Church, State, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ
July 30, 2020 Speaker: Josh DeGroote
Topic: Lordship of Christ Passage: Romans 10:9–10:9, Romans 3:10–3:12
Welcome to the living by faith podcast, my name is Josh DeGroote and this is episode number twelve. Thanks for listening. This is a podcast where I take a look at some news items, theology, and history from the perspective of the Christian’s life of faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s jump in.
Some major developments have taken place over the last week in regards to the state’s intrusion into the worship and ministry of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to take a look at just a couple and how we ought to think about this and prepare for more events like these to take place.
The first story comes to us all the way from the Supreme Court where the highest court in the land rejected a Nevada church’s plea that the state’s coronavirus-related restrictions on churches were unlawful, giving preferential treatment to casinos over houses of worship. The vote was 5-4, with chief justice John Roberts siding with the court’s liberal justices. The majority justices gave no reason for rejecting the plea of the Calvary Chapel church in Dayton, Nevada, but the four justices made their dissent clear. I’ll read just one quote that gets to the point from Justice Neil Gorsuch’s dissenting opinion. He said, “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.” Increasingly, that is exactly the world we live in.
The second story is out of California, and Grace Community Church. The elders and leaders of Grace Community Church, in the LA area, with the well-known pastor John MacArthur made headlines late last week and over the weekend. They wrote a long, methodical, clear, and biblically grounded statement entitled “A biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open” where they made the case for refusing to adhere to limitations put on churches in the state of CA. This came after weeks of the church not meeting. But things came to a head when the restrictions on churches in California began to infringe upon how the worship of the church and when it became abundantly clear that the restrictions were not evenly applied. No singing. Only a max of 100 people. While allowing mass protests taking up city blocks, with thousands of people shoulder to shoulder. When the statement was released, not surprisingly, it created a stir. Los Angeles officials said they would cut the power to the church. Well, they haven’t yet, but we will keep watching to see what happens. And I just want to say, I praise God for John MacArthur, his leadership team, and their stand.
These are interesting times, and we must remember, always(!), that the fundamental Christian confession, the most basic and ancient is the simple, all-of-life-shaping confession “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). Christ is Lord and you are not. Christ is Lord, your neighbor and his slavish demands of you are not. Christ is Lord and Caesar is not - Caesar being whatever governmental jurisdiction you find yourself under. Jesus is Lord. We bow to Him and our allegiance is to Him.
Each church and leadership team within the church needs to seek the Lord in order to be faithful in their context. Not every church needs to respond as Grace Community Church did. However, the non-negotiable is “Jesus is Lord”. Period. And every single Christian needs to do the same. And living under the lordship of Christ will bring you into collision with every pretend lord.
So if the governor of a state says, “churches must not meet indefinitely”. Or if the governor of California says, “no singing” allowed in worship services (which he has). Or if a City Council says churches could not participate in communion. What should a church do? And what should Christians do? They should say, “Um, I don’t think so.” Why? Because Jesus is Lord and he has commanded us to worship him together as the gathered church, to (among other things) sing and take the Lord’s Supper. And we should say it, not with a snarl, but with a smile. We should proclaim our allegiance to Christ joyfully. And if it comes to having to resist civil authorities, they should get a good idea of what “the joy of the Lord is our strength” really means.
The government has the responsibility to protect its citizens and policies should be crafted in emergencies to protect, while also protecting liberty - the foundational liberty being religious liberty. Besides, every person with his head on straight understands this virus is not the black death (between ⅓ and ½ of the population in Europe died between 1347-1351). And it is very likely that once the election is over, COVID-19 will ride off into the sunset and at an opportune time, another crisis will take its place for political expediency.
The next section is the catechesis section. For centuries Christians gave themselves to the practice of learning the doctrines of the Christian faith by way of a catechism. Catechesis simply means to teach orally or instruct by word of mouth. This is a practice that is sorely missed in our day and I think we would benefit tremendously by taking it up again, and so I want to do my part to promote the practice of catechesis.
All that said, I’m making my way through a modern catechism called New City Catechism. It takes the form of 52 questions and answers with scripture - so one for each week. You can buy the book online or you can download the app on your phone for free. So we are on question 11 this week:
Question 13: Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?
Answer 13: Since the fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word, and deed.
Because God’s standards are perfect and we
Which is why we need the alien righteousness of Christ credited to our account. By alien I simply mean a righteousness that is not our own. We need the perfect obedience of Jesus to be counted as ours. That is the glory of the gospel. Through faith in Christ, spotless, active obedience of Jesus Christ whereby he did all the law required, is counted as ours. The NT word used is justification. Just as if I’ve never sinned AND just as if I’ve always obeyed - through faith in Jesus Christ. But if we are honest, we know that we still sin - we still do what we shouldn’t and don’t always do what we should. In other words, we don’t and cannot keep the law of God perfectly.
For the Christian, there is a Latin phrase which Martin Luther coined that helps us understand how we can be considered righteous in God’s sight and yet still struggle with sinning. The phrase is “Simul justus et peccator” - at the same time righteous and sinner. We are righteous in Christ because his righteousness is counted as ours and yet in ourselves we are still sinners. There is the gracious gift of Christ’s righteousness and the ongoing battle with sin. The unbeliever, however, is only under sin and in the grip of sin as described in our passage of question and answer #13.
Romans 3:10-12 - None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
So, Christians, the gospel is the good news of God’s gracious gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.
In the history section, I want to go back to the founding of our country and talk about something that I think is often misunderstood and we need to know our history as a nation and the Christian underpinnings of America. Perhaps you have heard the phrase “Separation of church and state”. It is often stated that the first amendment prohibits religion intruding into government, thus requiring a separation of church and state. The implication is that the founding fathers of the US wanted a secular state where religion had no place in the shaping of public policy. But in actuality, this could not be further from the truth. When the first amendment of the Bill of Rights was passed, it had two purposes which are plainly seen in the language. Here is what the first clause in the first amendment says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
So again, two purposes in the first amendment. The first is that there would be no established, national church. Or to put it another way, there would be no “Church of the United States”. Remember, the majority of our founders came from Great Britain, which had the Church of England. And many of our founders came from families that fled England seeking religious freedom. But we must keep in mind that while the first amendment says that there shall be no national government, at least nine of the thirteen states had a state recognized church. And this was no violation of the first amendment. The second purpose of the first amendment expressly states that the government should not interfere with the free practice of religion. That’s it. The state should not meddle in the religious affairs of the people, NOT that religion should play no role in helping to shape the legal system and public policies in America. So all the talk about the founding fathers wanted a secular state is nonsense.
They understood that for liberty to be maintained it must be honored by a virtuous and freedom-loving people - people whose lives are shaped by the truth of the scriptures. One of the founders you may have heard of is a man named John Witherspoon. He was a Presbyterian minister and the only pastor to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence. After the Revolutionary War, General George Washington proclaimed December 18, 1777 as the first national THanksgiving Day. John Witherspoon preached a thanksgiving message during which he urged the people to:
Live for the glory of God, the public interest of religion, and the good of others, as civil liberty cannot be long preserved without virtue.
Witherspoon also stressed the following:
He is the best friend of American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting pure and undefiled religion.
A secular state where religious beliefs have no place in public policy? I don’t think so. And so as the people of the Lord Jesus Christ, if we care about liberty and the good of our neighbor and children and grandchildren, need to in the words of John Witherspoon, “live for the glory of God, the public interest of religion, and the good of others, as civil liberty cannot be long preserved without virtue.”
Thanks again for listening to the living by faith podcast. If you found it helpful, please subscribe, like, and share. Until next time, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you all.”