Does the government have the right to mandate the closing of religious gatherings because of a pandemic?
While I don’t often spew forth my political views, as a pastor this is a question worth pondering. It’s a question that brings to a head how I view the role of government vs the role of the church. So first a snapshot of my perspective of our political landscape: I believe we live in an age of overwhelming government interference that makes life more complicated, creates a dependent population, and costs people lots of unnecessary money.
Having read that, you might jump to the assumption that I am against government. But as a believer, I cannot adopt that view because Scripture clearly teaches that government is a gift from God. (Romans 13) It is also clear from Scripture that government can be more or less good depending on how it exercises its authority: Proverbs 29:2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
The rule of thumb from Scripture seems to be that if at all possible, believers are to submit to rightful authority (Rom 13). The exception to this rule is if obedience to the lesser authority (government) would compromise obedience to the greater authority (God). So Peter and John refuse to quit preaching in the name of Jesus because it would be wrong to obey man rather than God. That’s the turning point in the argument.
So to make a long story short, the government is exercising its lawful authority to protect its citizens by passing measures to curtail the outbreak of a disease. As such, believers should comply (and gladly!) with those measures. This is something akin to a police officer stopping a church service from proceeding because of an approaching tornado, or a fire marshal stopping a church from gathering in an unsafe building. The intent is to protect and the jurisdiction is clear.
Having said that, lawful uses of authority can be corrupted for nefarious purposes, so below are a few things that would indicate religious organizations are facing some sort of persecution:
- If the measures are targeted specifically against them and not others. This is clearly not the case with the gathering restrictions, as the restrictions have affected education, private enterprises such as restaurants, etc…
- If the measures go on indefinitely with nebulous results. We’re way too early into this thing to know if that’s going to happen. But to reference the above illustration, if the police officer were to stop the church gathering ostensibly because of an impending tornado, and then it is discovered that there is no radar indicated threat present.
- If the measures require some capitulation (or watering down) of religious beliefs, speech, etc… Again, certainly not the present case with coronavirus. There are no restrictions on churches continuing to teach and preach the same content they have been. And many churches are doing this via online technology.
So despite my wariness towards an encroaching government, I can say that in this case churches ought to submit to the measures being taken to stop the pandemic from worsening. And we ought to do it gladly, thankfully, faithfully, and prayerfully.
3 thoughts on “Coronavirus and Church Gatherings”
Thanks Pastor Nate for your wise words and explanation from the scriptures.
Thank you Pastor Nate!