Christian Humility, Charity, Clarity, and Truth In Discussion
As you can tell from the title of this article, I am primarily focusing on responding to what I believe are some errors in The Gospel Coalition of Australia’s teaching. Specifically, I want to lock in on some of their statements regarding Coronavirus, governmental authority, and Christian submission. Let me set the tone before I jump headlong into the thrust of this article. First of all, this response is not meant to say that everything TGC has ever written is wrong. They have written good articles and produced quality content over the past. I disagree with many aspects of their teaching, but there is also legitimate content. Second, this response does not mean I am in any way asserting all of the individuals at TGC are not Christians. I do believe many of the individuals at TGC are Christian brothers with whom I disagree on various issues, while I find others such as Joel Beeke and Conrad Mbewe to be solid on a multitude of issues. Consequently, this post should be read as coming from a heart of humility with a passion for the truth. I disagree, but I want to do so with Christian charity and respect.
Points of Agreement
The article in question from TGCA was written by Ray Galea and released on July 22nd of this year.1 Pastor Galea makes this statement towards the beginning of his article:
“Please note: The purpose of this paper is not to give direction on vaccination. I am not a doctor; nor am I a scientist, I am a pastor called to disciple the church of God. To that end, let me share how we can live in a church with different views on vaccination to God’s glory.”
Let me start by saying I see Pastor Galea’s goal clearly. I also see the fact vaccinated and unvaccinated Christians will need to get along with each other well. As an individual involved in pastoral ministry, I know faithful Christians who are both vaccinated and unvaccinated. I will not be getting the vaccine, but if a brother or sister made a different choice, I absolutely see no need to break fellowship. I desire for all of the pros, cons, long-term effects, and such of the vaccines to be provided to people and for individuals to arrive at a decision of their own. If someone wants to know why I am not getting vaccinated, I will tell them very plainly. But, I concur with the idea this difference is not one that should cause a break in Christian fellowship. Mandating individuals to get the vaccine would be a separate issue, but that topic is a discussion for another day.
While I also concur with Pastor Galea’s point regarding not being a medical professional, deciding to wade into these waters as a writer does necessitate medical judgment. Thus, both for him and myself, caution is necessary to make sure our facts are accurate, and we are judging rightly. We may not be medical professionals, but that does not mean we should be lax in our analysis. I am certain we are agreed on this point.
I want to mention one last point of agreement before launching some brotherly critique. He says:
“Remember too, to be careful and not to be cynical or sarcastic, about people who hold different views from your own. You don’t have to apologise for what you believe, but never forget you share the same creator as the fellow image-bearers with whom you are disagreeing.”
Yet again, I appreciate Pastor Galea making this point. Far too often in our digital age of social media individuals can be bombastically rude in their disagreements. Certainly, we should hold firm to the truth, but our speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:6). Let us now get into the main point of difference in our beliefs.
Governmental Authority and Christian Submission
To start off this section of the article, let me give a rather lengthy quote from Pastor Galea:
Nevertheless, let us be very clear about what the Bible requires with regard to the government. We are explicitly called to honour (1Peter 2:17), pray for (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and submit to, all governing authorities (Romans 13:2-3). And it’s not because they are necessarily doing a great job, but because “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1)
If the apostle Paul can say that about a vicious and brutal Roman Emperor, we have no excuse to reject God’s teaching. Unless the government causes us to explicitly violate our loyalty to Christ then we are to regularly pray, openly respect and ‘willingly’ submit to them—even if we think they are inconsistent, ineffective or just plain wrong in their response to COVID-19.
Suffice to say that any attempt to engage or promote civil disobedience because we are inconvenienced grieves the Spirit of God. This doesn’t mean we can’t protest and communicate our convictions—as long as it is done lawfully, and respectfully.
First off, let’s say that we should absolutely pray for and respect governmental authorities. The Scripture is clear about that issue, as Pastor Galea says. My problem with this point is that his position of government listed in the article only takes into account the biblical passages dealing with submission and not those which talk about disobedience to the glory of Christ. Undoubtedly, the Bible has much to say about how Christians should honor government, but there are also many aspects regarding when to disobey. Pastor Galea seems to acknowledge disobedience is permissible when the government would cause us to “explicitly violate our loyalty to Christ.” What then is the biblical view of civil disobedience?
First off, we must examine the example of the Apostles in Acts chapter 5. They were arrested because the high priest and the Sadducees were jealous because of the miracles performed by the Apostles (vs. 12-17). The Apostles were miraculously let out of prison by the power of angels, and the authorities were surprised to see them in the public eye at the temple teaching the people (vs. 19-26). The Apostles had been strictly charged not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet they disobeyed (vs. 28). Peter answered, “We must obey God rather than men (vs.29).” The Apostles end up being beaten and rejoice at the opportunity to suffer for Christ’s name (vs. 40-41). This example is pretty straightforward. If someone tells you not to preach the Gospel, you have to disobey as a Christian. But, is this example the only reason for disobedience?
Paul’s Example In Acts 16
Coming to the life of the Apostle Paul, we find he refuses to obey the authorities because of their unjust mandates. Paul and Silas were unjustly thrown in prison and beaten (vs. 19-24). There was an earthquake, the prison doors were opened, the jailer was about to kill himself, but Paul and Silas intervened, the man and his family were saved, and it was an incredible evangelistic story! We then come towards the end of the account and read this in Acts 16:35-40
But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
Paul took this action because the magistrates had acted unjustly against the rule of law, and he wanted to provide help to his brethren. The great theologian, John Calvin, concurs on this point:
“Their defense consisteth upon [of] two points, that they raged against, and cruelly intreated, the body of a man that was a Roman; secondly, that they did that contrary to the order of law.”
“Paul was like to fare never a whit the better therefore; but we must mark that he meant nothing less than to provide for his own private commodity; but that he might ease the brethren somewhat afterward,  that the magistrates might not be so bold as to rage so freely against the good and innocent brethren.”2
We see here in the example of the Apostles we should also disobey when the government acts in an unjust and unlawful manner so that we can promote the benefit of others. This principle also is a Christian consideration and duty when talking about the realm of civil disobedience.
Applying This Principle To Our Day
Paul did not submit to the authority when they were “just plain wrong” to throw him in jail. Based on the Scripture, I cannot believe we should submit to the authorities where they are “just plain wrong” regarding their edicts around Coronavirus. It is our duty to stand up as Christians to protect the dignity and rights of our fellowmen. In Australia, as of the time I am writing this, there have been 958 deaths reported as a result of COVID since the start of the “pandemic.”3 Despite this remarkably small number, authorities are sending out troops and police to enforce lockdown measures.4 It strikes me that instead of merely allowing the government to do whatever, we should do as Paul by calling them to account. Sending out troops for a virus that has killed roughly .004% of the population hardly seems like a just action. I am being kind by merely calling it that.
Pastor Galea also makes this point, “Suffice to say that any attempt to engage or promote civil disobedience because we are inconvenienced grieves the Spirit of God. This doesn’t mean we can’t protest and communicate our convictions—as long as it is done lawfully, and respectfully.” I do have a contrary opinion to the idea what we are seeing governments like Australia mandate is a mere inconvenience. Many small businesses and individuals have had their livelihoods wrecked by such edicts. Countless individuals have suffered from this tyranny. Forced vaccinations as being implemented in some other countries is not an “inconvenience” but a primary assault on fundamental human rights given by God. Keeping the topic to peaceful civil disobedience, it is our responsibility as Christians to love others which means we must stand up for what is best according to the Word of God. We must, in this moment, not surrender to overreach by governments oppressing human beings. Such is not a matter of “inconvenience” but standing up for that which is true and good according to the Scripture.
Therefore, my encouragement to the people of Australia, or any other place imposing these lockdowns, is to call the government to act like God’s servant and not as though they are a rule unto themselves. Government has the duty to reward good and punish evil to protect human rights. Shutting people down like in Australia is not virtuous but tyrannical. Christians should oppose this display of unjust governmental action because believers love God and others. We want to warn authorities that there is a God in heaven, and they will be judged for the performance of their duties. Congregations should gather and sing full praises to God. Businesses should open so they can provide for their families. The governmental authorities should back off and do their job. With all due respect Pastor Galea, I disagree with your assessment. Let us call the government to be the minister of God and instruct it in doing so. May we as Christians be beacons of light in these dark days!
1 The article can be found at this link. All quotes taken from the article are from this source.