A couple of days ago Rodney Howard-Browne, a false teacher in Florida, was arrested for holding services against a state mandate. There are quite a few moving parts to this discussion—and as such I’m a bit hesitant to enter in here. So rather than speaking of Howard-Browne or other pastors being arrested, I want to speak of a general principle here.
I do not believe it is religious persecution for law enforcement to enforce a ban which includes holding religious services. Nor do I believe it is bold and God-honoring to hold such services in the face of a government lockdown. Let me explain why.
First, if churches were the only ones targeted then we have a much different discussion. I understand that some are upset because they feel the government is saying that a church meeting together is not an “essential service”. But “essential service” is less about whether or not you are important and more about whether or not your NOT gathering in physical proximity would do more harm than good. You cannot administer CPR online. Oil, electricity, food services, etc. require physical proximity to accomplish the task at hand. But you can reasonably gather and feed your flock online.
Secondly, this is a Romans 13 situation and not an Acts 5:39 situation. In Acts 5:39 the government was attempting to stop the spread of the gospel. In such an instance you must go against the government. But consider a few things about Romans 13:1-7
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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Verse 3 is key here. When the government’s actions are for the furtherance of “good conduct” they are rightly “bearing the sword’. They are doing what God has called upon them to do. And so, yes, it is well within the God-given rights of a government to shut down assembly for the good of the people. It is not infringing upon religious liberty to do so.
Notice, though, what Paul is saying here. (And keep in mind the wicked Roman emperors who were in charge at this time). He is saying that to disobey the authorities that God has placed over you is to disobey God Himself. So it isn’t bold. It’s God-belittling. It’s not trusting in the sovereign care of God. It’s a prideful act of rebellion.
Yes, there are times to disobey the government. There are times for revolutions. There might come a time to fight for religious liberties. But this is not one of them. Saying, “I must obey God rather than man” in this situation is self-contradictory. Because God has told you in his Word that when the government is “God’s servant for your good” you obey God by obeying them.
So, in my mind, these orders are not infringing upon our religious freedom. However, Howard-Browne and others, by ignorantly and rebelliously going against the government in such a time as this, are actually putting in place things which could eventually lead to a loss of religious freedoms.
Here is the principle. If the government’s aim is for our good then we rightly trust in God’s sovereignty and obey. To disobey is not a mere difference of opinion it’s actually a matter of obedience. And I don’t think it’s by accident that several of those still having services are health and wealth prosperity-gospel false teachers. It shouldn’t surprise us that those who do not submit to God’s Word theologically would not submit to God’s governance practically.
Now, if the government’s aim is for tyrannically shutting down the gospel (and it’s discriminatory) then we absolutely must trust in God’s sovereignty and disobey. If they tell us we can no longer meet online—then we have a problem. If they allow some “non-essential” things to resume but not the church, then we have a problem. But we aren’t there at this point.
Originally published at Borrowed Light, Mike’s personal blog.