Obeying God, Obeying Man — Some Key Principles

In my previous post (Obeying God, Obeying Man — Some Key Scriptures), I listed some key Scriptures dealing with obedience to government, as well as a list of cases in which disobedience to government is either clearly approved, or appears to be approved, by God.

In this post, I’d like to draw some principles that appear to be well-supported by the Scriptural evidence.  The specific text of most of the passages cited below can be seen in my prior post.

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Obeying God, Obeying Man — Some Key Scriptures

Churches around the world are being faced with government authorities which are handing down restrictions, often with little explanation or defence of their rules.  Some of these rules impinge on freedom of worship or how we worship.  Many churches are faced with the question, “What does a church (or a Christian individual) do when the commands of government authorities conflict, or appear to conflict, with the commands of God?  When is it right to disobey government?”

The following Scriptures will be the main ones we will seek to apply as we also face these decisions.

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Why I’m Wearing a Mask Tomorrow

The last two Sundays, I’ve worn a face shield, but tomorrow I’ll be wearing a mask.  I don’t want to waste our time discussing it tomorrow, so I’m putting it out there tonight.

Not These Reasons

It’s none of these reasons:

A. It’s not because the Scottish government guidelines require it.  The guidelines still permit those leading worship to use face shields if they are sufficiently distanced.

B. It’s not because I think the government should have changed the guidelines for churches just because people in Aberdeen spread the virus on a pub crawl.  The government should be ashamed of this.

C. It’s not because the government has any credibility.  The same people who told us not to wear masks now order us to do so.  The advisor who told everyone to stay home traveled to her second home.

D. It’s not even that I believe the government has any legitimate authority to dictate what we do in the normal order of worship in this circumstance.

E. It’s not because I believe we are in an emergency.  There have been seven new cases in Fife in the last week.  That is less than 1 for every 50,000 people.

F. It’s not because I believe it would be dangerous to skip the mask.  The likelihood that I have the virus is vanishingly small.  The likelihood that I both have it, and would pass it on, if I keep my distance, is even smaller.  The likelihood that I would pass it on if I keep my distance and wear a shield is so small that it is silly to talk about it.

It’s These Reasons

Unity

Ephesians 4

2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Galatians 6

2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

The government has now made it a legal requirement to wear a mask in church.  I am not going to stand in front of brothers and sisters who may not wish to wear a mask, but are doing so because they believe they must obey the law, and not wear one with them.

Love for My Brothers and Sisters

I John 4

21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Believers should not be afraid of the virus, but some may be.  For those who are struggling with fear, I’m not going to make it harder on them.  Now that the government has said what it has said, it’s possible that some would prefer I wear a mask.  I’ll do so.

Evidence of True Discipleship

John 13

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Jesus said in this verse that how we demonstrate our love for one another before the world is an evidence of true discipleship.  If they see love, they will know we are truly His followers.  If they don’t, they will doubt it.

There is greater risk of a car accident on the way to church than of catching the virus during our service, even if no one wore masks — but that’s not the way the world sees it.  If they see us in a church service together without masks, they’ll think we don’t care about one another.  In I Corinthians 9, Paul said he gave up his freedoms for the sake of the Gospel.  He gave up a lot more than I have to give up by wearing a mask.  If the world sees a mask as a sign of love, I can wear it.

Loving Our Neighbours

James 2

8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

In a recent survey by KEKST CNC, they found that on average the British people think that 7% of Brits have died from coronavirus.  This would mean 4 1/2 million deaths, one in every 14 people!  In reality, it’s closer to 0.07%.  The media and politicians have so scared the British people that they think it is 100 times worse than it is.  The tragic fact is that we live among terrified people who are scared of death and so scared to death.

I won’t let their fear keep me from honouring God and obeying His command to worship together — but I’ll do what I can to keep from stoking their fears.  I don’t like to wear a mask, but my God tells me to love my neighbours.

So, I’ll Wear a Mask

When you see me tomorrow, those are the reasons.  I’m not afraid of not wearing it.  I’m not wearing it because the government says I must, or even advises it.  I’m not afraid of catching or passing on the virus.

The government gives exemptions from the mask for certain health conditions.  Perhaps, given the lung problems I’ve had in the past, I could get an exemption, but I won’t.  I’m able to wear masks, I’ve done it before without trouble, and will do it again.  I don’t believe Christians should fear masks anymore than I think they should fear the coronavirus.

I may take the mask off briefly, when well distanced or outside, so the children can see me and see me smile.  It can be scary for very young children to see everyone wearing masks — they need some normalcy.  For the service, I’ll be wearing it.

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Free Baptist Church Reopening

It is our intent, Lord willing, to return to a “regular” Sunday service at the church hall tomorrow.  This post gives some preliminary information about this reopening, for those attending.

Coronavirus is Serious

I want to emphasise that we are treating this seriously.  Government responses may have been (at best) capricious, but the virus is still a serious problem.  This article tells of an outbreak in one church — something we certainly don’t want.

There is no Need for Fear

The Biblical teachings on this subject are quite clear, I’ve mentioned them before, and so I’ll just give one verse.

I John 4:18

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

People around us may fear, but if we do, it’s because we’ve forgotten God’s love.  That’s a very bad idea for many reasons.  Don’t do it.

A Spiritual Perspective

We want to meet to worship the Lord “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).  That means putting others first:

Galatians 6:2

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Some precautions are inconvenient.  Some, perhaps all, might be unnecessary.  But you do not want to give the virus to others, some of whom may not have the health to withstand it.

We should come with this attitude:  if symptoms start Sunday evening, and it is the virus, will I be able to look back with a clear conscience towards my actions at church that morning?  Will I be able to say I acted lovingly towards my brothers and sisters?  Let’s act so that we can have that clear conscience.

If You Have Symptoms

Don’t come.  Get a test, find out if you have the virus, and act accordingly.  Don’t come to church before it’s been checked out.

It is a very bad year for hay fever.  I’ve had hay fever for years.  I know why I’ve had the sniffles every morning for weeks.  Nothing has changed.  You don’t have to stay home from church if you have hay fever and you know that’s what it is.

If you started sneezing yesterday and you think it might be hay fever but you aren’t sure, please get it checked.  Don’t risk infecting your brothers and sisters because you thought it might be hay fever and didn’t bother to check.  The virus might not be worse than hay fever for you, but for some it is much worse.  Be wise and careful.

If You are “Shielding”

From the government guidance:

Faith leaders may wish to discourage this group from attending places of worship during this time, or set aside specific time for them to attend for individual prayer or contemplation.

At this point in time, we intend to continue to stream our service.  I believe that joining by Internet for those who are “shielding”, at this time, fulfills the Scriptural commands about worshiping together.

Each individual is responsible before the Lord to decide, taking into account their own condition, their view of the risks, and their family.  We will support whatever decision those in this group make.  Please contact me directly if you have questions.

Visitors

Everyone in our church knows this, but if anyone wondered, visitors are more than welcome.  We are a church, not a private club.

Precautions — Distancing

Chairs within the church hall will not be set up in rows, but in groups 2 metres apart.  Each household or “extended household” should sit in a separate group.  For questions about “extended households” please see government guidance or contact me directly.

Precautions — Hand Cleaner / Masks / Shields

There will be hand cleaner inside the church hall after the entry way.  There will also be hand cleaner in the toilets.

Government guidance says in enclosed spaces “you should wear a face covering.”  Although the government damaged its credibility with its earlier advice on face coverings, I believe current advice is sound and encourage the use of face coverings.

I intend to use a face shield during the service.  If you find masks to be difficult for health or other reasons, we will have some additional shields available if you wish to try one and see how it goes.

Distancing Other than Seating

The church kitchen is small and we will not be using it for now.

The entryway is small and we ask that people not stop in the entrance, but just move on into the church hall when entering, use hand cleaner, and on to a seat.  When leaving, we ask that you move on to the exit without stopping in the entryway.  If you stop in the entryway, people cannot easily maintain distancing in passing you.

We ask that there only be one person in the men’s toilet at a time, and one in the ladies’ toilet.

Singing and Communion

We will not be singing in the church hall, for the time being.  Indoors singing would be very high risk if anyone present had the virus.

We expect to observe communion before long, but not yet.

Children

Children should stay with their parents / guardians before, during, and after the service.  They should be told in advance that none of the usual toys will be available.  As of now, we intend to keep the back room closed during the service.

Hymnbooks and Bibles

We will use recorded hymns.  Though we will not sing with the recording, the words will be projected on the screen.  All Scriptures used will be projected on the screen.  We will not have shared hymnbooks or Bibles, but of course, anyone can bring their own Bible or hymnbook.

Collection

The principle of anonymous giving, for those who wish it, is an important one.  We will continue to use a box, as we always have.  We will use appropriate precautions in handling the cash.

Contact Information

We are required to collect the names and contact information of any who are in attendance, so that if anyone present should come down with the virus, all present can be contacted.  Contact details will only be kept as long as mandated by law, and we will not use them.  If you wish us to retain your details, and contact you to let you know of church news or events, please let us know.

Before and After “The Service”

Unlike normal, we will not be having tea / coffee / biscuits.  However, we believe that a church is a family, and that “the service” does not really end when I stop preaching.  As I have said many times, time together before the service “starts” and after it “ends” is often more important than anything I say in the sermon.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is reasonably promising.  For those who are physically able to stand outside, conversations before and after the formal part of “the service” are best done outside.

Concluding Thoughts

I expect this to be a developing situation.  These things can and will be changed in future weeks.

You are more likely to be injured in a car accident on your way to church than you are to have coronavirus.  But I want to again emphasise that as believers, we have a responsibility to do our best not to harm one another, or those living around us.  These changes that we are making for the time being should help prevent you passing it on to anyone, in the unlikely event that you should bring it to church with you tomorrow.

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Christians and the Coronavirus Conspiracies

It has been intriguing to me, and also somewhat disappointing, to see how many Christians have reacted to the current situation with Covid-19.  It brings to mind this passage in Isaiah.

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Coronavirus Lockdown — No Longer About Safety (part two)

II Samuel 23:3

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

It is just for the Scottish Government to protect the safety of people who live here, and the Government claims the rules (including restricting outside gatherings to eight people) are about safety.  But what then of these pictures from 7 June and yesterday?

If coronavirus transmissions from this result in deaths, will these people be charged with culpable homicide?

Is it really about “safety”?  The Government is very clear about their political agreement with these people, and permits them to meet, but restricts Christians from meeting to worship (even with social distancing and face masks).  Is that just?

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Coronavirus Lockdown — No Longer About Safety

II Samuel 23:3

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

It is the proper remit of government to provide for the safety of citizens.  I have tried to give the Scottish Government the benefit of the doubt, but recent events show clearly that the lockdown has moved beyond “safety”.

If it is safe for a divorced grandmother to have her grandchildren over to her home and give them a hug, why is it unsafe for a still-married grandmother to do so?  If it is safe for single parents to take their children to their grandparents’ homes and for those grandparents to give them a hug, why is it unsafe for married parents to do so?

This is one of many inconsistencies that show just how far this has gone astray.  The government has now decided that divorced people, and those who never bothered with marriage, have more rights than those who have remained faithful in their marriage.  This is obviously an injustice.

In general, Christians are to obey the law, not only in letter but in spirit.  When the spirit of the law has become capricious, and it includes restrictions on things that God has specifically commanded us to do, Peter’s statement that “We ought to obey God rather than man,” comes into focus.

The Scottish Government is putting Christians in a very difficult position.

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