I began working on this post in December of 2020, but I have put off coming back to it along with forgetting about it. But a recent sermon at my church on Romans 13 caused me to realize that I should address this. I will leave my thoughts from last year in place below and then pick up with where we are now.
This year we have seen a litany of Christian voices, websites, news organizations, and coalitions telling us that if we don’t mask up and keep our churches closed that we are in gross violation of Romans 13. On the surface, to them, it is really an open-and-shut case. Just read the text:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.Romans 13:1-2, ESV
Any attempt at nuance leaves us at the point of being asked why we don’t love our neighbor. The text is clear – the governing authorities have asked us (at first) and then compelled us (in many places with threats) to wear masks, physically distance, and close our churches. Many churches never closed (such as Apologia Church). Some churches went online-only for a few weeks (such as mine). But some took months to open back up (and I fear that some still may not have). However, this post is not primarily about that, so let us get back to Romans 13.
I have been thinking that perhaps the quickest way to pursue a conversation with someone regarding Romans 13 and lock-downs is to simply ask for consistency. I would imagine that the typical person who is advocating for full submission to lock-down orders would be against capital punishment. But their unrestricted desire to follow lock-down orders due to the clarity, as they see it, of Romans 13 must be consistent with the clarity of Romans 13 on capital punishment.
But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Romans 13:4, ESV
Such a “literal” interpretation of Romans 13:1-2 accepting no nuance should not so quickly abandon the same rigid principles in the next couple of sentences. And this is where, I believe, we should begin the conversation.
As we are now in September, 2021 – 18 months after the lock-downs began – I have a couple of more thoughts to add. We can, of course, stop here and use the clear example of the government also being who carries out capital punishment (obviously “the sword” isn’t used to lock someone in prison or just as a vain, vague threat in the text – “the sword” is used to carry out God’s wrath. The sword is synonymous with capital punishment).
But we can also ask for more consistency. Start by asking where the “subjection” to our government ends. Can the government compel us to do just whatever they ask? The “wearing pinwheels in Publix” is a fun place to start. But try to get some solid answers. Is it under the proper sphere of government to force us all to wear certain clothing? Is it OK for our government to compel us to remain in our homes unless we have taken a vaccine? Should we also be forced to show proof of quarterly vaccination records prior to being allowed to start the engine on our vehicles to drive to the store? This is all in the name of Biblical submission to our government, right? We submit unless it is a clear-cut example of the government forcing us to do something unBiblical, right? This appears to be the litmus test. Up until the point where the government puts locks on the doors of our churches, we should continue to submit.
But if you noticed, I asked about the submission being “under the proper sphere of government”. In our conversation with someone who is all for 100% submission, out of love for our neighbors, I would say that we should take them to Ephesians 5. Would this willing submitter to governments say that it’s under the proper sphere of the husband to force his wife to wear very specific clothing? Is it OK for the husband to compel the wife to remain at home unless she takes a certain medication? And what if it’s a daily medication and the husband decides that he’ll force his wife to use an app on her phone to prove she’s taken it before she can drive anywhere?
I imagine that this person would try to place quite specific boundaries on what authority the husband has over the wife who Scripture says should be under submission to him (the same Greek words are used in Romans 13 and Ephesians 5). Certainly Paul did not mean that the husband can ask the wife to do whatever he pleases for the love of neighbor. And who is a closer neighbor to us than our spouse? In the name of consistency, this person has to grant the same authority over a wife that he grants to the government.
I believe that you get my points in this post. At a very minimum we are seeing Christians granting the government near-universal authority to inhumanely leave family members alone in suffering, take a vaccination* or lose their jobs, and other such things. We need to use whatever logic or consistency we can to help people realize that they are giving too much authority to their governments over their bodies when they would likely (a) be against the government’s use of capital punishment (an actual and explicit Biblical authority granted to government in Romans 13) or (b) determine that a wife shouldn’t submit to a husband in the same way that one should submit to the government.
* A note on vaccines for those who may not understand the hesitancy of some Christians to get this particular vaccine. This one is different from others not only in the technology used (mRNA) but we also have no safety studies over one year old at this point. We don’t know what effects this might have on our bodies after a few years. Hopefully none, but until Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine was approved, all of the vaccines under emergency use were essentially experimental, large-scale field trials. Until a year ago, this would have been a perfectly valid excuse for sensible people. Furthermore, the efficacy is waning to the extent that we may be looking at quarterly or bi-annual boosters to even try to stay ahead of the variants that will continue to pop up. And where is any discussion of “natural immunity” acquired by previously being infected? Do the antibodies you have from that, which do last longer, not function the same as the antibodies you should have from a vaccine? Are you less safe with natural antibodies than you are with vaccine antibodies? For those who are pro-government vaccine compulsion, be honest with yourself if you are supportive of quarterly vaccine mandates. We are likely past the “just get the jabs and be done with it!” stage. Be honest about how far you are willing to go to allow the government to control what goes in your body. What about the “emergency use” daily pills that could be next – are you ok with registering that you’ve taken that daily prophylactic to be able to “safely” be in public?