Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
God will have to give me much more patience….
This passage from Romans is trotted out countless times by Christian leaders, and infinitely more than this in recent weeks. I will use as an example something offered by Becky Akers, who has been excellent on this topic of churches closing during this time. She writes a piece entitled Lobbyists From Hell.
In it she cites, as one example out of…oh, I don’t know…one-hundred thousand, a statement from the Joseph Council of the “Citizens for Community Values” of Columbus, Ohio. The Joseph Council identifies as “an Evangelical and Catholic coalition of Christian leaders in Ohio.” Romans 13 is one of the “Scriptural Reflections” they offer as justification for closing houses of worship to God.
Read that last sentence again. They are offering Biblical justification for closing houses of worship.
Back to Romans 13. The reference above, which many Christians seem to love, is from the New International Version. What does the King James say?
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
Higher powers vs. governing authorities. That’s a bit different. I have also read, from Gerard Casey, a further examination on this point. He offers:
Whereas some English translations use the word “governing” in verse 1, the Greek text does not. It reads “Let every soul be subject to the superior powers.”
Well, that might make a difference as well.
There are countless examples in the Bible of individuals ignoring and violating the commands of the “governing authorities” (in the meaning that countless Christians take this phrase). I will only offer one, perhaps the most meaningful because if these orders were not violated, well none of this would really matter.
In Matthew 2 we read of Herod questioning the chief priests and scribes: where is the child to be born? He questioned the wise men: when did the star appear? Once he had his answers, he asked the wise men to return to him after they had seen this newborn “King of the Jews.”
Of course, the wise men – anticipating today’s modern Christians – did exactly as Herod asked. After all, they were subject to the governing authorities. No, not exactly. Instead, they took a different route home. Now, was it against Scripture to walk back the way one came? No. God told them to disobey the governing authority.
Meanwhile, God appeared to Joseph and told Joseph to obey Herod. Just kidding. God told Joseph to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt.
Let’s look at more of the passage from Romans, from the NIV:
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
Mmmm. What if rulers do hold terror for those who do right? It’s not like it doesn’t happen. Was God (or Paul) naïve? No. There is only one “governing” authority that consistently does not hold terror for those who do good – that being God. With this in mind, continuing:
4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Can this be read without the context of the preceding verse? Would that make any sense to you? The Apostle Paul, after all, was an extremely learned scholar. Is he just stringing together random thoughts?
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
I won’t get into the taxes part, other than reminding of 1 Samuel 8, when God warned Israel that the king that they are desiring would have the nerve to take all of 10% of their crop. Ten-percent!
But, past this: we owe respect to those for whom we respect. We own honor for those deserving of honor. Close churches on Sunday. Is it possible that it is to such as these that God, through Paul, is commanding us to respect and honor? Really?
But it gets worse.
This statement of “Scriptural Reflection” from the Joseph Council is loaded with excuses, all referencing Biblical passages. I will only summarize, because it makes me gag.
Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.
This is actually the first excuse offered, even before Romans 13! The Council offers: “Christian’s first and foremost responsibility is to God” and “Only when the civic law violates our faith are we called to practice civil disobedience,” and somehow, from here, they conclude that shutting down churches is the thing to do?
What is it when civil law calls for shutting down churches? Are we not violating our faith? We used to associate these things with godless communists and Nazis. I guess we still should.
As to their justification via Romans 13, they offer that “in times of national emergency, submission to temporary Stay-at-Home orders, for example, is God-honoring.” To my understanding, parish churches did not close in London during the blitz; Armenian church leaders did not abandon their flock during the Genocide.
During the countless “national emergencies” of plague and pandemic in the last two-thousand years, the church did not close its doors (OK, even if you find one counter-example, the point still stands); in fact, it was the Christians that cared for the sick. All of a sudden, in the twenty-first century, it has become “God-honoring” to shelter in place?
Finally, from the Joseph Council, from Hebrews 10:25: “We should ‘not [be] neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…’” Yes, this verse is used to justify NOT MEETING TOGETHER!
And if this isn’t enough, they throw in some other beneficial thoughts (emphasis in original):
Determine not to respond in fear, but through faith go forth in power, love and self-control, making it our practice to serve our fellow man.
Forgive my language, but WTF! Having responded in fear, and failing to serve their fellow man, they dare to write these words?
Emerge from challenges with our testimony, having matured and blossomed, stronger and more influential than ever.
Your testimony is one of abandoning the faith and abandoning the flock. What little influence you had has been pissed away.
I will close with a comment I made at another site a couple of weeks ago; it was in the context of pastors being concerned about some of their elderly parishioners, therefor taking these church-closing actions out of concern for their health:
I have come to learn something about concern for the health of the elderly by their younger counterparts through my father. There are things more meaningful to him than any risk imposed by the things we, with - God willing - many years on this earth still ahead of us concern ourselves with on their behalf. There are some fates worse than (the risk of) death when you know your time on this earth is short in any case. My father - well past what is considered the normal expiration date for a male - taught me this lesson; he is the strongest man I know.