Over the past year, ‘Romans 13’ and ‘love your neighbour’ have been related topics that have divided many believers as the church has come to terms with responding to strict measures and restrictions placed upon her. In recent weeks, I have started to analyse not simply the way people have interpreted/misinterpreted passages of Scripture on this topic, but also to consider the motivation behind the arguments made, especially by those supporting a stronger or unwavering submission to the government.
To put this in clear terms, what motivates professing Christians to support, and at times, passionately endorse, the closure of churches in the name of ‘Romans 13’ and ‘love your neighbour’?
The first thing to identify is that we are on earth because of and for the Glory of our Creator God (Isaiah 43:7). Our sinful rebellion has seen mankind dethrone God in his heart. Thanks be to God, the Saviour of our souls that the Christian lives with a new heart as one born again (John 3:1-8). With a transformed heart, we live our life for God; this is our calling, as ambassadors for Christ, as children of the Most High God. Let us then adapt the question we are considering. Is God’s glory motivating professing Christians to support, and at times, passionately endorse, the closure of churches in the name of ‘Romans 13’ and ‘love your neighbour’?
We come now to the diagnosis of the heart. I am currently preaching through Mark’s Gospel, having recently studied the opening passage in Chapter 14 when the woman breaks an alabaster flask to anoint the Lord Jesus. In this passage, there were some (the disciples) who state in 14:5,
For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor. And they scolded her.
What is motivating this reaction? Is it the poor? Is that what is driving their heart here? Or are the poor being used merely as a pawn in the narrative of their real heart desire? In Scotland, a judicial review is taking place as several church leaders take legal action against the government’s ruling to close churches indefinitely. I was informed that one commenter on social media stated that Christians could use the money for legal costs to support food banks. In a similar manner, the reference to ‘loving our neighbour’ has been a repeated ‘go to’ argument on a number of issues, including the rebuke of churches gathering to worship, even in situations where the government have permitted it! Again, what is motivating this?
As we reflect on what has happened this past year, this has rocked everyone in Scotland to different extents with all that has been taken from us. The church has not been immune to this. In fact, this situation and our response to it highlight the ugly reality that Christians have become used to living like atheists in this land. Sadly, this is not a harsh statement, because we have become so attached to our possessions, comforts and freedoms in this land as though what we have now will last forever.
Where does God fit in here? In all too many instances, we have such a low and diminished view of God, with a worldview that has meant God has been consigned to the framework of our comfortable brand of Christianity. On a personal level, this has brought me to my knees in repentance because the eating out, the sports matches, the holidays (to name a few) have been about more than just recreation in my life. My reaction to such things being taken away has been very convicting in my own life. The issue is one of the heart. If we are conditioned by our need for the leisure and pleasures that have been taken away, then this idolatry. We have been living in a society of abundance. Our Christian life and service to God have been built upon giving out of our abundance with no great cost or effort.
These points then bring us back to our question once more: Is God’s glory motivating professing Christians to support, and at times, passionately endorse, the closure of churches in the name of ‘Romans 13’ and ‘love your neighbour’? I believe that some professing Christians, many lukewarm Christians, have been willing to use these arguments from Scripture in a manner not driven by a desire for God but to ratify the idolatry in our hearts. It seems clear that all too many within the church have been willing to blindly comply with the government because the government is their ultimate hope for their real desires, which is getting back our freedoms and the things we ‘really love’. Therefore, like the disciples speaking about the poor in response to the woman anointing the Lord Jesus, ‘Romans 13’ and ‘love your neighbour’ have been used to give a spiritual argument for a sinful desire. This comparison may be controversial. It certainly is uncomfortable. However, we must all check ourselves here, myself included, and ask: Is our desire for God or ourselves? Is our deepest longing to submit to the government for God’s glory or to satisfy the idolatry in our hearts?
The church, the gathered assembling of the Lord’s people, has to be of great and primary importance in the face of this situation when we have Almighty God in view. Hence, in Mark 14, the Lord Jesus rebukes those who argue that she could give the poor the proceeds from the perfume because what she does is done for her Lord. That is central and it is glorious. I desperately pray that the church in our land would repent of her idolatry. Moreover, where we have abandoned or sought to twist Scripture to suit our earthly desires and idolatry. Additionally, I pray that as we face the Lord’s judgement upon our nation at this time that the church will lament the closure of churches. I pray the churches will come before the Lord in repentance and stand upon His Word. I pray the church would be driven by a desire for the things of God. I pray that this desire would be instead of, and at the expense of worldly things. We must praise our God, not conditioned by earthly circumstances but as defined by God's Word. Christian, stand on this, be driven by this, to the Glory of His Name!