To Obey or Not to Obey — That is the Question

By Shane Idleman Published on April 20, 2020

As thousands of protesters on foot and in vehicles converged recently on Michigan’s capital to rally against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders, many are asking the same question: “Is restricting movement constitutional?” More importantly, is it biblical? This is a critical question as more protests form across the country, such as the ones in Raleigh and Southern California.

One Pastor’s Perspective

Others far more gifted than me have written on this, but I’d like to share some thoughts from a pastoral perspective. First, I love America — I love how God has blessed us. I read the writings of the Founding Fathers and the Puritans often. My heart beats for restoration and renewal.

Second, my heart is to honor and obey our elected officials when they are trying to honor God. Scripture is clear here.

Third, it’s important that Christians respond in wisdom versus reacting in pride.

I did not agree with some of the pastors who initially defied the government. This is a public health emergency. As a society, we are called to take certain steps to try to curb the infection rate and minimize death, minimize people getting sick, and thereby love our neighbors. We should set the example, as Martin Luther did during the plague that hit his region in the 1500s.

I don’t think it was a First Amendment issue — at least not initially — because the stay-at-home order appeared to be short-term and very specific. I also believe that reacting can damage our witness if decisions are not bathed in prayer and carefully considered. It can demonstrate a spirit of rebellion and send a wrong message across the landscape of America. Civil rights must be viewed in the context of social responsibility such as, “Will exercising my ‘right’ hurt others?”

The government was not saying we can no longer preach God’s Word — that would be a game-changer. Actually, the reverse happened. Many churches have seen huge spike in online views. For example, within a month we’ve had over 400,000 views of sermons on one media platform.

At some point, the church must be the church. God-given rights must be maintained.

From my vantage point, leaders were saying, “Let’s all pull back temporarily and see if we can curb this crisis.” But then the question of what is an “essential” establishment comes up. I have seen vacuum repair stores and donut shops open while churches remain closed. That can’t continue. I know that some people in our congregation have gone back to destructive addictions, and marriages are on the verge of divorce. Streaming services and on-screen messages are not going to solve those issues. We need to be together. God’s house needs to be a place of wholeness and restoration. Churches must not be handcuffed much longer.

Compliance Turns Into Complacence

I see an interesting dynamic here. Some of our leaders are not truly seeking God, so they make decisions in fear, guided by anxiety. Granted, COVID-19 is a real threat, but we must seek God wholeheartedly and unconditionally if we truly desire wisdom in facing it. We’re also seeing a transition: It’s been over a month since many churches shut their doors in compliance. When does compliance turn into complacency? When is it overkill? These are the million-dollar questions.

We have been very compliant and will honor certain dates, but as this drags on, we need to understand that we will need to meet again to fellowship, pray, and seek God. We don’t know what this will look like when we do come back together, but maintaining six feet to pray for the sick may be an impossibility. Jesus laid hands on the sick and the leprous. I’m not implying that we’ll become rebels and do what we want to do. There is a fine line between presumption and faith. At some point, though, the church must be the church. God-given rights must be maintained.

My conviction on this day, mid-April 2020, is that we should continue to support local ordinances and hold them to their commitment to reopen portions in May. During this time, we must humble ourselves as we fast and pray for direction. Are you doing this? I don’t think anyone should protest until they have first sought the heart of God, and no Christian should incite unbiblical rebellion. By the looks of things, an extended time of prayer and fasting would benefit most of us. We can’t sit at home as intoxicated gluttons cleaning our guns and expect God will speak to us.

Wake up, America, and humble yourself. Are you “reacting” in anger or “responding” in wisdom?

Christians, Be Christ Like!

As a personal observation, many people protesting seem to be very prideful and lack a mighty filling of the Spirit. We shouldn’t follow those who aren’t following God. This doesn’t apply to everyone protesting (you may find me at one of these events at some point). It’s just a general observation. It’s a reminder of our desperate need for humility and brokenness, if we call ourselves “Christians.” Some comments I’ve seen have been disheartening: snarky, arrogant, their lack of love evident.

We must constantly turn to God and His Word. Psalm 119:67 speaks an essential truth: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” Affliction via difficulties, challenges, and obstacles can lead us back to God. In one fell swoop, COVID-19 has dethroned many of our idols. We are finally realizing what is really important.

In this sense, I am incredibly encouraged since this is fertile ground for revival. Revival thrives in brokenness, repentance, humility, and passionate prayer. On the other hand, I am concerned that America is fearful but not repentant, anxious but not surrendered to God, worried but not worshipful, confused but not diligently seeking Him. What more will it take to draw us back to God? Like the Israelites in Joel’s time, we must change course and cry out to Him in repentance with prayer and fasting.

God heard His people then, and He will hear us now — once again pouring out His Spirit on a dry and thirsty land, for whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:25-32).

 

CALL TO ACTION:

COVID-19 is causing massive disruptions in life. The Stream’s parent organization, LIFE Outreach International, is helping send a first wave of help.

LIFE’s local mission partners are already distributing thousands of surgical masks, gloves and other sanitary supplies to first responders, hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, other partners have focused on distributing as many meals as possible to help those who need food.

You can help with these efforts. Click here to donate.

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the creator of the WCF Radio Network. His program, Regaining Lost Ground, points us back to God and reminds us that although times change, truth does not. His books, blogs, and sermons can all be found at ShaneIdleman.com.

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