There is both good and bad news on the coronavirus front. First the good news: a federal judge has ruled in favor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC in its dispute with the mayor. The ruling effectively gives the church permission to meet outdoors even though the size of their congregation greatly exceeds the 100-person limit imposed by city government.
Now the bad news: it’s sad that it has come to this. It is distressing that the Church is turning to the courts for relief from oppressive government actions. Did the apostle Peter, in the book of Acts, take his accusers to court after they told him and his fellow disciples to stop preaching the gospel? Of course not.
Peter did what Christians are supposed to do. He told the oppressors that his loyalty and responsibility was to God first. Then he went out and preached the gospel. It landed him in hot water. Yet he and his friends considered it a joyful thing that they were found worthy to suffer for Jesus. You can read all about it in Acts chapter 5.
Blind Obedience Is Not Scriptural
Throughout the coronavirus crisis there has been an ongoing debate within the Church as to how much obedience we owe the government. Unfortunately, there is a myth in our midst that says we are to blindly obey because that is our duty according to Romans 13. Yet that’s not what Romans 13 says. It’s not even what it implies.
The text of Romans 13 clearly explains that government authorities are ordained by God. But they are not ordained to do whatever they want to do, especially if what they want to do exceeds the boundaries of Scripture. Romans 13:3+4 specifically states that government authorities are ministers of God whose task is to punish evil and promote good.
When government rulers do the opposite — punish good and promote evil — they are no longer working as God’s ministers. Nor are they acting under God’s authority. God did not give the Jewish authorities in Peter’s day the go-ahead to outlaw preaching the gospel. As such, Peter was under no obligation to obey them.
God’s Kingdom Is Supreme
There is a time and place for human government. There is Biblical cause to be obedient to government authorities. But ultimately, God’s kingdom is supreme. Ultimately, God himself is ruler over all. He calls the shots whether government officials like it or not.
If the government says we have to equip our church buildings with fire suppression systems in accordance with local building codes, that’s fine. Requiring fire suppression does not usurp God’s authority. So we obey. But when government says we are not allowed to meet, a line has been crossed.
We know from Scripture that the church is to meet. We know that God intends for us to worship together, pray together, study together, and fellowship. Any attempt by government to prevent that clearly exceeds God-given authority. Therefore, the Church is under no obligation to obey. In fact, we are to obey God first. That means meeting together as we are commanded.
It is truly sad that it has come to this. It’s sad that pastors and congregations are looking to the courts to protect them from overreaching mayors and governors. They should be looking to the LORD instead, meeting anyway and suffering whatever consequences may come — just like Peter and many of the other disciples.