Category Archives: COVID

Part 1 » The Christian’s Relationship with the Government

“If their princes exceed their bounds, Madam, no doubt they may be resisted, even by power. For there is neither greater honour, nor greater obedience, to be given to kings or princes, than God hath commanded to be given unto father and mother.” (1)

The words above were spoken by John Knox as recorded in his History of the Reformation in Scotland. They are an excerpt of a conversation he had with Mary, Queen of Scots. She had asked him to meet with her to discuss his role in the unrest that was sweeping across the land. In response to her accusation that Knox had incited her subject against her, the reformer gives the response quoted above. No doubt, few men had, have, or will have the courage and boldness of John Knox. He was a unique man, set apart by God for a unique time in the history of Scotland and His church. But the question today is not whether anyone is like John Knox, but rather if there is anything to be learned from his answer to queen Mary. In other words, should Christians be more like John Knox?

The words above are of great relevance for today, because the civil magistrate is exercising authority in ways not seen in recent memory in what is called The West. Much of recent mandates and regulations exceed the experience of most Americans. The vast majority of the demands of the government have to do with COVID. Because of the intensity of these government interventions, there is an on-going discussion about whether the government is to be obeyed when it comes to its different mandates. However, this series of articles is not addressing Americans as Americans. It is not addressing any other political entity either. Instead, it is addressing Christians who happen to live in this nation. Can the Christian say “Amen!” to what our brother Knox said to Queen Mary back in 1561?

Certainly, from the Bible there are different instances when Christians disobey their political rulers. Peter and John do so in Acts 4:19-20 where, in response to the command to stop preaching and teaching, Peter says, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” The debate among Christians is usually not over whether the government can ever be disobeyed. It is more likely to be about what may trigger civil disobedience by Christians.

Some of these questions are extremely complicated. However, in order to be positioned to give a reasonable response, the Christian must be familiar with the Bible’s treatment on the subject of government, or what will be referred to as the Civil Magistrate. Summaries of biblical doctrine can be of great help to today’s church, and for that reason this series will consult with the Westminster Confession of Faith and other confessional statements from the Protestant Reformation. In so doing, this series will address the following questions:

    1. What is the source of the civil magistrate?
    2. What is the power of the civil magistrate?
    3. Are there any limitations to this power?
    4. How does the Christian citizen respond?

God willing, these will be released over the next couple of weeks. The theology of the Christian on government will inform how he responds to its authority. So let us lay a strong foundation and live for the glory of God.

(1) John Knox, The History of the Reformation in Scotland (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 278.

Steady On, Christian

The beauty of good doctrinal statements is that they pass the test of time. The Heidelberg Catechism, though written in 1563, still benefits the church today, touching us where our greatest needs are felt. For example, this 16th century catechism begins with this very relevant question and answer: 

What is your only comfort in life and death?

There is no more relevant question to be asked today. The world, strained by 18 months of COVID restrictions and new geopolitical unrest, is filled with anxiety and worry. But here followes the answer for the Christian: 

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Christian, as you struggle with the hystyria in the world over an uncooperative virus, remember: your comfort is found in your belonging to Christ. Hairs may fall from your head, but they will not do so apart from the will of your heavenly Father. It is He who loves you, not the CDC or anyone else. So be steady, find your comfort in Him, and then live for His glory.

On Being too Fond of Life

bell tower

“It is a pity that saints should be so fond of life as they often are: they ought to be always on good terms with death.” Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State

The quote above comes from Boston’s consideration of the difference between believers and unbelievers in facing death. His basic argument is that unbelievers die in a hopeless state, while Christians in a hopeful one. As a true puritan, he acknowledges at least ten different fears Christians may have in facing death, but in the quote above he returns to the reality that the Christian does not need to fear death, but in some sense should recognize it as his gateway into the eternal presence of God.

Why bring this up? Because it seems to me that the Christian church has, by and large, demonstrated that it is a little too fond of life in this world, and altogether too fearful of death. COVID has brought this fear to the surface, and since March 2020 it has begun to take over the spirit of the church. Now come the mandatory qualifiers. This article is not an indictment against any churches who have adjusted their services in the face of this disease. This article is not a denial that people have died of this dreadful disease or suffered other side-effects besides. This article is not an assertion that all Christians should respond to a difficult issue in the same way. But it is an appeal to the church that it consider what is most important.

I’m not wanting to over-simplify an issue, but it seems the general argument made for suspending in-person worship is that the physical health and safety of the people of the congregation will be preserved in this way. That was the motivation of our Session when we resorted to live-stream only for 5 weeks in early 2020. We wrestled with what COVID was and what impact it would have. However, is it right at this point to continue to make the same argument after a whole year of data?

However, the question is not primarily a pragmatic one. Rather it speaks to the very essence of the reason for existence for the Christian. The delight of the Christian is not found primarily in his physical health or in this life. It is in his reconciliation to God. Sin has separated us from Him, but Christ purchases reconciliation by His own blood. Therefore the Christian does not ever cease to glorify God and enjoy Him. He is joined to Christ. The apostle Paul writes of this union:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)

These are all rhetorical questions. The obvious answer is that no one or nothing can separate you from Christ, His love, and the inheritance that comes with it. But that inheritance is not found in this world, but in heaven. Worship is that foretaste of heaven, and there are a variety of ways in which the Christian will arrive in heaven. Some will be martyred, others will die of natural causes. Some will be gathered into heaven at a young age, others having lived a full life. Some will die subject to horrible suffering, some will pass into glory in their sleep. The point is not that all die and so therefore hand yourself over to a fatalistic recklessness. It is not to forfeit any sense of prudence. Rather, it is “How is it that the church loves life on earth so much that it is willing to forfeit and limit the corporate worship of the saints for close to a year now?”

Some questions to consider in the church’s response to COVID:

  • If the church is not gathering for worship, where is the unbeliever to find the peace offered in the gospel that can give him rest in the face of the constant threat of death? How is he to find Christian fellowship as described in Acts 2:42?
  • If the north American church is faced with persecution sometime in the future, will there be courage among Christians to continue to worship the Lord? And if there are Christians who are willing to assume that risk, should they be permitted to worship or should the elders forbid them and remove the option?
  • The next time a missionary desires to be sent to a dangerous region that is hostile to the gospel, will it be consistent with current COVID policies for the church to let him go and voluntarily face that risk?
  • If the risks for COVID go away, are there other risks, perhaps not as common in the news cycle, that also can cause death (such as highway travel) which would need to be eliminated before the church is willing to re-open? Will we forbid our members from eating fried foods? In other words, if we are doing all we can to remove risk of contracting this disease, shouldn’t we do the same for all other diseases and dangers?

The point is not that all responses to COVID must be uniform. But, to forfeit the worship of the living God based on the data we have (taking the CDC’s data at face value) could easily lead to the conclusion that the saints are a little too fond of life, and are unwilling to risk letting it go. What do you love more? The worship of the Living God or physical life? It’s a serious question. And, as a follow up, if someone were to look at your life today, would they say the same? Whatever our response to COVID may be, let us remember what the chief end of man is: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.