How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?

If we have to ignore Scripture and the character God desires to work in us, we are moving in the wrong direction!

I come back to this with a heavy sigh. I started it yesterday as the news unfolded of people breaching the Capitol building as the Trump rally changed gears. I know there were people there peacefully gathering, but a good many of them crossed the line.

As I watched the events unfold, I struggled to find some solid ground to stand on as I see people who call themselves Christians continue to support Trump regardless of what he says and does. At best, he sent mixed messages that were ambiguous enough to encourage what happened. At worst he incited insurrection, and stood by watching it happen, saying nothing until it was too late. Even then, it was a poor excuse for what he should have said.

The thing that troubles me most as I think about these things is the way Christians who support Trump and this “resistance” at at all costs ignore Scripture that is inconvenient. Paul defined the way followers of Jesus Christ should act regarding authority:

“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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Romans 13:1-2

Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build his church, said the same thing:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him….”

1 Peter 2:13-14

If you think insurrection is justified because Democrats are “bad” today, consider that Peter and Paul said these things at a time when their world was ruled by Nero.

Nero was a bad leader, even by pagan, Roman standards. He considered himself God. He persecuted Christians and had them publicly killed, lighting them on fire at night to light the City. Peter and Paul were both martyred under the rule of Nero.

You can’t equate the Democrats with Nero. To understand Peter and Paul’s words and apply them to today, we need to acknowledge and consider the historical context. We can’t justify resisting authority because Democrats are bad.

People might justify their resistance on other grounds. People might cite Peter’s example in the Book of Acts. Peter and John were arrested for preaching. (Acts 4:2-3) They were commanded not to preach about Jesus, but Peter and John refused to comply, saying,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

Acts 4:19

They were arrested again for refusing to remain quiet. (Acts 5:20) Again, they were commanded not to speak, but they responded, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:19) This time they were flogged and let go.

So which is it? Submit to authorities? Or boldly rebel?

Those are not the right questions. They don’t take Scripture seriously. We have to be careful to handle Scripture better than that.

Continue reading “How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?”

Heavenly Citizens In These Modern Times

What deserves our ultimate allegiance?

City Hall at Ephesus by Brooke Miller

Peter and Paul, the pillars of the Church, were clear that the only citizenship that counts is our citizenship in heaven. (Phil. 3:20) W are only “sojourners and exiles” in this world. (1 Peter 2:11)

Paul submitted to earthly authorities as though they had been established by God. (Rom. 13:1) He submitted to lashing by Jewish authorities five times! He appealed to his Roman citizenship, but, he clearly saw himself not a citizen of this world. He was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven that is coming.

He used his Roman citizenship to gain an audience for the gospel among the Romans, to be an ambassador for Christ as he spoke to people in the public squares. He used his credentials as a Hebrew scholar to gain an audience for the Gospel in the synagogues.

Paul submitted to the processes and protocols of Roman and Jewish authorities. He recognized their earthly authority over him. He appealed to that same authority, not for his own advantage, but for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God.

When we get involved in politics in the 21st century, do we submit to the authorities established by God as Paul did? Paul boasted of his lashings. Paul used his Roman citizenship, not to get out of prison, but to get to Rome to support the followers of Christ there.

Do we count ourselves, first, as citizens of heaven? Paul longed to be with Chris. He used his time on this earth to advance the kingdom of God while he longed for the day when he would put off his perishable body and put on immortality.

Do we use our earthly citizenship not for our own advantage, but to advance the Kingdom of God? When we fight for tougher laws and tighter borders and the right to walk around without masks, are we fighting for the kingdom of God?

Paul said what needed to be said for the sake of the Gospel, but he accepted the earthly consequences of his focus on heavenly things. Paul lived in an earthly world that was hostile to him and everything that he stood for. He submitted to the world’s authority, but he did it in obedience to the authority of God for the advancement of the Gospel, the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God.

Sometimes, I wonder whether we resist authorities that do not advance our earthly objectives and appeal to political power and influence to secure our earthly advantage. I wonder how often we have it all wrong.

What are our priorities? To whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance? What are our ultimate goals? Are we seeking to advance the Kingdom of God at all cost, including the cost to ourselves and our own position in the world?

Paul used his station in life as a Jewish scholar and a Roman citizen not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the kingdom of God, to gain audience in front of people, and to spread the gospel. How do we use our station in life, our political power and religious knowledge? To whose benefit are our actions accumulating?

Are we fighting to protect and preserve our own families, communities and country in this world only to lose sight of our citizenship in heaven? Are we striving to save our lives only to lose our souls?

These are questions, not accusations. God knows the heart. I pose these questions in my own heart as write them.

Continuing to Love Our Neighbors During a Corona Virus Outbreak

Originally posted on Navigating by Faith:
via Loving Our Neighbors During a Corona Virus Outbreak

Man in mask . Protection against coronavirus, infection.Over a month has passed since I wrote and published Loving Our Neighbors During a Corona Virus Outbreak on March 17, 2020. Washington was the first state in the US to declare a state of emergency (in February) followed by a handful of States in the next couple of weeks. Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 16th. By March 17th, the day I published the article, 48 states had officially declared a State of Emergency.[1]

When I began tracking the global number of cases, deaths and recovered patients on the Johns Hopkins site[2] as of 2:50 PM on March 16th, only 4,200 cases and 73 deaths were reported. A Business Insider article the following day reported 4,600 cases[3]. As of 1:10 PM on March 17th, the number of cases had risen to 5,702. There were only 94 deaths reported in US as of that time, but anyone could see that the numbers were going to rise exponentially.

Most of us, I believe, had been only vaguely paying attention to the reports from China. We perked up a little more as the first scary reports began to come out of Italy. Still, we were largely nonplussed by the news, going about our daily business until maybe the second week in March, after a growing murmur of the impending threat, when President Trump declared a national emergency. 

Many of us were skeptical, me included. We wanted to believe the President when he said it was “under control”, and we didn’t have to worry here in the US. Others (primarily of the other political stripe) were becoming shriller by the day in their complaining that we/the President should be doing more. Many political inbetweeners, like myself (not that there are many of us), were skeptical of both sides, but there was enough credible reporting from hard hit areas of the world that it seemed to make sense to take the threat seriously.

It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to participate in a Zoom conference on March 14th with a virologist who researched the SARS-1 virus for the National Institute of Health in the early 2000’s that I realized this was no typical flu virus. I began tracking the numbers on March 16th, and I wrote the article the next day.

One month to the day later (at 11:56 AM), on April 17th, Johns Hopkins reported 641,166 cases in the US and 31,590 deaths – the most confirmed (and reported) cases and deaths of any country in the world.

While these numbers may rival a bad flu season, we need to keep in mind that these are the numbers after we have lived under stay-at-home orders for a month or more in most places in the country. What would the numbers be like if we had not done that? No one knows.

The flu typically infects more people each year, but the death rate of the flu is a little over .01%. As of the date of this writing (April 21, 2020, at 12:47 PM), COVID-19 has resulted in a death rate of 6.89% worldwide, a 13.40% death rate in Italy (which has been particularly hard hit) and a 5.37% death rate in the US. That is over 50 times the death rate of the flu (in the US) .

As of the today, the numbers are all still climbing in the US. We haven’t peaked yet, though we hope the peak is right around the corner, maybe even by next week.

The numbers are flattening out, like we hoped, but they are still climbing. We aren’t out of these woods yet.

If the numbers flatten out soon, the number of cases and deaths will continue to rise, though the percentage of new cases will start to level out or come down. The death rate will also level off and might come down as the number of people recovering will begin to pace and then outpace the number of new cases.

But here’s the thing: no one expects for the virus to go away.

Flattening out just means that the numbers will stop increasing exponentially. When we flatten out, we will still experience a certain number of new cases and deaths every day. Every day.

The world as we knew it isn’t going to be the same for quite a while.

We are seeing quite a tension lately between continuing the stay-at-home orders and opening the country back up for business. Some people are even protesting in the streets, and others are calling them ignorant, potential killers of vulnerable people in our society.

As Christians, I submit that we should be focused on loving our neighbors through this pandemic. We should be sensitive to the vulnerable people in our midst. While most people will recover, we know that COVID-19 hits certain people very hard – the elderly and people with certain conditions, like diabetes. The death rate for those over 60 is much higher than the death rate for people under 60, and the death rate for people over 80 is double the death rate of people over 60.

As I type this, I am very aware of the devastating economic toll the State of Emergency is taking on our economy – especially small businesses and people who work (or no longer work) for them. We haven’t experienced unemployment at this level since the Great Depression. I own a small business myself and squirm at night wondering how we are going to hold on. What are we to do?

The Federal government has pumped billions and billions of dollars into the economy to try to prop it up (at no small cost to the future taxpayers), and it isn’t enough. More small businesses have been turned down for the Paycheck Protection Program loans than received them. Many of those small businesses won’t survive another thirty days of lock down.

While people that don’t own businesses may not feel particularly bad about the business owners who are suffering, those small businesses employ hundreds of thousands and millions of people. Every business that can’t open back up when the stay-at-home order is lifted represents an exponential number of people who will not return to work.

How do we balance between keeping people physically safe from the virus and keeping people employed and self-supporting? That’s the challenge.

Where is the right tipping point when people can open their doors for business again? What does that look like? Do we open up immediately, or should we do it gradually? What does that even look like?

We have to rely on the experts for that.

I have seen no end of the articles and videos on social media by self-proclaimed experts. Some of them have degrees (not always in the relevant areas), and many of them don’t. We all gravitate toward what we are inclined to believe. My “friends” on social media are a diverse mix, so I see nearly equal numbers of articles pushing to both extremes.

They can’t all be true!

I have read a fair number of them. I am smarter than the average bear (if you go by IQ, college and law school performance), but I can’t sort it out. I don’t have the right background, education or experience to be able to decipher which “experts” I should be listening to, and neither do 95% (or more) of the people reading those articles.

We do have some experts that are chosen to provide guidance on these issues with the right kind of backgrounds, education and experience. If we believe that God puts governing authorities in place to which we should submit[4], then we Christians should honor those authorities, right?

We often think we know better (and maybe some of us do, though I submit we don’t know it at the time), but subjecting ourselves to governing authorities, as Paul says we should in Romans 13, means that we don’t substitute our judgment for those in authority above us – even when we disagree.

Of course, we can all think of examples of things governing authorities might order us to do, like renouncing God, that we should not follow. Stay-at-home orders don’t fall into that category.

A stay-at-home order is not clearly against any Scriptural mandate.

Though we may think that we know where that tipping point lies between saving lives and saving people from economic disaster, we are not in positions of authority to call those shots, and we need to honor those who are. It doesn’t matter if your governor is Republican or Democrat, God has established them in authority (if we are going to be consistent in our reading of Scripture).

David honored Saul even when God had spoken through the prophet Samuel that God would be taking the kingdom away from Saul and giving it to David. Even when Saul was seeking to kill David in paranoia and jealousy, still David honored him. David refused to take Saul’s life multiple times when he had the opportunity, and David even honored him in his death – because God had established him as King.

If you are Christian and disagree with the continuation of the stay-at -home orders, you certainly have a right to your opinion, but God expects you to honor the authority He has established. You can speak your mind, but do it (as Peter urges) with “gentleness and respect”. (1 Peter 3:5) When you think about your constitutional rights, take some time to consider the well-being of others, including the threat to people who are vulnerable to the virus. 

I should point out that the COVID-19 outbreak has affected certain areas of the country more acutely than others. The president declared a national emergency before most states did. The President may lift the national state of emergency before some state governors do. Because emergencies and disasters affect some areas harder than others, control of the state of emergency for states falls on the shoulders of state Governors primarily. Not the President. 

Whenever the stay-at-home orders are lifted, though, we need to continue to love our neighbors, including the vulnerable people among us. The virus isn’t going to go away overnight. Experts are warning that it is likely to “bounce back”.

Wash your hands. Wear masks. Keep your distance from people. Use care in making sure you aren’t spreading the virus.

Don’t do it just because you might contract the virus. Do it because you might give it to others. Chances are that you will survive it, especially if you are young, healthy or both, but you could be someone else’s death sentence. Loving your neighbor means treating them as you would want to be treated. Conduct yourself as if you were vulnerable and the virus would be deadly to you, and you will be loving your neighbor as yourself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] See Almost all US states have declared states of emergency to fight coronavirus — here’s what it means for them, by Rosei Perper, Ellen Cranley and Sarah Al-Arshani for the Business Insider March 17, 2020.

[2] See the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center home page.

[3] See the Perper, Cranley and Al-Arshani article above.

[4] See Romans 13:1-2 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”)

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