In our last post, “Civil Disobedience: When Does It Become Necessary,” we made a clear biblical point…while civil disobedience must always be an option for a Christian, a local church, or the Church, it must be engaged only under certain conditions.
We also forecasted the very real possibility that the tipping point might very well be reached in the future. However, we had not yet crossed the threshold. After a lengthy study of the pertinent passages in Scripture, we wrote the following regarding when it is appropriate to not follow the dictates of a ruling body:
“There is a simple pattern here.
Folks were told to violate God’s truths.
Folks were told to murder.
Folks were told to worship someone or something other than God.
Folks were told to not speak or teach on behalf of the Lord.
This then might be called the Romans 13 Caveat: ‘When told to violate the word of god, to commit evil, to worship another, or to shut up about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we must refuse.’
Some believe the ‘stay at home, wearing of masks, social distance guidelines, and the remain closed’ orders are an overreach of government when it comes to churches. We do not…not yet. Yes, civil disobedience is always an option. In fact, it is likely we will, one and all, find ourselves choosing this option should current events continue to devolve.”
A few sentences later, we wrote: “Specifically, we do not believe community standards, in response to the viral pandemic, regulating where we worship reaches the threshold of what we find in the biblical instances of civil disobedience. Yes, we are being told to alter the where and how of what we do, but we’ve not been told to violate God’s truths, commit or support acts of evil, worship someone or something other than God, or not speak or teach on behalf of the Lord. Not yet.
One of those “Not yet” issues has arrived. We have now been instructed that we cannot sing during our worship services. This is a problem…because it violates clear instruction in the Word of God. How so? Well, let’s take a look.
Under the Governor’s New Order (see it here), guideline #12 states:
” Religious Services are limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Congregation members/attendees must wear facial coverings at all times and congregation singing is prohibited. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Vocal or instrumental soloists are permitted to perform, and vocal soloists may have a single accompanist. Outdoor services must follow the Outdoor Dining Guidance, found here, applicable to the structure or facility.” (bold, italics, and underline added)
This instruction forces us to consider the very nature of Christian singing. In the broad context of the Bible, singing often erupts spontaneously in response to God and his truth (Exodus 15; Psalm 96: Psalm 104:33; Isaiah 42:10-17; Matthew 36:30; Acts 16:25-34; Romans 15:9; Hebrews 2:12; Revelation 15). It’s not only a natural response of the heart filled with worship, it’s a response expected by our Lord. In fact, in Ephesians 5:15-21 and Colossians 3:12-17, we are given specific instruction about this. While not exactly the same, the passages are similar enough that we can zero in on just one of them. So, let’s take a brief look at Colossians 3:15-21 and then concentrate on verse 16:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In Colossians 3:16 (bold), the main clause includes the verb “dwell” (“let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom”). “Dwell” is present imperative…i.e. it’s not a suggestion, it’s a directive, a command that is to be done persistently.
This main clause is followed by two participial phrases…
“…teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (teaching
“…singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God” (singing)
Participial phrases are subordinate clauses that modify or complement the main clause. In other words, in the above directive from God, when we’re interacting with one another, via the word of Christ richly dwelling within us, how are we to express it? Answer: we express it with songs.
The natural and expected response to the word of Christ is the song of worship. Singing both teaches and admonishes…it reinforces the word of Christ and it warns in light of the word of Christ. It also gives thanks to God.
Given that the instruction in this context is a clear and present directive and given that we see this kind of “singing” in the wider context of Scripture, we believe we’ve reached one of those tipping points we mentioned in our previous discussion regarding civil disobedience. The question before us then is this: Does the “congregation singing is prohibited” rule cause us to disobey the Lord? The answer is obviously “yes.” So, does this conclude the matter? Do we sing anyway? The answers, again are “yes.”
In conclusion, just as we have stated on many occasions, we are not law enforcement. The role of a church and its participants is persuasion and faithfulness (evangelism and discipleship), not compulsion. We recognize that both individual believers as well as individual churches may not see eye to eye on every point of Scriptural truth. Quoting from our first essay on matters regarding civil disobedience, “Sometimes, within the Lord’s Church, faithful followers disagree. In fact, there are times when folks in the Body of Christ, who genuinely enjoy solid, wonderful fellowship disagree. On matters of prime importance—the essentials* of our faith—these folks stand with complete agenda harmony. However, on some things, not of prime importance, they choose to disagree with understanding, love, and compassion. This does not hurt their fellowship. In fact, if they are careful, their fellowship grows, their depth expands, their resolve tempers, and their commitment strengthens.” Therefore, while we will continue following previous safety protocols, we also intend to keep singing during our services and we leave it to you to choose what is best for you and your households.
*Essentials: the core of Christian belief, the necessary truths of and for salvation. Examples: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, Salvation by faith through grace alone, the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible…
The Bible says in Psalm 2:10-12, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Everyone in the heart, mind, eyes, and hands of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is sought after. It is the Lord’s desire that none should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Please pray for them, one and all.
Life is such a great teacher. Just this morning, during a simple conversation through which a few people reveled and celebrated the life of a babe who broke into this world under duress, one of those life lessons occurred to me.
The little one will enjoy her first birthday soon. We’ve watched slack-jawed as she and the Lord chip away at markers everyone feared might lie beyond reach. In a text, one person then said, “Is she already a year old…goodness where does the time go?” What a great question.
In a flash, I knew my answer…
I see the passage of time in my wrinkles. I peer intently into the mirror…
“Yup, that one and that one, uh-huh, those are year three. “
“Whew, that one, good night Irene, when did that show up? Oh right, that was year sixteen…please, Lord, don’t remind me about that one.”
“And that little one right next to the big one between my eyes? Yeah, I remember…I smiled so long the night she said yes to my proposal, it just decided to hang around forever.”
“And that one…and that one…and that one…and “Criminently, Trigger” that little batch next to my eyes, oh please…”
“And, hey wait a minute, that one’s new. Oh right, it popped up last week. I think I’ll call it my virus wrinkle.”
The time flows ever forward. It comes. It goes. And the lessons are wrinkles sketched in time. Warnings. Celebrations. Hopes. Dreams. Prayers. Relationships. The time wrinkles of life…for better or worse, in sickness or health…reminders of this: have we redeemed the time, have we made the most of every opportunity, have we seized each day, have we given life, or…well, I’ll leave the contrast up to you.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
The question isn’t should I hold a church service in the parking lot. The question is, “Can I preach the gospel?” Presently, I still can. Going forward, I ever shall…regardless of consequences.
While I lean in the direction of Ron Paul’s perspective on what’s presently going on in my country and around the world, the truth is I cannot be certain.* Why? Simply this: the left and right in both DC and state governments, along with academia and think-tanks, have stripped the public’s ability to distinguish between fiction and truth, propaganda and news, duplicity and honesty, dishonor and honor. Our world is flooded with words and images gushing from institutions once considered trustworthy. Who can really know with certainty whether or not their vomit is true when flip-flopping, social agenda relativism is practiced on both sides? Read some C.S. Lewis, or even George Orwell for that matter, (no, not their stories, their essays) and you will see that the hideous strength of propaganda is the art of making lies seem like truth and truth seem like lies. Does that remind you of someone? It should if you believe in evil.
So, what can we do? We can look to that which has been confirmed before the word-mongers seized the airwaves and popular press. We sang about it in Sunday School, we can still sing about it in our comings and goings…”I stand alone on the word of God, the B I B L E.” Right now, you may not be trusting it, but you should. Both its reliability and veracity are chart toppers of the highest order.
My decisions today and tomorrow cannot be small. They cannot be held captive to the “tyranny of the urgent.” They must be faithful to the “truth of the important.” Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” When he went to the cross, he was a man of his words. His disciples, when in the face of extreme danger and when commanded not to preach in his name, were also men of his word when they said, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Today, across the globe, folks will celebrate this Jesus and memorialize his resurrection. They will do so under many diverse conditions. Some freely. Some through bondage. Some in a new kind of DMZ…standing while culture around them sways back and forth betwixt freedom and bondage. If you and I stand with eyes fixed beyond earthly things to things eternal, then, like Paul the Apostle, we can say, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 16-19).
So stand…because “God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son that whoever would believe in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13