As our governments grow more and more accustomed to making rules that govern the minute details of our life – where we can go, what we must wear, who we can visit – Christians and the church must start thinking seriously about where the line in the sand is. At which point will the government step over a line and we will say “enough”?
Allow me to offer some musings on this question.
We must each have a line.
Most of us have heard the parable of the frog. Reportedly, if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and then heat it up slowly enough, the frog will happily stay in the pot until it becomes a pleasant meal for a Frog – I mean a Frenchman. Human nature is like that.
Consider the COVID situation.
First, we were happy with the idea of locking down for 2 weeks to flatten the curve and save our hospital systems from getting overrun, then we were happy to be told to wear a mask everywhere, then we were happy to go to work while not being allowed to go to church, then we got used to having to fill in a visa just to cross a state border, then we got used to the idea that we are aiming for “zero community transmission”, then the idea of compulsory vaccines started to be an idea we were half-comfortable with, then the…
I am genuinely surprised at how far we have been willing to go to obey the government and I think it is critical to ask the question: “At which point will I disobey?”
Think about it. When will the government go too far for you? When they tell you that you aren’t allowed to care for your aging parents? When they say that you aren’t allowed to speak the truth about human sexuality in a public setting? When they say you aren’t allowed to go to church? When they require you to say that 2 + 2 = 5 or that boys can be girls?
If we don’t have the line ready in our head, we will keep recalibrating our sensitivities and never reach a line.
At one point, the German churches thought that the solution to the noise of screaming Jews in cattle cars passing by their church building was to sing louder. How do you think they got to that point?
The line should be defined by what authority God has given the government.
As soon as someone mentions having a standard by saying something like “you should have a line that you aren’t willing to cross”, our immediate question should be, “By what standard?”
For the Christian, we have an objective, absolute standard by which we can measure situations like this. God has spoken in His Word, The Bible.
What we find in the Bible is that the world is made up of God-given authority structures. There is self-government, family-government, church-government and civil-government, to name the big ones. Each of these governments is set in place under God’s absolute authority.
For example, Jesus claims that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him]” (Matthew 28:18, ESV). Jesus kingship is absolute, total and all-encompassing.
In contrast, children are taught to “obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1, ESV). The authority of the parents is limited by the Lord. If parents command something contrary to God’s commands, the children are not required to obey.
So, civil governments are authorities which “have been established by God” (Romans 13:1) as well. But what is the extent of their authority? We know from scripture that civil governments have legitimate authority to raise taxes (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”, Mark 12:17, ESV). They also have authority to “punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14, ESV). That is, they have been given the sword to exercise justice on those who break the law, and those laws should align with God’s categories of good and evil.
We see many examples in scripture where the civil governments authority is limited: from Daniel refusing to obey the command to pray to the king (Daniel 6), to the 80 priests who risked their lives to withstand King Uzzah’s attempts to run the church service (2 Chronicles 26:16-19), to Peter and John who refused to obey the “rulers and elders and scribes” command to stop preaching about Jesus (Acts 4).
My purpose here is not to tell you where the line is – but to plead with you to think hard about this. Where will the line be for you? Will it be the command to not forsake meeting together? Will it be a command from the government that falls outside of their God-given sphere of authority such as what your children are to be taught at school? Will it be an order to not pray in front of an abortion clinic?
Pick an early line.
If you are walking down the street and a black van (they are always black) pulled up and a couple of balaclava-wearing men jumped out and tried to put you in the van, when should you fight? Should you fight on the side of the street? Should you fight in the van? Or should you wait until you get to the basement of their hideout and fight there?
I would put it to you that you should fight to the death on the footpath. At that point in the proceedings, you have the best chance of survival – things will not get any better after they get you in the van.
Let me put it to you another way, in Nazi Germany as things started to spiral out of control, what would have happened if all the Jews and all the Christians kicked up a big fight when the government required all Jews to wear the Star of David? Do you think that a resistance movement launched at that point would have had more or less chance of success than a resistance movement launched once they had started shipping Jews off to concentration camps? Do you think perhaps some of the Germans who also thought things weren’t quite right would have joined the fight if the fight was started early enough before the SS were killing people in the streets?
Civil governments will always take more power.
One of the reasons we need to be thinking about finding an early line to draw is that the nature of humans who are given a position of power is that they will, over time, desire more power. It is a general rule that when other spheres of government that God has given are not doing their job well, the civil government will want to step in and take over.
There are a plethora of examples of this already happening: education, welfare, marriage, workplace health and safety laws, personal health – many of these things belong rightfully under the authority of other governments that God has given. Education belongs under the family government. Marriage belongs under the church government. There is some overlap of these things, but these days the civil government has assumed that their job is to handle all of it.
In Australia, we have inherited a wonderful legacy from our forefathers (and mothers). One of those legacies is a democratic government system. This system was designed the way it was because our forefathers understood this fact. There is a division of power in our government structure. Two houses of parliament, a military and a police force, parliament and the law courts.
What this means is that you are part of the civil government. You are invited to be a part of the proceedings. And, amazingly, protest is part of what it means to be a part of it all. Participating in legal battles is part of what it means to be a citizen of our special civil government structure. Writing letters calling your parliamentary members to account is part of being a good citizen.
So, working out where an appropriate line in the sand is and choosing to fight at that line through all the means given to us is not only our God-given duty, it is also our civil duty. And if we don’t draw a line somewhere, our civil government will continue to do what it has been doing, making laws that take over responsibility for areas of our life that it has no claim on.
Francis Schaeffer put it even stronger in A Christian Manifesto: “If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the living God.”
So, who has a stick? I think it’s time for a line in the sand.