Closing Your Church is Neither Loving Your Neighbhour Nor is it a Good Witness to the Community

First, to dispense with the second point in the title. Yes, Christian leaders are to be well thought of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7). By extension, this command applies to all Christians at all times (1 Timothy 2:2, Titus 3:2, Romans 12:8).

This command does not, however, cover the message of the Gospel, which will be despised by outsiders, along with the man delivering it. If the Gospel is preached, God’s Law must be preached first. The penalty for sin must be stated, and the righteous wrath of God, poured out on sinners, must be fully explained. The love of God in sending Christ as a propitiation for our sins must be stated fully. Romans 3:19-26. Men will hate this, and count it foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). If leaders wish to always be well thought of by outsiders, they would need to be in full accordance with the powers, principalities, and authorities who are against Christ.

What needs to be said is that being thought well of by outsiders is to not be a hypocrite. Romans 2:24, quoting Isaiah 53:5, says, “For, as it is written, “‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'” (English Standard Version). When Christians condemn sin, yet sin in the same manner, they act hypocritically and will spoil their witness to the watching world. But the world is not who we must please—it is Christ, and we must honour His word. When we obey Christ, we will bring scorn and dishonour upon ourselves. This is the history of the church in Acts and the experience of Christians at all times and in all places.

When we follow government edicts, made over the church where the government has no rightful rule, we declare to the community that the civil government is lord of the Church, not Christ. The civil government has declared Christ’s church gathered to be nonessential, and thousands of churches agreed! That was our witness! Churches that have done so must repent, and so witness to the community that they have failed and resolve not to fail again.

It is also said that closing churches in a time of pandemic is “loving your neighbour.” This is curious for a people who believe that the Lord’s Supper, remembered weekly, is of utmost importance. This is odd for a people who believe that without the Gospel, men and women must enter Hell. This is strange thinking for a Christians who have decried the cheapening of faith by televangelists, only to become televangelists en masse in one week!

By misreading Romans 13:1-7 and submitting to the lockdowns we have taken up the cause, (in the name of neighbourly love), of those who turned long-term care centres into death camps; sacrificed the spiritual well-being of children under the misguided attempt to keep vulnerable people safe; ruined careers and hopes; left many elderly to die alone and heartbroken. There is much more. But we did that, Christians, when we out of fear of overwrought obedience, denied Christ’s lordship over His church. If we had affirmed Christ’s Lordship, Canada would be a different place today.

This is pressing upon me because we are about to go around again, this time over the issue of vaccines. I have no interest in discussing the efficacy of vaccines at this time. But the medical ethics of a civil government demanding a medical procedure on an unwilling populace is at the same depth of depravity as Nazi Germany or modern China.

If a pastor, elder, or congregation will demand proof of a medical procedure, such as a vaccine, to worship Christ in His peoples’ gathering, in person, they  must be condemned as anti-Christian. In such cases, safety and compliance have become gods. Christians must refuse such idolatry.

Contrary to Paul Carter of the Gospel Coalition Canada , there is a command in Hebrews 10:24-25: 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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 (ESV). Carter does not deal with verse 24. The subjunctive (let us consider) can serve as an imperative (a command). “Let us consider” is the main verb, not “to meet together” in verse 25. Verse 24 is the command, and what no one seems to ask is, “How can verse 24 be obeyed if the church is not meeting?” It cannot. Failing to meet together is a failure to “stir up one another to love and good works.”

But we have Zoom! Facebook! YouTube. Yes we do. But one of the foundations of Biblical interpretation is that the interpreter must understand a Biblical text as it was understood by the first hearers! How could the readers of Hebrews understand these verses in any way except as meeting together face-to-face? They had no way to encourage, teach, exhort, or discipline one another unless they could see and hear each other.

The first readers did not have Zoom, or any other technology. God meant for the Christian life to be lived in-person, in a real time and a real place.

Meeting together is a necessary condition to obey verse 24 and failing to meet together is to disobey the command. This is why neglecting to meet together is such a serious problem, and can lead to the consequences in verse 26!

This current wave of oppression and outright persecution is going to continue as long as the Lord permits. He is looking for His people to call upon His name and repent from their fear and their idolatry of safety and compliance to the state.

Abraham Kuyper on the State’s Submission to God

“This right is possessed by God, and by Him alone.
No man has the right to rule over another man, otherwise such a right necessarily, and immediately becomes, the right of the strongest.”
“Nor can a group of men, by contract, from their own right, compel you to obey a fellow-man . . .”
“Authority over men cannot arise from men. Just as little from a majority over against a minority, for history shows, almost on every page, that very often the minority was right. And thus to the first Calvinistic thesis that sin alone has necessitated the institution of governments, this second and no less momentous thesis is added that: all authority of governments on earth, originates from the Sovereignty of God alone.”
Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899), 103-104.

Closing a Seminary, 1937

Sometimes Religious Freedom can just be removed by a bureaucrat.

Finkenwalde Seminary

It may be noticed that the underground seminary established by Deitrich Bonhoeffer trained ministers for the Confessing Church while flying a Nazi flag in front of its school. Everything taught there opposed the Nazis but the Nazis were allowed this victory over them before they closed the school permanently and arrested its faculty and students. The flag out front had little to do with the resistance within.

Bonhoeffer himself was arrested and hung by the Nazis at age 39.

The letter below is from the SS and German Police instructing the Gestapo to close the school.

From the Reichsführer SS and Chief of the German Police to the Office of the Secret State Police (Gestapo)

Berlin, August 29, 1937

The persistent actions of the bodies of the so-called Confessing Church in training and examining young theologians in their own organizations, in defiance of the institutions set up by the state, constitutes a deliberate violation of the Fifth Decree for the Implementation of the Law for the Protection of the German Evangelical Church of December 2, 1935 (Legal Code of the German Evangelical p 315 Church; page 130 [Reich Legal Gazette I, page 1370]) and is inclined to undermine both the authority and the welfare of the state.

By agreement with the Reich and Prussian minister of science, training, and public education and with the Reich and Prussian minister of church affairs, I hereby direct:
In accordance with § 1 of the decree of the Reich president for the Protection of the People and State of February 28, 1933 (Reich Legal Gazette I, page 83), the substitute seminaries, study communities, and offices of instruction, students, and examination established by the so-called Confessing Church are to be dissolved, and all theological courses and retreats conducted by them forbidden.

Violations of this decree are to be prosecuted according to § 4 of the aforementioned law. In equivocal cases, my decision is to be secured.

With authorization: Heydrich
Authorized: [signature] Chancellery Employee

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935–1937, ed. Victoria J. Barnett and Barbara Wojhoski, trans. Douglas W. Stott, vol. 14, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 314–315.