Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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The scandal of lawless and rebellious Christians

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4 minutes to read Why are so many Christians today pretending submission to God while they openly defy his authority? Why are they encouraging hatred of neighbor and approving of rebellion, while condemning other believers seeking, with fear and trembling, to submit?

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.


Samuel Vink

Mm, good stuff. I think from a similar angle.
The old maxim ‘Lex iniusta non est lex’ is a good guide. An unjust law is no law at all. I would say that really, there is no law but the law of God. You do write here that NZ has a way of making laws through a representative democracy:
“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.”

I don’t think people can make laws at all. Why would you think that? To me, they’re making stuff up, so they’re not real laws and I’m not obligated to follow any of it. I might for convenience’s sake.

I don’t think we need the parliament either. All we need is the judicial system to judge the law.

And also that point from Paul that “Against such there is no law”. It makes a lot more sense when you deny that nations can make laws and that their laws are only made-up.

People have become lazy now, no one thinks whether things are right or wrong, they just ask whether it’s legal or not.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I don’t think people can make laws at all. Why would you think that? To me, they’re making stuff up, so they’re not real laws and I’m not obligated to follow any of it.

I would hazard a guess that you are confusing positive law and natural law.

For instance, if God had given only the ten commandments, and not provided case law to expound them, it would have been right for the rulers and priests of Israel to write such law themselves through careful application of the decalogue. They didn’t have to do that because God knew they’d bungle it, but in principle, they absolutely would have needed to.

Positive law is simply the application of natural law to circumstances. We cannot adopt Israel’s law code as our own because it isn’t written for our circumstances. It is instructive for us in building our own positive law, and should form the foundation of that law, but you can’t just plug it into 21st century New Zealand and expect it to work. We need to be able to create and modify positive laws specifically for our own circumstances.

I would agree with you that people cannot make or change natural laws. The eternal principles of morality that issue from God’s character are things are subject to and bound by, not things we are able to create or recreate. And you’re also right that people are lazy. But I wouldn’t say they have become lazy now. It has always been the case that most people conflate legality and morality. This is how we are made. And it’s a point that Bastiat makes in The Law:

The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them. The nature of law is to maintain justice. The is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so.

Samuel Vink

Okay, I would say it differently though. This positive law, sounds like example or scenario based laws. Such though, to me, is an application of God’s law, and these are not laws that are made. When parliamentarians create laws that are similarly quite specific, I would still say that they are merely saying what they think the law to be. They aren’t creating any new thing that I need to follow, but it sounds like you broadly agree with that.

Writing laws then, as you would picture it with the priests, would be no different to me than the rabbinic disputations about what is lawful, and each one’s renditions.
It is up to the individual judge to dish out the appropriate consequences under his interpretation of the lawfulness of the actions of the people. He can and likely should consult the previous disputations, but he must judge what he thinks is right, and is not bound to any of them.

I don’t see the government as being able to tell us what to do, they can only enforce what God compels.