Elders must rebuke Covid anger dividing the church

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:

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I’ve always found it odd how some of the Covid schismatics say that the churches requiring masks are “otherwise faithful” in their doctrine and practice. Are those elders and pastors requiring masks truly “otherwise faithful”? Then how come they all of a sudden shouldn’t be trusted when it comes to their leadership and guidance as it pertains to whether they ask their flocks to mask up or not?

I recognize I am new here. I only learned of @tbbayly after meeting @jtbayly. We have served unknown to each other in different parts of Christ’s Kingdom.

Like you, I prefer bracing directness, so how do I help you discern the error I find … not just in this single post… but in the tenor and vector of the threads I’ve been reading since joining Warhorn?

Below, I’ve inverted Tim’s article. I have tried to match the energy and vocabulary. If you think me ungracious, place the two side by side.

Elders must rebuke Covid requirements dividing the church

Four years ago, the Church here in North America was already divided. Innovators redefined liberty and marriage and male and female and even love. Denominational leaders refused to discipline even homosexuals posing as pastors even when they redirected tithes to Planned Parenthood. Clearly the different sides drew different borders around the crown rights of Jesus. Then, unexpectedly on election night, families who had not embraced the morality of either political candidate nonetheless enjoyed the spectacle of godless media gate-keepers choking on their own prognostications.

Since then, church divisions have grown deeper. Although a few years ago it was mostly directed against fundamentalists, abortion foes and those who dared assert godly masculinity, one year ago God lowered Covid on us, and a hidden fault-line was suddenly wrenched open.

Tragically, we took our anger out on any brother or sister who intuitively recognized dangerous usurpations by civil authorities. Running outside the very covenants upon which our congregations were formed many church leaders refused fellowship to anyone who did not recognize their authority over matters that historically belonged to the spheres of the family or the individual.

Among many of the most compliant among us, from the point of Covid on, the command of Scripture turned from “do not let what you consider good to be spoken of as evil” to “put your mask on and be quiet or you’re a rebel.”

It was almost a year ago now that a few pastors began to preach and teach the Biblical command to honor and submit to authority, warning against online personalities and podcasters calling for subservience. Sadly, this often had the opposite effect to what was intended as any suggestion that resistance need not be rebellious became a scarlet letter R. Those pastors who, surveying the dangers that fear and timidity posed to their flocks, preaching our duties to courageous living and liberty in secondary matters simply alienated the Pharisees and, being incensed at their brothers’ faithful preaching, they shunned them out of their fellowships and left them excommunicated over a practice that appeared in neither charters nor creed nor statements of faith.

Those Pharisees were wrong. But, John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness, and Jeremiah spent time in a cistern. Protestants had been misunderstood and mischaracterized before. Enduring a few weeks of non-incarnate online fellowship was a small offense to forgive in order to keep the bonds of unity that had been painstakingly forged over years of mutual submission.

There were lots of loud voices in the media kindling the fire. They encouraged the masses to redefine fear as love. It was no big deal. It was just a mask. Small groups, Sunday classes, college courses, retreats, service projects, prison and hospital visits, funerals and even weddings were cancelled. Small business owners and wage laborers were abandoned to government largess. Elders and pastors insisted they would prove their backbone and principles once the State went too far…and threatened the Mass itself. In the meantime, heads of households were told imitate a good Muslim and submit …

Masked.

So, as livestreamed Churchianity grew thin there was a massive migration as outcast families sought fellowship… even across denominational lines. As they visited strange new buildings, seeking new friends they were met with signage and websites and powerpoints and partially covered scowls all insisting that MASKS were the minimum requirement for participation. The rock-ribbed authoritarians would bear with no questions about the limits of the jurisdiction God grants to elders.

These authoritarians mumbled: masks were not a sacrament of idolatry, and those who contested the elders’ edicts about masks were worse sons of satan than those who had joined in the lie from the beginning. But the accusation of rebellion didn’t turn out to be quite strident enough, so then the scare tactics were raised to another, even-more-absolute level by branding all of the outcasts as schismatics who were seeking to harm the bride of Christ.

Some pushed back on such ungracious claims, but there were no retractions. Only accusations severe enough to mollify sheep who, reading them, nodded knowingly, assured that the leaders of the rebellion must not have one single legitimate Biblical ground for their actions. Protestants never protested. Protestants always did as they were told by popes and councils and political pundits.

It is undeniable that over the past year jurisdiction has become the dividing line inside and outside the Church. Either you’re for masks or you’re against them. Masks became the shibboleth, the loyalty test, the flag.

In such a polarized climate, woe to the pastor who preached resistance to usurped authority while calling out the cowering shepherds who dared not welcome the exiles back into fellowship unless they kissed the ring.

Obviously Covid is a litmus test of much that is important, and as with all disciplines visited on us by God, it reveals the secrets of men’s hearts. But this is equally true for everyone.

What we all must admit is that Covid reveals rebellious individualism no more and no less than it reveals abuse of authority and cowardly hearts.

Which is the reason we must stop our schisms over masks, quarantine, and Covid.

Masks are no sacrament. Those church authorities who insist you wear them are not calling you into liberty. Masks do not incarnate virtue … or love.

Insisting on masks is schism and is to be condemned in the strongest terms. Calling people to violate their consciences as the price of admission is sin. Implying or teaching that the liberty and confidence of the protesting outcasts is impossible to reason from Scripture and instead demonstrates an unruly, petulant, rebellious soul that should face church discipline is demagoguery.

We are headed into even worse days, as any Christian half-alive and observant knows now just a few days after the inauguration of President Biden. Personally, I do not know how our nation remains the United States. We have long been in the middle of a civil war by other means, and we have long had the streets of our cities running with rivers of blood crying out to God for vengeance. Our crimes against God are every bit as wicked as the Canaanites God commanded His sons of Israel to wipe out as they entered the Promised Land; every bit as evil as the crimes of the Sodomites whom God rained fire and brimstone upon, burning them up. It was forty years ago or so when Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, said “If God does not judge America soon, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

What we must not do as the people of God is gain for ourselves a reputation for cowardice before authority whether that authority is civil or ecclesiastical. As Revelation 21:8 warns us, such fear leads to a separation that lasts much longer than a pandemic.

Opposing tyranny is one thing. Exhorting our civil authorities to stand against the civil authorities above them even at the risk or loss of their jobs and professions is one thing. Demanding the accountability of our justices and representatives and senators and presidents and governors to submission to our constitutions is one thing.

But refusing to admonish our elders who insist on secondary matters, preening themselves over their office while ostracizing anyone who differs with them will sap us of all of our vigor, and produce enervated, emasculated sheep willing to anonymously report their former brethren to the civil authorities.

Such divisions ought not to be among God’s holy people.

We are to speak with honor and love to and about those God has placed next to or under us in positions of fidelity whether children, wives, brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-laborers, officers, rulers, presidents, or our fellow elders, deacons, and pastors. Yes, they are sinners and often make bad decisions, but limited authority starts when we disagree. Anyone who’s ever been in authority or exercised it knows personally how hard it is to stay within God’s specified limits. Unbelievers and believers both find it very difficult, which is the reason Scripture warns us so very often and in the most intense ways not to lord it over our brethren.

Yes, there are times to condemn. There are “we must obey God rather than man” moments in our lives, and likely those moments will increase in frequency in the coming months and years. We all see and are, together, suffering the increasing constriction of the Christian voice and conscience in American life, and it will be difficult for the church to agree over when and where and why to disobey. The early church had the same problem, so we can study and take hope and wisdom from them. Also from the Reformers and other ages and places in which the Church has lived, and lives, under the persecution of godless rulers.

Keep in mind that it was under the belittling and insulting accusations of church leaders that the Apostle Paul refused to exceed his jurisdiction, telling us:

But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. - 2 Corinthians 10

Three paragraphs in, and it appears you do not understand the nature of the fault line. You cannot satirize your opponents’ viewpoint if you fail to comprehend it yourself.

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Dear brother Tom,

Your equal and opposite “two can play at this game” mirror image would be quite a bit more helpful if you didn’t act like the masking instructions originated with church elders. See how it clarifies:

The rock-ribbed authoritarians would bear with no questions about the limits of the jurisdiction God grants to the civil magistrate.

Protestants never protested. Protestants always did as they were told by the civil magistrate.

those who contested the civil magistrates’ edicts about masks were worse sons of satan than those who had joined in the lie from the beginning

Please show me where we’ve taught any of these things.

As for some of your post’s other claims, such as:

“put your mask on and be quiet or you’re a rebel.”

left them excommunicated

Calling people to violate their consciences as the price of admission is sin.

…brother, you write like someone who has not read much that Tim and others have written here. These men have documented their accusations. (Maybe start here, but also read the broader topic.) Can you document yours?

Finally, your attempt to set 2 Corinthians 10 in opposition to Romans 13 to muzzle the church from teaching submission to the civil magistrate is very bad, brother.

There is no absolute submission to any authority except God. We affirm and teach this in our churches. We do teach subjection to the civil magistrate regarding masking and lead by example. Some refuse to mask. We don’t turn them away or ostracize them. All of which has been previously written about here.

For these reasons your mirror image is a false image. Navigating submission to sinful authority is hard. Thank you for trying. I encourage you to attack us for things we’ve said instead of for things we’ve warned against, as it will be a lot more helpful to us.

Thank you for writing. God bless you.

Love,

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This article from Tim gives me a chance to make another retraction/apology. The election, and now the inauguration, has come and gone. The tone of the media’s coverage of Covid has changed, and certain articles here and there were published after the election that I am not sure you would have seen before the election. But the main point is that Covid itself is still here. It’s still news.

Some blue state governors and mayors rather suspiciously lifted restrictions around the time of the inauguration, or made “pivot” like comments about the need to open things back up. Perhaps those were calculated moves, perhaps not. I don’t think we will see a second lockdown, as in Britain, but masks and safety mandates will remain.

The virus scare and the policy response to it were not purely political. It wasn’t a Deep State plot to take down Trump. The virus was politicized against Trump, but the reality of the crisis should be emphasized. I was wrong to say otherwise. And in saying otherwise, I cheapened the real suffering of people who have really had the virus and died from it.

As I’m sure everyone here agrees, presidents do not cause natural disasters. Bush didn’t cause hurricane Katrina, and Trump didn’t cause 400,000 people to die from Covid. Bush and Trump tried their best to mitigate the disaster. Natural disasters are acts of God; it is God who visits these things on us.

Beliefs and predictions must be subject to falsification, a test that is pass or fail. And if it fails, it ought to be noted. The continued fear of Covid, and the continuing coverage of it, even after Joe Biden’s election and inauguration, is a blunt and unpleasant fact that “Covid doves” such as myself must acknowledge.

It’s sad that so many people like me have had our trust in the mainstream media and the academy so destroyed during the Trump era that I felt like I just could not trust much of anything they told me. Now that Trump is gone, and some form of normalcy has returned, I now feel like if the media tells me bad news, I can believe them. It isn’t all a mad frenzy driven by hatred of Trump.

The Covid denialism on the right isn’t unique to the right; with BLM you see similar denialism of basic facts on the left. Not to mention all the gender bending madness.

The dynamic you saw with Covid isn’t just about Covid: we saw massive conspiracy theories about the election gain traction on the right as well. Had Trump been reelected, you would have seen those theories arise on the left.

This article is right to point to the anger of Christians during this time. Covid made it all much worse, but ever since Trump became a serious candidate, we’ve all been so irritated and angry with each other about supporting or not supporting or defending or not defending the Orange Man. I participated in it and made light of it at times, and while I am genuinely grateful to Trump for the good things he did while president, I’m relieved that he’s gone. I wasn’t expecting to feel relief, but I am relieved.

Since we’re men and not teenage girls, I don’t know that we should go back and catalog and apologize for every testy exchange, but rather we should lighten up, humble ourselves, cool off and let things go. That’s where I am, and that’s where I hope you men are too.

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I did not mention this in my response, but in case it was not clear, I have never thought that masks were a big enough deal to start a revolution over. Since masks have been mandates, I’ve usually been scrupulous to wear one, even though I don’t think masks help that much. To me, it’s an compromise that allows me freedom of movement and association, important civil liberties, in exchange for a minor inconvenience. I feel sorry for people who have to wear them all day at work.

Ever since I was made aware of people leaving churches over masks, and Doug Wilson winking and nodding at those people, I’ve been shocked and appalled by it, and have been grateful for Warhorn’s rebuke.

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Thank you. I agree, @jonswerens . That is the point I wanted to expose. Now, if you put them side by side can you see that the corresponding line in the original fails in exactly the same way?

Ben, I think you may have become a victim to the media’s gaslighting. They lost their everloving minds over the last five years of Trump, and have been taking it out on all of us. Now that he’s gone, the beatings can stop. For now. Some of them. Let’s not pretend that this is other than the relationship between an abuser and the abused.

They spent the last five years lying to you with a smile on their faces. We were assured that Trump or senior members of his campaign had colluded with the Russian government to rig the election against Hillary, only to find out that this was a scurrilous lie started by the Clinton campaign and laundered through the FBI, the CIA and other agencies to their willing accomplices in the media. Not one single member of the media has been held to any accountability for being grossly wrong. None of them returned a single one of the phony awards they gave each other for their Russia hoax coverage.

Institutions cannot operate in an open loop. They need feedback for poor performance, and there has been none. At this point if the media told me the sky was blue, I’d go out and check.

Hear, hear. I just cannot fathom what the big fat hairy deal is about this. Masks seem like a reasonable precaution in the face of a deadly pandemic. If governors or mayors or others have exceeded their authority, then sort it out in court. But please, less hyperventilating.

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The comparable sentence you claim fails to be an accurate representation is:

Tragically, we took our anger out on church and civil authorities who were working very hard to assess the risks and apply the right remedies to their flocks.

So you deny that authorities were acting in good faith, and that people got angry at them for the decisions they made? I’m sorry, but if you can’t acknowledge that to be true, there’s really not much discussion to be had. Your claim is that your fellow elders were not acting in good faith? They were not working hard to assess the risks and apply the right remedies to their flocks?

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My specific issue is exactly with mask mandates imposed by elders, @danielmeyer.

When a governor or mayor exceeds his God-given and publicly-covenanted powers I can say “No.” just like Paul did in Philippi… in full compliance with Romans 13… with no stain of rebellion. I can appeal via an intervening lower magistrate, or appeal to a superior jurisdiction. I read broad agreement on this point among the citizens of Sanityville. (I think @jtbayly will attest that during our lunch discussion today, we were in nearly identical positions re: Paul’s response to the Philippian magistrates.)

I separate the civil overreach from the ecclesiastical overreach. I find this error in the church house much more perilous than the same error in the state house. When we commit it in our fellowships we’re breaking something much more essential, precious and authoritative than one nation’s constitution.

When my fellow elders exceed our God-given and publicly-covenanted powers… to whom shall our members appeal? We have many congregations in this nation, and around the world, that are acting like Romans 14 is not part of the same letter as it’s trending predecessor.

In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things love.

I agree that masks are not an essential doctrine. Our interpretations of Romans 13 do not appear in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or in the organizing documents of our congregations… so… in non-essentials… Liberty. Do any of our congregations require our members to join us outside the abortion clinic? That plague is far deadlier.

I earned my badges here in Sanityville by reading most of what you linked @danielmeyer. I do not think anyone here is asserting the ridiculous exaggerations I included in my mirror. That was the point: to hear your positions spun into something you reject.

I am an outsider here, a brother who has not been embroiled in your internal crescendo. My first impression is that Tim and Doug are very similar men. I am grateful to God for them both, and for the way He is clearly using both ministries today. It grieves me to see their division just like it grieves me to see the division between Creation.com and AnswersinGenesis.org.

It takes two to schism.

I can testify that congregations that have never heard of either Tim Bayly or Doug Wilson are wrangling with these same issues. I’m still trying to reconcile with one. In the meantime I have some eternal souls entrusted to my care that need incarnate koinonia.

I want to remove the muzzle @danielmeyer. I agree with Tim, we’re in a season we should be preaching Jesus to terrified Boomers. Everybody dies.

I also agree with Doug. Totalitarianism has a vector and inertia. It is more loving and less bloody to oppose it while it is small.

I did not wander into Joseph’s congregation because of Doug. As an outsider, the dominant arguments levied against Moscow here smell ungracious and out of balance.

Alive! in Christ

In complete agreement that Paul isn’t in violation of Romans 13. But as I tried to explain on Wednesday, there is no command from the magistrate, legal or illegal, that Paul is refusing to obey. So it’s just a non sequitur to me.

Edit: Regardless, he holds the civil magistrate accountable to the law, which I certainly have no objection to. But what you haven’t demonstrated is that the elders may not make practical rules regarding attendance at church meetings. Nor have you demonstrated that the civil magistrate may not act to protect life. That position prohibits interposition of a sheriff at an abortuary, for example.

But you acknowledged today that the founding documents leave “other matters” in the hands of the elders in a very broad manner.

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This over and over and over again, for most of a year, now. There is not broad agreement here in Sanityville that masks are overreach for either civil or church authorities to request or mandate. Some have been saying that, but there’s not agreement because it’s simply a baseless assertion. Nine months ago we published a piece by a civil and church authority proving civil authorities have both the right and duty to use their police powers to protect public health. The piece has never been answered.

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John,

I agree with you about the media’s perfidy. And I agree that Trump was a stand-in for us, his voters. Now that he’s gone, what they did or tried to do to him they will now do to us.

It must also be said that when Trump fought, he was often fighting for selfish reasons, having to do with Twitter spats between himself and other celebrities. I won’t deny that the s***posting and troll tweeting was entertaining and hilarious, but a lot of it was unnecessary and in poor taste. And it was motivated by Trump’s ego and his short attention span, not 4d chess designed to help all of us.

His character got in his own way. Defending him cost a lot of political capital.

Of course the obvious reply is that evangelicals don’t have political capital to begin with, and we need to fight. I agree with this sentiment, but there are times and places to fight and we ought not fight like a Twitter narcissist with no self control, which is who Trump is.

I viewed my support of Trump as transactional. If he holds back the bad guys and beats the Left, I support him and look the other way on his character. Now that Trump has lost, due to his own persona and his deliberate political decision to alienate suburban voters, he can’t do anything for me anymore, so our relationship is over. It’s time to move on.

A lot of the conservative movement and right wing media don’t view Trump transactionally; they feel they must be devoted to him, even when he is a former president with no formal power, even when his tactics and obsessions result in losses for conservative candidates, as in Georgia. I want nothing to do with that. Trump isn’t important. What matters is his movement and the ideas: national populism. I believe we can find a better candidate and a better man than Trump to carry that banner.

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I agree strongly with everything you write up to this point. I feel about Trump the way many people (apparently) feel about their fun-loving but narcissistic exes: I’ll treasure the memories; time to move on.

I’d feel a lot more loyal to Trump if he had acted more loyally to his supporters along the way.

I differ with you on this point. I think we’ll not see the likes of Trump, warts and all, again in our lifetime. But time will tell.

I don’t think I’ve seen that yet, and it does sound like one of the root disagreements.

Can someone link to it. My search for civil authorities police powers health only returned two recent threads. I want the article @tbbayly mentioned.

I think Pastor Bayly is referring to this article from Elder Bailey: https://warhornmedia.com/2020/04/04/may-civil-authorities-exercise-authority-over-churches/

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Also this one:

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Thank you @cameroonstarr and @danielmeyer.

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Admittedly, I am late to Warhorn’s version of this disagreement. As the argument has jumped multiple threads and cited Calvin, Blackstone and Gibbons v. Ogden my response is taking longer to complete than I first expected.

When complete, one of my key points will be the wisdom that elders who want to build enduring unity find in Romans 14.

Economist Walter Williams published his wine/beer suits/jeans article over a decade ago. The principle he is applying to civil power applies to other jurisdictions as well. It is ~5 minute read.

ἄρα οὖν ἕκαστος ἡμῶν περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λόγον δώσει τῷ Θεῷ