Back in August, RNS ran an article entitled, “John MacArthur believes the Bible trumps COVID-19 public health orders. Legal scholars say no.” Here, in a case study of church-state relations, we see the basic failure of a secular worldview.
RNS is, after all, a basically secular organization. “Wait a minute. RNS stands for Religion News Service. How can that be a secular organization?” Because it uses “religion” in the generic sense, various religions, without any conviction as to which religion is true; it is a secular platform for liberal religious views from various traditions, and thus represents a secular society’s approach to religion.
In a secular society’s approach to religion, there is an implicit relativism on spiritual truth, and an elevation of the authority of the state above the church. The separation of church and state becomes one-sided; it is invoked when there is an attempt to bring the church into the state, but ignored when the time comes to bring the state into the church.
A secular approach to religion is not the same thing as religious freedom. Religious freedom is a Christian idea, and happily coexists with the public acknowledgment of Christian truth–as was the case in America for most of its history. A secular society, we are beginning to see, actually impinges upon religious freedom, as atheistic ideologies become public orthodoxy.
We see this in the hypocrisy of certain government officials as they select which gatherings are essential and which are not during the pandemic. Thus we come back around to RNS and their assumption of secular authority: ‘Does the Bible trump COVID-19 public health orders? Let’s ask the experts on government orders.’ That is begging the question.
Of course, the opinions of legal scholars may vary. There is a legal tradition, evidenced in the founding of our nation, that rooted human rights in the authority of God. Then there’s the opinion of one scholar quoted in the RNS article:
“We have rights from the Constitution, not the Bible,” said Eric J. Segall, a law professor at Georgia State. “Biblical duties don’t trump our laws. Period. Full stop.”
When confronted with that kind of attitude, what can a Christian say but “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, ESV)? God, not government, is the highest authority. Jesus Christ is Lord.
Legal experts cannot tell us whether the Bible has authority over legal pronouncements–though, if a legal expert is a Christian, he might know the answer. The most legal experts are equipped to tell us is whether or not the law acknowledges the authority of Scripture. If it does not–as is often the case–that tells us nothing about the authority of Scripture vis-à-vis human government. All that tells us is that human government claims to be the ultimate authority.
That is the case in a secular or secularizing society. But that doesn’t make it right.
In this pandemic, Christians have had to wrestle with how the church should respond to public health orders; in particular, we have had to wrestle with how the Bible’s command to submit to governing authorities does or does not apply in these situations. That is a valid and sometimes complex question to work through. But that is not the question RNS is asking; RNS is asking whether God or the government has ultimate authority in these matters–and that is an exceptionally easy question to answer.
The Bible is the Word of God. Of course God’s Word has authority over the word of the state. The state’s opinion on this matter makes no difference, except that it is a potent reminder that what our nation needs most is to return to an acknowledgment of the ultimate authority of God–an acknowledgment expressed at our nation’s beginning: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”