Few Christians today understand how law and submission work. For a case in point, consider how many think that if the government says we must do something, then we are breaking the law if we refuse to comply.
They think that this is rebellious.
Yet by thinking this, they are implicitly treating their nation as a totalitarian regime, where the government controls the totality of life, including right and wrong. But Western nations are not dictatorships. The law is not whatever the government says it is.
Governments can make up edicts, broadcast them as insistently as they like, and enforce them as aggressively as they want—but we have a system for making laws through representative government, and we have foundational legal frameworks, starting with the Scriptures, for what those laws can and cannot say.
For instance, in New Zealand, we have a Bill of Rights, which is mostly just a shoddy restatement of scriptural principles. The New Zealand government is under this bill—not above it (a principle popularized by the great Scottish reformer, Samuel Rutherford, as “Lex Rex”). These rights are recognized by the government—not invented by them.
This means that if the NZ government says that I must do something which violates NZ’s Bill of Rights, or God’s law, then it is the government who is breaking the law.
And if I pretend that I must obey their lawless edicts, by going along with the charade, I become an accessory to their lawlessness.
To take a concrete example, here are a couple of laws from the Bill of Rights that pertain to our situation here in New Zealand, with lockdowns and restrictions on travel:
- “Every person has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private,” which includes the rights to “freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
- Everyone has “the right to freedom of movement” in New Zealand.
These rights cannot be suspended or revoked. So if I decide to go to church, and the police stop me, who is breaking the law?
Now, the fact that these rights cannot be suspended or revoked does not mean that they are absolute, in the sense that the government can never place a just restriction on them. As both Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 tell us, summarizing the teaching of all of Scripture, the government’s purpose is punishing evil and upholding good. So, for instance, in the event that the right to life will be put in jeopardy by the exercise of the right to freedom of movement, the government may justly safeguard the greater right at the expense of the lesser (and you can tell that one right is greater and the other lesser, because the one relies on the other; you cannot freely move about if you are not alive). However, for this imposition to be justified, there has to be a genuine and immediate threat to the greater right; for example, in order to warrant restricting your right to travel, your doing so must truly imperil other people’s lives somehow.
That is why governments have emergency powers, and why Christians have not typically objected to this, but rather upheld such powers as lawful and righteous when exercised to protect people in genuine emergencies.
But an emergency is not what we are living under, and basically no one is imperiled by Covid under any normal definition of that term, since its infection fatality rate is around 0%–0.31% source: WHO (PDF).
Covid restrictions like lockdowns therefore cannot be just, and we should not honor them. In fact in order to be obedient to God, we must rather find ways to resist them. Not only is this the only way to love God, but also the only way to love our neighbors, for neither of these are possible without faithfully obeying the law (Matthew 22:40).
By contrast, any Christian who thinks they are being submissive and lawful by following lawless edicts is, whether knowingly or not, collaborating with the enemy against the just rulership of God which our government is supposed to be a minister of. They are accessories to lawlessness, and are aiding and abetting the government in hating both God and neighbor. Whatever they think they are doing, they are actually encouraging and approving rebellion against God’s authority. This is easy to rationalize when the world will rubberstamp it as “loving your neighbor,” and when the alternative is truly difficult and frightening: submitting to God’s authority, when the state might punish this with severe penalties, and when even other Christians will take its side for doing so, condemning us as rebellious and hateful.
But submit we must.