Late this past week, a judge blocked an order of the North Carolina governor to restrict churches from holding inside worship services of more than ten people. A lawsuit had been filed claiming the order was a violation of the 1stAmendment right of freedom of religion and the right of assembly as an expression of that freedom. The State has indicated it will not appeal the judgment, but the governor says he hopes church leaders and members will consider voluntarily compliance with his order for the sake of limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
As Americans, we value our rights. It is often said, in times of war, that our soldiers are fighting and dying to maintain our rights as stated in our Constitution. There are always people warning us about the need to be diligent against the government taking away our rights, and Christians, in particular, are leery of governmental interference with the freedom of religion. So it is not surprising people have been raising suspicions and concerns about lockdown orders that include church services.
But I am wondering if the idea of constitutional rights has become an idol for many of us. Is God’s Kingdom truly dependent on its citizens having worldly rights? Can the Church exist if only it has the right to assemble? Can the work of God only be carried out with the blessing of the State?
There are many places in the world today where the Church is officially opposed by the government—Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, to name a few. Believers are not permitted to assemble, or if they can, then there are severe restrictions placed upon them. Yet, believers in these countries report the tremendous work of God that is taking place. Muslims and atheists are turning their lives over to Jesus! Believers long to read the Word and are committed to diligent prayer. People are being healed.
Does it strike you as odd that in places where rights are so restricted that God is working more powerfully than in places where rights exist for Christians? Could it be that in the Kingdom, worldly rights are of little value to advancing its work, and, in fact, could be actually inhibiting it?
Like the rest of you, I enjoy my rights as an American. Given a choice, I wouldn’t choose to give them up. Yet, my rights are not my uppermost concern. Rather, obedience to Christ is, and my obedience is in no way dependent on the rights given to me by the Constitution; thus, if they are taken away, it may be a significant inconvenience or even hardship, but it has no impact on my obedience to him. Just as believers have learned down through the centuries, from the 1st Century to the current one, we are called to be obedient, to carry out his will, regardless of governmental or cultural circumstances. Like Paul did, we can use our rights to advance the Gospel, but if we have none, we need not fear because the Gospel will continue to advance because the Almighty God is not limited by human rules. Governments and regimes have regularly tried to either limit or destroy the Church. They have never succeeded in more than 2000 years!
Governmental rights to the freedom of worship are wonderful, but they are not promised to us by God, nor are they necessary to worship and obey him. So, our priorities are misplaced if protecting our freedom to worship is at the top our list. Rather, our top priority should be to love and obey him. No government entity can prevent that, no matter how hard they try.
© Jim Musser 2020