Tearing Off the Masks: Celebrating Oceania’s Freedom . . . When Nothing Has Changed

kissOceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
George Orwell, 1984

But test everything; hold fast what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:21

In preparation for the upcoming removal of masks, the self-congratulations of politicians, and the ticker tape parades of liberated citizens kissing in the streets, I offer this selective reading of 1984. Let the reader the understand: Nothing has changed.

What Covid-19 Has Wrought

As the State of the Union address is presented mask-optional tonight, it is important to remember what has  changed and what has not. Today, the air is the same; immune systems are the same; and threat of Covid is the same. Covid-19 and its various variants are still deadly for those with underlying conditions and it is still innocuous for those with healthy bodies, especially children.

At the same time, masks still do not work. Fauci said as much privately before the pandemic, then he changed his mind publicly during the pandemic, and now he, and the CDC, and others have waffled back to some compromised position. Very presidentially, he was for same-sex marriage, before he was against it, and now he has returned his original position. Just replace Obama’s subject matter (so called same sex marriage) with Fauci’s (masks, mandates, etc.) and you will understand the convoluted logic of a career politician.

Yes, Covid-19 was political before it wasn’t. And how do we know? Because “end” of Covid has come by political fiat, not by a substantial change in the conditions. As the Washington Post reported in early February, governors are changing mask mandates for political reasons. Similarly, Saturday Night Live, that bastion of liberal catechesis, has performed a skit that is not funny but is informative. Watch it here. (This the first and I hope the last time I share something from SNL).

 

For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it is not science, nor the man who declared himself to represent Science, that has made the final determination about masks—it is politics. Under threat of losing control, politicians are moving to a position that appears to give freedom to the people. And SNL is helping prepare the masses for the stunning realization that the last two years of draconian mandates were more fiction than fact. And what are Christians do? Should we celebrate with the masses? Or should we realize how farcical this whole pandemic has been.

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Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 1)

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Photo Credit: Greg Southam / Postmedia in The Edmonton Journal

Ever since writing on the harm of endless masking, teaching on the limits of Romans 13 (see here, here, and here), and considering how Levitical instructions about quarantine laws might help us think wisely about social distancing and sheltering at home, I’ve received numerous emails expressing deep sorrow for the ways churches have responded to Covid-19. With any such email, I always want to affirm the authority of the local church and her elders, as well as admitting the challenges faced by every church and my inability to speak to the inner workings of another church’s decisions. The problems our church faces are the not the problems that your church faces, and vice versa. Still, across the board, it does seem that one abiding problem that divides many evangelicals is how they understand passages that instruct obedience to governing authorities.

Most recently, a brother asked if our church had preached on 1 Peter 2:13–17. To date, we have not, but going through 1 Peter right now, we will—this weekend, in fact. Thus, leading up to that message, I want to consider again how that passage teaches us to think about the Christian’s obligation to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (see Mark 12:17), or as Peter puts it, to submit to every governing authority (v. 13) and to honor the emperor (v. 17).

Notably, Peter’s instructions are set in a context quite different than Christians in North America, and his words arise from an historical letter, the context of which we must remember in order to get the sense of his instructions regarding the state. So before making five points from the text, let me make a couple preliminary remarks.

Four Notes About the Context of 1 Peter

First, Peter addresses emperors and various governors. Obviously, we do not have emperors, but elected officials. So we must make applications accordingly, including the fact that in a democratic republic the people play a role in governance.

Second, we currently do not have the threat of persecution like the early church did, but neither do we possess the freedoms that we once did to exercise our faith without concern. James Coates’ arrest, the ongoing intimidation tactics of Canada’s health officials (see photo above), the meddling of governors instructing churches how to order their worship, and the need for the Supreme Court to weigh in on churches gathering (see here and here) remind us that religious liberty is on shaky ground.

Third, the command to submit to authorities comes in a letter where the supreme authority of Christ is repeated throughout (see esp., 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11). Christ’s authority relativizes the commands that Peter gives. Peter doesn’t discount obedience to the state, but his letter does orient the church to Christ’s greater authority. The details of this (re)orientation will be outlined below.

Fourth and last, the persecution of the church in 1 Peter assumes a conflict between church and state. In other words, when the Gentiles slander the church, it will include the Gentiles who lord it over the church and exercise authority in ways that contradict the laws of God. For this reason, it is impossible to read 1 Peter 2:13–17 and draw the unqualified application that doing good is doing whatever the governing authorities say. Rather, as we will see, doing good starts with God. And all obedience to earthly governors must be in keeping with our heavenly citizenship and eternal king. To that end, let’s consider five truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17. Today I will focus on 1 Peter 2:13 and the first and most important truth—Putting God First. Tomorrow I will fill in the details from 1 Peter 2:14–17. Until, let’s consider the main overarching truth. Continue reading

Weighing Obedience and Resistance: What Romans 13 Does and Does Not Affirm about Governing Authorities

tingey-injury-law-firm-DZpc4UY8ZtY-unsplashIn his commentary on Romans, Colin Kruse observes that in Romans 13 “Paul is drawing upon teaching in Jewish literature about God’s sovereignty over the rise and fall of earthly rulers” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 493). Supporting that claim, he lists a handful of key passages from the Old Testament, the Jewish Apocrypha, and Josephus. Here’s his list.

By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth. (Prov 8:15–16)

In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Prov 21:1)

With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. (Jer 27:5–7)

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. (Dan 2:21)

The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. (Dan 4:17, 25, 32)

For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. (Wis 6:3)

The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the time. (Sir 10:4)

He will for ever keep faith with all men, especially with the powers that be, since no ruler attains his office save by the will of God. (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.140)

Standing upon this biblical worldview is important not only for understanding Paul’s argument in Romans 13, but also for understanding its limits. In other words, as Paul commands believers to willingly submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1, 4), he does not mean that governing authorities have absolute autonomy or unchecked authority. As Romans 13:4 says, they are “God’s servants,” hence subject to God himself. And it’s this point of reference—the relationship between governing authorities and God—that we need consider more fully.

Far too many have a simplistic, even child-like, understanding of Romans 13. And if the church is going to survive our post-modern, post-Christian world, we need to think more carefully (read: more biblically) about Romans 13. Continue reading