Week 35 in the year of our Lord 2021

Reading Scripture without a backbone

15 minutes to read

It is blasphemy to call tyrants and oppressors, God’s ministers. They are more properly the messengers of Satan to buffet us. No rulers are properly God’s ministers, but such as are just, ruling in the fear of God. When once magistrates act contrary to their office, and the end of their institution; when they rob and ruin the public, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare; they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God, and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen. So that whenever that argument for submission, fails, which is grounded upon the usefulness of magistracy to civil society, (as it always does when magistrates do hurt to society instead of good) the other argument, which is taken from their being the ordinance of God, must necessarily fail also; to person of a civil character being God’s minister, in the sense of the apostle, any farther than he performs God’s will, by exercising a just and reasonable authority; and ruling for the good of the subject. –Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766), Congregational minister at West Church in Boston

We spend a lot of time talking about issues related to rulership, because it is where the rubber of masculinity so often hits the road.

Ideally, the domains of authority that God has established keep each other from getting out of hand.

The church, especially, should act as a check against state overreach.

Today, however, we are living in the world of evangellyfish: ministers who lack both conviction and backbone. As a result, the modern church has discovered all kinds of innovative doctrines in the Bible, teaching us that subservience to state tyranny is actually a Christian duty, and worship is actually not something that requires churches any longer.

We want to address this latter point today, because although few of our readers are inclined to be bamboozled by evangellyfish, there is a bizarre parallel movement in the red pill world that treats as optional our gathering with, and submitting to, the local church.

Scripture does not.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh. Hebrews 10:23–25

Now, it is true that this is not such an absolute command that it forbids ever missing worship. It is, rather, forbidding a pattern of forsaking worship. Calvin, in his commentary on Hebrews 10:26, makes the point that forsaking the assembly of the saints is actually embodied apostasy:

Those who sin, mentioned by the Apostle, are not such as offend in any way, but such as forsake the Church, and wholly alienate themselves from Christ. For he speaks not here of this or of that sin, but he condemns by name those who willfully renounced fellowship with the Church. But there is a vast difference between particular fallings and a complete defection of this kind, by which we entirely fall away from the grace of Christ.

The church is Christ’s body (Romans 12:4–5). Refusing to gather as Christ’s body is to renounce membership in Christ’s body.

Must this gathering be physical? This is a simple matter of hermeneutics. What did the author of Hebrews, in writing to forbid us “forsaking our own assembling together,” have in mind? Was it not embodied gathering? And is it not absolutely clear that isolated people, separated by miles, are not “gathering together” in any sense that he would therefore have recognized? When we view pixelated representations of each other in small boxes on a screen, and hear tinny reproductions of our voices coming out of speakers, we may be communicating in real time—but we are not with each other in real space. We are together in spirit, perhaps, but we are most certainly absent in the body.

The incarnation itself testifies to how seriously God treats this issue. If embodiment does not matter, then Jesus being incarnate in a personal body does not matter. And if Jesus being incarnate in a personal body does not matter, then you can convince us that his being incarnate in a corporate body does not matter. But are we digital docetists now?

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10:16–17

Have we become such gnostics in our thinking that we imagine a virtual meeting counts as “offering worship well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe (for our God is a consuming fire)” (Hebrews 12:28)? What is next? Administering the sacraments with virtual bread? Baptizing avatars in online games? Laying on of hands by emoji?

If you will permit us to put this very bluntly, online church is real worship like online porn is real sex.

Were you to ask any remotely qualified pastor prior to 2020 whether the physical gathering of the saints was essential to worship, he would have been puzzled—not by the question, but by your asking it, for the answer is so obvious. No sober-thinking shepherd has ever imagined that we can do away with church buildings. What has changed, that we mysteriously find this less obvious today? Certainly it is not God’s word.

Do we believe in sola Scriptura—that Scripture is our only infallible authority? Do we believe that the meaning of Scripture must be read out of the text, not into it? Scripture indisputably means “assemble together in person” when it instructs us in worship. The author of Hebrews did not know about the internet, it is true—so what? The issue is not what Scripture does not say, but what it does. Do you think the Holy Spirit who breathed out Hebrews 10:25 did not see the internet coming, that He might explain Himself better? And yet He wrote what He wrote. Gather in person is what His words meant then, and gather in person is what they still mean today.

Thus, the burden of proof falls heavily on whomever wishes to insist that worship can be performed without assembling together in person. How did they conclude that real-time communication, rather than embodied communion, is the essence of gathering? Let us see that argument made from Scripture.

Q&A #

Q: I’ve had a few discussions with people (including one of my pastors) regarding disobeying unreasonable government laws, e.g. mask wearing, lockdown keeping, etc., and I’ve had a few people lead me to Matthew 5:38–42:

38 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

In particular they focus on v41. Their conclusion is that we should submit to government laws even if they’re unreasonable, unless they directly cause us to sin (and they may also include some exceptions for, say, breaking a lockdown law to help someone in need). Are they interpreting the text correctly?

Firstly, a point that may only be semantic, but is important: we don’t rebel against tyranny. We resist tyranny. Christians are not rebels; our refusal to bend the knee to Caesar is not because we hate authority, but because we love it, and we know where it comes from and what it is for.

Secondly, what is the fundamental principle that Jesus is teaching on here? Is it obedience? Clearly not. It is retaliation. He is responding to Pharisaical instruction about the Law which abuses its general equity, rather than faithfully applying it.

He sets the context clearly: you have heard it said, an eye for an eye, but I tell you rather…

The principle of lex talionis, the law of retaliation, is a Mosaic one. It is clearly articulated in Leviticus 24:17–20 (cf. Exodus 21:22–25):

And he that smiteth any man mortally shall surely be put to death. And he that smiteth a beast mortally shall make it good, life for life. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be rendered unto him.

We know that Jesus did not come to abolish even the slightest stroke of the law (Matthew 5:17–18). Therefore, in saying, “I tell you rather,” he certainly cannot be overturning the law on this issue. He is not abolishing the principle of proportional justice.

No, he is overturning the way that the Pharisees had taken that law, and self-righteously applyied it to everything. He is, in fact, upholding the law, for Leviticus 19:18 says, “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Pharisees had such a high opinion of their own rights that they had generalized the law of retaliation to everything. In doing so, they had effectively overturned the law of love. Rather than keep lex talionis in its proper place—the law-court—they taught the fleshly doctrine that it justifies personal vengeance outside the legal structures instituted by God.

So for instance, if someone were to cuff you on the cheek, which was a sign of insult that dishonored you (not an attack that required self-defense in accordance with the sixth commandment), then the Pharisees would say that you should get payback by responding—as if “getting even” is a general principle of life that we should take into our own hands, rather than a judicial principle that is in the hands of the magistrate.

Similarly, if someone unjustly required your tunic as security (Exodus 22:26–27), the godly response leans in the opposite direction of payback. Jesus is probably exaggerating here to make his point more forcefully, but either way the principle is to let God repay, not to take vengeance into your own hands.

The same applies if a Roman soldier makes you carry his load, as he was permitted by law to do for one thousand paces. This is explicitly named as an evil law (so it is plainly government overreach), and it was a hated imposition among the Jews—not just because it treated them as slaves, but because it made them unclean. But the correct response to such heavy-handedness is not to stand upon your own rights, as if you deserved so much better, but to consider how you can show the charity of God even to his enemies, by helping the guy out twice as much as he demanded.

What is really quite obvious here is that none of this has the remotest application to the legitimacy of resisting tyranny. Verse 41 does have application to how we should respond to compulsion under unjust laws—but the principle would be something like this: Do not treat the agent of the state with contempt, but rather treat him with charity, even if he is evil; and if he compels you to do something, even when he should not, do not try to retaliate. For instance, don’t spitefully damage the soldier’s stuff, or, in our day, don’t kick the police car if they make you come down to the station. Rather, do everything you can to love your enemy.

Does this legitimize his compulsion? May it never be! In fact, quite the opposite. We are to love our enemies and be kind and charitable to them, just like our Father in heaven, so as to fulfill three important principles:

  1. As God’s sons, we should resemble him, for our own sakes;
  2. As God’s sons, we should have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desire their repentance, and therefore model God to them for their sakes, which often “heaps burning coals on their heads” by exposing their hypocrisy in treating us badly, and may prick their consciences;
  3. As God’s sons, we are to leave vengeance to him, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

But notice that neither mask mandates nor lockdowns are comparable to soldiers compelling people to carry their loads. The load-carrying law, while illegitimate because it exceeded the authority that God has delegated to the state, was a law enforcing charity. It did so by making you a temporary slave, which was bad, but it was a law to do good to an agent of the state—and if you followed it, it actually did good. It didn’t pretend to do good while actually doing evil and harm.

Lockdown laws, by contrast, make us indefinite slaves under the pretense of doing good—but in fact make us do harm and evil, by restricting our ability to provide for our families, by greatly increasing anxiety and depression, by preventing children from engaging in activities crucial to normal development, etc. Moreover, lockdown laws when applied to churches openly and clearly violate the command of God in Hebrews 10:25, and therefore no church should ever submit to lockdowns. A church that does, is functionally a state church, not a church of Christ, as we have argued at length here:

Not enough faith to worship

Mask mandates, similarly, pretend to do good, while actually doing at best nothing in terms of health—which, in turn, means that they actually do great evil by forcing people to aid, abet, and participate in a culture-wide deception in violation of the ninth commandment. And that doesn’t even factor in the other implications, viz. defacing the image of God and signaling subjection to the state, in violation of the sixth and first commandments.

In short, pastors who try to convince you to go along with tyranny on the basis of Matthew 5:41 are twisting the scriptures. At best they are unqualified for their positions and should be defrocked. At worst they are cowards and quislings, and should be put out of the church entirely. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his reputation, ease, and (relative) freedom depend upon his not understanding it.

New content this week: #

Retractions: #

Last week we quoted Robert F. Kennedy, quoting (as we thought) Hermann Göring, to the effect that, “The only thing a government needs to make people into slaves is fear.”

One reader kindly notified us that this quote seems to have been made up. We do not wish to propagate falsehoods, so allow us to retract that quote and replace it with what Göring actually did say, which is perhaps even more instructive:

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship,” Goering reportedly told Gilbert in his cell on the evening of April 18, 1946.

Gilbert replied: “There is one difference […] In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare war.”

To which Goering said: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” [[Source(https://factcheck.afp.com/quote-fear-misattributed-hermann-goering)

Göring, evil genius though he was, perhaps did not foresee how a nation can be “attacked” by a virus just as easily as by people.

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Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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