By Levi Secord
With all the insanity we’ve seen around the COVID-19 fiasco, what has frustrated me the most is evangelicalism adherence to gross governmental overreach. Before this past year, I believed statism was a significant threat to God’s people in the West, and what I’ve seen has only solidified that concern. In December, I preached a message on the limited nature of governmental authority, which prompted a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. Such a response did not surprise me, but pastors must confront evangelicalism’s blind distortion of Romans 13.
As I watch what is going on with GraceLife church in Alberta, I wonder what it will take for some evangelicals to wake up. How can we help them see that while authority is a grace given to us for our good, no authority is absolute? How do we help our brothers and sisters see that turning the government into a de facto god is a bad idea? Some of the evangelical response to the shuttering of church doors is mere pandering to the cool kids. Some prominent figures appear to be ashamed to be associated with those societal rejects. This is nothing new as it is precisely how the religious leaders responded to Christ and the early church (Lk. 15:1-2; 1 Cor. 1:26-31). God rarely chooses the acceptable and culturally approved to achieve his purposes. I don’t hold out much hope for changing the minds of those trying to serve both the world and God, but some are swept up in all the COVID craziness and I believe we can and must reach them. But how do we help them see the limited nature of the state’s authority?
It starts with recognizing that when God gives authority to the government, he does it in order to accomplish certain things, but not other things. Jesus makes the limited nature of governmental authority clear by saying we must give some things to Caesar, but not other things because they are God’s (Matt. 22:21). Caesar has a right to some things, but not everything. The God-given authority that Caesar has extends only to what God has given to him. It is not ultimate. God limits the sphere of the state, which necessarily limits our obligation to obey. Put plainly, the state has no right to touch the things of God. Being in authority means you have been given authority to do some things, but not to do whatever you want. Such power belongs only to God, and we dare not think or treat the state as a god.
But how do we help evangelicals see this crucial point? I believe it must start, not with the state’s authority, but with the other governments God has instituted—the church and the family. The majority of evangelicals already recognize the limited nature of authority in the family and the church, which is sadly driven more by cultural thinking than Scripture. But I believe the average evangelical’s woefully low view of authority in the home and church can help us point out the necessity of limited authority with the state. Since these other authorities are already culturally disdained, we can use them to help others see the current abusive governmental overreach.
Let’s start with the favorite whipping boy of the left—men, especially husbands. What evangelical church is not already sensitive to submission in the home? The issue is, that Scripture is stronger and clearer about the type of submission wives are to give to their husbands than it is with the state, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph. 5:24). Everything seems to cover, well, everything.
Here’s the question, would the average evangelical allow husbands the same unquestioned authority as they have for the state? We all agree, at least it appears, that if any authority commands us to sin, then we must disobey man and obey God. Husbands cannot command their wives to kill their children any more than the state can. Great, we’re on the same page. But is sin the only limit on authority, or is each authority naturally limited, as Matthew 22 appears to suggest?
Let’s say a husband forbids his wife from ever leaving home. Why? For her safety, of course. If we can save just one wife. Moreover, she can’t go to church because that’s really dangerous. How would our average evangelical leader respond to such a husband? Being required to stay home for safety reasons, we are told, is not causing us to sin. Missing church indefinitely is also, supposedly, not sinful. Should the wife indefinitely obey this husband, just as we are called to obey the state? The wife has to submit no matter what, right? Would these same pastors and Christian leaders point to Ephesians 5 with the same ferocity and absolute submission as they do when pointing to Romans 13? Of course not. I’m willing to wager that these same pastors who use Romans 13 as justification for submitting to abusive governmental overreach would, if they had such a husband in their church, frog-march him out of the church for all to see. Why? Because deep down, they really do understand the limited nature of all human authority in this life.
For good measure, let’s consider the authority of pastors as well. In Hebrews 13:17 we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” This passage issues an explicit command for congregants to submit to their church leaders. As a pastor, let’s say I command everyone in my church to move with me to the wilderness of Northern Montana. Living in Northern Montana is not inherently sinful, so must my people obey my edict? Of course not, and to suggest otherwise is silly. How many evangelical leaders are quick to point out the natural limits of pastoral authority but refuse to do the same for the state? The abuse of pastoral authority is heinous, destructive, and opposing it is very acceptable in evangelicalism.
My point is clear—our leaders recognize the inherent limits on all human authority. Why such a disconnect when it comes to the state? Just as God gives husbands and pastors authority for our good, so too does he give it to the state. But living in a fallen world means authority is often distorted and abused, and where that is true, God opposes it. No one who is sinning can point to God as the reason why others must submit to their sin. This is because they are not gods, and God opposes all sin. God-given authority is limited to specific tasks and is ultimately accountable to him.
Christians must recognize that God hates tyrants, whether fathers, mothers, pastors, or governing officials. God hates when individuals take something he designed for good and then mutilate it and use it for evil. Every authority derives its rightful power from God, which means it is naturally limited in its power and scope. To deny this truth is to replace God with something less than God. As Francis Schaeffer warned in A Christian Manifesto, “If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the living God.” We can either treat God as God, or the government. Spoiler alert: the government is manifestly not God, and it multiplies hell on earth when it tries to be.
 Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1981), 130.
Levi J. Secord serves as the pastor of Christ Bible Church in Roseville, Minnesota. He earned a Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree. Levi, his wife, and their four children live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they spend their time slaying dragons.
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