The following open letter was written and submitted by a 13-year-old.
This is a widely disputed subject, and no ‘conclusion’ has been made on these issues. I cannot see why there has not, as the Bible has no ‘grey areas’ on these issues. What prevents the decision being made, I believe, is the wrong desire of the church and its leaders to appear ‘respectable’ to the world, and the fear of fines and man. Since when has the church been told to hold these motivations higher than the Word of God?
Concerning the Authority of the Scriptures
Before the issues that press the church today are addressed, the fundamental authority of the Scriptures must be reaffirmed. The authority of the Scriptures is the highest authority on earth until Christ returns, because it is His Word. If anything should go against the teachings of the Bible that thing IS WRONG and not the infallible Word of God. Some who profess to hold to this doctrine (of the authority of Scripture) have recently committed, “the fatal error of believing that Scripture has only such value as the Church agrees to accord it, as if God’s eternal and inviolable truth depended on men’s good pleasure.” 1
In his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin points out that, “he [God] has stamped his own image on the Scripture and would have us recognize him there.” 2. Evidently, no man has the authority to question or twist the commands and teachings of the Bible. “And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City…” (Revelation 22:19).
When the meaning of the text is in question, then that is a matter of conscience for each and every believer, and also of debate among believers. So, if anything is in question it is a matter of conscience, but more often than not the Bible leaves no doubt about what God wills. When God’s will be conveyed clearly the church should not hold back in following through in action for, “Scripture is there to be a means of God’s action in and through us – which will include, but go far beyond, the mere conveying of information.”3 Having verified the authority of Scripture, on which any debate on Christianity should be based unless evidence is found from Scripture against my argument, it is valid.
What this Authority Says About Going to Church Regularly
This topic is discussed far too little, and, in the last three years obeyed far too little. Based on the word of God it is evident that the church should not, “give up meeting together” 4 It seems clear, from that one verse that the church is meant to meet together and, “encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Much of how the church and individual Christians are to live is displayed in the lives of early Christians. They too had the habit of weekly fellowship and worship together.
The Bible says, “they seriously devoted themselves to the teaching of the Word of God and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). In the last few years the church seriously devoted itself to, well, – staying at home. The church did NOT meet together weekly, and the church did not fellowship. Why? Because this church feared man more than God. The church obeyed man over God. Perhaps it even feared a man-made virus more than the wrath of God. Why else would the church disobey God?
From the beginning of the world, God had planned for us to meet together once a week, for fellowship and “to keep it [the sabbath day] holy” (Exodus 20:8). “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). God knew the church, and all of creation needed it. But despite this, many churches did NOT meet and did NOT share the Lord’s supper for all that time. The church sadly falls short of Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Acts 20:7).
Christianity is a religion of thoughts AND action. The church did not break bread together for virtually years on end, while the early Christians, at the RISK OF THEIR OWN LIVES and livelihoods, “gathered together to break bread,” “on the first day of the week.”
Why did the church of the west not do this too? Because this church feared to RISK THEIR LIVES. The church was, or at least professed to be, in danger from Covid-19. The church members and leaders also feared losing their jobs, and livelihoods if the church disobeyed such as what happened to Furlong. Real fears, maybe, but not rational reasons to rebel against God.
Church was never meant to be an option for Christians; it was, and is, an “every week” thing (1 Corinthians 16:2-13). The main way Christians, and, sadly, church leaders, argued that this was okay was the ‘Romans 13:1 argument’ – saying that the church must obey the authorities. However, they seemed to forget that God too is an authority. (This argument will be refuted in its place further down).
Logically the argument of authority is hypocritical. While these people do not condemn our fellow brothers and sisters in China who daily disobey their authorities, and weekly meet together, they condemn Christians in the West for doing the same thing. While they praise and pray for the Chinese Christians, they shun and attack the Christians who do the same in the west.
If it is wrong for the church in the west to disobey authorities in this way, why does the church not tell its counterpart in the East “Romans 13:1”? Three things are concluded, first Christians must go to church (unless physically unable) not going to church IS disobeying God, and the churches of Australia and the West were WRONG not to go to Church during lockdown.
What this Authority says about Unity in the Church
This issue, if possible, is even more contentious than the previous one but just as important. So, it too should be discussed and debated not with a “a spirit…of fear…but of power” (2 Tim 1:7). To begin with, scripture leaves us no doubt as to what is required for the unity of the church. The church is to be, as Paul says, “just as a body, though one, has many parts, … all its many parts form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-17). Now which of us would willingly allow for anyone to sever one part of our body from the rest? No “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;”12 God wills that “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
Each part of the body has a purpose, but no part can be cut off without the whole-body suffering injury. Just as with a human body “the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” We do not reject them. How is it, then, that the church has come to such a state of deprivation that it would not allow certain parts of the body of Christ to be one with the rest. These parts that the church (and the world) thought less honourable, the church did not give special honour, but especially shamed. When they suffered, losing their jobs, and freedoms, the church did not come alongside and suffer with them but pushed them away. It acted like the rest of the world of which it is not part.
The Bible clearly states that the church should not mirror the divisions of the world, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the same Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Some say that the unvaccinated, those who have been cut off, do not fit into the same category as slave/free, Jew/Gentile, as they can get vaccinated, while those are stuck in their status.
Although this sounds reasonable, the Bible does not agree, and speaks to this situation too. Paul was faced with a similar issue – whether or not to allow the uncircumcised to come to church with everyone else. Some thought they should just circumcise themselves to prevent an issue (e.g. ‘just get vaccinated’), however Paul and the church concluded that the choice was up to the person, and that it had nothing to do with their eligibility to go to church.
[Paul is not saying that every part of the body is the same – no he acknowledges their differences, and roles. What he IS saying is they are all equal under Christ. In fact, he emphasises the need for different parts in the church for, “If the whole body were an eye where would the sense of hearing be?” No person should be excluded from church for not being like the others.]
Indeed, how can the unvaccinated be reached, once the church has alienated them? Furthermore, the church is Christ’s body and it is his decision, not the church or state-governing authorities decision, who may be excluded. And God tells us this: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Therefore what right has the church to send them away if God himself will not? Clearly written all through scripture is this concept, that the body, the Church, has no right to send another part away, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26).
Many argue for segregation, by saying it is a health issue (conveniently forgetting that the unvaccinated are not sick – not lepers) and it is “loving your neighbour” but the Bible says that favouritism, favouring those esteemed by society, and loving your neighbour cannot coexist, “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin, and are convicted by the law as law breakers” (James 2:8-9).
No lengthy essays are really needed to argue this, the Bible already has, and most convincingly argued against segregation in the church, but convenience and fear have blinded many in the church from following the narrow way. Unless someone has sinned against the clear doctrines of the Bible, and has not repented, they should not and cannot be driven from Christ or the Church. To conclude it must be remembered what God requires of us, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). So let us do justice, in accordance with the Word, and show kindness to all parts of the body, and be humble, not presuming to be wiser than our God.
What this Authority Says About Authority in General
The most common reason given for allowing segregation and doing church at home has been the ‘obey your authorities’ argument of Romans 13:1, and conservative evangelicals while vociferously arguing against proof-texting in any other context suddenly are very happy to shut down any debate by glibly quoting this verse.
But what does the Bible actually teach about authority and the church in its relation to it? Firstly, the Bible speaks highly of authority, as a God-made institution. Not something to be hated in itself or distasteful but, like work, a necessary and helpful regime put in place by a loving God.
The Bible says authority is a good thing, for it is God-given. “Every authority that exists, has been established by God.” (Romans 13:1). However, the Bible also acknowledges that, since the fall, God-given authority has been misused like so many other God-given gifts – marriage, work, the world, children, nature, strength, creativity. Example after example is given of misused authority. Saul, Herod, Cesare, Nebuchadnezzar and many others.
One of the most grotesquely wrongs is that of King Ahab who killed another man just to get his field or even King David who killed one of his own subjects, to get the man’s wife. God’s people, especially his faithful servants such as the prophets, were used to remind these kings of their wrongs. It is the job of God’s people to fight injustice and, “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17), and that includes telling our authorities when they go wrong. (Protesting unjust laws is a GOOD thing).
God has given each authority benefits, boundaries and tasks, but over these spheres of authority is God’s authority. Indeed, the writers of Revelation unflinchingly referred to authorities overstepping their God-given jurisdictions, including the Roman Empire of Romans 13:1, as ‘the Beast’ or ‘the prostitute’ – certainly not the nuanced response required by today’s Church leaders! All authorities in heaven and earth are answerable to Him. Therefore, it is not without reason that “Peter and the apostles answered [the authorities], ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).
The Bible quells attitudes of riotous rebellion (such as we have seen in the USA BLM riots) but also shows there is a proper time, place and attitude to hold authorities doing wrong in line. Why else did the renowned Martin Luther speak the truth despite the fact this was against the orders of his authorities? Reformers throughout history disobeyed their earthly authorities to obey the higher authority, not in an attitude of rebellion against them, but in an attitude of reverence for God.
So, as the church fathers, reformers and patriarchs did, we also must obey God, first, and then other authorities. When the commands of God are prevented by the laws of men, Christians have no choice, but to obey God, if they truly seek what is right.
When faced with this situation Christians should follow the examples of the apostles and answer, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Understanding authority is complicated but essential. Kuyper, a Dutch theologian and statesman, faced with similar issues, coined the term sphere sovereignty. In essence, he explains that God has given each authority (government, church, family, market, society, academy, and most importantly Christ) a sphere in which to exercise that authority.
According to Kuyper, “God has ordained that these diverse spheres have their own places in the creation because they fulfil different creational purposes.”. When an authority starts to go beyond the boundaries laid down (for example the government telling families how to govern their children), they lose the right to be obeyed on that issue. Since the creation of the world we have seen governments try and extend their monopoly on power, but every person chooses which ultimate authority they will be under – Christ or the state?
When the church decides to do and continues to do, something against God’s commands, no matter how difficult they are to obey in the circumstances, they must remember they are disobeying God. God speaks of those who do this and replies, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you?” Double is the wrong of any leader who tells another believer to sin in this way. They are leading God’s flock astray. Worst still is the lot of one who persecutes those who do not disobey God with him, for he only adds wrong on wrong. The church should not only obey God when they find it convenient but also when it is difficult. That is true obedience.
Why the Church Must Respond with Word and Action
The authority of the Scriptures has been examined, and what this authority has to say about church attendance, unity, and authorities in general, but what good is it speaking or writing about these things if no action follows? If the church does not repent and change, even though it has no real answer to these charges, the argument, though true, they will be useless. Once again, it must be remembered the Christian faith is a faith of word and action. But does the Bible say that that action must be now? This too is another subject the Bible is strong and explicit about saying,
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22-25). Action, rightfully, should be led by the leaders of the church, it is up to other believers to sound a clear call to action. “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). Leaders have not given a clear signal on any of the above issues.
Even now the church leaders refuse to ready themselves for any future battle, sidestepping vital issues such as going against conscience, civil disobedience, not going to church etc., but they forget that “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the LORD your God the LORD will [ironically] send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses” (Deuteronomy 28:58).
Not obeying will lead to judgment. The church leaders are fearing men more than God. They are fearing the world. But God says to them, and to all Christians, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13). The church has not been watchful, it has not stood firm in the faith, it has not acted like men, and it has definitely not been strong in these last three years.
Why? For fear of ‘them’ – the government, public opinion, their fellow church leaders, the media, and perhaps the virus itself. God encourages all those who fear them saying, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26).
From those who acquiesced with restrictions on church attendance, to those who eagerly and virtuously embraced them, all must repent, for we were all complicit to some degree. True confession involves not just repenting of the deed but of confessing the sinful attitude behind it. The church feared the temporal more than the eternal, man rather than God, the loss of their place rather than the loss of God’s blessing. Concerningly, this era revealed a deep-seated humanism in the church. Therefore, there is only one right thing to do, and it must be done:
Repent, O Church, return to your God.
1 Institutes of the Christian religion p. 18, John Calvin
2 Institutes of the Christian Religion p. 25 by John Calvin
3 Scripture and the Authority of God by Tom Wright