In Australia, our quick response to COVID-19 may have prevented some of the tragedy we’re seeing in other countries. But in the last few weeks we’ve also been highlighting the alarmingly authoritarian approach our government is taking to the pandemic, and the importance of protecting our freedoms. Bill Muehlenberg is one of many experts arguing that blind obedience now could lead to a less free country later on.
Muehlenberg, who has written more than 40 articles about the pandemic on his CultureWatch website, feels our governments have taken on draconian new powers during the crisis. He told Neil Johnson that, in order to work out how to respond to this situation, Christians need to balance Biblical truths against one another. If they take one out of context, dangerous misinterpretations can arise.
“Two of them especially come to mind,” he said. “One is the almost Christian libertarian, or anarchist, who says government is evil, taxation is theft. They really want nothing to do with the state at all. I often find myself dealing with those folks and saying well sorry. Actually God ordained the state. Government is God’s idea. Sure, it can be abused and misused, but in a fallen world, the state has been appointed by God to maintain some order, deal with justice, punish evil-doers, as Romans 13 talks about.”
Muehlenberg agrees with the Australian Christian Lobby’s Martyn Isles, who argued in a recent 20Twenty interview that though Romans 13 tells us to obey authority, it doesn’t forbid us from questioning it. But he says some Christians have taken that instruction to the extreme. “If the government says we should do something,” they argue, “they must be right. They know better than we do.”
But Muehlenberg points out the qualification that comes along with that instruction. Governments are appointed as God’s servants, for our good. “They are not to be acting autonomously,” he said. “They’re delegated authority, given by God, and it should be for our good. Sometimes governments are not acting as God’s servants. They are not acting in our good.”
The new Covidsafe app is one example of a government measure which may not be for our benefit. Some Christians feel it’s “no big deal”, but others see it in the context of churches closed all around the world, and pastors arrested for trialing drive-in, socially distanced services. “And what we know from history is that what can be voluntary one day can easily become mandatory the next day.”
“And it didn’t help when we have stuff like Greg Hunt saying, ‘Hey, if you want to go back to the footy, get the app’. That’s bribery or blackmail. It may be voluntary, but they’re saying, in effect, that if you want your freedom, that we’ve taken away from you, you do what we tell you.”
Muehlenberg is quick to remind us that the Bible is actually full of people disobeying and challenging bad leaders. Daniel disobeyed the laws of the land when prayer to his God was made illegal. John the Baptist rebuked King Herrod for all the terrible things he did.
Even King David was rebuked by the Prophet Nathan when he acted poorly. This Old Testament principle is just as important as Romans 13 in explaining the roll of authority. “The king was not absolute. He too was under the law of God, and God appointed prophets to keep him in check.”
“So as we said at the outset, Biblical balance is exactly what we need. A kind of rebellious, anarchistic idea that we should have nothing to do with the state – that’s not Christian. But guess what? A blind obedience that questions nothing, and lets the state get away with murder? That’s not Biblical either.”
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