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December 6-8, 2020

 

Authority

 

the apostle Paul wrote this:

 

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. … Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

 

yes

he wrote as a Roman citizen

living under Roman rule

and yes

he wrote to Roman Christians

who, living under Roman rule

had not a single human right

(such as we take for granted)

but to be executed for saying

“No! I will not worship Caesar!”

(as he would himself be killed)

had not a single human choice

(such as we take for granted)

but to be obedient to Caesar

as obedience to God allowed

showing love to their neighbour

as obedience to God demands

and no

he did not write a single word

in favour of a lesser magistrate

nor did he condone just rebellion

and yes

he wrote simply that a Christian

as they lived obedient to Caesar

in good and conscientious faith

lived also in obedience to God

 


 

In Romans 13:1-7 the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to worship God and to live in obedience to the governing authorities that God had placed above them. Men such as Nero of Rome and the Herods of Judea. Men who condoned the worship of themselves as gods. Men who were very obviously not men of God. Paul told Christians to respect these men and obey them for God had put them in place over them. Many Christians in 2020 use this passage to justify restrictions placed on corporate worship by governments hoping to reduce the spread of COVID-19; the argument being that, as Christians, our obedience to God demands our obedience to our leaders for love of our neighbour.

 

Many other Christians consider that Hebrews 10:24-27 proves that, by allowing government to dictate when and how worship services are to be conducted, many Christians are committing idolatry by worshipping their government instead of God: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

 

But Paul was not advocating blind obedience to government. Paul encouraged the Christian to obey the government, as obviously Godless as it was, simply because that government had been placed in authority by God and would itself be judged for its use of that authority. Paul himself would be put to death several years later for refusing to worship Caesar yet remained in obedience to the government by allowing its authority to determine his fate. The point is that Paul did not teach that our obedience to authority should affect our faith but that it must be subordinate to our faith.

 

Nor was the writer of Hebrews specifically addressing corporate worship only as we’ve come to practice it today. He was referring to Christians coming together to encourage and uplift each other. While he may have viewed our current form of corporate worship as an example of that, he would not have restricted himself to that example alone. The fact that the letter of Hebrews exists at all is proof that he considered ‘virtual’ gatherings to be as valuable and beneficial to Christians as physical gatherings. He was not saying only “Don’t neglect gathering together in worship services.” so much as he was saying “Don’t neglect to encourage each other to Godly living.”

 


Authority
A poem by Peter Rhebergen

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