How should Christians and their churches engage when they believe that governing authorities are treating them unfairly? For Christians ordered to suspend worship services under public health orders, there are two seemingly competing divine mandates:
- The church must assemble (see Hebrews 10:25); and
- The governing authorities must be obeyed (Romans 13:1).
In a free and democratic society like Canada, these principles rarely come into true conflict. We are unused to being in this position. Jesus advised his disciples that in the world they must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Here are some suggested steps to follow his advice, not only in relation to the pandemic but in future conflicts:
First, enter a period of concerted prayer for government decision-makers. Make “petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving … for everyone … in authority—so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Second, follow the recommendations and requirements of the day, but take full advantage of any opportunity allowed, in order to show a cooperative spirit in a time of fear, disruption, and civil crises (stream services, meet in micro-groups, wear masks), “so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:8).
Third, reach out to the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Premier, the Minister of Health, or a local MLA/MPP/MP and share your concerns and suggestions. Be sure to thank them for any positives and offer to work with them to find solutions that work for everyone: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
Fourth, we must not forget the court of public opinion. In this pandemic, the church ought to be seen as compassionate and a leader in caring for the vulnerable. Make sure you do things as safely and transparently as possible. It was the conduct of the early church under persecution that won over Roman Society: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
Fifth, build bridges and win over as broad of consensus as possible. Consider Paul’s strategy when confronted by a mix of Pharisee and Sadducee opponents. Paul pointed to common ground with the Pharisees, “I am on trial because of the hope of the Resurrection” (Acts 23:6).
Sixth, the Courts of law may be a great ally in the campaign for liberty under Canadian law, but only after the above elements are in place. Carefully pick your battles. Under our Common Law system of judge-made law, a bad precedent is far worse than nothing at all: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17).
Finally, and perhaps simultaneously with points five and six, there are times when faithfulness to God and the defense of the freedoms of others compel churches to civil disobedience: “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5:29).
In all these steps, the church should try to possess four things: (1) a biblically faithful response; (2) a broad coalition; (3) the general public’s assent; and (4) the favour of governing authorities because Christians know that it is in their interest as sojourners and exiles in this world to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).