Obeying the Government in the Time of COVID

We live in a unique time where we find ourselves having to consider and address issues we didn’t expect.  As under-shepherds of the Lord here at Keizer Community Church, one situation that has arisen that we believe needs to be addressed is the question, “Do we follow the government guidelines for churches when they meet together or not?”

We understand that the virus is real and that not all the information about it is reliable or accurate.  We also realize there are differing opinions on this issue, both within and outside our church family.

In considering the answer to this question, we believe the following verses help provide clear, biblical principles to guide us to an appropriate conclusion for our church.  We realize that the conclusions and decisions made today may need to be reassessed in the future as information and guidelines change.

Being Subject To Governing Authorities

In Romans 13:1 & 2 we are instructed:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 

We believe that God establishes and ordains governments, even ones we may not like, to accomplish His ultimate purpose and that, in general, we are called to obey them.

Must Obey God Rather Than Men

The exception to that obedience is when the government directives conflict with the clear teaching and commands of Scripture.

Peter and the apostles articulated this in Acts 5:27-29:

27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them,  28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

This statement “We must obey God rather than men” comes as a result of the Jewish Council demanding that the Apostles stop teaching in Jesus’ name.  This, of course, was a clear violation of Jesus’ command to proclaim the gospel throughout the world (Matthew 29:18-20; Acts 1:8).

Not Forsaking Assembling Together

Another passage often cited for churches to not follow the government guidelines is Hebrews 10:23-25:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,  25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

It is our belief, after considering these and other passages, that the current government guidelines do not rise to the level of conflicting with our biblical mandates.

Reasoning

Although the guidelines place some restrictions on what we can do when we meet, we are not being told we cannot meet or that we must stop sharing the gospel or teaching the Word.

We understand the desire each of us has to meet together as a church family.  But even with the current guidelines we are not “forsaking assembling together.”  We still have the opportunity to meet together in small groups with Tuesday & Wednesday Bible studies, and two Sunday School classes.

It’s Not About Fear

Often it is mentioned that the reason we follow the government guidelines is because of fear.  Fear of the government, fear of the virus, fear of something else.  We are told to not live in fear but to live in faith and therefore disregard the government directives.

The verse often quoted for not living in fear is 2Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear…”  We agree that God has not given us a spirit of fear, and the motivation for our decisions must not be from fear.

While this is true, we believe the whole verse needs to be taken into consideration, not just the first half.

2Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (emphasis added)

We are called to live our Kingdom life while on earth, not out of fear, but from the Power of the Lord, showing Love to those around us, and using a Sound (spiritual, godly) mind.

Motivation For Obedience

We believe that, although there are varying opinions on COVID, using a sound mind in this situation means making the best decisions for ourselves and our church family based primarily on Scripture but also includes consideration of the current, generally accepted, information available to us at the time.

Another aspect that impacts our decision is the importance of thinking of others, their needs and wellbeing (spiritually and physically), even more than our own desires and preferences.

In Philippians 2: 3-8 we are instructed:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;  do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We also believe that we must take into account our testimony and the impact we have on the community we are called to minister to, especially unbelievers.

In Matthew 5: 13-16 our Lord tells us:

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

While some have said “letting our light shine” means that we do not yield to the government guidelines, we believe that the best way to “shine” is to do all we can within the current guidelines to share Jesus’ love, hope, and encouragement to our family, neighbors and friends.

Final Thoughts

Some have stated that as long as we have to wear face coverings they won’t attend a church service.  We realize that for some there may be an underlying physical condition that would prohibit them from wearing a mask for any length of time.

However, although wearing a face covering can be awkward and uncomfortable, for most of us it isn’t a physical issue but a “rights” issue.  We believe that, if we are physically able and don’t have an underlying condition or have children for whom sitting through the service with a mask on wouldn’t be practical or appropriate, we should consider laying down “our rights” and seek to “assemble together” as often as we are able.

In Matthew 5: 39-41, Jesus tell us:

39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 

We believe this instructs us to be willing to lay down our rights for the sake of others as we seek to live out our other biblical mandates.

Conclusion

Our conclusion for now is that we will continue to follow the government guidelines established for churches.  As we have said, this decision can and will be reassessed as information and guidelines change.

We understand that some churches, both large and small, have drawn a different conclusion.  We believe that this is a Romans 14 issue and that each individual church must make the decision for themselves.

To help facilitate “assembling together,” we will continue to send out links of the recordings so people can watch them and be at least partially connected with our church family.  And we will continue to offer our Tuesday morning Bible studies, Wednesday evening Bible study & prayer group, and our two Sunday School classes. We ask that you simply call the church office to sign up if you’d like to begin attending one or more of these small groups.

As we look at Scripture and determine the proper response for our church family, as to whether we should follow the government guidelines or not, we believe an equally, if not more, important question to ask ourselves is, “Am I doing all I can, within the current situation, to share the good news of hope, love and security in Jesus with my family, friends, and neighbors who may be struggling with fear and uncertainty and who are being made more acutely aware of their own mortality and eternal destiny?”