COVID-19, Romans 13, and Civics 101

The first thing we need to remember in the midst of these troubling days of misfortune in which we find ourselves—particularly in an age when everyone is looking to the government as the source of salvation, wisdom, provision, and security—is that it is not the government’s responsibility or role to protect people from getting sick.

Let me say that again, more slowly, so we can hear everything between the lines. The function of civil government was established in Genesis 9, as an extension of the family’s authority, in order to uphold justice—(1) protecting those in their charge from unjust aggression (by outside invasion or by intra-jurisdictional crime), and (2) punishing the evildoer. Now, quite a few things fall under that definition (such as enforcing contracts, recording property ownership, etc.), but that’s the substance of it. What does not fall under the civil magistrate’s role and responsibility, is keeping everyone healthy (or education, or social security, or a myriad of other matters that ought rightly to be counted in the sphere of the family or the church).

Now, we do see quarantine laws in the Old Testament law code, and that has been frequently appealed to in all of this. However, the quarantine instructions in the Mosaic law have to do with quarantining the infected, not broad unaffected populations—because indeed, the government is to defend the innocent against the aggression, or, in this case, reckless endangerment, by a verified personal threat, hence the requiring that infected individuals not endanger the healthy. This is different than mandating that large swaths of citizens close down their sources of livelihood simply because a virus is present and spreading.

Indeed, we don’t want to diminish the danger of it. And there’s certainly a fairly subjective moving line (“subjective,” meaning “it’s a matter of wisdom applied to particular circumstances,” not “totally relative”) regarding what specific measures ought to be taken to protect the population from reckless endangerment (things like travel bans and quarantining hot spots could easily be argued to be legitimate) before we cross over into unwise, unnecessary, unjust, or even tyrannical measures. But it’s not as simple as saying, “well, there are quarantines in the Mosaic Law, so…”

Part of what makes this a difficult carry-over is that the quarantines in the OT Law were enacted by the priests, not the civil authority. Additionally, the transfer of principles from the Mosaic case law to our context is further complicated by the fact that much of the Mosaic Law, including laws regarding disease, serves a larger theological purpose in requiring separation from anything and everything having to do with death. It’s not necessarily meant to communicate directly to us principles about the jurisdiction of modern states (granting, however, that I do think we ought to draw a fair amount of principles and instruction from the Mosaic law code—indeed, more than normally assumed).

Romans 13

However, even setting aside the discussion of the biblical view of civil government’s rightful jurisdiction, we have to remember—especially today when so many have forgotten—we have to remember that we are a constitutional, republican federation (read that again… we are not a democracy; we are not an unconstitutional empire; we are not a unitary nation state). This means we have a form of government with things like separation of powers, and which, at both the state and federal level, holds the written constitutions as the supreme law of the land—the constitutions alone hold imperium—and every governing officer is bound under that law to remain in submission to the law.

I do think Romans 13 (as a positive law command, not natural law) prohibits Christians from seeking to violently overthrow the government, and commands Christians to seek to maintain peaceful and quiet lives in submission to whatever authority structures are in place by God’s providence.

There is so much more to say about this… but alas, another time.

One problem we face today, though, in applying Romans 13 to any particular order issued by a government official, is that our body politic (both PA and the US) is not made up of officials who bear imperial prerogative. The highest civil authority (thus, the most important authority Romans 13 is referring to) in the commonwealth is the PA Constitution. The highest civil authority in the federal republic is the US Constitution. What that means is that particular office-holders are bound under that law such that if they make a law, or issue an order (which is not the same as a law—see Schoolhouse Rock), that is in violation of the constitution or which is outside their constitutional authority, it is invalid—citizens are not bound to follow it (as affirmed by the US supreme court).

Now, of course, I would argue that we often would be pragmatically wise to still submit to even unconstitutional orders simply because, while might doesn’t make right, the government certainly has the power (however illegitimate) to coerce obedience. And, for that matter, to nuance it a little further, I do think Roman 13 would suggest that the Christian’s settled impulse ought to be to submit to the authorities that God has arranged in His providence… and even that Paul would have Christians in certain countries or times submit to the authorities even if they are meddling in affairs that are technically outside the biblical design of civil governance (which I would argue ours have for centuries).

The complication in our context is simply that in strictly adhering to the Constitution, or in calling out or disobeying those who don’t, I don’t think Romans 13 is violated—because of the structure of our polity. As always, there’s so much more to be said here.

I am heavily influenced by Jonathan Leeman’s “Political Church,” and am largely sympathetic to his argument that a citizenry may potentially have grounds for a revolution “when a government systematically defies the justice mechanism [of Genesis 9] and falls under it’s condemnation.” But that’s a rabbit hole.

Who pays attention to those dusty documents anyway?

So, what do the constitutions say? The PA Constitution specifically notes that “no human authority can, in any case whatever,” interfere with the rights of the citizens to assemble for the worship of Almighty God.

This provision just simply is not removed by the presence of a virus (as the NCLL has noted, among many others).

Governor Wolf has thus been comparatively careful in how he has addressed the issue of churches meeting—exempting them from the (albeit still unconstitutional) lockdowns while at the same time urging churches to not hold in-person services during the quarantine for safety purposes.

In a press conference last month, the Secretary of Health answered a number of questions regarding churches, including: “Are church meetings and gatherings like funerals or weddings prohibited?”

Secretary Levine: “The governor’s order does not apply to religious events. Religious services are not prohibited. But the less people you have, the safer it will be.”

In the official guidelines attached to the order, it is again explicitly noted with regard to the policies in place for the stay-at-home and for “universal masking” that: “Additionally, nothing in this policy shall be construed to affect the operations of… Religious institutions. However, religious leaders are encouraged to find alternatives to in-person gatherings and to avoid endangering their congregants.”

Both the guidelines and Secretary Levine’s statements in the press conference urge that holding services “outside is better than inside.” But it has been repeatedly made clear that it is up to the church’s discretion whether we meet and how we go about it.

As a technical aside, even if a governor does order churches not to meet, it is not, in fact, a violation of the 1st Amendment. The Bill of Rights restricts the federal government, not the state governments. It may be a violation of the state constitution, but the governor is not Congress, so he’s not violating the Bill of Rights.

The county executive also does not have the authority to order churches not to meet—even less so the power to enforce it. In fact, the Erie county charter explicitly prohibits the county executive, council, or any officer or employee of the county from infringing in any circumstance on the “rights, privileges and powers reserved or guaranteed to individual persons or to the people by the Constitution of the United States of America or the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

So, the discussion is not one of when we will “break the law” or disobey a legitimate order. The discussion returns to whether it is prudential, in light of what we know of the virus in our area, to return to the assembly, and, secondly, whether it is wise, practically, to disregard the county executive’s stated desire that we not meet, or instead to cheerfully comply (as, again, my church has until now).

In a recent Erie county press conference, our county executive, Kathy Dahlkemper, specifically singled out churches, instructing churches not to hold worship services, even stating that her task-force would be sent to enforce the order for churches “just like any other business” (which, of course, we are not). This is a flagrant overstepping of both her constitutional authority, and the God-ordained authority of the civil magistrate. What was, at once, both amusing and exasperating about the whole press conference was that Dahlkemper repeatedly defended herself in other contexts (when it was to her benefit) by clarifying that she does not have the prerogative to shut down businesses or decide which businesses are essential or not. And yet, she made plain (again, at separate points in the conference) that she was ordering churches not to meet for worship (despite churches being exempt from Governor Wolf’s order), and that, in fact, she would be sure to enforce the ban for churches—again, because, as she said, “a church is a business.” No, folks, it is not. The entire crisis at hand has revealed the grave misunderstanding of just what the church is and what the church is for, both in the unbelieving world and even among Christians.

So, how should we respond?

We want to be careful not to throw caution to the wind and say we are meeting simply because we’ve been told not to. “You can’t tell me what to do! So I’m going to do it!” is not a Christ-honoring impulse. That being said, we also must be careful to make sure that if we are canceling services (as my church is, for now), it is truly and genuinely because we see the need to be very careful not to be reckless and potentially responsible for spreading the virus, and not simply because we’ve been ordered not to assemble.

In 1673, pastor Richard Baxter gave apropos advice on temporarily suspending church meetings due to the presence of a deadly virus or similar crisis:

“It is one thing to omit them [church meetings] for a time, and another to do it ordinarily. It is one thing to omit them in formal obedience to the law; and another thing to omit them in prudence, or for necessity, because we cannot keep them… upon some special cause, as infection by pestilence, fire, war, etc.*… If princes profanely forbid holy assemblies and public worship, either statedly, or as a renunciation of Christ and our religion; it is not lawful formally to obey them. But it is lawful prudently… to omit some assemblies for a time, that we may thereby have opportunity for more: which is not formal but only material obedience.”

[*This phrase from earlier in the same section is provided here for context.][Emphasis mine]

In other words, a church can choose to suspend their meetings in material cooperation with the instruction of the civil magistrate out of “prudence or necessity”—for example, to aid in not spreading a virus. But a church should not suspend their meetings simply out of formal obedience to the dictate of the magistrate—the civil government just simply does not have that jurisdiction (biblically, or, in our context, constitutionally either). My church, for example, made clear that we are suspending our meetings not out of fear (either of legal consequences or of the virus itself), but out of love and care for one another—and only temporarily, “that we may thereby have opportunity for more.” So we want to keep that clear—in our own minds and in our communication with both our church and our community.

The only legitimate reasons I see at this point for temporarily not meeting (not just biblically, but even in our immediate particular legal/political context as well), are (1) our concern to be cautious about spreading the virus (which becomes less and less of a concern as we learn more and pass the peak), (2) our desire not to unnecessarily/recklessly harm our reputation in the community, and (3) the protection of our church in not recklessly opening us up for legal battles and inconveniences (which, again, is a matter of prudence and expedience given the seemingly temporary nature of it all—since the concern is not whether we would actually win a legal battle).

I think these are legitimate reasons. That being said, I also think churches and individuals are at liberty to appeal to their rights—natural or chartered. There is much to be drawn from Paul’s insistence on charges and his appeal to Caesar in Acts 25.

Again, there’s much more to say about all of this, especially the intricacies of interpreting and applying Romans 13 (and other passages) to our own context. But I hope this train of thought has been helpful, and not shown to be a runaway. If you have any questions or wish to discuss further any of these issues, I welcome the interaction… I’ll be here at home:)

Affections, Passions, or Emotions

Many are surprised to learn that “emotion” is a recent idea, historically speaking—and, frankly, it’s a rather unhelpful category to boot. The discussion used to be primarily a moral one, a distinction between affections and passions was maintained, and this only quite recently morphed into a psychological, all-encompassing category of “emotion.”

To learn more about this distinction between emotions, feelings, affections, and passions—and how it relates to our theology of culture and worship—I commend the following resources for your study and edification.

For a summary introduction to the discussion, you might start with Dr. Scott Aniol’s helpful response to a question here.

That site—Religious Affections Ministries—is a remarkable resource altogether.

Pastor David de Bruyn’s articles on emotion and feelings in this series are tremendously helpful and interesting; especially pertinent is the article on “a short history of emotion.” The entire 58 part (!) series is worth your attention, but the several articles on emotion and feeling are particularly relevant to the inquiry at hand.

For a fuller treatment of the subject with regard to how the affections are related to our understanding and practice of worship, see this helpful paper by Dr. Aniol.

And, lastly, as I’m wont to offer, here are a few books of particular import:

The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards

The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis

From Passions to Emotions, by Thomas Dixon

You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith

Classical Education Options

I care about education. I care about education a great deal. As I explained in this series, I didn’t particularly enjoy school, but I did learn to value the importance of education as the cultivation of virtue and wisdom, and have become a life-long learner. Specifically, I think that a classical education is the best all-around education you can give a child. But where to start?

Well, allow me to recommend to you Roman Roads Media. Expert teachers, exceptional video courses, and outstanding written curricula come together to provide parents with a classical, Christ-exalting, and academically excellent source for feeding their children’s souls on truth, goodness, and beauty.

Enjoy this clip of Western Culture instructor Wes Callihan using Calvin and Hobbes to explain the classical understanding of virtue as happiness, and then use this affiliate link (or the Roman Roads banner on the sidebar at any time) to check out the many extraordinary resources at Roman Roads Media!

Moore About that Invitation to “Go Home”

Below, you’ll find some running observations on the unmatchingly emotionally loaded topic of Beth Moore. I pray it may be helpful to some.

If you’re on the internet at all—or you know someone who is—you’ve almost certainly heard something about John MacArthur’s now-infamous invitation to Beth Moore to “go home” [video]. Of course, the reactions were immediate and explosive. John MacArthur has “attacked” Beth Moore; there’s no excuse for such a vile, violent, immature mockery of a fellow Bible teacher. Many have declared (with a not insignificant amount of virtue signaling) that, due to this two-word response and the laughter it garnered, they have “lost all respect for John MacArthur.” Mrs. Moore expressed her opinion via twitter that this was a “shameful” example of “misogyny,” even as she asked her followers not to return insult for insult.

I’m assuming you have seen or heard the reactions of others already, whether positive or negative, so my goal here is simply to fill in a few of the cracks in the discussion.

What’s wrong with her preaching?

If by “preaching,” we simply mean teaching the Bible, well, there’s not necessarily a problem with a woman “preaching” in that sense (depending on the context). If by “preaching” we mean the announcing of the gospel, with no reference to context, well, of course there’s nothing wrong with women giving the good news. But if by “preaching” we mean a woman expounding the text authoritatively to a congregation of men and women, in a way that binds the conscience in directing how one might obey Christ, well, others have dealt abundantly with the problem here as explained by Paul in 1 Timothy 2; but, of course, this is what Mrs. Moore and others would prefer to reinterpret in light of our enlightened cultural progress.

Now, if by “preaching” we mean the particular style and homiletical techniques employed in the communication of the Word, then let me explain something that I think most women do not consider, because it doesn’t affect them the way it does men, and thus is not as readily apparent. When a woman “preaches”—in this sense of having authoritative and powerful communication techniques—it actually comes across as aggressive, and is thus repelling to masculine men. This is, at the basic level, because masculine men value and appreciate and are attracted to feminine women; and when a woman preaches in this authoritative, aggressive manner, she’s actually becoming less feminine in order to do it. And just as men assuming effeminate manners is nauseating (particularly in the pulpit), women donning the trappings of masculinity is repulsive. The pulpit is reserved to men because of the inherently combative nature of preaching. And, as Pastor Wilson often points out, when a woman steps onto the front lines of conflict, either the nature of the combat changes, or the nature of femininity changes, and often both.

But the fundamental reason a woman is not to teach or have authority over a man, is not that she is inferior, not because she is incapable of theological study, not because she is unable to effectively communicate truth (obviously none of that is true), but because that’s how God designed it from the moment of creation (1 Tim. 2:13).

What’s wrong with her teaching?

But is there anything actually problematic in Beth Moore’s teaching? The actual content of her instruction? I’ll share more specific critiques at the bottom of the post; but for now, I’ll simply quote Pastor Tom Buck on the matter.

Beth Moore:

1) Claims Jesus talks to her and she recounts the exact words exchanged between the two of them… including things like Jesus telling her to “come out and play” to “build a snowman” and calling her “honey” and “babe” when they talk.

2) Claims to get revelation, knowledge, and directions from God that she records and speaks: “God began to say to me, ‘I’m gonna say something right now, Beth. And boy you write this one down. And you say it as often as I give you utterance to say it.’”

3) Claims God speaks to her in visions. “… something God showed me sitting out on the back porch…. I’m a very visual person. So he speaks to me very often by putting a picture in my head…”

4) Promotes and partners with known false teachers like Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen (just google it). Claims that God gave her a vision that churches that preach a false gospel (e.g., Roman Catholicism) are part of the true church.

5) Violates God’s created order and usurps the role and function of an elder in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. She regularly assumes the function of teaching and leading men, including in corporate worship gatherings.

These are but a FEW examples.

The rest of Pastor Buck’s post is very worth reading, here.

To this list, I would add the numerous attacks Mrs. Moore has made on complementarianism, the issue of contemplative prayer, her increasing emotionalism (treating experience and emotion as a guiding principle, sometimes outweighing objective truth), social justice, her newfound softness on the issue of homosexuality (example)—even calling Christians who unqualifyingly teach that homosexuality is sin “hyper fundamentalists”, and devaluing the writing of the apostle Paul in order to defend her practice of preaching to men.

What’s wrong with listening to her?

But many who are made aware of the problems with Mrs. Moore’s teaching argue that it’s not all that bad, she doesn’t always say these things, so it’s okay to still listen to her. Indeed, I have long been reluctant to say that you should not listen to Beth Moore at all. But there does come a point (read the apostle John’s letters) when a teacher should be marked and avoided. I think we are there. We are responsible for whose teaching we put ourselves under (Galatians 1), and it’s just not enough to say that she has helpful things mixed in as well. It’s not worth it to sit at the feet of someone who misinterprets and defies the Word of God, simply because she’s an effective communicator and has some helpful things to say. Ideas have consequences, and theological error in some areas eventually seeps into and affects other areas. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Find a faithful pastor. Find solid women teachers who have some talks or have written some studies who may not be as prolific because they are busy serving as a wife and mother. It’s no longer wise to associate with, sit under, promote, or endorse Mrs. Moore.

And while I’m at it, since the damage is done… you ought also to steer clear of many other popular, prominent speakers such as Priscilla Shirer, Jen Wilkin, Rachel Hollis, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Lysa TerKeurst, Lisa Bevere, Christine Caine, and Joyce Meyer, to name a few.

Now, regarding that heinously insensitive laughter…

Todd Friel asked John MacArthur to give a pithy response to the word (or name) he said. When Pastor MacArthur, who has always conducted himself with a statesmanly dignity and care, came back with the unexpected, and undeniably pithy response, “Go home,” what do you expect the reaction to be? Well, the reaction many people think would have been appropriate is audible gasps from the audience, perhaps with a number of the more mature pastors standing up and walking out of the room in appropriately woke disgust.

Ironically, Phil Johnson was much harsher toward Mrs. Moore than MacArthur, and yet somehow MacArthur seems to be getting all the heat. Yet after his pithy word-association response of “go home,” MacArthur’s comments were all as serious, careful, and weighty as his responses normally are. Do I think Pastor MacArthur was a bit harsher or more blunt than I would be? Yes. He probably would have done better to say his other comments without voicing the infamous “go home.” But our modern inability to objectively evaluate the truthfulness of the content when we find one’s tone distasteful means that I’m going to push the other way. Pastor MacArthur was not really very abrasive. Let’s think about it objectively.

So what was the deal with that raucous laughter? How DARE they?!

It seems that the laughter is the primary target of the internet outrage. The infamous laughter is seen as evidence that the whole event was some kind of locker room mocking and bullying session… an old boys club stuck in their outdated ways having a laugh at the expense of the innocent victim.

I am in no way arguing that Mrs. Moore has not been the victim of real mocking, or of even worse treatment than that. But allow me to offer another interpretation of that hearty laughter, in light of the culture (both secular and Christian) in which we find ourselves.

I believe the ill-famed laughter was not that of a mocking, immature locker room full of boys making fun of a poor victimized woman. In fact, this wasn’t a pastors conference, it wasn’t a room full of boys, you can hear the women laughing more clearly than the men. But this was, it seems quite clearly to me, the laughter of unexpected relief and delight at Pastor MacArthur speaking truth more bluntly and pithily than we’re used to from the politicized, feminized pulpit of today. (Oh, but now I’m in trouble for referring to something as “feminized”). It was the laughter of a congregation relieved to be given, by Pastor MacArthur’s statement, the opportunity to breathe in the midst of a culture that devours with the efficiency of piranhas anyone who would dare, oh, for example, give a pithy rebuke to a public Bible teacher who is out of line.

When Todd Friel said “Beth Moore,” there was initial laughter because of the way Friel introduced it, saying (sarcastically) that he was starting out with an “easy” one, which of course, was humorous precisely because of the tension surrounding the issues. So, when MacArthur gave his brotherly but blunt admonition, “go home,” it was as if he cut through the tension with a machete, and the audience, not knowing exactly what to expect (though the general theological sentiment of MacArthur’s comments would not be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about him; this is the conservative, inerrantist understanding of Scripture), they burst into laughter at the surprisingly light, witty, and straight-shooting response that perfectly spoke to the issue. You are out of your lane; you have ventured into an arena that is off limits; your true glory is in being a wife and keeper of the home (Ps. 128; Pr. 31; Titus 2; Ephesians 5)… reclaim that glorious calling.

A couple of resources to read for a fuller and better articulation of the biblical response:

Doug Wilson discusses the increasing trend of inviting women to preach on Sundays.

Toby Sumpter has an excellent post here.

Rachel Jankovic (a woman worth following) is helpful both here and in the video below.

Kyle Labosky shares some helpful thoughts on Pastor MacArthur’s tone.

Kyle Mann gives a balanced but not entirely positive (toward MacArthur) analysis of the controversy here.

Here’s a list of more critiques examining the specific issues with Beth Moore. Disclaimer: some of these resources are harsher than I would be, such as calling Moore a false teacher etc. Be willing to look past the angle or specific labels these critiques take, and honestly examine the content of Moore’s teaching they bring to light.

In that regard, I’ll quote Anthony DeRosse, a friend and pastor in Tampa:

Do I think she should stop teaching men? Absolutely.

Do I think she should go home in that regard? I do.

Do I think Beth Moore is being extremely unwise, and potentially misleading for a massive group of people? Yes.

Do I think she’s a heretic and a false teacher? I don’t.

…Being egalitarian and a continuationist is not enough for me to call you a heretic and a false teacher.

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Households and Warring Over the Cosmos

Pastor C.R. Wiley… Familiarize yourself with his work.

I’ve previously recommended his book, Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter That Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart. It’s exactly as the subtitle claims—and worth every penny and every minute.

Pastor Wiley has now published a follow-up work: The Household and the War for the Cosmos: Recovering a Christian Vision for the Family.

One of the biggest dangers to the modern church is the downplaying, fragmentation, and recreationalization of the household. We need to get back to a biblical understanding of the strategic and central role the household plays in God’s plan for the cosmos.

Here, Wiley introduces a couple of the concepts he explains through the book.

In order to prepare for some of the concepts Wiley deals with, watch this helpful introduction and summary of the biblical doctrine of the household from Alistair Roberts…

…and this clip of Wes Calihan, of Roman Roads Media, explaining the Roman concept of piety—akin to the Christian paradigm, and an all important concept to grasp, as the idea of piety has been misused and relegated to an effeminate, quietistic cliche. It’s actually one of the core biblical principles of the Christian life.

Learn About History from McClanahan Academy

I wanted to share that we recently became an affiliate for McClanahan Academy. What that means is that if you buy any of the history/politics courses on McClanahan Academy through our link, we’ll receive a small percentage of the proceeds—at no extra cost to you. As I mention here, utilizing the links I tag to recommend books and other resources like this is a really simple (but effective) way to help support our work, while also getting resources that will help you learn and grow as well!

I can’t recommend McClanahan Academy enough, and have done so even before I could share an affiliate link! Brion McClanahan is a fascinating historian with an excellent podcast as well—the Brion McClanahan Show. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of South Carolina, and according to his bio, he “had the privilege of being Clyde Wilson’s last doctoral student,” which is awesome.

Dr. McClanahan has written some fascinating books as well, such as the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers and The Founding Fathers’ Guide to the Constitution.

He has some great courses up already, and is developing more:

  • The Declaration of Independence: Why the Declaration Still Matters
  • American Constitutions
  • Secession
  • The War for Southern Independence
  • Reconstruction and Recreation, 1862–1975

To check out the courses, go to McClanahan Academy with this link (which you can also find on the sidebar and footer of my blog) and start learning!