Pray, Comply And Resist
The political world in which the Lord’s church got its start was vastly different from 21st-century America. The New Testament doesn’t give much background information on imperial Rome and its emperors, and we only get glimpses of local procurators (Pilate, Felix, Festus), proconsuls (Sergius Paulus, Gallio), military commanders (Claudius Lysias) and centurions (Cornelius, Julius, unnamed others).We also encounter provincial rulers such as the Herods, the Philippian magistrates, the Ephesian Asiarchs and even the Jewish Sanhedrin.
The 1st-century world was a complex web of Roman laws, local statutes and clashing religious systems that presented various challenges to the fledgling Christian faith. But to one degree or another, the civil authorities of the day became the jailers, judges and executioners of many believers.
In his chronicle of the early church, Luke does not portray Christianity as a juggernaut of political activism and social reform. There were no protests, marches, placards, sit-ins, lawsuits or other forms of external pressure in Acts. For the most part, the apostles and other leaders tried to stay under the political radar and teach the gospel, seeking to change societal norms and practices the only way they can be effectively changed – from the inside out.
Today, the coronavirus pandemic has brought modern Christians into contact with our governing bodies in a way unprecedented in our lifetime. Our Constitution guarantees religious rights that cannot be infringed upon so long as they support societal order. As property owners, the Centreville church is required to meet insurance, fire, parking, historical and other state and local codes.
But due to the global health crisis, churches everywhere are presently facing a mixture of state decrees and regulations driven by the risk of fostering illness. This has led to growing turmoil as the American populace has become restless and resentful toward inconsistent policies that seem more politically motivated than judicious. And there is reasonable concern about what precedent this sets for future attempts to regulate or curtail religious assemblies.
What to do?
1) Pray for those in power: “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (I Tim. 2:1-3).
2) Comply with law: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (I Pet. 2:13-15).
3) Resist persecution: “And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20).