Advancing Liberty Through Action

Finding Unity in A Broken Church

May 22, 2020

Recently I read an article about not allowing the Coronavirus to divide the church. I am concerned that this article oversimplifies the position it disagrees with and glosses over the heart of concern in other Christians. While I fully agree that Satan and others are looking to divide Christians and hobble us from expanding the Kingdom of Heaven, the first step toward creating unity is to understand the concerns of believers with whom you disagree. In this, the article falls short.

This is seen in the one-sided photo of men screaming inches away from the faces of women with masks on. It’s seen again when it ignores all but one of the Bible verses challenging their own point of view. In addition, this article glosses over thousands of years of history between government and the church when it makes the blanket statement that one can obey a government and God at the same time. That claim is becoming increasingly tenuous in the post-modern, post-Christian society in America.

Let’s take a deeper look at the scriptures. One of the relevant books of the Bible is Daniel. His “co-workers” carefully combed through his life, looking for anything that they could use to twist against him. They found nothing. They schemed and plotted to destroy Daniel, and the only thing they could find to attack was his relationship with God.

Many of the same arguments that could have been used on Daniel are being used today to shut down the church. Daniel could have easily compromised. He could have prayed silently as he went about his daily tasks, he could have retreated to his closet, or even simply closed his window. Questions that might have gone through Daniel’s head are the same arguments that are being echoed across our nation today.

  • It’s only temporary.
  • It’s unhealthy to have lions for roommates.
  • Daniel should be respectful of authority.
  • God had brought Daniel to his current position to provide leadership to the political leader of his time and that should not be thrown away.
  • The Torah didn’t explicitly direct his public prayers.
  • And the whispers that such a little compromise would be best for everyone in the end.

But Daniel stood on his principles by publicly kneeling before his Maker in direct defiance of the political leaders of his day. His obedience to God was honored by a lifesaving miracle.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego illustrated that they understood obeying God is not always safe, but that it is always best. They also understood that obedience to God is the first priority and that submitting to a powerful government is secondary, even if those leaders hold the power of life or death in an instant. The order of a king, politician, or pastor never should be followed if it contradicts the principles found in Scripture.

When Jesus walked this earth, the Pharisees gleefully brought a no-win question: should Jews pay a tax? Either way Jesus answered, he would get himself in trouble with a large segment of society. Many pastors feel that they are in a similar no-win situation in their churches. In that situation, Jesus clearly exposed how the authority in our world is divided.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The church as a representative of God has an authority that is intrinsically separate from that of a politician. The church is not to abdicate their authority and responsibility to care for their community to the government.

I work as Director of Public Policy for a Christian pro bono law firm that defends a number of pastors across America right now. Being on the inside, knowing the real facts, I can confirm that much of what the media is sharing about these pastors is often twisted half-truths or outright false information. This has the effect to turn other Christians and society as a whole against these Christian leaders. In this situation, seeking unity and extending grace to fellow Christians is deeply important, and especially challenging.

One of the churches we were asked to defend had requested to do a church service entirely in Hazmat suits. The judge denied their request. Another state banned a pastor from driving alone in his car to stand all alone in his church to record a sermon to post online. Even if external doors remained locked and there was only one person in the building the whole time, it was illegal to do so. In both of these situations, it would be physically impossible to spread the virus. These churches were denied their freedom for reasons other than a virus.

A third state allows 100 people to congregate in Home Depot, as close as they wish, with nearly everyone touching the same credit card pin pads. But if two people went to a church building of equal size, they face arrest. This demonstrates that some (but not all) political leaders are seeking to use the restrictions to control more than just a disease.

Another example is the governor of Illinois. He is not allowing any churches to meet as a full body until a currently unknown cure or vaccine is found, which experts are estimating could take up to 18 months. Daniel didn’t even wait one meal to demonstrate his loyalties.

Right now, many pastors in America are facing that same question. I want to be clear, retaining that authority does not necessarily mean that all pastors could or even should meet. Some congregations have a predominantly elder population with little to no outreach or charity offered to their community. Online services might be the best way to serve in these situations. But that should be for the pastor and individual believers to decide on their knees before a holy God, not for the whims of a governor or mayor to dictate. Nevertheless, will our pastors speak truth to the powers over their city, county, and state or will they quietly allow secular leaders to grab the authority God intended the church to have?

One pastor born under communist oppression in Romania is doing an excellent job of caring for his congregation while explaining the authority of the church to local politicians. You can see his comments here. He is taking greater safety precautions than is required of any secular business.

We represented the pastor arrested in Florida. His church had taken great pains to abide by social distancing guidelines – much safer than the big box stores just down the street. We won that case, and the charges against him have been dropped.

Making churches second-class in America could last much longer than a sickness and create untold havoc by relegating religious freedom to the past. This is about much more than germs. This is more about dictators than a disease. And many (not all) of the political leaders are looking more for control than for a cure.

I believe this is the crux of the disagreement, and it runs deeper than between those who want safety and those who want liberty. It does not rest between believers who “are” and “are not” caring for their neighbors. It comes down to the age old question of, who is our neighbor?

Is it the American child our neighbor, whose abuse is exacerbated by the shutdown? Or the child who wants to become a pastor some day and wants the liberty our nation had? Is our at-risk neighbor who would catch the virus and die our neighbor? Is the international child our neighbor who will starve to death from the economic downturn? Can it be all of the above? I believe the unity will come when we focus on ministering to as many of our neighbors next door and around the world as we can.

I want to encourage grace among Christians right now. I am confident that God is calling some into solitude and a deeper walk of prayer and communion with their Savior right now.

I am equally confident that God is calling others into the public sphere like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach Abednego and many of the Old Testament prophets that defied the government of their day to defend the freedoms to follow God publicly. Right now, God is calling his followers to both. Only God and each person know what is being asked of them. We don’t need to fight each other to obey what God is asking us personally to do.

We, as the body of Christ, must honestly look at the concerns of the diverse points of views within our church and seek to find a way to find common ground and build on these. Regardless of whether Christians pray privately in our closet or publicly defy the government as Daniel did, Christians are praying to our same Abba Father. God hears us and he wants to heal our land, if we will repent and turn to Him.

In Christ,

Amber Haskew
Director of Public Policy

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