Soon we Christians will be Home in Heaven! I am so excited that I can almost smell my Jesus hugging me to welcome me Home. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." (1 Thess. 4:16-18)
It is my desire to comfort as well as to encourage ourselves in the Lord while we live through these opportunistic days. In these past three months I have had countless times to clearly share the gospel with individuals on streets, in parks and even at stores.
These unprecedented times are turning out to be great opportunities for the gospel. Men's hearts are failing them for fear as God is shaking the whole world (Luke 21:26). God is opening a great and effectual door unto us amidst many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:9). Governments are increasingly restricting fundamental liberties, people are confused and apprehensive, and good is now evil while evil is now good (Is. 5:20).
God is graciously purging the church so that "he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). Christians are experiencing more dependence on God and less value on this world.
I was supposed to be in Mexico right now. But that trip got canceled. Since many borders are still closed, I am happily serving my church here in Ohio. I have been weekly mentoring a young man and doing Bible studies with him. I also regularly give my time to serve other guys teaching and training them about evangelizing and investing our lives into others.
It has been a great joy to be with my Ohio church family. On many occasions I and some other members from my church have gone out onto the streets with the intention to approach individuals simply to ask if we can pray for them. Every single time we have prayed with individuals, we then have been allowed to share Christ with them. At other times we have visited public parks. We walk around passing out gospel tracts, and so many people sit down and permit us to explain the gospel. Truly the harvest is plentiful and ready. Therefore, as Jesus said, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (Jn. 4:35).
If someone tells you that ministry is over because of the chaos in the world, nothing could be further from the truth. Don't believe it! Ministry today is more opened than any other time before. People are searching for answers. They want peace. And they will listen to the gospel if we simply go and give them Christ. If Paul and Silas in Acts chapter 16 could continue ministering while chained in a dungeon, then we certainly can continue praying, singing hymns, witnessing and serving people, even when the government places restrictions.
With governments placing devastating lockdowns and various restrictions, what are we to do? In the beginning, governments in the name of "health and safety" insisted that restraints and control were for our good. They said it was supposed to be a short-term stopgap measure, with the goal to “flatten the curve”. Now here we are in our fifth month with death rates at .03% living with unrelieved restrictions and still many churches are told not to gather. Interestingly major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling that officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place without an end in sight. So what are we Christians to do? How are we to obey the command of our Lord and government officials?
I like how Pastor John MacArthur wisely answered this question. Here is a summary I have put together from his extensive letter he wrote last week.
Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we Christians are bound by God's Holy Bible not to acquiesce to government-imposed moratoriums on our corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.
Some will think such a firm statement is inexorably in conflict with the command to be subject to governing authorities laid out in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Scripture does mandate careful, conscientious obedience to all governing authorities [in Peter’s words, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also the froward (unreasonable)” (1 Peter 2:18)]. Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained.
However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders.
When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority as a civic official and arrogates to himself authority that God expressly grants only to the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign over His Kingdom, which is the church. His rule is mediated to local churches through those pastors and elders who teach His Word (Matthew 16:18–19; 2 Timothy 3:16–4:2).
Therefore, the recent numerous government orders requiring churches to limit or suspend all meetings impose an overreaching of their legitimate jurisdictions. We Christians should not observe the restrictions but steadfastly submit to our faithfulness in Christ and His commands. Said another way, it has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship. When, how, and how often the church worships is not subject to Caesar. Caesar himself is subject to God. Jesus affirmed that principle when He told Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). And because Christ is head of the church, ecclesiastical matters pertain to His Kingdom, not Caesar’s. Jesus drew a stark distinction between the two kingdoms when He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Mark 12:17). Our Lord Himself always rendered to Caesar what was Caesar's, but He never offered to Caesar what belongs solely to God.
Pastors and elders of churches should not hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church. Pastors and elders are the ones to whom Christ has given the duty and the right to exercise His spiritual authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:7, 17)—and Scripture alone defines how and whom they are to serve (1 Corinthians 4:1–4). We have no duty to follow orders from a civil government attempting to regulate the worship or governance of the church. In fact, pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord and violated the God-ordained spheres of authority as much as the secular official who illegitimately imposes his authority upon the church.
The honor that we rightly owe our earthly governors and magistrates (Romans 13:7) does not include compliance when such officials attempt to subvert sound doctrine, corrupt biblical morality, exercise ecclesiastical authority, or supplant Christ as head of the church in any other way. The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church. Conversely, the church does not in any sense rule the state. Again, these are distinct kingdoms, and Christ is sovereign over both. Neither church nor state has any higher authority than that of Christ Himself, who declared, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18).
An additional point needs to be made. Christ is always faithful and true (Revelation 19:11). Human governments are not so trustworthy. Jesus stated that Satan is "the prince of this world" (John 14:30), meaning he wields power and influence through this world’s political systems. Jesus said of him, “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.
The church by definition is an assembly. That is the literal meaning of the Greek word for “church”—ekklesia—the bodily assembly of the called-out ones. A non-assembling assembly is a contradiction in terms. In addition, meeting together via technological devices is not assembling ourselves together. Assembly necessitates bodily joining ourselves together. Of course if an individual is sick with the flu, covid, etc., that individual should stay home. But if a whole church is locking the church doors and doing services on-line, then you are disobeying God's Bible. Christians are therefore commanded not to forsake the practice of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25)—and no earthly state has a right to restrict, delimit, or forbid the assembling of believers. Freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by government.
When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.
Although we in America may be unaccustomed to government intrusion into the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is by no means the first time in church history that Christians have had to deal with government overreach or hostile rulers. As a matter of fact, persecution of the church by government authorities has been the norm, not the exception, throughout church history. Indeed Scripture says, “and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Historically, the two main persecutors have always been secular government and false religion. Most of Christianity’s martyrs have died because they refused to obey such authorities. This is, after all, what Christ promised: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
As government policy moves further away from biblical principles, and as legal and political pressures against the church intensify, we must recognize that the Lord may be using these pressures as means of purging to reveal the true body of Christ. Succumbing to governmental overreach may cause churches to remain closed indefinitely. How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: courageous allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is the one true head of His church, and we should intend to honor that vital truth in all our gatherings. For that preeminent reason, we should not accept and should not bow to the intrusive restrictions government officials now want to impose on congregations. We must offer this response without malice, and not out of hearts that are combative or rebellious (1 Timothy 2:1–8; 1 Peter 2:13–17), but with a sobering awareness that we must answer to the Lord Jesus for the stewardship and commands He has given to us.
To government officials, we should respectfully say with the apostles, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19). And our unhesitating reply to that question is the same as the apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).
My prayer is that the body of Christ made up of countless autonomous churches across the world will courageously stand in obedience to our wonderful faithful Lord as Christians have done through the centuries.
Your co-laborer in Christ,