The restrictions that were imposed by the government during the Covid crisis – on social life, on worship, on weddings, on funerals – came upon us suddenly. Nothing similar had been seen in our country for hundreds of years.
Christians and churches were unprepared and sadly divided in their response to the situation.
It is likely that we will see such restrictions imposed again in response to other crises. We need to be better prepared for the future.
That was the sense of the opening remarks of the first speaker, Stephen Rees, at the 2022 ‘God’s Glory Our Joy’ conference, held in Warrington on October 8th.
In two sessions, he went on to expound key chapters giving different perspectives on the relationship of Church and State.
Opening up Romans 13, he showed that we must honour, respect and submit to the authorities. Yet that submission can never be absolute.
He argued that we must read Romans 13 in the light of Paul’s insistence on human depravity in Romans 3. Governments are mostly made up of unbelieving people. We cannot trust their intentions or their motives.
Stephen outlined six cases in which believers may not or must not obey government edicts. He pointed to many Biblical examples of believers commended for their refusal to submit to the authorities.
In his second session, Stephen turned to the book of Revelation and reminded us that the Bible – as well as describing governments as God’s servants for our good – also describes earthly governments and their allies as ‘beasts’.
In the apostle John’s time, the Roman Empire was a beast that persecuted the church. But John wanted Christians in every age to realise that any earthly government has the capacity to be a manifestation of the beast that appeared in John’s own day.
In the third session, Oliver Allmand-Smith reminded us that the Reformation helped the church to recover many important doctrines – including the doctrine of Christian liberty.
He said he fears that many churches sacrificed that doctrine during the Covid crisis, saying that blind obedience is a form of idolatry.
He urged us to remember that governments only have authority because they have been placed, called, and empowered by God.
The closing sermon was preached by Billy McCurrie who asked, what should the church do in these days of turmoil? He said it should do what it has always done – preach the whole gospel to the whole world.