Absolutely nothing prepares you to lead or shepherd a group of people through a pandemic. The last, great pandemic in the United States was over 100 years ago, and as history reports, the United States while fighting a war, according to the CDC lost approximately 675,000 citizens because of the H1N1 virus. Even if a pastor had written a book over 100 years ago, giving his best advice for leading a church during a pandemic, I don’t think it would have touched on America’s current polarized political landscape, an unmuzzled social media platform, or the deluge of information available on the internet. All of these factors shape public opinion, and honestly at times, give me a headache. For a pastor that is seeking to lead well, these public opinions, which by the way are dwelling in turmoil, are quite overwhelming. So where have I turned during this epic event? I have spent many hours in prayer and reflection, but with regard to wisdom, God’s Word has guided my steps. One passage of scripture that I have leaned on heavily is Romans 13:1:7.
“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. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
The Apostle Paul teaches in verse 1 that God has fashioned governing bodies for all people groups, and that His sovereign hand has established every authority. For the purpose of context it is important to know that as Paul wrote this letter that early day Christians were under the authoritative government of Rome lead by a pagan, Nero Claudius Caesar. According to history Nero burned nearly two thirds of the city of Rome and blamed it on the Christian community, igniting Romes first great persecution of Christians. It is believed that Paul wrote the book of Romans approximately four years prior to this persecution. God allowed this heinous ruler to govern His people, and commanded them not to rebel, but to follow the laws of Rome. It may be hard to comprehend, but according to this scripture even Nero was God’s servant. Furthermore, God communicates in verse 2 that if you rebel, you are rebelling against Him!
Why has God established governmental authorities?
#1. God desires order
Satan is the author of all chaos. Throughout the Bible God gave His people shepherds to lead and guide them. A body without leadership dwells in chaos, and that is not from God.
#2. God desires justice
Justice requires rules and authorities to enforce them. Verse 4 communicates that the authorities bear the sword for a reason, to punish those who break the rules.
#3. God desires public welfare
Taxes are paid to compensate public officials, provide public safety, to build infrastructure, and provide services like sanitation.
God wants what is best for us! With this scripture in mind, I have chosen to honor our Federal and State governments by applying recommendations made with regard to our church gatherings. When I met with our deacon body, we reviewed the Opening America Up Again criteria which was created by our Federal government, and the State guidelines given to us on May 4th by Governor Asa Hutchison. We are blessed to live in a state in which our Governor and the Director of the State Department of Health are professed Christians. These men even included representatives from the faith community on a state task force that penned the recommendations for reopening church buildings in Arkansas. You and I may not agree with every rule or recommendation that is handed down to us, but I believe we have a civic and Christian duty to honor the authorities that God calls His servants. I can’t imagine any Governor or Director of the State Department of Health that hoped for this pandemic to happen. I believe these leaders are doing their very best to promote public welfare, and it would be wise to honor them by following their lead.