When should we consider civil disobedience?

I want to return to the question about Churches breaking lockdown rules and meeting for worship. You will notice that people like me (see also the position of FIEC National Director, John Stevens) has not been that Churches should never go against the law on matters of gathering for worship. That would be an untenable position given that in a number of countries the practice of Christianity is illegal and subject to severe persecution. 

It was my view that the measures were inconsistent disproportionate and unnecessary not just for Christians and other faiths but for a wide range of other people and businesses.  I therefore argued that there was a legitimate case for protesting and challenging the decision but that if unsuccessful, we should still comply with the measures and submit to the civil authorities.

So, at what point should we consider civil disobedience and refuse to comply with Government measures that restrict worship?  Here are my thoughts, obviously they come from someone who believes we are duty bound by Scripture to meet and gather to the best of our ability. Therefore, whilst not ideal, I accept online provision as an interim solution. Others might draw the line in slightly different places.

  • If the Government introduces measures that are clearly designed to restrict Christian/religious worship and activities for that sole basis. In other words, where we are being discriminated against and attempts are being made to silence the Gospel.
  • Should restrictions be made not just against physical gathering but against the other methods we have used for gathering then this would mean we would have to find some means by which to gather. For example, imagine a scenario where internet usage was rationed and we were neither able to meet online nor in person. 
  • Where a stand like this sends a clearer Gospel signal than seeking to comply with measures. There would have to be no question mark therefore that our actions were not at odds with the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.
  • Where there is a level of consensus and unity amongst church leaders that this is the right action and the right time. In other words, there needs to be a sense of body discernment together on this. Whilst I don’t think that we should insist on unanimity, I do believe there should be at least something looking like a significant majority opinion that we are being called to make that choice between obeying God and obeying man.

I do not believe that the context of a Global pandemic and Governments seeking to make decisions to look after everyone’s health counts.  It is clear that whilst some of the decisions made have been challengeable and that the Government does not always seem to understand Christian faith, that their aim has been to protect the population and they have sought to hear, consider and act in the interests of faith groups throughout the crisis.

However, a day may come when a Government does seek to use its power against the church. It my be overtly or it may be under the cover of a particular emergency.  If that happens here, we should be bold enough to take a stand. In that this is the case already for many brothers and sisters around the world, we should pray for them and support them.

11 thoughts on “When should we consider civil disobedience?

    1. of course not Dale – but two points here. First of all, you can objectively assess such things. Secondly, whatever Tom Buck’s political views are, this article is in fact about the response of the Church in terms of the pushed to choose between God’s commands and human law. As you will know, the decision on this for believers isn’t in fact whether or not we are under tyranny. I know believers in other countries who are under tyranny. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are in fact written to those in such contexts.

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  1. Well I am not surprised by the form of argument from the particular author there who picks up the most extreme examples possible missing the point that they are not merely extreme but nonsensical. Secondly his argument is based on political theory … a libertarian approach leading to eisegesis where he reads his politics back into the text. Thirdly it shows a misunderstanding of the nature of the regulations and the law. I wonder share your take on crash helmets speed limits and seatbelts are. Do you consider them tyranny too? It is of course not tyranny to ask people to take temporary preventative measures to stop the spread of a disease. Finally this attitude comes from the comfort zone of not having to contemplate what real tyranny and persecution looks like and the genuinely difficult considerations people have to work through in such contexts.

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  2. I and others consider the article most Biblical and far from eisegetical.

    Unlike John Stevens and FIEC’s position that cannot as yet, answer a simple question Biblically that of, what right does a secular Govt have to interfere in the governance of a local church?

    NB. From a Biblical perspective. Sola Scriptura/Tota Scriptura

    Thanks

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    1. Dale, I’m sure you do. It is always my practice to ask “who are these others”. But the question is actually about objectively what is exegesis and what is eisegesis. Why do I say eisegesis? Well Romans 13 and 1 Peter do not give you the opt out clause. It isn’t for you to say what is reasonable from the Government and what oversteps the boundaries. In fact those passages were written in the context of what would be seen as tyrannical government today! The idea that there is a separation of powers and remits is a helpful one, especially if a country accepts a formal Christian identity. It comes from Lex Rex, the thinking of a puritan writer. It is then a libertarian viewpoint mixed in with some Thenomist tendencies that pushes the argument that seems to be doing the rounds at the moment

      Your comment about John Stevens is a red herring because the argument is not about Government right to interfere in the governance of the local church. This is not about who can be your elders /pastors (GOR makes that clear), nor about what you can preach or teach, nor about who you must baptise or admit to communion, nor about who you must affiliate to, nor about how you conduct church discipline. Those are the proper matters of church governance. However when it comes to the use of buildings for public assembly then the Government has long taken a view that it should legislate on matters such as health and safety, disability access etc. Similarly our buildings are subject to insurance. There are also rules in terms of employment law, charity law, financial probit and not to forget child safe guarding. Now unless you are saying that none of those things apply (I note my question about seatbelts and speed limits remains unanswered too) then we do need to take into account regulations about building use during pandemic measures.

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  3. Quote: It is always my practice to ask “who are these others”.

    You doubt my claim there are others who agree with the article?

    Quote: “It isn’t for you to say what is reasonable from the Government and what oversteps the boundaries”.

    Are you sure that is your position? You do realise that the church in China are breaking the law by meeting and they have concluded their Govt are unreasonable?

    Quote: “In fact those passages were written in the context of what would be seen as tyrannical government today!”

    Can you tell me what Govt responsibility is according to Romans 13 please?

    Quote: “the argument is not about Government right to interfere in the governance of the local church”.

    Yes, it is and that is the whole point of my question that you have not answered yet, what right does a secular Govt have to interfere in the governance of a local church?

    Quote: “Government has long taken a view that it should legislate on matters such as health and safety, disability access etc. Similarly our buildings are subject to insurance”.

    We follow these guidelines because we can see the sense in them, unlike covid restrictions that have hindered worship for many months now. This argument that because we follow Govt rules in one area ie. wearing seatbelts, therefore we should blindly follow all their guidance is quite frankly not only ridiculous but pathetically desperate.

    Quote: “we do need to take into account regulations about building use during pandemic measures”.

    I do not agree we are in a pandemic, there is enough evidence for you to see if you can stop watching BBC and Sky news and trusting far too much in a Govt that has already lied and been caught out many times.

    Please answer my first question before you answer the above; what right does a secular Govt have to interfere in the governance of a local church?

    Thanks

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    1. Dale your first question has been dealt with on multiple occasions. I think you know that. Not liking the answer and what the Bible actual does and doesn’t say does not mean you have not been answered. To repeat again the Government at no point have interfered in the Biblical governance of our church. There are laws in place about safe guarding health and saftey and employment we do not see those as interference in church overnance but rather the law if the lsnd that applies to all. In terms of asking “who”? That is standard practice when someone starts claiming to speak for “others” I have included a more detailed article today. As I have said I am well aware of the Chinese context. The Chinese church have long faced restrictions due to being Christian’s and so the criteria I mention on my article have been met. As I have carefully explained several times it simply is not the case that we pick and choose which government regulations we agree with. Worth noting that those on the left do not think we should have a nuclear defence capability and have issues with the police force but that does not permit them to withhold tax. You are presumptive in your BBC/Sky comments. I also have had the opportunity as anyone does to look at the data but in addition conversations with our local Public Health director. We also have a number of front line medics within our church including on the eldership and that informs too.
      In any case I have provided the further article but it doesnt look like this conversation is going to take us further so I suggest we pause it now

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