Graceway Baptist Church, Milton, Ontario, Canada
Maintaining the Unity
An acquaintance of mine who is well-versed in church history and culture recently made a statement on social media that 20 years from now, there will Ph.D. dissertations written on this moment. We are experiencing a watershed when it comes to the question of how churches should relate to government.
It's not the first time that Christians have had to grapple with that question to be sure. And believers have experienced the consequences of their choices to stand against government or to go along with the cultural flow. This is, however, a unique challenge because we're not being asked to deny the faith or dispose of our relationship with Jesus. We're being asked to comply with limitations in an attempt to protect the public health. Some will willingly set aside all public expressions of faith in order to comply with the regulations or to avoid catching the virus. Others will claim that religious liberty trumps all government mandates related to church practice.
The Bible teaches principles to help us navigate these issues. We are to "be subject to the governing authorities" for they "have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1). As exiles in this world, a place that is not our final home, we are to "seek the welfare of the city" where we find ourselves. That would include public health. We are, after all, pro-life. This subjection, however, must be balanced by our obedience to God. When there is a conflict between the commands of government and the commands of God, "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
Christians will disagree on how best to apply these principles to the ever-changing guidelines and regulations imposed by governments in different jurisdictions. The result could very well be a split in the evangelical church that is less doctrinal in nature and more political, following after different Christian leaders ("'I follow Paul' or 'I follow Apollos'", I Cor. 1:12). I hope I'm wrong about that.
You and I may feel powerless to prevent such a split and perhaps we are. However, we do have a personal responsibility within our own circle of influence, our family and our local church. Ephesians 4:1-3 calls us to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." We're having to walk a little differently these days, but we've been called to do so in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus. We're called to walk "with all humility and gentleness, with patience" (lots and lots of patience!). When it comes to relationships with our family and church family, we are to "[bear] with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This includes bearing with those who are thinking differently about our response to the virus and government restrictions.
Unity in the midst of disagreement can only be achieved through humility. We may not be able to prevent Twitter wars waged by other people elsewhere, but we can do our part to protect Graceway and our own circles of influence by humbly "maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3)