New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:
New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:
I think in a world where literally everything has become politicized, there is room to understand skepticism. I’m not an anti-vaccer, actually, I’m very much a pro-vaccer. I may also offend roughly 40% of conservative Reformed women by saying that essential oils are fake and a pyramid scheme.
But it is hard to know who and what to trust in a culture where the nation is broken down into two equal camps committed to weaponizing facts and stats against the other side, and especially when the entire news media is locked in combat with an administration they loathe, and has a vested interest in fomenting as much social and economic disturbance as possible.
I have worked for the federal government for around 20 years now and currently work in an emergency essential position. We are getting constant updates from the experts. Updates and guidance are vague, and in many cases conflicting. The only objective truth is that the sample size is still too small to weave into durable projections or conclusions. And that is why most actions regarding this thing are little more than pantomime intended to reassure a frightened public. And meanwhile Walmart is running out of toilet paper and 60 million travelers are cancelling flights.
While you’ve done a good job of summarizing most Christians’ scepticism about almost everything the civil magistrate orders, does it really change anything? Couldn’t the Apostle Paul have written essentially the same thing about the civil authorities of his time? And maybe even worse? Then too, consider what various ones of us would write about the venality of pastors, fathers, and husbands today. Love,
Hi Pastor Tim, reference to the authority of the “civil magistrate” and “medical authorities” as if these entities are monolithic is an over simplification in this case. I can see firsthand the conflicting guidance of valid, God-ordained civil magistrates between the different tiers of the US system, so the question becomes which civil magistrate in the chain is your preferred flavor? Similarly, in our church we have multiple doctors who have long and distinguished careers, both in the field and teaching - and who have entrenched themselves in deep disagreement with one another over this. Okay, so which medical authority does one hitch their wagon to?
Under Rome, it was comparatively simple. Caesar’s word, of whom the regional governor was the executor. In the US, it’s complicated. Yes there is a general principle of authority that transcends the Apostle Paul’s historical setting, but I think there is room for some nuance and patience with different Christians’ reactions when authority is in conflict with itself. Under the rubric laid out in the article, we would be under the authority of the British Crown to this day. Which may be right or wrong, who am I to say? But clearly there were committed, thoughtful Christians on both sides of that issue, as there are today with the response to the virus and the pursuant public hysteria. It is not accurate to call it all naked rebellion.
Uh, I didn’t. “Naked rebellion” are your words.
But you sidestep my arguments above. Are we not all rebels today? Are your arguments for rebellion not as valid for children and wives and church members as they are for citizens rebelling against government commands?
What you say could be said about any authority, anywhere, any time. You don’t face the simple fact that our Governor commanded us not to meet as a church because we’re well over 250. Are you saying we should tell him he has no authority over our worship meetings? Because his authority isn’t as fully integrated as the authority of Rome was when the Apostle Paul commanded us to submit to our civil authorities?
There are always reasons and ways to cloak rebellion in submission. “But Mommy told me I COULD!”
Then, that bit about “public hysteria.” Yup, Christians are hysterical about government authority, today. I wish they could be a little more nuanced and submit at least some of the time. Maybe even citing Scripture as support for their submission.
If you know what I mean… Love,
I withdraw the “naked” qualifier of rebellion. I did not mean to put words in your mouth. Forgive me for that.
No argument that we all possess the seeds of rebellion in our hearts even as we are redeemed by Christ.
Nevertheless I think you’re being a bit obtuse here in equating my points as “arguments for rebellion” and what can I say? I guess we just disagree. I do not think that churches such as yours who discontinue meeting will forfeit God’s blessing. No in fact I pray and expect God’s blessing on you and your flock. I am not as ready to say that those churches who continue to meet in public or private, based on their own sincerely held convictions, stand under God’s wrath and are necessarily sinning.
If I go on further I’d just end up repeating things so I’ll close it here. Still good food for thought, thank you sir.
I’ve said nothing about other churches being in rebellion. What I have said is that we have an obligation to submit to the civil magistrate, generally; but particularly when he gives us commands linked to the public health. Period. That’s my statement you are reacting against. And I simply can’t see why people go hysterical and break into a panic at such a mundanely Biblical statement. Are we really that bonkers with fear over the media hating our President and manipulating him and our other magistrates? Where is our faith for obedience? Obedience without fear?
Actually, I think it’s the reworking of Romans 13 that drives people bonkers. Present company excluded, of course.
Anyhow, thanks for the exchange. Love,
In our state, our governor – to date – has not issued any executive decree stating that we cannot gather. However, the decision seems to be imminent. And even though we don’t have any formal decree from our civil authority to decide whether or not to submit to right now, we do have the CDC’s “recommendations,” and above all that, we have also our general desire to love and care for one another as a body.
As I think about how our own elders will weigh this scenario, this sentence from the letter your session recently sent to your church struck me,
In the end, we became convinced we should remove the weight of that decision from the congregation and bear that weight ourselves.
The more I think about what’s being conveyed there, the more I appreciate it. I’ve come to appreciate more over the last few years that one of the roles that authority plays in our lives is giving us the freedom to simply stop worrying about a lot of stuff. This does not mean that we abdicate our own consciences or anything, but it does give us the freedom to prayerfully and humbly leave in God’s hands the things that we aren’t responsible for.
It does prompt me to wonder, though, how things would have looked had the elders made the decision to continue having services against the decree of the civil authority. At that point, the congregation would now have to weigh two competing authorities. Do we obey the elders, or do we obey the governor? And some elders are putting their congregations in that scenario right now.
These types of conundrums are where I find the topic of authority to become vexing. When you have two legitimate authorities in your life demanding mutually exclusive obedience, it’s not always simple to decide who to obey. Fortunately, in many cases in life, authority is hierarchical, which helps a lot. We know that our manager trumps our supervisor, and that our director trumps our manager. We know that the lieutenant trumps the sergeant, and so forth. Most of us will even recognize that dad trumps mom.
So when the elders of your church say we should meet, and the governor says we may not meet, what is a churchman left to do? These two authorities do not possess a clean, hierarchical relationship (at least not in our day), so it isn’t a simple decision of hearkening to the greater.
Is it right to say that in such a situation, a man is left to his own authority to decide which authority to obey? And I say “his own authority” not to say that he is permitted to just throw off the bonds of either of those two authorities altogether. Rather, I mean that a man is left to make a decision, in good conscience, with sober judgment, with faith in a sovereign God, and with a heart that earnestly desires to submit to both authorities.
What would you say to those who may find themselves in such a predicament very soon?
EDIT: Wouldn’t you know it! Just as I was writing this, our governor issued a State of Public Health Disaster Emergency, thus prohibiting our gatherings.
So I’m one of these lesser magistrates. I perform health and safety inspections of group homes for people with varying degrees of developmental disabilities, this include autism spectrum, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and some injury induced cognitive impairment.
My job, generally is to inspect the environment, the facility, the fire prevention measures, and general cleanliness and repair of these residential type homes.
The problem from my vantage point is the same as what Tim described to the church in the livestream Sunday morning. You might pay someone to make the tough decisions, or as he puts it “I pay you to be wrong”, but some bureaucracies are so engrained in avoidance and blame shifting that they won’t accept this charge.
When I came into the position I realized that these homes, filled with “the least of these” were not receiving adequate inspection oversight. Some of it was do to ignorance of how to read and apply health rules and laws, but mostly I think it was just pragmatic negligence.
You see there are 1189 of these group homes in 13 counties and almost 60 different cities, and only two surveyors to cover some 107,600 miles squared of state. These home are only inspected once every two years, so that’s about 300 homes each per year.
Now my agency seems hesitant to make any frightful proclamations about COVID19. The governor has closed schools, sure. But the heath department still says there is low risk, with minimal spread. I’m scratching head because we almost doubled in the number of cases of confirmed infection since last Friday.
Also I’ve heard reports from people within the medical community that symptomatic people are being denied testing if they haven’t traveled outside of the country or had confirmed contact with people who have. So how many are really infected?
So here are two people (one is a 65-ish year old lady nearing retirement) and me, both of unknown viral transmittability traveling thousands of miles potentially cross-contaminating every subsequent house we enter into to inspect for health and safety. And to make matters worse we aren’t being provided with hand sanitizer, masks, or protocols for when we encounter sick residents.
I’ve raised these concerns over and over with my immediate team lead, bureau chief, and even the assistant director of the Department. I’m told wash your hands. My wife out of fear and frustration also brought this to the governors office.
There is no doubt that we pay them to be wrong, and we hope they aren’t, and not only does this expose a highly vulnerable population which should be social distancing, but it also exposes my family with a newborn now in our home.
I appreciate Pastor Tim’s commitment to teaching the flock about submitting to authority even when it’s wrong; as long as it is exercised within its proper scope/sphere. There is no doubt this is the scope of my higher ups, so I’m not really free to refuse or rebel, but boy am I concerned.
If this blows over, no doubt I’ll be the fool for raising the concerns, but if not…I’ve bugled a distinct sound. May God help us.
Well I guess squeaky wheel gets the grease. New plan just now to mitigate exposure. Big improvement. Can’t go into details but a welcome decision.
I’m just at a loss…can the negligence get any worse?
I may get into trouble for this. If so, I’m happy to come under the sword of men who have wielded it far longer than I have. Not every issue is so readily black and white. Remember Job’s wife and his friends. Please consider this my attempt at following Elihu.
Obviously, authority is a major problem in the church and the world today. I sympathize with that view, and I do so confessing my own rebellion. But I would suggest, and I imagine most here would agree, that there are instances in which rebellion against authority is a moral duty. The Hebrew midwives defied Pharaoh; the three Israelites defied Nebuchadnezzar; the Apostles defied the Sanhedrin (twice). In each instance, these were “legitimate” authorities giving direct orders (with potential punishment) for the perceived good of a collective in the moment. But there is no indication that defying the orders was wicked—quite the contrary.
In other words, sometimes rebellion is righteous. So it’s problematic to argue for implicit obedience to governing authorities in every context, or to imply such. Hitler, anybody? I didn’t think so. Again, I imagine most here would agree with that. The question is, does the present context necessitate obedience as a moral duty for the Christian? How this question is answered says a lot, not just about one’s view of authority/submission but one’s knowledge/ignorance of law, one’s view of worship, and one’s zeal for the Lord.
I think it was Doug Wilson who said that not every issue is a battle between this or that, or avoiding two extremes; sometimes an issue has layers.
If I, as a hillbilly youth, may make an appeal: consider Daniel.
6:6ff Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! 7 All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. 12 Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, “Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?” The king replied, “The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.”
What we have here is twofold: (1) wicked submission on the part of the commissioners and satraps and (2) righteous rebellion on the part of Daniel. Now, many modern Christians might say to Daniel, “C’mon, Daniel, really? Can’t you go without prayer for thirty days? Why don’t you just pray silently, in secret? How can you submit to the King whom you have not seen if you don’t submit to the king whom you have? Don’t you know the authorities are ordained by God? You think you’re so pious—puh-lease!”
But notice, there is more at stake than simply authority and submission. The heart of the matter is worship. In this instance, supplication to God supersedes submission to man. In fact, the indication is that Daniel considered worship of the living God to be of greater importance than the surety of death itself (this says nothing of whether or not the “law” was actually lawful). Imagine if Adam had this perspective. Thank God that Jesus did. The translation to our current context is not difficult. Is it a one-to-one likeness? No. But this is another perspective.
Alternatively, I found this sermon to be excellent: Corona: The Church’s Warning
Couple quick comments, Cody. Of course, everyone would agree there are times to obey God rather than church or state or church-state authority (“man”). The question is when, and my original post warned against defying the civil magistrate when he is attempting to protect physical lives at risk by public assemblies because this duty is at the heart of the authority God has delegated to him.
I went on and said that rebellion against all authority is the ordering principle of Reformed men today and takes many forms with all the different authorities. I didn’t spell out where and how, but did state that it was my conviction that (many/most) Reformed men who were calling for the defiance of our civil magistrates’ public health decrees were not doing so from high principles, but because their natural posture is rebellion—particularly against our civil magistrates. Then I paraphrased Romans 13 thusly:
When you’re sure they’re right every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities . For good authorities are from God, and those good authorities which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists good authorities when they make right decisions has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed (except when the authorities were bad and wrong) will receive condemnation upon themselves. For such good rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for the good authority is a minister of God to you for good.
But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for the good authority does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for when good authorities make the right decisions, they are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. When good men make good decisions, render what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
It seems obvious to me that Reformed men today despise the civil magistrate. Some guys have paid lip service to this statement, but you feel they have no idea about how weighty and frequent this sin is.
Read it everywhere and always among us—but yes, carefully nuanced.
I’m assuming that truth, but it has become apparent men don’t know this truth about us to the depth they should (and could). This post got a lot of negative ratings, but no one responded to my rewriting of Romans 13:1-7. I thought that was telling.
Actually, implicit obedience to authority is what we ought to start with. Only when they explicitly go against God do we have a right to appeal to a higher authority.
We have not been commanded (edit: forbidden) to worship God, so Daniel simply does not apply. Unless you are saying that it is impossible to worship God without gathering, what you need is a command from God that this command from our earthly authorities contradicts.
The command that immediately comes to mind here is Hebrews 10:25 where we are instructed not to forsake assembling together. Is your contention that obedience to this command means one must never miss a Sunday morning service? If you are stuck in the ICU, having trouble breathing, are you sinning if you are not present? Or perhaps you mean corporately we must always have a service. (Though note that the verse in Hebrews is clearly concerned with something else.) What about an ice storm Sunday am? Are we sinning corporately if we do not gather?
These may sound like rude questions or like I’m being unfair with the logic, but I really want you to be clear in your position. I suspect you already allow for exceptions both at the individual and corporate level. If so, on what basis are you going to make the decision that this is not an exceptional time where we seek to obey the fulness of that passage in other ways besides physical gathering? The answer is that you have to make a determination that the health authorities are wrong, and that a single meeting of 500 people together is actually the most loving thing to do.
Or perhaps you would say that the meeting should be broken up into smaller ones, or that extra care should be placed on cleaning or telling sick people to stay away, etc. But all you are doing is making your own rules about what is and isn’t an acceptable level of risk for both your church body and society.
And so I ask the same question that Jesus asked when the Pharisees were getting bent out of shape concerning a man-made rule about the Sabbath:
“And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”” (Luke 6:9)
Nowhere do we have the command that Every Single Week without exception and no matter the circumstances, the church body must gather everybody physically, even if it means spreading disease among one another. Sick people have always stayed away. In Geneva, they didn’t bring the sick people from the plague hospital to church.
The idea that church must never be cancelled or else we are breaking this command is precisely the sort of pharisaical understanding of the commands of God that we must avoid.
@jtbayly, I don’t think you’re being rude or unfair. I appreciate the pushback. I didn’t join this forum to be flattered. Let the sparks fly if the iron is sharpened.
I agree that we should start with implicit obedience to authority. But what I said is this: it is problematic to teach or imply that implicit obedience to governing authorities is required in every context. I’m seeing those as two different issues, posture and response, if you will, and I have trouble conflating them. I have the civil magistrate in mind when I say “governing authorities.”
Do you mean to say that “We have not been forbidden to worship God”? If so, I agree. I don’t see how that renders Daniel inapplicable, though. He knew the command yet still defied it. Was it not possible for him to continue praying secretly? It would seem so. But he didn’t. He defied despite the threat of death.
Carry the principles over to our context. The command goes forth, “No meetings over 10 people.” Is it possible to worship God without gathering? Sure. But do you have to? That’s an entirely different question; we have just moved from possibility to necessity. Individual churches must ask and answer, “Is it best?” and I would leave them to do so.
So I’m not suggesting meeting or not meeting is innately better or worse, although it is difficult to obey many commands apart from a gathering. Digital is better than nothing but it can only go so far. What I am saying is this: we have an example in Daniel, and others, and I believe it most certainly does apply (it’s Scripture after all) and that we should wrestle with that. I (think it’s important to) distinguish between posture and response in terms of obedience to civil authorities. I also see more theologically binding components at work than authority/submission, important as that is.
No that’s not my contention. Unless pigs fly.
I agree. Likewise, we don’t have the command to submit to all authority in every situation no matter what. To hold to that interpretation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 is to contradict the instances in Scripture where the saints have righteously defied authority and were rewarded for doing so. One can unlawfully bind consciences as a Pharisee on either end here. In that sense, I think this is just a difference of emphasis and perspective.
Cody, you’re avoiding the context, both with Daniel and with us. In Daniel’s case, blatant disobedience was required, as anyone would see. Daniel was a civil magistrate, after all. In our case, what the Reformed men blathering on about “paranoia” and “panic” need to demonstrate is some small capacity for submission to authority. And keep in mind, NONE of them is a civil magistrate. Love,
Yes. Thank you. I’ll fix that.
Right, but nobody is saying that. The question is, if an authority gives you a command, should you obey it…
- unless doing so would violate God’s law
- unless you think it’s dumb
- or only if you want to
The command Daniel was given was a violation of God’s law. Therefore he had to disobey it. There may have been other ways of him disobeying that would have gotten him in less trouble, but he would still be disobeying in order to obey God. Don’t get confused and think that him hiding and praying would have been complying with the command. It might have a lot of other problems with it, but it wouldn’t be complying. So
That’s why today we have to decide whether this is an authority commanding us to do something against God’s law? If it is, we must obey God rather than men. If not, we must obey, as Romans 13 teaches.
Even if we think the authority is being dumb.
Even if we are right.
Hope this clarifies the conversation a bit more.
I very much see the validity of the point that most men who are dissenting from the current decrees of their governors are doing so from a deeply-ingrained, knee jerk impulse to rebel against authority. We have a collectively very sinful view of authority in the western church, in general.
I’ve been thinking especially about how men are so quick to dissent to a law by appealing to the constitution. If a governor does anything that the man believes is in violation of the constitution, he gives himself automatic liberty to disobey. It causes me to wonder about the way we interact with the constitution, and how that squares in a world where God hath ordained that authority is to be wielded by persons, not by documents. There is only one set of documents that is truly authoritative, but even those documents are not authoritative in and of themselves. The Bible is authoritative because it is the word of the living God. The Bible has authority because the person of God has authority.
I’d love to talk more about how we understand the intersection between the authority of civil officers vs. the authority of the framing documents. But for now, moving on.
For my part, when my governor announced the order that mass gatherings above 10 people would be prohibited through the end of the month, the response I had purposed in my heart was that seemed like a great time to exercise compassion and respect for the civil magistrate. It was clear that this virus caught them off guard – as it did everyone else – and it makes sense that the governor would need some time to give more assessment to the situation. It was an opportunity to demonstrate a little good faith.
Our elders decided that we would still meet on the Lord’s Day, but instead of gathering at the church building, we met in homes in groups of 10 or less, and then used video streaming to be together for worship. It was a little clunky, but it worked. This allowed us to continue to gather, while also obeying the mandate.
The trouble starts to come in for me, though, when the prohibition of gatherings begins to be extended. Yesterday, the governor announced that the mandate would be extended for one week, and primed for a possible additional week. And if this becomes a perpetual ban, I think the situation does need to be re-assessed. At some point, it seems that we will have to say that even though the world insists on staying home in perpetual fear – even if our government commands it – that the people of God must give testimony to the world that we will not allow fear of pestilence to restrain us from worshiping God has he has directed us to worship.
I agree with Joseph that we are erring if we get worked up about missing a Sunday here or there, with all of life’s extenuating circumstances. But if this ban on mass gatherings becomes perpetual, then it seems there is an essential clash of worldview between the secular government and the church. In the eyes of the secular world, a church gathering is merely a social club. They don’t have the eyes to see what the church is doing when it gathers. You want to hear a sermon? There’s volumes of sermons on YouTube. You want to hear some “upbeat” Christian music? The internet has that too. Just stay home.
But we know better. The gathering of the saints for worship is far more profound and essential then the world can understand. At what point does this stop being about us showing respect and submission to our civil officers, and become allowing the unbelieving world to tell us how to be godly?
I’m still wrestling with all of it. I am very thankful for the discourse here.
As I discussed in an above post, I wonder if @tbbayly would be willing to comment on another aspect of this. What counsel would you give to Christians whose elders are opting to go ahead and meet, in direct conflict with the mandate of their governors? And I’m not even primarily talking about the types of men you wrote about – the ones who live and drink rebellion – but those who, after several weeks of of this, come to the resolved conclusion that we can’t continue this perpetually? Ought we follow our elders into this type of civil disobedience? What do we do when two, legitimate authorities – who have no clean-cut hierarchical relationship – are demanding that we obey one to the disobedience of the other?
I just have a sense that this is about to become a real issue for a lot of Christians. Thanks.
This strikes me as either the spirit of rebellion or insane paranoia. Seriously, does anyone truly think the government will perpetually ban gatherings or more than ten people? And has God granted the church the wisdom and authority to determine whether or not a pestilence is dangerous and therefore to be feared? And if a pestilence is dangerous, has God directed that the church should nonetheless gather for worship even when that increases the likelihood of transmission of disease?
Errr… ok? Well, I don’t think it’s either of those things.
If my use of the word “perpetual” is what’s tripping you up, let me try to rephrase. For how many weeks ought we submit to the government’s mandate that we ought not gather because of fear of pestilence? Two weeks? Three weeks? A dozen weeks?
No, I don’t think the government will literally be looking to “perpetually” ban gatherings. But I believe it’s completely possible that they will continue to prolong and extend the bans essentially in perpetuum, going on continually without any real signal of what criteria they are looking to meet before they stop.
Hope that helps.