On the one year anniversary of the Covid-19 lockdown, I thought it appropriate to mark the occasion with a message that would lay out some of the lessons I have learned over the past year and how it had prepared me for the potential of forthcoming restrictions. The message is titled, “Unmasking a Future Lockdown.” (You can get Part 1 and Part 2).
As lockdowns continue in various parts of the world, it seems that many are still struggling to understand why some of us would take the position that we have. Various arguments are postulated, such as
- The government restrictions are in an effort to save lives.
- Citizens must sacrifice individual liberties for the social good.
- Scripture calls all citizens to submit to civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7), even when they are wicked (1 Peter 2:18-20).
- The government restrictions are impartially applied, and are not targeting Christians and their worship.
- Worship does not have to be exercised publicly, and can be equally enjoyed at home.
- Acts of necessity and mercy have always been legitimate reasons to not attend the place of public worship, such as David’s experience as a fugitive running for his life from Saul.
- Various circumstances such as leprosy, contact with a corpse, giving birth, would keep someone from attending public worship under the old covenant era.
As noteworthy as all those considerations are, they miss the point. Not one of the above arguments recognizes the authority given by God to church leaders. Just as state governors have the authority to accept, resist, or modify federal guidelines, so it is the church leaders as they decide what to do in the realm of public worship.
As James Bannerman has said:
“There is one fundamental condition, then, essential to an alliance between the Church and state, and on which both parties in the alliance have equally a right to insist: the condition, namely, that the Church and the state, as distinct societies, shall be recognised as mutually independent in their existence and entire offices and functions… The exclusion of the civil magistrate from the whole province that can possibly belong to the Church is absolute and complete; for all that province is included within the twofold description of power implied in the two expressions, “the administration of the Word and Sacraments,” and “the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Within this entire territory the civil magistrate cannot enter, and the Church claims jurisdiction over none other.”
You may note this clear distinction under Jehoshaphat’s reign, “And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters.” (2 Chron. 19:11).
The matters of the Lord are given to church office bearers, and the matters of the civil society are in the hands of the civil magistrate. During times of warfare, pestilence, or animosity towards the Church, civil authorities may order the closure of church buildings or confiscate the property, but they cannot stop the weekly corporate worship of God.
It is up to church leaders, according to their understanding of the Scriptures, to determine how the church worships, when the church worships, and who is a member of the visible Church. They may take the advice of the civil authorities into consideration, but they are not obligated to obey if they determine it is opposed to the mind of God. This distinction must be maintained.
David might be in the wilderness, and a leper may be unable to attend corporate worship, but the call to worship was still be issued by the spiritual leaders of the land, so that those that wish to attend, could.
I continue to submit to God-fearing brethren, that if God has clothed you with authority in His church, you cannot divest yourself of that authority. You may decide to not issue a call to worship, giving God’s people no option for corporate gathering. But you are making that decision, not the civil authorities. Furthermore, you cannot argue that those determined to issue the call to worship are doing so without warrant. Church elders possess that warrant from God, not the state.
Just as I thank God for state governors that have resisted the government voices calling upon them to increase restrictions, so I believe God’s people are thankful when church leaders give them the option to decide whether they ought to be gathered with God’s people or not.
We have a right, nay; I believe we have a duty to do so.