Keep Jesus in the Center—Despite Coronavirus

Michael Kotsch, Wilfried Plock, Matthias Swart, and Marco Vedder

Over the last few months, we’ve been watching the developments in many Christian churches with great concern. While the church of Jesus is particularly challenged by state-imposed restrictions on gatherings, in addition to major pastoral and social tasks, marked tensions are arising due to the differing assessments of the medical and political implications of coronavirus. The unity of His followers, so precious to our Lord, is in danger. Love is threatening to grow cold in conflict, and the witness of the church is beginning to suffer.

Therefore, we urge all believers to connect once again with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Word, to keep the church away from further spiritual damage whenever possible. Related to this, we’d like to remind you of some of the fundamental statements from God’s Word, which are of particular importance in the current situation.

1. God has the world, as well as our lives, firmly in His hand. The Bible leaves no doubt that only God establishes and removes governments (Prov 21:1; Dan 2:21; Rom 13:1). Satan can only influence the earth to the extent that God permits it. Christians know that God never loses control of a situation, and that He retains absolute victory in the end (Ps 118:16; 1 Tim 6:15). Ultimately, people don’t die from illness or an accident, but according to the will or the approval of God. As Christians, we want to adopt this perspective, even amid possible coronavirus worries.

2. God calls on His children to submit to the respective authorities on principle (Rom 13:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13-17). According to the Bible, the church and the state are two separate domains belonging to God (cf. 1 Sam 13:8-14; Luke 20:25; John 18:36). Nevertheless, state regulations also apply to Christians and the church. Elders and other church leaders shouldn’t engage in party politics in their God-given office; Jesus and the apostles also renounced this. Politics has no authority in the interpretation of the Bible, or in the spiritual and ethical spheres of church life. In other domains, however (construction, labor law, security, finance law, criminal law, etc.), churches must also obey state rules.

3. The only limit to obedience to the government is direct conflict with a clear demand from God’s Word. Christians are fundamentally loyal citizens, but believers must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19; 5:29). When there is a direct conflict between a biblical command and a demand of the state, God’s rules take precedent. Government laws that are ethically false or dubious, but which still allow Christians to act properly, do not have to be fought (e.g., divorce laws, government licenses for same-sex marriage, etc.; see endnote).

Resistance to the state is primarily about non-negotiable beliefs. It’s not about questions of secondary importance or personal disadvantages (such as excessive taxes, etc.). In the event of a conflict, the Christian then must also be ready to bear the punishment imposed by the state (Dan 3; 1 Pet 3:14). Temporary ordinances on external conditions and forms of community events (e.g., masks, social distance, number of participants) are not fundamentally in violation of biblical commandments.

4. Since the situation is confusing, we should display an attitude of humility and readiness to amend our behavior. Christians do not possess any more knowledge than the experts responsible for various issues. Legal questions concerning coronavirus must ultimately be clarified by the government and the courts. Scientific questions regarding coronavirus must be developed through the lengthy process of serious research. Because doctors and politicians cannot claim any special biblical authority for their respective positions in this regard, Christians are allowed to decide whom to trust—missionary zeal is inappropriate here (Prov 17:27). In any case, the language that Christians use in public debates must conform to the commandments and example of our Lord and His Apostles.

5. Regular complaints against a government decision in court are possible in a democracy. If necessary, Christians are permitted to claim the rights granted in their country in the appropriate way (Acts 16:35-40; 25:10-12). It must be carefully considered in which cases such a path is necessary. Until the verdict is received, the government’s decision applies. If the courts come to an undesirable result, this is to be accepted by the Christian as the will of the authorities.

6. The interactions between brothers and sisters in the church should always be characterized by love and sympathy (John 13:35). Especially in matters that are not codified in the Bible, believers must be concerned about the welfare of their fellow Christians. The latitude that may be obtained due to greater insight must not be used indulgently or egoistically against other believers, or asserted (1 Cor 8:9-11; Gal 5:13). The Lord teaches us to put our own interests aside out of love and consideration (Phil 2). What’s more, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s particularly important to accommodate brothers and sisters who are fearful or at greater risk, and to support those who are suffering in body, soul, and spirit during this difficult time.

7. Even throughout the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, spiritual goals should be the clear focus of church life (and not political or medical discussions). Specifically, this includes prayer for the government, the support of the weak, and the proclamation of biblical hope to all people who have been made insecure by the crisis (Mark 16:15; 1 Cor 9:19-27; 1 Tim 2:1-4; cf. Luke 6:45).

Beloved brothers and sisters, before beginning His path to the cross, our Lord prayed for the unity of His followers (John 17). Whatever our personal assessment of the current situation, we must not allow the enemy of God to destroy our unity over this issue. We therefore call on all the children of God: Let’s join in the prayer of our Lord! Let’s pray that our external testimony and our internal strength will not be further weakened! There is too much at stake.

Clarifying addition to thesis 3: By “do not have to be fought,” we’re not ruling out the fact that followers of Jesus are involved in democratically legitimate means and prudently advocate biblical values (e.g. protecting the weak in our society). Yet nowhere does the Bible declare it to be our duty to control the government or to oppose what we believe to be questionable decisions—except when Christians are forced to act against God’s express command.

Midnight Call - 05/2021

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