wasn't jumping the timeline out of civil disobedience or a desire to attack the government.  That is the difference.

Larry's picture

Moderator

The difference here is that the others who made the choice to meet despite the rules had no line of site of whether it was 5days or 5 months.  

Can you show any biblical support for this? Don hasn't offered any. At least the others offered biblical support for their position.

Would this argument be okay from an engaged couple who spent the night together the night before their wedding with the excuse "We were going to be married in five hours anyway"? Or a student who lies completing a reading assignment because he was going to read it as soon as class was over in five minutes? Or a physician who assists in a suicide because "the patient was going to die anyway"? I can't imagine disobedience is okay because of any of these reasons.

As I see it, the only biblical basis for disobedience is conscience, not time. I am open to other biblical arguments if you have some.

Don is one of the ones here who have repeatedly told us we must obey the government and we were not allowed to substitute our own judgment or conscience for it. And the thing is that Don didn't even do it out of conscience like the others did. 

Furthermore, we were told by Don and others that we shouldn't disobey because this was temporary anyway. So even if it was 5 hours or 5 months, it is the same principle. 

It seems strange that those who were most adamant about obeying government are now willing to give a free pass. What am I missing here?