Scripture Reference: Romans 13:1-7
Last Sunday, the issue of wearing masks, or not, was raised during the worship service and I have no doubt that all of us who were there, were given cause for serious thought on the issue, especially as it relates to our walk with the Lord and where we stand as a Church on the issue.
In Romans 13, Paul gives us strong and very clear instruction on how Christians should behave towards the governing authorities and so I think we should take note of a few points from what he wrote. It will also help our discussion if we check out the context in which Paul wrote these verses.
At the time, Rome was the dominant power in the world and they pretty much did as they wished, especially in their rule over the nations which they conquered. They raised onerous and patently unfair taxes and interfered grossly in the lives of individuals. We know that many in Israel thought that Jesus the Messiah had come to deliver them from this oppression. The disciples initially thought that Jesus was going to be a political deliverer, the common people who came into contact with him and saw the miracles that He performed, in the main, thought the same, and the leaders in Israel were absolutely not prepared to entertain anything other, than that Jesus must be for them a political deliverer, or nothing.
WHAT DID JESUS SAY?
It was in this context of living in an environment of being dominated by a governing authority that did not care about what is right and just for its conquered subjects, that the Pharisees tried to catch Jesus out. In Matthew 22:15 – 21 we read:
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle Him in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what do you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
So here its clear; no matter whether the requirements of the governing authority are unfair and unjust, Jesus expressly instructed the Jewish leaders to be in compliance with their laws and decrees.
WHAT DID PAUL SAY?
It is no different in Romans 13, in which Paul wrote the instruction under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, that we are:
1. To be subject to the governing authority;
2. The governing authority has been instituted by God;
3. Whoever resists the authorities, resists what God has appointed;
4. We are therefore to be in subjection to them, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience;
5. So pay what is owed to the governing authority: taxes to whom taxes are owed, respect to whom
respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
What is very clear from the plain teaching of the Scriptures, is that we are to obey the governing
authority, not only when they act with equity and justice, but also when they make laws with which we may not agree, which are onerous and which may be unjust. So there are no exceptions, we are to obey them!
WHAT DID THE OLD TESTAMENT SAY?
The question of course now arises, about when are there grounds for a Christian and the Church to
disobey the laws of a governing authority? The only way to adequately answer this question is to look at a few examples in the Scriptures and to draw a conclusion from these.
The first example comes from Exodus 1: 15 – 17:
“Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as a midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birth-stool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”
The king of Egypt passed an edict which directly contravened God’s law; “You shall not kill.”
The second example comes from Daniel chapter 3 where king Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image which he commanded everyone to fall down and worship and those who did not, would be thrown into a furnace and burnt alive. And we know the story that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not bow down to the image and worship it, and so they were sentenced to be thrown into the furnace. They said this to the king (v16 – 18);
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
King Nebuchadnezzar passed a decree which was also against the Law Of God, being; “You shall have no other gods before me”, a law which the people of God could not and would not obey.
WHAT DID PETER AND JOHN SAY?
The third example is found in Acts chapter 4 where we have the account of Peter and John being arrested for preaching and teaching the truth about Jesus and as they were doing so they were arrested. After deliberation the authorities said to them (v 17 – 20);
“But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name. So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
There are clearly very narrow confines which justify civil disobedience by the Church and by implication individual Christians. From the examples mentioned it is clearly apparent that only laws passed which require disobeying God’s moral law, or those which preclude Christians from preaching and teaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, including the gathering together of God’s people to worship him, are justifiable grounds for considering civil disobedience.
So where does this leave us with the wearing of masks when we gather together for worship. As many of us as are here this morning, so would there be as many divergent views on whether mask wearing is beneficial or not. One thing I can tell you is that I hate wearing them and look forward to the day when it all becomes a part of history. However, in terms of what we see in the Scriptures; there is no question that, whether we like it or not, we are to obey the governing authority.
If we test this against the examples from the Scriptures which we looked at, the requirement to wear masks in no way is an instruction to disobey the Law of God, nor does it have any implication on the command from the Lord to preach and teach the Gospel.
WHAT DOES VICTORIA PARK BAPTIST SAY?
Where does this leave us in regard to those who, for their own reasons, wish to attend services without wearing a mask? There are a few points to take note of here:
Just one final thing before I close. Should anyone have a matter they wish to raise, such as the one that was raised last Sunday, we would request that you refrain from doing so during a worship service, unannounced, without any prior consultation. There are, we believe, adequate alternative lines of communication at VP Baptist and if a matter that is raised through prior discussion with the pastor and elders warrants public verbalizing, it will be given the audience it deserves.
I would finally ask that the matter of wearing masks, whether you believe we should wear them, or whether you think they have no value, should not be allowed to become a God dishonoring divisive matter, but that we would, in a spirit of true Christian brotherly love, respect the views of each other, as it pertains to this matter.
For more thoughts on this and other related points see this article on the Gospel Coalition:
Ps. Deon Lombard
Being a servant of Jesus makes it a delight to reflect and write about all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word.