Continuing to Meet Indoors
Dear Doxa Church,
As your Elders, it is our responsibility to care for the spiritual well-being of those whom the Lord has entrusted to our care (Heb 13:17). This year we have been asked to pay additional attention to caring for people’s physical well-being in group settings. In March, we made the very difficult but wise decision according to available information at that time, to shut down weekly gatherings to seek to protect the health of our people. We complied with the government issued shutdown order because we were helping to ‘flatten the curve’ and slow the spread of what we were told was a highly infectious and highly fatal virus. We thought it was best to temporarily stop large, corporate, indoor gatherings because of the serious public health concerns at the time, and still believe that we should do the same when or if similar and significant public emergencies arise.
But once that concern no longer carries the dire seriousness that was once projected, it is our responsibility to get back to the regular gathering of God’s people ‘and all the more as you see the day drawing near’ (Heb 10:25). We rented a tent for in-person outside gatherings in August. Within days Placer County experienced temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and unhealthy air quality due to fires. Moving back indoors made sense due to the detrimental outside conditions. The decision to move back indoors was reinforced by Placer County terminating the Covid-19 health emergency. Notwithstanding the reasons just given, we think it is important to explain the Scriptural authority we are following.
In the beginning, our position was that as long as the government doesn’t tell us to do something sinful, we have an obligation to obey, but if they tried to keep us from preaching the gospel, we are obligated to obey God, not men (Acts 5:29). But, is it true that the government has absolute authority over anything in our lives except when that mandate encourages or commands sin? Our answer is no. As we learned in our ‘Mission Minded’ series, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18). All authority is the property of the Lord Jesus Christ. He chooses to delegate authority to different human institutions, but even in that, no human authority is absolute. Each God-ordained institution (family, church, and state) has a limit to its sphere of authority. We also recognize that there are instances where certain institutional jurisdictions overlap such as between the church and the state in the case of an evacuation due to a threatening fire.
But in instances when civil authorities disagree with one another, how are we to act? To whom do we submit? At the highest level, we have a Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We also have a President who has publicly declared his view that churches are essential services in the community and has voiced his support for indoor gatherings. We have state authorities that see it differently and have imposed significant restrictions. And locally, our county (Placer), which is entrusted with enforcing the state’s mandates, has made a decision based on empirical evidence that they will not enforce the state’s directive.
As time went on, we chose to further examine God’s Word to clarify what our position should be.
Romans 13 is an important and often referenced scriptural passage when determining the appropriate behavior for churches relative to our current environment. As with all Scripture, context matters. Romans 13 is just one part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and as such, it is part of a contextual flow of thought that must be fully understood in order to develop the deepest possible understanding of verses 1-7.
Prior to that, Paul states in Romans 12:9 that we should never avenge ourselves, but rather, we should ‘leave it to the wrath of God’. Therefore, our responsibility, so far as it depends on us, is to live peaceably with all and leave room for the Lord to exercise His wrath on the evildoer. In chapter 13, Paul goes on to describe the governing authorities as ‘servants of God’ who are entrusted with a specific God-ordained function, namely the approval of what is good and the carrying out of God’s wrath on the evildoer (Rom 13:4). But who defines ‘good’ and ‘evil? The servant or the Master? We contend that it is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defines what is good and evil by the law of God (Rom 13:8). Therefore we obey to the extent that it is consistent with this standard. As Elders, since we define sin as that which transgresses the law of God, then we are not obligated to obey that human authority which conflicts with the law of God.
One last point on Romans 13. The same word Paul uses for ‘be subject’ in Romans 13 is also used in Eph 5:22, where Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” That verse certainly doesn’t imply that to be faithful to this command a wife must obey every decision or command of her husband or she is in sin. Taking that logic to an extreme would suggest that even something as choosing the color of the shoes she wears is to be rightfully determined by her husband. We know that a husband’s authority is not absolute, and the same would apply to every other human authority.
The governing authorities have been given a particular task to administer righteousness and justice as defined by God and His law and their authority is limited to that. But when any God-ordained institution extends its reach beyond their biblical sphere of authority, it is the responsibility of the other God-ordained institutions to protect what is rightfully their sphere of authority. By God’s Word, the state does not have authority to tell us what to believe, how to worship, or how we are to meet, so bans on singing, attendance limits, and distancing requirements established subjectively inhibit worship from being what God has commanded worship should be (Eph 5:19, 2 Cor 13:12; Rom 16:16).
To the question of whether the government has the right to bind the conscience to obey that which the government has no biblical authority over, we say they do not. Therefore, not being bound in conscience by mandates over which the civil magistrate has no God-ordained authority, we believe that churches have the freedom to determine the best course of action for their respective congregations. As Elders, it is our responsibility to decide how to reasonably and responsibly move forward.
With regard to judgment on the use of masks, we see it as a decision of conscience. We trust each of our members to do what’s reasonable and best for them, given their particular circumstances. Some will continue to choose not to come gather with us in person for a time, and that is OK. For those who are ready to gather, we will continue meeting, singing, and honoring the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is- ‘the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.’ (1 Tim 6:15-16). But this we will share in common among all the believers who call Doxa their home - we will be patient, gracious, and loving towards others when they see things differently than us.
With deep love and affection,
Your Doxa Church Elders
This statement is slightly modified from our original statement in September. You can read the original statement here.