Next week churches across Ontario (as in Manitoba, BC, and Quebec) will likely be severely restricted in their ability to assemble. I think there is ample room here to make space for each other’s consciences concerning what this might mean practically.
Since most churches have followed the guidelines (even in Manitoba but also elsewhere), I suspect churches in Ontario will continue to do so. It seems most churches think it is reasonable and permissible to obey mandates in a public health crisis.
Others disagree. A Manitoban church fought for the right for drive-in worship. BC churches wrote a respectful letter to the government explaining why they would remain open (following safety protocols). Certain churches in Ontario plan to stay open too. I am sure there are places of worship across Canada that will disobey Provincial mandates.
And I think we should also give space for that dissent, not wishing evil on anyone but good to all. I think there are good reasons to believe that the church may dissent and continue on in its duty of corporate worship—temporarily suspending its duty of worship in submission to ordained hierarchies on earth.
That does not mean the conversation should cease. Political theology really matters today, and so does getting passages like Romans 13 right.
For my part, I do not see any *insurmountable* problem in following God’s command to submit to rulers on earth while we live in exile here during this pandemic. So temporary restrictions seem hard and frustrating, but I think the church (at this point) should do its best to submit.
We have many legal ways currently to make our case known to the rulers over us. We should do so, certainly. The doctrine of the lesser magistrate should be our go-to option. But when it comes to disobeying the magistrate directly, Scripture, tradition, and the general wisdom of contemporary churches seem to point to submission.
I am also cautioned by passages that tie rejecting authority to sin such as in Jude 8: “In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.” Rejecting authority should be done then with some forethought given the stakes.
So that is my view.
But I also know others disagree. They see passages like Hebrews 10:25 warranting disobeying civil authorities because the divine command in Hebrews 10 has precedent over an earthly ruler’s mandate. Fair enough. With a clear conscience, do so; I will wish you the best.
I would like to remind us all (myself included) of another command in Hebrews: “Strive for peace with everyone” (Heb 12:14). I’ll commit to it (and yes fail sometimes!).