In Romans 13:1-5, Paul writes:
“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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
This is important teaching and something I’d encourage church leaders to slow down and pay attention to. It doesn’t mean that civil authorities are perfect or godly. At the end of the Bible, we get the book of Revelation and that offers a different but not contradictory perspective showing up the beastly nature of worldly authorities under anti-Christ influence. Nor does it mean that we are to blindly obey our rulers. We know that we must obey God rather than man if our governments pressure us to break God’s law.
However, I think that a lot of people are wary of the rules and regulations that govern much of our life because they miss out on an important concept -common grace. Common Grace means that God’s providential care is seen beyond salvation and beyond God’s people. He continues to provide things for the wellbeing and good of people generally. One of the ways we see that is in the rule of law. It is a terrible thing when that breaks down.
This is important because I have too often heard Christian leaders talking about things like safeguarding requirements, employment law, charity law, health and safety law etc as though these things are at best irritating inconveniences and at worst evil impositions intended to thwart the Gospel.
Healthy churches will take these things seriously. They’ll appreciate employment law because it helps them to show love and care for employees -and for the employees to love the church. They will see their safe-guarding policy as an opportunity to glorify God and to show love to the most vulnerable members of the church family. A commitment to carefully following charity law shows a concern for transparency and accountability.
Also, I think that when people appreciate these aspects of common grace, it encourages a robust and ordered approach to decisions, systems and culture. One area in which churches get into trouble without maliciously intending harm is that they end up in a muddle over processes. This may mean one or more of the following:
- They have no policies and processes at all so they end up making things up as they go along.
- They have inadequate processes and policies that are not robust enough to deal with difficult situations
- They have policies and processes but because they are not on top of them, they end up attempting to use the wrong process for a specific situation.
This is where you end up with the heartache of people falling out. The system isn’t there to bear the load. It’s also sadly where a church ends up in a mess and tarnishes the reputation of the Gospel because of avoidable problems.
Questions for discussion and reflection
- What policies and processes do your church have in place? When were these last reviewed internally/externally?
- Do you have a church constitution? Again, when was this last reviewed? Who by?
- Do you have people who can advise you on legal matters relating to charity law and employment law?