As I begin this second installment on the church/state relationship, please be patient while I review much of what I said in the first installment. God ordained the times and habitation of all nations in such a way as to make it easier for lost sinners in a fallen world to find Him (Acts 17). Because the state derives its authority from the purposes of God, believers should be subject to the authority of the state (Romans 13, Titus 3:1-2, etc.). Although I did not go into the other passages, I find many that give specific details of the ways in which believers being subject to the authority of the state cooperates with the plans of God. Consider for instance, I Peter 2:13-17 where we find that being subject to the state silences the ignorance of foolish men who would otherwise criticize believers – i.e. faith should make us better citizens than otherwise, not worse, and this testimony helps others find God. There are many other such passages but for the time being I will let you search them them on your own – they are not hard to find. But – the books of Daniel and Revelation assure us that earthly state governments also function as the Beast – empowered by Satan to accomplish his will. It is my contention that all the world’s governments always become the Beast in the end, overwhelmed by the moral pressure of the fallen world. When states fall into Satan’s snare, they drive us to God rather than leading us to Him. Either way, the plans of God are accomplished. This reality, however, brings us to the understanding that being subject to the authority of the state does not imply unquestioning absolute obedience. In Acts 4 the Apostles refused to obey state orders to cease and desist preaching Christ. This is disobedience. On the other hand, they, as a part of their testimony, willingly and meekly endured whatever punishment the state dished out for their disobedience. This is subjection.
Having reviewed the previous post – let’s move forward. A Christian’s subjection to the state does not proceed from any faith or hope in the state itself. Rather, our subjection to the state proceeds from our faith and hope in God. This is good! I, at least, have long since ceased to hope much in the state! The same fallen sinfulness that troubles humanity in all its endeavors prevails in our government (the church too – but that’s another discussion). Power, love of money, reckless ambition and lust are far too often the real drivers of state policy. This is no surprise to God and our subjection (not unquestioning obedience) to the state is part of His plan for making it easier for lost sinners to find Him.
All of this applies to the church/state relationship in the current situation. We have the same Biblical insistence that we should be subject to the state even as it issues orders pertaining directly to the operation of the church. But – gasp – the state may be short-sighted and wrong. Bureaucratic policies often accomplish exactly the opposite of their stated intent. The state may not have the best interests of the church – or any concern at all that lost sinners find God – in mind. Many state operators may see a crisis like the current one as an opportunity to seize permanent power over the population! Some state operators will see the pandemic as an opportunity for ‘under the table’ or ‘back room’ deals to milk money from this or that vendor or interest. All these things are true. But remember, Paul’s original remarks about being subject to the state were given under the administration of Nero!
Allow me to flog the poor dead horse ONE MORE TIME and say that these things also remain true.
On Sunday March 15, though pressure was building to cancel in-person services entirely, the Governor of Ohio’s group limit was set at 100. We, along with several other local congregations, chose to meet, making arrangements to ensure our worship groups stayed below 100, changing the way we do communion and offering, disinfecting the building between services, etc.
By Sunday March 22, the Ohio group limit had fallen to 50. We made more arrangements, multiplying services and asking some of our people to come at different times so as to stay under the new limit. We maintained still stricter disinfectant protocols and distancing, ceased shaking hands, spread chairs further apart, etc. By this time we were one of the very few congregations in the state meeting in person.
On March 23, the Ohio group limit fell to 10. Consequently, on Sunday March 29 we held the first ‘drive in’ service. People stayed in their cars in the parking lot and tuned their radios to a short-range FM transmitter we had acquired. A small crew assisted the ministerial staff with sound & broadcast equipment. A hay wagon became the platform. Honking of horns and flashing of lights became congregational feedback. Offerings were pitched at a bucket on the way out. We have held six of those services now, the dedicated staff standing out in the wind, rain and cold as necessary. We will hold at least four more. In each service we give away masks, hand sanitizer, soap, bleach, disinfectant wipes, etc. For the time being, we have suspended all other Bible studies, Sunday School (barring ZOOM classes), outings etc. We also ’live-stream’ the 10:15 service on Facebook and post daily devotions, Scripture readings and prayers. We have worked out ways to continue giving away food to those in need. We wear masks and wash our hands a lot.
We are beginning to discuss the timing and manner of moving back into the building but we wait the next round of policy changes from the state. Obviously, many congregations across the nation have done differently and many congregational or state leaders would be critical of our response. Equally obvious – congregations of vastly different size and demographics would have to employ different solutions. I will only say that our leadership has striven to be subject to the state authority as far as conscience allows while reserving obedience for the mandate of the church to the giver of the mandate – God. Whatever comes, we will trust His purposes.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church