It is too easy to think like our vitriolic, polarised world

Some Christians may be surprised to hear that not everyone in their church relishes the prospect of regathering at the moment.

The reason for this is worth understanding if we are to truly ‘bear with one another in love’ and ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit’.

Godly obedience?

For some Christians compliance with lockdown rules was an act of obedience to God. Romans 13:1-2 states: ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves’ (see also Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13).

For these Christians, to not obey UK law may not have been a mere act of rebellion against human government, but an act of rebellion against Almighty God. The very same passage explains that it is ‘necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience’ (italics added for emphasis).

Righteous rebellion?

Other Christians, even within the very same church, might argue the exact opposite. They may point to Jesus Himself, who did not always submit to the religious or the secular governing authorities of His day: examples include healing on the Sabbath, overturning tables in the temple, publicly denouncing religious leaders, eating with people of questionable character, socialising with disreputable women and Samaritans, and touching lepers. The latter example may be seen by this Christian group as particularly pertinent.

The same Bible that commands us to ‘be subject to the governing authorities’ commands us also to care for those who are sick, poor or suffering. There is no doubt that for many the isolation of lockdown has caused sickness, poverty or suffering. A further layer of complexity is added if we consider Biblical principles for parents to care for their children.

Time for an eye test?

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ (Matt. 7:1-3).

Whatever nuanced version of these two camps we belong to, it is worth pausing for a moment to:

a. Examine our motives for being in that camp, and,

b. Examine our attitudes and feelings toward Christians from the opposing camp.

For those who remained obedient to our governing authorities, did you camp where you did out of love and obedience to God or out of mortal fear? Did your lockdown glorify God?

For those who rebelled in some way, did you do so out of love and obedience to God or for self-centred reasons? Did your lockdown glorify God?

It is all too easy for us to think as our polarised and vitriolic world thinks; that one camp is right and the other camp is wrong. But Scripture warns us that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’, and implores us to examine ourselves.

So, let us for a moment remember the words of Paul in the book of Galatians: ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’ (Gal. 2:20-21).

Can righteousness before God be gained by our lockdown camp? Are Christians of the other camp who truly followed their convictions ‘as a matter of conscience’ lesser Christians than we are?

Whilst it is true that some Christians will falsely claim holy motives for adopting their viewpoint, it is also true that some Christians, despite being in opposing camps, will have been genuine and heartfelt in attempting to honour God in their decision making.

Our vitriolic culture encourages us to pick a side and look upon our ‘opponents’ with scorn. But this is a false choice. God sees the heart.

Love transcends law

The very same passage quoted previously as a possible justification for compliance with lockdown (Romans 13) continues thus: ‘Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law … Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’

As we continue to unlock, it is therefore impossible to bear a grudge against Christians who did not share our viewpoint on lockdown compliance.

For the ‘rebels’, the God who speaks through 1 Corinthians 12, encouraging Christians to use their gifts (including healing) concludes ‘and yet I will show you a more excellent way’.

What is this way? It is love. Love! Paul, after speaking of all the gifts God gives to His people to bless one another, goes on to spend an entire chapter telling us that all these gifts are ‘nothing’ without love. Jesus did not break rules to be rebellious, He broke rules to demonstrate love.

If we return to church from the ‘righteous rebellion camp’ with resentment for those of the ‘godly obedience camp’, we completely contradict the very justification for Christian rebellion.

Repent and unlock your heart

Knowing that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’, I suspect that all of us, regardless of whether we have lived in ‘godly obedience’ or ‘righteous rebellion’ have, if we are completely honest, had mixed motives. Some godly, some not. If we are honest enough to admit this, I hope that we can together do two things. Repent and unlock our hearts.

‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord’ (Acts 3:19).

‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity’ (Colossians 3:12-13).

David Jones

David Jones is an A&E doctor who spent six months working in Intensive Care during the first wave of Covid-19.