In the spring of 2021, pastors from different countries came together to draw up a joint declaration in response to the COVID measures enacted by many governments. The result is the Frankfurt Declaration of Christian and Civil Liberties, which was presented to the public on August 28, 2022, near Frankfurt, Germany. The document was initially signed by fifty pastors and theologians from America, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and Africa, including men such as Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, African Christian University dean Voddie Baucham, and Apologia Church elder James White. In the meantime, more than 5,000 signatories from all over the world have joined the Frankfurt Declaration.
Even though the concrete reason for drafting the Frankfurt Declaration was the totalitarian response to COVID, it is not primarily about these measures, but about the underlying spiritual reasons that led states to infringe so massively on the guaranteed rights of their citizens. The signatories of the Frankfurt Declaration see this unprecedented disregard for liberty as just one symptom of an emerging totalitarianism of the state over all spheres of society, including the church, that has developed for decades.
The Frankfurt Declaration seeks to address these threats with the timeless truths of God’s Word through affirmations and denials derived from biblical principles.
Article 1: God the Creator as Sovereign Lawgiver and Judge
For centuries, the countries of the Western world have been moving further away from the biblical truth that God created the cosmos and everything in it, including man. Most people’s thinking is now strongly influenced by a radical materialism assuming that all processes and phenomena in the world come from impersonal matter and motion rather than a personal and transcendent Creator.
But if there is no Creator God, then there is no divine lawgiver who has revealed His universal, immutable law to man, and there is no divine judge who at the end of time will judge all men according to this law. And if there is no heavenly lawgiver above the earthly state, then the state is the highest lawgiver, and its laws need not measure up to any higher standard. With no divine judge, human legislators need not consider answering to Him for their actions. The state and those who govern it thus assume for themselves the role of God, freely determining what is good and evil conduct without the bounds of a divine moral standard. The result is devastating: unconverted people, corrupt by nature, turn the commandments of God into their opposite, rebelliously calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20).
Examples of this tendency during the COVID crisis abound. For example, the state decreed (even for healthy people) that visiting the elderly, the sick, and the dying was evil, although Christ says that such actions are signs by which one knows who is blessed of the Father and inherits the kingdom, and who is cursed and must depart from Christ into everlasting fire (Matthew 25:31-46). But the phenomenon of the state calling things good that have been considered sin for millennia is one we have been observing for years: the state enables divorce and sexual immorality, promotes homosexuality, and transgenderism, and allows the killing of children in the womb.
The state both approves of such evils and demands that its citizens do likewise. Even kindergarteners are indoctrinated accordingly. Anyone who disagrees is considered backward, bigoted, hateful, and a threat to society.
The Frankfurt Declaration affirms that God, as supreme lawgiver and judge, is the ultimate source of ethics, and that He has revealed an unchanging morality that is rooted in His own character and which determines for all people at all times what is good and evil conduct. It, therefore, denies that the state has the right to define morality and to demand unconditional obedience from its citizens when their beliefs contradict God’s law, invoking the clausula Petri, that one ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Article 2: God as the Source of Truth and the Role of Science
With the turning away from the truth of the Creator God, other truths also increasingly falter. As Christians, we know that God has ordered creation by objective truths, which man can discover through scientific observation. This knowledge made scientific endeavors possible in the first place, since men once recognized that all scientific investigation is an inquiry into the works of God and hence cannot feign neutrality.
When science no longer serves to glorify God, then science itself becomes a god. Many today are convinced that science can provide answers to all questions and instructions for the right action in all situations. This scientism overlooks the fact that empirical inquiry may not only lead to erroneous results due to the lack of data and the human propensity for error, but that it can in no way provide answers to moral questions. Science can only say what is, but not what should be. Virology and epidemiology can say which measures might be promising to contain a virus, but they cannot answer whether a lockdown or other infringements on rights and liberties are ethically justified to achieve that goal.
However, this is exactly what happened during COVID: individual experts were considered to represent “science,” and their predictions and recommendations guided the policies of entire governments. As C.S. Lewis once explained: “Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value.”
Since man has fallen into sin, all his thoughts, deductions and institutions contain degrees of corruption that tend to distort, manipulate, or suppress the truth. In the hands of ideologically driven people, truth becomes subject to change by reinterpretations, while science is quickly perverted into an instrument of indoctrination through fearmongering, propaganda, and the wielding of political power. Dissident voices are ignored, suppressed, or canceled. During COVID, dissenting doctors and scientists, some of whom had been considered luminaries in their field for decades, were silenced, discredited and sometimes dismissed from their jobs. But we see this trend in other areas as well. For example, the state and the “scientific consensus” have been propagating for decades that scientifically untenable theories, such as Darwinism, were settled truth. We are being told science has discovered that it is no longer possible to determine what a man or a woman is.
The Frankfurt Declaration endorses science which seeks to discover, through the scientific method and debate, the truths that God has built into the natural world, but it rejects scientism as the belief that science necessarily leads to truth and can provide answers to complex ethical questions. Furthermore, it denies that governments, scientific experts, or the media are morally and ideologically neutral and that their presentation of “the truth” should be trusted unconditionally.
Article 3: Mankind as the Image of God
If one no longer believes that there is a personal creator God, but that all processes are determined only by matter and motion, then man is nothing more than the product of an impersonal and ultimately purposeless evolutionary process without any transcendental purpose or value except to serve the “greater good” for society. The states of the Western world have promoted this view of man for decades, and we are now seeing its fruits: the Darwinian view of man offers no protection of the individual against the abuse of power by the stronger.
During the COVID crisis, states psychologically manipulated individuals by deliberately scaring them with predictions of horrific mortality rates and agonizing deaths by suffocation, as internal government papers show and some governments have openly admitted. Distrust of others was promoted by portraying them as potential threats to life and limb. Such propaganda enables many states to impose policies that infringed on people’s rights and liberties in ways that previously seemed unthinkable in the “free” world. This happened even though such infringements are prohibited by the constitutions of most states.
To be clear: The issue is not whether or not certain measures make sense from a virological or epidemiological point of view, but whether or not the state has the right to forcefully impose such measures and thereby infringe on the liberties of its citizens.
According to the biblical worldview, on the other hand, God created man in His image and likeness, whereby all human beings have an inherent dignity and worth which serve as the grounds for God-given, inalienable rights, that the state must respect and protect (Romans 13:3-4). These liberties include the right to in-person relationships, employment, medical self-determination, and participation in the important events of human life such as witnessing the birth of one’s child, marrying in a public gathering, and fellowship with others. When the state deprives a person of these rights and liberties or makes them contingent on the compliance with certain mandates, citizens are dehumanized and made a mere object of state tyranny. This is a direct attack on the image of God, which we have seen time and again, especially in anti-Christian systems like communism and socialism.
The Frankfurt Declaration, therefore, affirms the inalienable worth of every individual as made in the image of God and hence opposes the state’s infringement on their God-given rights and liberties by lockdowns and mandates, which usurp the innate value of mankind by subjecting them to manipulation, enforced segregation, and other unjust deprivations of rights.
Article 4: God-Given Mandates and Limits of Authority
If one neither believes in a God who has supreme authority over all spheres of life, including the state, nor in human beings as created in the image of God, then the way is paved for the state to enact a totalitarian rule over all areas of life. In reaction to the growing nihilism that is the result of this turning away from the Christian faith, the modern state will try to invent pseudo-religious beliefs to keep people under control. Hence the new religion of multiculturalism, diversity, health, climate, planetary salvation, and impending doom unless we are saved by the central planning and control of the highest remaining power, the new god of state, which now assumes the role of ultimate lawgiver, provider, priest, and savior, thereby creating an authoritarian society in which the state is absolute.
In this system, dissidents cannot be tolerated because they threaten the narrative on which the legitimacy of this statism and totalitarianism is based. The state thus tries to centralize beliefs and conduct for their citizens. The state, therefore, has a special interest in gaining influence over children as early as possible in order to indoctrinate them according to the state ideology and turn them into “loyal” citizens, engendering an ideological intolerance that seeks to silence, cancel, re-educate, and punish those who disagree. We have seen this phenomenon not only with COVID, when the state elevated its narrative to absolute truth and deprived dissenters of the ability to even publicly express criticism through bans on demonstrations and unprecedented censorship in conventional and social media. Rather, we see a similar approach in a variety of other ideological narratives,, such as feminism, sexual orientation and gender identity, or climate change.
However, it does not stop at the suppression of criticism; the state increasingly intervenes in all spheres of life to ensure behavior that conforms to the system. Thus, during COVID, the state intervened in the sphere of the family by prohibiting people from visiting and assisting family members or celebrating holidays, and it intervened in the sphere of the church by prohibiting believers from celebrating services, singing hymns, or administering the ordinances.
This totalitarian statism, however, is contrary to the divine order. All earthly powers draw their authority from God to whom all must give an account, and He has established different spheres of responsibility: the family, to whom the rod is given for training the children in the ways of the Lord; the church, to whom the Word is given for making disciples of all nations; and the state, to whom the sword is given for punishing evil and reward good. In doing so, God has at the same time set limits to the authority of these institutions.
The Frankfurt Declaration affirms that the family, the church, and the state are granted limited authority by God only over their respective spheres. It thus denies statism and totalitarian ideologies of governments which do not recognize the boundaries of their authority and usurp the mandates delegated by God to the church or the family.
Article 5: Christ as the Head of the Church
The fact that the state no longer recognizes the God-given limits of its authority and no longer has any fear of God is increasingly having an impact on the church. The state no longer recognizes the spiritual importance of the church but increasingly views and treats it like any other association or event, even as a danger to the states’ own ideologies.
This mindset was clearly demonstrated during COVID. Whereas in the past churches were usually full during national emergencies because people understood that ultimately only God can save them (2 Chronicles 7:13-14), this time worship services were banned for several weeks or months in large parts of the Western world. Once worship services were permitted again, they continued under severe restrictions, such as capacity limitations, distancing, mask or test requirements, or changes to the administration of the ordinances. The state even ordered the congregational singing of God’s praises to be silenced throughout the country for several months. And sadly, most churches obeyed these mandates, many with full conviction, even defending the state’s infringement on the church. We also saw pastors arrested or forced to answer in court for preaching the Word of God.
According to Scripture, however, the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. He commands us not only to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but also to give to God what belongs to God, thereby establishing the functional independence of the church from the state. The Church must therefore refrain from submitting to an encroaching state when it orders that God be withheld His worship and praise, or that His blood-bought children be prevented from worshiping Him and receiving graces from the Word and ordinances free from state-imposed restrictions on access.
The Frankfurt Declaration affirms that the church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ at the cost of His life and that it is accountable to Him alone in all matters of faith and practice. The activities of the local church, insofar as they are essential acts of worship, are therefore to be regulated by Christ alone. It denies that any other authority has jurisdiction over the church to criminalize, inhibit, or regulate any of its affairs in matters of faith and practice, or to relegate its activities to a non-essential status.
A Call for Respect, Repentance and Resistance
The Frankfurt Declaration ends with an expression of gratitude to those civil authorities who respect these Christian beliefs and the rights and liberties of each individual, and with a call to repentance to those civil authorities who have disregarded these freedoms, lest in the abuse of their God-given authority they become liable to God’s wrath. It also encourages Christians to steadfastly and faithfully obey the Lord rather than men and stand by one another while praying that God would give us the grace to remain faithful and persevere to the end.
The Frankfurt Declaration is not a politicization of the gospel, quite the contrary, nor is it a call for strife and division in the church or unlawful rebellion against the state. It is meant to provide light and strength for Christians for a faithful witness to Jesus Christ in our time. May God graciously use it in this way for His glory.
Tobias Riemenschneider has been a pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Baptist Church of Frankfurt, Germany, since 2016. He studied law and worked for several years as a lawyer for international law firms. He is married and is the father of three children.