Freedom, the Church and State Absolutism

By Joe Boot/ July 15, 2020

Topic  The Church

Scripture  Romans

For several years the Ezra Institute has enjoyed a valuable relationship with Christian Concern and the associated Christian Legal Centre in the UK. They are faithful and trustworthy allies in the work of cultural reformation and education and are doing remarkable work in advocating for religious freedom in Britain and Europe. I’m privileged to give leadership to their annual Wilberforce Academy as well as shape their public theology, and I sometimes contribute articles connected to the issues they are addressing. This is one such article. Though the players are different, the challenges are much the same here in Canada, and the biblical principles should be evident to all Christians.

God’s Servant for Your Good

The plight of the church in the United Kingdom has had increased visibility in the last couple of weeks as twenty-five brave pastors and clergy, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, filed a legal action challenging the British government’s lockdown of churches as an unconstitutional invasion of church liberty and authority, months into an unprecedented suspension of freedom of worship and assembly in the name of public health. Leaving aside debates around the reductionistic character of civil governments’ concept of health and well-being, or the proportionality of the response over against the virus threat, the reality is that the church has never been effectively ‘shut down’ by the state in this fashion in English history. Disease and plague are not unprecedented, but the mass long-term closure of churches certainly is, and it should concern every British citizen interested in freedom.

In the present circumstances, we should make no mistake – the life of the church institute has been indefinitely suspended by the state bureaucracy. If Christians cannot do as the scriptures command and set aside a sabbath for corporate worship; meet together and greet each other; baptise and administer the Lord’s Supper, nor faithfully exercise church discipline (which is intimately connected to both the preached Word and Lord’s Supper); if believers cannot sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together, nor lay hands upon those being ordained into office or upon the sick (since we must physically distance), in what sense does the church institute, the church as a government and pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), currently exist? I am confident that the reformers would say that the church institute, in such circumstances, has ceased to be a practical reality. If these restrictions had been placed upon the churches by an invading force, or by an Islamic government in the name of public safety and security, would we really be as glib and passive as we appear to be currently?

What has become even clearer in recent months is that we are entering an era (likely protracted) of struggle for the freedom of the church in Britain, not just with the state and its bureaucracy, but with Christian leaders themselves, some of whom are emerging as committed apologists for the secular state and its egalitarian agenda – the Archbishop of Canterbury being one of the worst offenders. There has never been a shortage of cultural leaders ready to support and advise falling down before the image of the absolutist state when the music plays – to obey the state without question – it is always the Daniels and his three friends ready to pray despite the king’s edict, or refusing to bow down to overreaching political power, who are in short supply. Tyranny frequently wears the smiling face of public health and safety, and always claims to be in the best interest of ‘the people,’ which makes the complacent, indolent and cavalier attitude of some Christian leaders regarding church closures incomprehensible.

Some of course do try to justify their attitude in reference to Scripture. It is not uncommon to encounter a kind of frivolous proof-texting among Christian leaders, with references about respecting political authority used as though the Bible gives the state carte blanche to regulate individual, social and ecclesiastical freedoms out of existence if deemed necessary. These texts are almost never coherently framed in terms of the totality of scripture and a broad Christian world and life view, but are frequently manipulated to mean the opposite of what they are saying. The idea that Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 or 1 Timothy 2:1-2, for example, somehow gives the state almost unlimited sovereign power is bereft of exegetical and theological substance or integrity.

In Romans 13 Paul specifically and explicitly places all authority under God, including civil government, as a sphere of power and authority instituted by Him alone. The apostle’s exhortation against resisting God’s order in temporal authority, assumes that to do so resists God’s command (v2). What is at issue here is man’s propensity to resist God’s ordinances and commands. Clearly, we cannot selectively obey God’s commands at our convenience – including recognizing the legitimacy of temporal authority. This being the case, if the state presumes to forbid what God commands, or commands what God forbids, the state has moved beyond its sphere of authority, and those who obey God must at that point resist such arrogant presumption. This is clear from what follows when Paul shows that the civil authority is God’s servant – that is literally God’s deacon (v4). The apostle explains that this means being a terror to bad conduct and approving of good conduct, bearing the sword to avenge those that do wrong (v3-4). But if the state becomes a terror to those who do good and rewards those that do evil, it is again in flagrant violation of God’s command and ordinance, and Christians have at that point a duty to resist an authority that has cease to be God’s deacon. Were this not the case, we would be bound to state absolutism with no basis for resistance to tyranny of any and every kind. So, we are to obey God’s ordinance to obey the civil authorities and fulfil our obligations until the state moves against God’s ordinances. In all other cases we obey for the sake of our conscience and to avoid unnecessary punishment.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Christians are urged to pray and intercede for kings and those in authority. Contrary to implying some sort of unquestioning subservience on the part of the church, this command reveals the high position of the believer and Christ’s instituted church. We are required to go to the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5), because of our status as a royal priesthood and holy nation before God (1 Pt. 2:9) and intercede for mercy and wisdom (or indeed judgment) to be upon earthly rulers, in order that God’s people be left in peace and freedom to live godly lives. In short, to use our high position before the Lord so that we be left alone by civil authorities, to serve the kingdom of God.

How these vitally important passages can be contorted into a defence of a massive regulatory state, fully justified in shutting down the life of the church institute indefinitely in the name of health and safety is simply beyond me. The explosion of the regulatory state in the last 70 years (especially over the last 30 years), reaching into more and more areas of private life and civil society has nothing to do with scripture or a biblical worldview. It is rooted in the idea of the omni-competence of the state and its bureaucracy. Neither scripture nor Christian historical thought well into the early twentieth century, ever imagines such a freedom-sapping behemoth overtaking our lives.

Today, there is simply no end to the tens of thousands of state regulations to be obeyed in the anglosphere. If it were not so troubling it is almost comical to rehearse even a few of the regulations inserting themselves into people’s lives via the nanny state. There are permits required for almost every kind of renovation activity on private property (including the size and colour of garden sheds or moving a bathroom sink) as well as detailed regulations covering the uses of one’s property. There are permits and regulations for working from a home office, as well as onerous worksite and office regulations. In fact, there are regulations in Western nations covering everything from the size and shape of bananas, the length of nails required in plaster board (drywall in North America), and who can feed pigs. More regulations require permits for collecting rags and metal and control games on private premises, bylaws mandate the number of parking spaces required per seat in church sanctuaries (Toronto) and liquor stores are barred from selling refrigerated water or soda (Indiana). The list is seemingly endless.

The state does have a legitimate interest in protecting people from criminal negligence. Criminal negligence applies to anyone who does anything or omits to do anything, that it is his duty (as imposed by public law) to do and shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons in the process. We see this concern in biblical law, where it is required that the roof of the house (flat roofs), where parties and social gatherings take place, be fenced to prevent people falling off (Deut. 22:8-12). A similar requirement is found in Canada in regard to homes with swimming pools. Likewise, in Scripture, a domestic animal known to be dangerous that harms or kills someone subjects the owner to criminal penalties (Ex. 21:28-31). But a high degree of proof is required to establish criminal negligence and such necessary provision to prevent criminal and reckless endangerment of others, does not give the state the right to establish a regulatory bureaucracy of hundreds of thousands of laws that turn society into a kind of prison. Private companies, churches, clubs, guilds, institutions of learning and professional associations are quite capable of framing non-civil private law for their own government. The state need only come into play where criminal failures are involved.

Seeking Favour with God or Men?

And yet it seems as though every time my colleagues at Christian Concern engage a public issue with civil government in defence of Christian people, the church’s liberty, or societal justice and freedom, there are those within the Christian community who simply must oppose them and will almost automatically condemn challenging civil government in the name of liberty and Christ’s lordship. Evidently, fissures are steadily appearing in the life of the British church under cultural pressure. As history invariably reveals, there will be many more than expected who in the name of ‘wisdom,’ ‘obeying the government’ and being a ‘good witness’ (aka getting approval of media and society as a whole) will, when push comes to shove, finally support an oppressive state and oppose the faithful church. The Barmen Declaration marked such a moment of division in the life of the German church in Nazi Germany. Some supported the freedom and independence of the church under Jesus Christ, others accepted gradual Nazification. The way Western society is presently moving, we may not be far away from requiring our own version of the Barmen Declaration.

It is easy to forget the fact that there is today an official state church in communist countries like China, where the church is fully authorised by the civil government to gather, worship, practice the rites of the church and even preach from the Bible. However, the apparent ‘liberties’ of those government-endorsed and approved churches are emphatically constrained by the state. Those same churches must submit themselves unequivocally to every regulation of government, recognising state authority as absolute. It has only been because of faithful pastors and leaders in China standing on the full authority of the Word of God and the sovereignty of Christ the King, that an ‘underground’ church, that refuses to recognise state control over it, has flourished, the gospel been preserved, and millions converted to Christ in recent decades.

Right now, in Britain and other Western nations, believers are facing a relatively small test of their faith and resolve, which is revealing of how Christians may well respond when the testing becomes more severe. Will we stand now for Christ and His Lordship over His church, and indeed over all nations and states, by insisting that the liberty of the church as a distinctive, unique and free institution, ruled by the Lord Jesus Himself be preserved, or will we leave every law or bureaucratic regulation unchallenged and accept an indefinite lockdown that might well be repeated again and again based on the judgment of government bureaucrats? Will we uphold an abiding and God-given distinction between the jurisdiction and spheres of church and state, or will we allow the state to rule the church, when in fact Christ claims to be the rightful ruler of both? Will we clearly articulate the difference between a restaurant, cinema or sports club and the church of the living God, or will be cave in to the radically secular notion that the church of Jesus Christ is not a form of government nor the people of the King of kings, but little more than a special interest group?

I read a recent article by John Stevens, the national director of the FIEC, a loose affiliation of Evangelical churches in the UK, giving an extensive discussion of the legalities of the church and state relationship during the Covid-19-related lockdown and how the Church ought to respond to it. I was amazed that someone of his position would give his opinion on what the legal position is without in any way articulating a Christian position of what the law should be.

Concerns about fundamental freedoms and state overreach into the life of the church are dismissed by Mr. Stevens as basically ‘superficial.’ Those raising these concerns are ‘bullish’ and their arguments ‘legally wrong’ and ‘dangerous.’ To question and challenge government advice and regulation is to behave, according to Stevens, like a ‘petulant teenager’ concerned with ‘self-indulgence.’ He has much to say about Dominic Cummings, the absolute sovereignty of the state and Parliament and the Human Rights Act of 1998, but nothing about the kingdom of God and the reign of Jesus Christ. And although I recognise Mr. Stevens’ legal background, some of his argumentation regarding the English constitution is highly selective and myopic.[1] Christian Concern CEO, Andrea Williams, did an excellent job of respectfully and graciously demonstrating the significance and implications of Magna Carta in regard to British Common Law, the freedom of the church and that the relationship of church and state in the English Constitution is far more nuanced than Mr. Stevens appears to appreciate.[2]

Dave Brennan also comes to heart of the problem with Stevens’ apologetic for absolute state authority. Commenting on his article he writes:

[I]t is Stevens’ case that is superficial and dangerous, since he merely describes these three authorities (government, health and safety, the court of public opinion) and their demands, asserts but does not really argue the legitimacy of their (absolute?) sway over the Christian believer, and crucially does not question where they stand in relation to the ultimate authority, the Bible. He strongly urges all churches everywhere to obey these authorities entirely, including their non-binding suggestions, even though that means forsaking – for as long as these three authorities say so, it seems – clear biblical commands.[3]

Mr. Brennan is correct in identifying Mr Stevens’ position as incredibly dangerous. To fail to assert the authority of Christ and Scripture over all men and nations, in order to curry favour with civil government, bureaucrats and public opinion, is to court disaster. What is it that prevents evangelicals today from recognising the reality of God-given, pre-political rights, responsibilities and institutions that are to be protected but are not created or governed by the state? Why do we find it difficult to discern what a just state is? Why are we apparently so blind to the fact that life, cultural work, marriage (family) and worship are not rights conferred on us by the state that might be legitimately removed by the state on a whim, but distinct and sovereign spheres of authority instituted by God himself which the state is authorized (by God) to guard and protect?

Christians are floundering in response to the church in lockdown for the same reason we flounder over the growing collapse of Christian civil liberties, expanded abortion, euthanasia, divorce law, the redefinition of marriage, transgender issues and more – we do not have a scriptural world and life view norming our understanding of these questions and the role of the state within them. Instead we have a secular humanistic worldview that has been drilled into us by the organs of cultural life, with Jesus and a hope of heaven spread on top as a sort of spiritual condiment.

The Core Problem with Statism

How are we to understand the role of the state in the Christian world and life view? Firstly, it is worth noting the meaning of statism. The presence of an ‘ism’ here immediately alerts us to the possibility of the lifting out and exaggeration of a created structure into something well beyond its intended function. Statism is a political system in which the sphere of civil government exerts substantial, centralized control over other aspects of society, the economy, and other spheres. The dominance of collectivist social democracy in Britain over the past 70 years has gradually turned most people philosophically into statists – whether they realise it or not. Almost no one questions anymore progressive, redistributive taxation (including inheritance taxes), national minimum wage laws, market interventionism and bailouts, state control and funding of medicine, education, charity (through various regulations and incentives) and welfare, as well as a large share of the media – the BBC. The NHS alone is one of the world’s largest employers![4] The public sector is so vast that people have become almost accustomed to the state’s omnipresence. Britain today is not a country that Winston Churchill would have recognized or imagined emerging from a conflict against state absolutism.

Because of this, when it comes to Christians analysing threats to freedom from their own civil government, courts and bureaucracy, we are generally poorly equipped. Like the proverbial frog slowly boiled to death, not detecting the rising temperature of originally cold water, we are sleepwalking toward tyranny. This is a tragedy because it is an abandonment of the legacy of the reformation which gradually gave us, with all its imperfections, both the English national church and eventually liberty for non-conformity. Abraham Kuyper, a statesman, theologian and former Prime Minister of the Netherlands – a country with perhaps the richest legacy of Christian freedom of worship[5] – has pointed out that “the dominating principle [of the Calvinistic side of the reformation] was not, soteriologically, justification by faith, but in the widest sense cosmologically, the Sovereignty of the Triune God over the whole Cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible.”[6] This means that the state, as well as the church, is ordained of God and under His authority as His servant (Prov. 8:15-16; Rom. 13:1ff). Because of the sword power given to the state, Kuyper rightly warns, “we must ever watch against the danger which lurks, for our personal liberty, in the power of the state.”[7] And he keeps the state in check by asserting the absolute authority of God alone:

From the ends of the earth God cites all nations and peoples before His high judgment seat. For God created the nations. They exist for Him. They are His own. And therefore, all these nations, and in them humanity, must exist for His glory and consequently after His ordinances, in order that in their well-being, when they walk after His ordinances, His divine wisdom may shine forth … this right is possessed by God, and by Him alone. No man has the right to rule over another man, otherwise such a right necessarily and immediately becomes the right of the strongest … nor can a group of men, by contract, from their own right, compel you to obey a fellow man … authority over men cannot arise from men. Just as little from a majority over against a minority.[8]

This perspective constitutes the origin of religious liberty, freedom of conscience and indeed true political liberty in the West. From the Christian standpoint, there is no absolute power or authority for Parliament, civil governments or monarchs. All authority is delegated, limited and under God in the various God-ordained spheres of life. The spirit of the French Revolution and German philosophical pantheism which permeates Britain’s social democracy today opposes God and recognises no ground for a just state or political life in anything other than man (as nature) himself. “No God, no master” was a matter of confession for the French revolutionaries. On this view, all power and authority proceeds from man alone. So, the absolute sovereignty of the people or the state is confessional atheism. This is not what the English constitutional arrangements had in mind with the sovereignty of Parliament, since it is the monarch’s Parliament, and elected leaders are invited by the monarch to form a government. Our Head of State swears an oath, under the sovereignty of Christ the King, to uphold the law and gospel of Christ and to defend that faith once for all delivered to the saints. State omnipotence is the opposite of biblical teaching (Dan. 2:21-24; Acts 17:7) and runs contrary to the history of the English Revolution. On Oliver Cromwell’s tomb at Westminster Abbey we read the epitaph, the battle cry of the Puritans, “Christ not man is King.”

Sphere Sovereignty

The basic creational principle at work here is what Abraham Kuyper called Sphere Sovereignty (Gen. 2:21-25; 9:5-6; 1 Sam. 13:10-14; 1 Kgs. 21:1-16; Mark 12:13-17; John 19:5-12; Acts 5:22-32; Col. 1:15-20; Eph. 1:20-23; 1 Tim. 3:14-16; Rev. 1:5) There are varied spheres of life within human society, i.e. the family, church, business, educational institutions, the arts and so forth, which do not owe their existence to the state, nor do they derive their internal sphere of law from the state. These spheres of life must obey the authority of God and His Word over them. They are not subservient to the state, nor do they relate to the state in parts-to-whole fashion as though they were lesser ‘parts’ of the state. As such the state has no right to overreach and intrude into them.

This principle helps us distinguish a just state from an absolutist power state. A just state will recognize a variety of spheres of law within society including public law, civil private law and non-civil private law. Public law concerns the constitution, penal law and laws of criminal procedure as well as administrative law – these are meant to guarantee our political freedoms. Common law, or civil private law, exists to guarantee our freedom of thought and expression, association and so forth, making sure that in social entities we are on an equal footing with others. Critically, non-civil private law concerns the existence and freedom of non-political spheres of law, like the church. The civil magistrate cannot command or interpret the proper nature of Christian worship, for example, because this is non-civil private law and outside of the state’s competency. The South African philosopher Danie Strauss has pointed out that the just state has to account for political, societal and personal freedoms. He writes:

These forms of freedom are correlated with three irreducible jural spheres, namely the sphere of public law, civil private law and non-civil private law. If they are threatened or abolished, we meet a totalitarian and absolutistic state (a power state which is the opposite of a just state), with no guarantees for any form of religious freedom … the Kingdom message of the New Testament, opens up a dynamic cultural-historical process of differentiation and disclosure in which the state emerges as guided by its sphere-sovereign juridical qualification, alongside a multiplicity of non-political societal entities with their own intrinsic competence to form (non-state) law. When Christians assume responsibility for the unfolding of human societal relationships, the public legal order of the state will not threaten, but protect religious freedom…[9]

I would argue that the British state denied the irreducibility of these spheres of law and overreached into the life of the church institute (non-civil private law) to determine critical elements of its existence and worship that have nothing to do with penal, constitutional or administrative public law. And the burden is presently on the state to demonstrate with a high degree of certainty that any unprecedented limitations placed upon the churches are necessary in the interest of public justice and a harmony of public legal interests.

The Source of Dominion

One of the problems we have in grasping the importance of this in our society is that our secular statist culture views the state as omni-competent. Most people think of all law as state law, all government as state government. Yet in terms of this principle of Sphere Sovereignty and spheres of law, no state has a legitimate right or authority to redefine the family, marriage and human sexuality; nor to dictate to the church how she will worship and govern her members; nor what schools should teach their children; nor how a man should conduct his business investments and transactions; nor what the artist should paint. The state only has a valid interest in these matters if and when crimes are being committed. “Dominion is exercised everywhere,” Kuyper continues, “but it is a dominion which works organically, not by virtue of a state investiture, but from life’s sovereignty itself.”[10]

Kuyper takes the institution of the family as a crucial example:

The sphere of the family opens itself, with its right of marriage, domestic peace, education and possession; and in this sphere also the natural head is conscious of exercising an inherent authority – not because the government allows it, but because God has imposed it. Paternal authority roots itself in the very life-blood and is proclaimed in the fifth commandment … Calvinism protests against state-omnipresence; against the horrible conception that no right exists above and beyond existing laws; and against the pride of absolutism… [11]

The same is true with respect to the church. The church does not exist by government permission any more than the family is created by the state. The church is governed and ruled by Jesus Christ under His Word. The state cannot command the church not to preach Christ, baptise or administer the sacraments and exercise church discipline, because Christ Himself and His inspired apostles gave these commands (Matt. 28:16-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-32). There are no caveats in the Great Commission or Christ’s commands to His people – to do these things only when there is no persecution, war or disease, because the kingdom of God goes on in a fallen world. We are certainly to love one another and our neighbour, and if we are seriously sick with infectious disease, we should seek prayer from the elders of the church (Mark 16:17-18; Jas. 5:14) and demonstrate that love by isolating ourselves to protect the most vulnerable (Lev. 13-15).

Can one think of extreme examples where the state, for public legal reasons, might require churches to temporarily cease gathering? Yes, during the Blitz, it would have been reckless for churches to light Christmas trees and do bright processions through the streets during a night air raid – criminal penalties in such an instance might apply to churchgoers and leaders. Or if a congregation knowingly infected with Ebola decided to do house-to-house evangelism, again, a public legal argument could be made for civil or criminal penalties. But nowhere is the state given a broad authority to command the church not to gather, administer sacraments and lay hands on the sick or to lock its doors to the needy. Nor is it given authority to command the church that they cannot pray together or determine what is and is not essential in worship (like singing or communion), let alone dismiss the church as a non-essential service that is no different than a restaurant or cinema. The church alone must make prudential decisions for itself under God in times of crisis (as it always has) and determine how to respond to people’s needs and guard people’s overall well-being. If gathering for the sacraments, ministering to the sick, worshiping God as the church (not the state) defines worship, is deemed criminal under public law, then civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.

The State’s Job is to Compel

In terms of the principle of Sphere Sovereignty, there is nothing scriptural or historical that points to the notion that the state has the God-given responsibility or authority to determine and control the nature of human health and well-being and so to prevent elderly and lonely parents from seeing their children and grandchildren, block the access of pastors to the dying at their bedside, or to lock down churches and shut down public worship for healthy individuals because there is some risk of developing a disease. In fact, even determining the need to quarantine a sick person is not given to the state (kings, judges, leaders of clans) in Scripture, but was determined by the health provision of the priests and Levites (Lev. 13-14). The church has a long history of providing healthcare and hospitals as an extension of its diaconal care and ministry of ‘hospitality.’ Only in 1948 did health become the province of the state in Britain with the founding of the NHS – an institution which has arguably moved to protect its own existence in the COVID-19 related crisis with serious consequences for others.[12]

None of this is to say that the state does not have an important and legitimate role under the sovereignty of God and His Word. But the church has her own king, and it isn’t the state. As Kuyper puts it, “Her position in the state is not assigned her by the permission of the Government, but Jure divino. She has her own organisation. She possesses her own office-bearers … the sovereignty of the State and the sovereignty of the Church exist side by side, and they mutually limit each other.”[13]

The violation of the consciences of thousands of believers in the UK by the state’s stubborn refusal to recognise the freedom and independence of the church, even while many aspects of economic and political life go on (including flying on holiday on planes with no social distancing and BLM protests in the street), should be offensive and deeply concerning to Christian leaders, but sadly it is not. Kuyper wrote powerfully that “a man of ripe and rich development will rather become a voluntary exile, will rather suffer imprisonment, nay, even sacrifice life itself, than tolerate constraint in the form of his conscience.”[14] Was Kuyper just a ‘petulant teenager’ concerned with ‘self-indulgence,’ or was there something deeper in his understanding about Christ’s sovereignty than currently exists in most Western evangelicalism?

It is this principle, therefore, of Sphere Sovereignty which not only provides a template for organisation of a biblical worldview, it equally provides a scriptural principle of resistance to absolutism and tyranny. The current situation and the church’s response have exposed the need for the recovery of a distinctly Christian view of the state. We need only survey our cultural moment in the anglosphere to see this. We have failed to disciple the nation – including civil government – and now allow godless, undiscipled rulers to exercise coercive control over the Church.

If we violate Sphere Sovereignty and bring the properly coercive character of state law and power into all the organs of societal life, the character of human society changes. If civil government runs and funds education, you get radical secularism and the imposition of LGBTQ curriculum and Gay/Straight alliances in schools – like it or not. If you bring state power into the sphere of family, you get the redefinition of marriage, bans on discipline, and the seizure of our children if we don’t give them affirmative therapy, hormone blockers and surgery for gender dysphoria. If you bring the state into the sphere of welfare provision and charity, you cultivate a radical dependency on state welfare, promote entitlement, and sponsor state redistribution in the form of socialism and progressive taxation, along with the steady collapse of real charity. If you bring the state into the heart of the church, you get a politicized church that is unwilling or unable to speak the truth of the gospel to political authorities, and frequently religious persecution. If you bring the state into the heart of the economy, with an ever-expanding state bureaucracy as the largest employer, you get socialism, a ‘managed/planned’ economy, price fixing, state interventionism, powerful unions, and the collapse of free markets.

Close to the heart of the current crisis, if you bring the state into the heart of medicine you get coercive tax/state funded abortion, state funded euthanasia, state funded sex-change surgery, the denial of the conscience rights of doctors and the mass lockdown of society in the name of public health and saving the institutions of socialized medicine like the NHS. If you bring the civil government into the heart of media through state-funded broadcasting, you get state media and a monopoly on the narrative, an attack on the free press, and the attempt to control the dissemination of approved “news.” All of this is inevitable when the state moves beyond its sphere of competency and authority into other sovereign spheres because the state, by its very nature, is a coercive institution.

This should be a profound concern for Christians today with “government” schools, “government” church, “government” welfare, “government” media and “government” medicine etc. It forms of the creeping basis of a totalitarian society and an increasingly absolutist one and it is why for several centuries, most Americans resisted these things. And the American, as Winston Churchill once said, “is the Englishman left to himself.” The current crisis facing the church has exposed the extent of our technocratic, state media-driven, bureaucratization of life, the totalitarian impulse and structure of our statist culture, and the relative docility of our population, ready to run to the state for salvation and safety.

It is surely time for the church to remind all powers and authorities that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is time to sing the prayer of the Psalmist:

The wicked will return to Sheol—
all the nations that forget God.
For the oppressed will not always be forgotten;
the hope of the afflictedwill not perish forever.

Rise up, Lord! Do not let man prevail;
let the nations be judged in Your presence.
Put terror in them, Lord;
let the nations know they are only men. (Psalm 9:17-20)


[1] See http://www.john-stevens.com/2020/06/coronavirus-is-government-guidance-for.html.

[2] See https://christianconcern.com/comment/magna-carta-and-church-lockdown-in-a-world-of-lockdown/.

[3] See https://christianconcern.com/comment/government-health-safety-the-court-of-public-opinion-what-about-the-Bible/.

[4] See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9155130/NHS-is-fifth-biggest-employer-in-world.html.

[5] See Robert Louis Wilken, Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 99-117.

[6] Abraham Kuyper, Christianity as a Life-System: The Witness of a World-View (USA: Christian Studies Centre, 1980), 27.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Ibid., 28-29.

[9] Danie Strauss, Sphere Sovereignty, (Ezra Institute, March 2019).

[10] Kuyper, Christianity as a Life-System, 35.

[11] Ibid., 35-36.

[12] See interview with British historian, David Starkey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S8Js-tEmlg.

[13] Kuyper, Christianity as a Life-System, 38.

[14] Kuyper, Christianity as a Life-System.