10 July 2020

My thoughts about Congregational Worship, Social Distancing, Submission to Caesar, and Obedience to God

by Phil Johnson

do of course, wholeheartedly affirm the principles of Romans 13:1-7 ("be in subjection to the governing authorities") and 1 Peter 2:13-17 ("Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution")—while recognizing also that those commands are limited by the principle of Acts 5:29 ("We must obey God rather than men").

If you believe the threat to public health is real and deadly, you'll probably be inclined to submit to all the governor's orders. If you suspect politicians are milking the entire thing and exaggerating the threat for partisan purposes, you're more likely to conclude that the duty of Hebrews 10:25 outweighs any obligation to kowtow to the governor's latest whim.
Circumstances surrounding the current quarantine, riots, and mass political demonstrations have greatly blurred the question of whether Acts 5:29 applies in this case. Good, Bible-believing Christians have landed on both sides of the question. If you believe the threat to public health is real and deadly, you'll probably be inclined to submit to all the governor's orders. If you suspect politicians are milking the entire thing and exaggerating the threat for partisan purposes, you're more likely to conclude that the duty of Hebrews 10:25 outweighs any obligation to kowtow to the governor's latest whim.

During more than 16 weeks of quarantine (with the death toll just a sparse fraction of what experts originally predicted) the elders and staff of Grace Community Church observed every order related to the quarantine. But the rules change almost daily and are being applied unfairly. Statistically, people are far more likely to get the virus in a gym or a bar than in a worship service. (Of 3+ million cases in the US since March, only 650 have been traceable to churches.) Yet bars, gyms, gambling casinos, and even massage parlors have been given freedoms that are withheld from churches. In fact, as these and other businesses are finally being permitted to reopen, restrictions targeting churches are becoming even more onerous. The California Governor has gone so far as to tell churches they must cease all congregational singing.

Governor Newsom: Not clear on the concept. It's supposed to be a mask, not a chin strap.
Governor Newsom: Unclear on the Concept.
(It's supposed to be a mask, not a chin strap.)

Our elders and security team cannot in good conscience become enforcers of rules that 1) we believe unfairly target the church, and 2) the government itself has declined to enforce. Owing to the arbitrary, capricious way these regulations are made and changed, combined with the fact that authorities did nothing (and are doing nothing) to enforce the masks-and-social-distancing rules on political demonstrators who gather regularly in downtown L. A. in crowds of thousands, it seems only right to leave the question of how far to go in observing social-distancing recommendations up to each individual.

The degree to which we permit masks and social-distancing recommendations to impinge on our worship in the congregational context ought to be seen as a matter of conscience. "Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5).
In other words, the degree to which we permit masks and social-distancing recommendations to impinge on our worship in the congregational context ought to be seen as a matter of conscience. "Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). And don't be quick to condemn believers who hold a different opinion, no matter which side of the issue you have come down on.

Grace Church's elders have made it possible for people with scrupulous consciences to obey every government-issued regulation to the letter. The church provides masks and hand cleanser at stations around campus, and there are ample outdoor seating spaces where people can hear the sermon, participate in the singing, and still practice careful social distancing if they are bound by conscience to do so.

On the other hand, for those (like me) who are not fearful of exposure to the virus, or those who are deeply skeptical of the motives behind this level of government intrusion, they can likewise do what their conscience dictates and gather in the auditorium for worship as usual—with or without masks. If government officials choose to single those people out and enforce rules they aren't enforcing at political demonstrations, let them do so. I for one am willing to suffer the consequences if it comes to that.

Phil's signature


Unknown said...

Thank You I agree with the elders

Karen said...

I agree with you, Phil.

Mitch M said...

Good post Phil. To God be the glory.

FX Turk said...

My Dear Phil - Well, of course you are right. You are right that we must, within the bounds of conscience, obey the governing authorities. And we /must/, as we obey our own consciences, not cast aspersions on the consciences of brothers and sisters in Christ.

I'd like to underscore something you said early in this public statement, and then ask a question.

To underscore:
As many good men before you have done, Phil, you have capitalized on the exhortation in Heb 10:25 to call out the necessity of the Sunday worship service. Let me agree without qualification that this verse means /at least/ that much, and I would side with Calvin's reading:

{{that all the godly ought by all means possible to exert themselves in the work of gathering together the Church on every side; for we are called by the Lord on this condition, that every one should afterwards strive to lead others to the truth, to restore the wandering to the right way, to extend a helping hand to the fallen, to win over those who are without.}}

That is: not only does it mean /at least/ that much, but it, in fact, means that we must not turn our backs on the church per se, intending that all the forms of exhortation are never set aside in our efforts to draw near to God, be true in our confession and hope, stirring one another up.

To ask:
If Heb 10:25 actually means /much more/ than the mere Sunday assembly, and we find ourselves in a historical moment when either politics or public health (or both) have us wondering if the way we have always done can be suitably practiced, shouldn't we read that passage as a broader challenge than to find a way to sit together and listen to a choir and the preacher? I'm not saying we should pitch out the baby with the bathwater here. Instead, I am asking that we consider that the way we do it right now is not the way it was always done (nor is it actually done this way everywhere in the world by faithful men and women). Isn't the challenge in Heb 10:25 not merely to be faithful to come sit in the pew, but rather to be faithful to the whole life of a Christian community, drawing together in all ways, and not failing to exclude any from the blessings which Christ has bestowed upon us?

Why ask this:
I think we should ask it because even if COVID-19 is not going to literally decimate the Globe, the politics involved here seems hell-bent to decimate church people. Early in the news cycle of this situation, I was eager to say that a lot of politicians are just stupid, and they are making wicked (if heart-revealing) gaffs regarding their approach to Christian gatherings (and I say it that way because I haven't seen a lot of headlines from politicians berating Muslims for praying together 5 times a day which obviously is spreading the 'rona around). Now, however, it's obvious that many are using the opportunity to simply spit on Christian worship and beliefs in assembly. Because this is true, I think we are seeing the tidal change from "post-Christian society" to "Anti-evangelical society." And in that circumstance, I think we better start now to plan on what to do when it will not be tolerated to gather in groups of more than 20.

The glib may say, "let them come and take us." Fair enough. What shall the rest of us do when those taken away have left us without leaders, without property, and without a microphone or a facebook page?

I think it is worth thinking about it now. The age of the megachurch and the platform is probably over. It's time to get more serious about the meaning of Heb 10:25 and the faith we will leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

Unknown said...

It is good to see options being provided for those who fall on both sides of the debate. That seems to be the most loving thing to do, given the circumstances.

Unknown said...

Michigan governor's mask mandate addendum for houses of worship:
"Additionally, no one is subject to penalty under the order for removing a mask while engaging in religious worship at a house of religious worship." Grateful singing doesn't even come up as an issue.

Mark said...

Oh Phil, here we go again! Romans 13 requires us to support our governing authority. As Americans our governing authority is the Constitution. We are a people governed by law - not petty tyrants. When we permit men to supersede the Constitution we fail in our duty to support "the governing authority". Thus, we are reduced to asserting folks must make subjective judgements as to how much foolishness they will tolerate and how much with a clear conscience they will reject. It isn't that difficult. Call a spade a spade, or a tyrant a tyrant, but don't toss out your obligation as an American to uphold our Constitution. Options include: petitioning our PUBLIC SERVANTS, suing them in court if need be, or simple passively performing a justified civil disobedience of mandates that operate under the "color of law". Support your governing authority!

Anonymous said...

This is not to argue the issue of what is right or if it is church persecution. Just a bit of fact checking not to dispute but to keep it all above board.

Appendix F, rules for places of worship have not changed almost daily. In fact the updates were on June 29, 2020 and July 9, 2020. As far as bars, gyms and casinos being given freedoms not given to churches they are allowed to be at 50% capacity but everyone must be 6' apart (there is no exception for people of the same household). So if everyone at GCC had to be 6' apart how many could fit? more than 100?. When restrictions came in bars were closed, restaurants lost indoor seating, churches were not touched.

GCC making possible for those who want to obey all rules possible is not exactly correct. There are many more rules that have no affect on services that are not done (up/down stairwells, pre-registration, posting of signs, removal of hymnals.

Finally, what do you say to someone who shows up after reading the bulletin online saying Sundays in July are limited to 100 people per room, yet there are way more. Do you make someone wanting to obey walk out and go home (there is no first service) if it is their conscience to obey all rules.

Again this is just a small fact check. Lets stay 100 above board so when we call it church persecution we are not embellishing the facts and loosing our argument before we begin.

Lastly Newsom says things, but the county must adopt them. Thus Appendix F says singing can be done if singers are 6' apart with a note that the state changed its guidance but the county is reviewing and has not adopted it yet so what the county says goes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. No king but Jesus!!

Anonymous said...

"Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You"....Don't infect others as you don't want them to infect you. Phil, this has nothing to do with fearing the virus. It is about mutual respect.

FX Turk said...

Dear Mark - murder is not against the constitution.


B3AR_ARMS said...

In Exodus 1, the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies. An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the Bible says the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17). The Bible goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them” (Exodus 1:20–21).

In Joshua 2, Rahab directly disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she let them down via a rope so they could escape. Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was redeemed from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.

The book of 1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines. However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged. When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die. However, the people resisted Saul and his command and saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Samuel 14:45).

Another example of civil disobedience in keeping with biblical submission is found in 1 Kings 18. That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When the queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live. Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes.

In 2 Kings, the only apparently approved revolt against a reigning government official is recorded. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah. However, Joash the son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter and hidden from Athaliah so that the bloodline would be preserved. Six years later, Jehoiada gathered men around him, declared Joash to be king, and put Athaliah to death.

Daniel records a number of civil disobedience examples. The first is found in chapter 3 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command. The second is in chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, signaling His approval of their actions.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

One last example of civil disobedience is found in the book of Revelation where the Antichrist commands all those who are alive during the end times to worship an image of himself. But the apostle John, who wrote Revelation, states that those who become Christians at the time will disobey the Antichrist and his government and refuse to worship the image (Revelation 13:15) just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

I have a problem with Phil's statement here:

"On the other hand, for those (like me) who are not fearful of exposure to the virus... they can likewise do what their conscience dictates and gather in the auditorium for worship as usual—with or without masks."

I am aware of your current health issues Phil, and I'm hoping that this is not some sort of fatalism in your thinking.

But even if not, the fear you may not feel for your own life is different to the fear that you might cause others to die through your actions.

The reason why masks are being mandated works for both the infected and the non infected. For those who are infected, the masks help prevent other people from being infected. For those who aren't infected, wearing masks helps prevent you from being infected in the first place.

To not wear a mask in a public place during this pandemic is not only to risk being infected, but also in infecting others. Many people who spread the virus don't know they're infected in the first place. So by your actions of not wearing a mask, you may unwittingly infect others by what you have failed to do... and some of those people may die.

The most loving thing Christians can do in this pandemic is to wear masks. Keep socially distant. And staying home in a lockdown may be essential again. Once this is over, we can go back to normal and engage in public worship again.

Bill O'Neill said...

A brilliant observation— “I think we are seeing the tidal change from "post-Christian society" to "Anti-evangelical society." And in that circumstance, I think we better start now to plan on what to do...”

Phil Johnson said...

First Peter 2:13-14 pointedly looks beyond "the king" (or in your argument, the Constitution) and expressly commands us to submit not only to "the one in authority, [but also] to governors as sent by him." And the apostle applies the rule by extension also to anyone who has authority over us: "Servants be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable." Notice also verse 15: "Such is the will of God."

As I said in the post, ample provision has been made at our church for anyone concerned about catching the virus to practice the most hard-line social distancing you can imagine and STILL be present for our corporate worship WITHOUT risking any exposure to those who don't share their qualms. No one here is contravening the Golden Rule. Shame on you for making that accusation.

B3AR_ARMS Each of the examples you cite is explained by the principle of Acts 5:29. Stack up as many cases like that as you like, and they still don't utterly nullify the duty given to us in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.

I get that some of the commenters here put themselves on one side or the other of the question my post deals with. What I don't get is the zeal some seem to have for going as far as possible to one extreme or the other. I especially don't understand the militancy on both sides--Christians who seem to have no compunctions about condemning brothers and sisters who hold a different opinion on a case of conscience like this. Some of my friends need to read, re-read, and meditate on Romans 14.

Phil Johnson said...

OSO: see my reply (above) to "Unknown."

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

Okay Phil,

So let's say someone at GCC reads this post of yours, knowing that it is your opinion and not an official statement from the church.

And let's say this someone, person #1, thinks "Yes, I agree with Phil", and is also not fearful of catching the virus.

And let's say that there's another person, person #2, who reads this blog post and who also thinks "yes I agree with Phil", and is also not fearful of catching the virus.

So Sunday comes around, and person #1 and person #2 choose not to sit outside with those who are fearful. They don't want to be socially distant. They come into church not wearing masks.

And then they sit next to each other.

And what if person #1 actually has the coronavirus, but is asymptomatic. He has no fever, no aches and pains. But he has the virus.

And what if, during congregational singing, person #1 unwittingly breathes the virus onto person #2.

And what if, a few days later, person #2 accidentally spreads the virus to a family member?

And what if person #2's family member dies as a result?

You could say "Well, person #2 knew the risks before he came in. The death of that family member is on his own head".

Or you could say "Person #1 and #2 were irresponsible and caused the death of person #2's family member".

The above scenario is definitely not some sort of ethical problem that only exists in the minds of ivory tower philosophers. The above scenario is happening all the time. It is how the disease spreads.

The decisions we make may unwittingly affect the lives of others.

Hawk said...

I remember when several Christians were criticizing Steve Hays on Triablogue and Twitter for having said much of the same things Phil is now saying (here, here).

Phil Johnson said...

OSO: Your scenario is something that could happen in any church on any Sunday--or an a city bus, for that matter--pandemic or no. Indeed, it HAS happened many times (possibly every week) in every era of church history. And it will surely happen again even if this virus is totally eradicated and church life returns to some semblance or normalcy. Communicable diseases are a real and ongoing risk all the time in everyday life. We tend to think of the risk more during flu season and in times of pandemic. Indeed, churchgoers have always rightly tended to take precautions when they know the risk is high. The small number of COVID cases linked to churches illustrates that. It also gives statistical weight to the argument that the extreme measures being imposed on churches during the current pandemic have been excessive (see the article linked above).

Nevertheless, we charitably accommodate people's fears and dutifully follow the government's orders as much as reasonably possible. My argument here is that we also have a duty to consider and provide for the consciences of those who cannot wholeheartedly support the draconian quarantine policies that target worshipers because they feel the weight of Hebrews 10:25 and the rest of Scripture's emphasis on the importance of corporate worship, singing, and person-to-person ministry.

If you're suggesting no amount of risk is acceptable, or perhaps that we should embrace the proposal that henceforth our worship must forever be masked and socially distanced with zero or minimal congregational singing, that is precisely the idea that prompts me to conclude that 16 weeks of total quarantine has actually been worse for the church than the virus would likely have been.

Bobby Grow said...

I fully agree with you, Phil.

Unknown said...

Rom 14:10-13 Don’t judge there is a whole lot of judging going on.

Anonymous said...

Phil ended by saying that he's willing to suffer the consequences if he chooses actions that the governement doesn't like. I'd add that it would also be consistent with Rom 13 and 1 Pet 2 for individual Christians or groups that represented them to take legal action against the government. Doing so is not violating submission to the government, since the government set up the laws for citizens to do so. It is *part of* our government's structure that the citizens can challenge their leaders in legals ways like courts. I probably wouldn't bother, since in super-left CA it would probably be a waste of time. I'm just saying it wouldn't be unbiblical to do so.

SouthernBelle said...

Phil, I do not wear a mask. I believe if other want to, that's their business. I'm a born again again believer in the death and resurrection of my Savior. My concern is all the "us and them" mentality masks seem to be producing. The mask is being equated with being the "loving thing" if you are a Christian, and with caring about and respecting others in the secular world. You can Google "Should Christians wear masks" and see all the pastors and other saying it's the loving thing to do. I see the "I'm better, smarter, and more loving than you" crowd looking down the nose at those who dont wear the mask. Non mask wearers are caring and loving people too!! I'm afraid the time will come when non-mask wearers may be persecuted and/or murdered for the greater good by a "caring" person who thought he was doing the right thing by ridding society of the evil non-mask wearer. In the climate we are in, this is not a crazy thought.

That said, I almost see the mandates put forth by our very hypocritical leaders around the country as demonic. I'm trying to understand, would the Apostle Paul have worn a mask today? I kind of feel like he wouldn't. There just seems to be something dark and sinister in this, and I have a feeling it's going to end up mandated around the globe. Seeing masked people everywhere reminds me of Islam, as well. Is it a clue that we're in the last days (which I believe)? Will masks be required in the tribulation? Is the world being groomed for that? Am I thinking too much into this? I'm not so sure.

In closing, I am trying to figure out biblically, should I just do it? And, if not, how can I figure this out scripturally? I mean, when I read about or hear other Christians say "Its the most loving thing we can do"... I feel great uneasiness. The Bible does not teach that this is love. Love is truth and the proclamation of truth. It is the declaration of the Gospel even in the face of persecution. It is a willingness to lay our life down for the brethren. It is in being a living sacrifice. It is to be full of faith, joy, peace, and self control. It is to be kind, tender hearted, and forgiving of one another as Ephesians 4 teaches. I feel that mask wearing and standing 6 feet apart not only makes all of this difficult to do, but is also "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men". Is mask wearing becoming the new Christlikeness? It sure feels like it. And it makes me want to resist it even more. Do you have any thoughts on this? Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Two questions....

1) The Grace Connection says "class sizes will be limited to no more than 100 attendees" in reference to the Sundays in July classes. Is this a true statement? Please do not respond that people are free to come as their conscience allows, the statement says limited, not limited if you wish to....

2) If the leadership at GCC is violating the laws have they clearly, and biblically, explained why to the body? Saying "follow your conscience is not enough, you are the leaders of the church. People will follow your example, and they should. If people see the leadership violating the law, they will follow and violate the law. would it not be proper to tell people why the leadership is violating the law?

I am not saying it is wrong to violate this law, I may completely agree with you. I am just saying, the elders are leaders of 1,000's on campus and arguably millions around the world. Would it not be prudent to explain to people who are not "Bereans" and just follow your leadership, why you are violating the law.

I agree with you many times, I remember years ago at ShepCon you were asked what would you do if preaching was illegal. You answered you would have a vibrant prison ministry. I would be there right next to you brother. But I am sure in that situation you, and I, would give clear biblical examples and clearly explain to our flocks why we are violating the law.

A lady was on CBS news last week and asked about social distancing and not wearing a mask. She replied, "my pastor, John MacArthur, says it's just the flu". This should make you pause, and I would hope realize many will do and say whatever you as the leadership do. This lady is violating the law, not because she has examined the scriptures to see what is right. Not because she searched her conscience and felt it was right, but because her leadership said, "it's just the flu".

I would not fault you for saying I'm obeying the law, or I am not and here is why, biblically, I am not. Just have your leadership take a stance and clearly articulate it. If the elders do not agree and the proper response and you cannot make an agreed upon statement, would it not be prudent to take the weakest brother view and obey the law.?

If you do respond please take a few seconds and answer question 1.

joannesf46 said...

Hello...Please compare your two responses to the California State Government's handling of closing churches. 25 May 2020 "What is a Christian's duty to unjust government"and 10 July 2020 "My thoughts about congregational worship, social distancing, submission to Caesar and obedience to God".

Thank you...

Aaron Snell said...

Approaching it as a matter of conscience and giving grace to fellow saints in the body who think differently has been my church's (Christ Church, Moscow) tack from the beginning.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of this type of false equivalency arguments going on. I’m going to be pointed here: to equate or even draw parallels between wearing a mask and the civil disobedience of civil rights leaders is absurd. The Southern Soldiers disobeyed the government (or better they decided which government they would obey). The Germans...well that statement is offensive and wicked.

Those who partake of civil disobedience -know- that they pay the price in terms of punishment and many did.

There is no “greater good” to be appealed to by those who won’t wear masks, and not-picking around the relevant NT passages on obedience to the civil authorities demonstrates not a low view of scripture as much as an ego-centric view. You neither want to obey scripture or the governing authorities, you only want to obey yourself. For this, Satan and the funeral industry are shouting amen and so be it.

You simply need to understand, there are no principles involved in your decision not to wear a mask (apparently because you are offended at being told what to do). No, there is no principle involved here; biblical, philosophical, or religious. There are no interpretive options here at stake. And this is vitally important for you and the other anti-mask people to completely understand: there is no principle involved here, you are just being jerks. Pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

I’m confused. How is someone else going to church affecting you? Why shouldn’t people have the freedom to decide for themselves? If you want to lock yourself in your home because you don’t want to get infected, so be it. But why would that infringe upon anyone else? You afraid of missing out?

Anonymous said...

The doctrine of the lesser magistrate applies here, just like it does in the Bible. People under the authority of a magistrates are morally able, and I would actually say obligated, to disobey the magistrate if it is in direct contrast with God’s law, or in this case, the constitution, or both. Governor Newsome’s executive orders aren’t even laws, they are an abuse of power; moreover, they are in start contrast to the 1st, 14th, and 5th amendments of the constitution. It’s time for the church to stand up and say, “No!”

JESSICA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JESSICA said...

Regarding this comment: "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You"....Don't infect others as you don't want them to infect you. Phil, this has nothing to do with fearing the virus. It is about mutual respect.

This is a poor application of Do Unto Others. First, it's illogical and unsustainable for all of us to agree to pretend we are pre-/asymptomatic at all times. What are the criteria for ending that charade?

If you are sick, stay home.

If you are vulnerable, take precautions and responsibility for your own health.

Regarding family, friends, and fellow believers, love and mutual respect means we will have to navigate complex situations with grace & humility. But it's inevitable that Christians with different perspectives and equally passionate convictions around the risks of COVID and government's handling thereof will clash.

Jacob said...

JB, there is no problem with going to church, so long as you do it in accordance with the current LAW OF THE LAND. In Los Angeles County that currently equates to no more than 100 people or 25 percent capacity whichever is less. Clearly for Grace Church that is 100 people as the sanctuary is large. So now it is not a mater of just masks its a matter of number of people gathering in one room. While the church as many rooms and chapel as well as outdoor seating well over 1000 could be on campus for service. However, instead they are all gathered together in the sanctuary with some outside. The elders have not made any statement to the body as to why they are violating the LAW. How are they leading the body by obvious disobedience without explanation?

Anonymous said it well above, they are the leaders so they need to lead. You can't just be the leadership and lead the people to violate the law without any biblical reason why.

Perhaps, many people would not have a problem violating the law if they were given a reason. And saying the law isn't legal does not fly. California Health and Safety code 101040 allows the health officer to "take any preventative measure to protect the people during a state of emergency" so until the courts overrule the orders they are the law. If persecution, fine but articulate it.

Joanne, I too would like to see the comparison to the May 25 post.

Can someone explain to me how if people are offended when others do not wear masks in compliance with the LAW, how it's not an eating meat issue. If not wearing a mask causes my brother to stumble, should I wear a mask? Or do I tell them the law is wrong so stop being offended.

Bobby Grow said...

@Dennis, you wrote:

You simply need to understand, there are no principles involved in your decision not to wear a mask (apparently because you are offended at being told what to do). No, there is no principle involved here; biblical, philosophical, or religious. There are no interpretive options here at stake. And this is vitally important for you and the other anti-mask people to completely understand: there is no principle involved here, you are just being jerks. Pure and simple.

Wow, when you fell from JMac's grace you fell hard! But beyond that, the science doesn't support wearing masks, nor do the real numbers for CDC mortality exist. IOW, you seem to be unaware of how this virus is spread, and what in fact masks cannot and can do in regard to its mitigation (particularly when we consider the types of material being used for masks, how people are handling them, and then, again, simply how the mask was never intended to stop the spread of coronaviruses). Further, you apparently missed Dr Birx's bemoaning of CDC guidelines for determining COVID deaths, and then how the test for determining COVID results in 50% false positives. COVID has clearly been politicized and thus weaponized in an attempt to defeat the Donald for another term of being POTUS. Indeed, COVID has multiple modalities in the hands of its engineers. When the bigger picture is in view, which you are clearly ignorant of, the passages Phil refers to are clearly relevant and indeed prescriptive when it comes to "civil disobedience." So, I'd say you're triumphalistic comment is based on mis-information, and thus has led you to an erroneous conclusion in regard to the application of said biblical texts. You ought to educate yourself on these things, and then maybe comment again after that.

Aaron B. said...

So Romans 13 teaches that we submit to authority when their rules and consistent and we think it's fair. I've been misreading it all these years! ... and 1 Pet 2:12-17 teaches that "honor" is optional. If they're on the "wrong" side politically, and their rules are inconsistent, deny them the respect of assuming they have good motives? Somehow I've missed that nuance.

Andrew D said...

Love this post Phil. Thanks so much for writing it!

Bobby Grow said...

No, it's the sanctity of life, ironically, that trumps submission to "authority" that would seek to destroy it. Ask the Ten Booms about that, Aaron B. COVID is not destroying life anymore than influenza does annually. Closing down the domestic and global economies in the name of a virus like COVID (with its real stats) destroys much more life than it saves. Therefore, submission to a lie, for the Christian is not the modus being put forth by Rom 13 etc; Christians, in principle, submit to the truth--that is our witness, ultimately. The catacombs, the confessing church in Germany, the underground church in China and other things come to mind right now. Apparently you need to expand your horizons when attempting to understand passages like Rom 13 etc.

Michael F. said...


If the principles of Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, which contain no exceptions, are nonetheless limited by the principle of Acts 5:29, then perhaps they are meant to be general and not absolute. In other words, there may be other exceptions.

For example, Matthew 23:2-3 teaches that the “scribes and Pharisees” should be obeyed. Nonetheless, Jesus and His disciples disobeyed these leaders even when it would have been possible to obey their man-made traditions without violating God’s Word (Matt. 15:2; Mark 2:23-24; Luke 13:14; John 5:8-10).

This refusal to obey these religious leaders was not just a refusal to obey the “religious authority;” as MacArthur and others have pointed out, these leaders also possessed “political authority.”[1]

Austin T. Duncan explained in The Master’s Seminary Blog that religious authority (1) cannot contradict Scripture (Acts 5:29), and (2) it cannot go “outside of the Word of God” (Heb. 13:7).[2] Consequently, an elder does not have to be obeyed when he contradicts or when he exceeds his God-given authority, the Word of God.

Likewise, a government leader’s authority would be limited by its capacity to contradict or exceed the “king, as supreme” (1 Pet. 2:13). In the case of the United States, it would seem that a lower institution of the government (i.e., governor, mayor, police officer) could not contradict or exceed its authority under the U.S. Constitution or related constitutional laws.

An illustration: A police officer or mayor tells a Christian to wash his or her car. This command does not violate God’s Word; it does not violate the principle of Acts 5:29, and the Christian’s obedience would not result in sin. Nonetheless, the officer or mayor would have exceeded his or her authority; consequently, disobedience would not be a sin (i.e., the Christian does not have to wash the mayor’s car).

It seems that two things limit obedience to religious or political leaders. First, Christians should obey God if the order contradicts His Word. Second, Christians are not automatically guilty of sin if the command exceeds the leader’s authority. It may not always be clear when a leader’s command violates Scripture (i.e., Heb. 10:25) or exceeds his or her authority; therefore, Christians should not be too eager to judge those that disagree (Romans 14).

Furthermore, God ordained governments “for the punishment of evildoers” (1 Pet. 2:14). These “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil” (Rom. 13:4). However, rulers sometimes exceed their God-given authority and punish those that are doing good (Dan. 6:7-11). These leaders have surpassed the limits placed on them by God. In these cases, Christians have some “liberty, ” and they must ultimately let their “conscience” guide them without using this “liberty” as a “cloak of maliciousness” (i.e., Mordaica and Esther in Est. 4:11,16; 2 Pet. 2:16,19; Rom. 13:5).

[1] John MacArthur, Bible Questions and Answers, Part 34,” John MacArthur Sermon Archive, January 4, 1987: Mal Couch, “The Literary Value of the Book of Matthew,” Conservative Theological Journal Volume 3, no. 10 (1999): 347.
[2] Austin T. Duncan, “How Much Authority Does A Pastor Have?” The Master’s Seminary Blog, Feb. 14, 2020.

Anonymous said...


That is a very well thought out and articulate post.

I have a question for you.

We have a three tiered system of government, where the courts determine if an order was made outside ones scope, whether it be state congress or the governor etc. I will note the governor says big things but if you read the state website it always says "guidelines". So it's actually each individual county that adopts the "guidance" and makes it law.

Based on this checks and balances form of government are we to follow the rules/laws laid before us until they are deemed beyond the scope of power of the one that made them. Or, are we too let each individual citizen decide for themselves which laws are outside the scope and thus decide not to follow them?

Here we have a stay at home order. It is arguable both ways wether or not it is valid based on the authority of the person who put the order in effect. In Los Angeles county (where GCC is) that would be Muntu Davis, M.D. who actually signed the Health Order (Not Gavin Newsom).

If we say yes we can violate the order because we believe it to be beyond the authority of Dr. Davis then why do we have the court system? We can each decide for ourselves what laws are outside the authority of the person who made the rule/law and the person who enforces those rules/laws.

Let's say for example I believe the gun laws in California are against the constitution. I get and own guns deemed illegal in California. I carry them and a police officer stops me. I refuse to comply because they are trying to enforce a law created outside the authority of the one who created it. This probably will not go well.

Sovereign Citizens make their claims based on just this. They believe they do not need driver's license because a loop hole in verbiage says "travelers" do not come under the California Vehicle Code. The courts have ruled against them but they still hold the belief that the laws were created outside the governing bodies authority.

The constitution says all laws not specifically granted the Federal Government, nor denied the State, shall be given to the State. Based on this most Federal laws would be invalid. However, the courts, have made rulings (that all do not agree with) about what is and is not valid.

All this to say we need to be very careful if we decide to not follow laws because we believe they are created outside ones authority. We have so many complex laws and very few of us have actually read them for ourselves. We rely so much on word of mouth about who can do what.

If we violate these laws because we believe they were created outside the authority of those who made them and the courts ultimately rule against us then what? Do we just say, "Sorry, I thought it was an invalid law"

If so one could question any law on the books and if the courts rule against you then with a clean conscience we could say, "Sorry, I thought it was an invalid law".

Now if you are saying the laws cause us to violate scripture, then yes violate them. But you would need to make a clear biblical argument why they violate scripture.

Many have spent a lifetime understanding Constitutional law. There is so much case law on the subject I would be worried about making a claim that a law is made outside one's authority unless I had an exceptional working knowledge of Constitutional Law. A understanding that would have me be comfortable walking into a court room and making my argument intelligently.

You may very well be a Constitutional scholar and have an excellent working knowledge of the subject matter. If so Please lay out why the laws may have been made outside the authority of the writer.Just saying the Governor can't make that law is not enough without clear, irrefutable, arguements. An argument as clear as the one above that shows how IF the law is outside the authority then violating it might be alright.

Again thank you for such a good post bathed in scripture.