John Benton’s piece sets out an important principle. At this point in history, it has a potentially controversial application, so his raising of the matter is timely.
This year, the UK’s secular government forced the leaders of every church in the land to take prompt and draconian decisions, without consulting the rank-and-file congregants of their churches at any sort of meeting. I am referring to the decision whether the church lockdown sought to be imposed fell within the God-given remit of “Caesar” set out in Romans 13 (and was therefore to be obeyed), or was akin to the prohibition placed upon Peter and John mentioned in Acts 4:18 (and therefore to be disobeyed, replying to the authorities in the same terms as Peter and John replied to the “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel” – verse 8 – in Acts 4:19).
Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.
Twenty-two clients of Christian Concern, predominantly in positions of church leadership, brought a test case in the state’s courts in June, challenging the secular legality of the government’s church lockdown. When I applied, a week ago, for the court’s permission to give evidence and to make representations in that case, I learned that the case had been disposed of by way of a consent order behind closed doors. I have asked the court, the solicitor for the claimants and the Government Legal Department for a copy of that final outcome. (The Christian Concern website continues to publish that this is still a “current” case.)
My evidence in support of my application to participate in the proceedings that, unbeknownst to me, had been closed with an outcome that the parties seem to want to keep secret, highlighted a difference between the interests of clergy and those of laity (so-to-speak). I feel that difference of interests feeds into the decision on how to apply the wisdom that John has rightly exhorted in this most timely meditation of his.
I wrote [sic]:
The Claimants are predominantly in positions of leadership, office and/or influence within particular churches of a particular type. They are so-to-speak a sample of the clergy, though not numerically representative of all clergy in the UK as regards their churchmanship.
During the lockdown, I searched high and low for a church that continued to meet, despite the regulations that I judged t the time were unlawful, for more-or-less the same reasons as are now pleaded by the Claimants. I sought out local churches all of which I had previously attended, including Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren and Eastern Orthodox – types of churches I had attended locally in recent years.
I am a lay Christian, with a loyalty to Christ rather than to this or that church. I am a fairly good representative example of the Christian laity as a whole. The adverse affect of the impugned decision upon me and the rest of the laity isn’t identical with its adverse affect upon the Claimants. It would add value and save costs if separate counsel [to] represented me directly at the trial of the lawfulness of the regulations, and hence indirectly represented the separate interests of all lay Christians in the process.
The original legal papers are here.
My application to give evidence and to make representations is here.
As things stand, my application isn’t being processed at the court, because the court had already “closed” the case before I applied, although the public and the media had not been told this. However, the subject matter is far from closed as far as I am concerned. When I have more to tell, I’ll post an update on this blog.
In the words of the barrister who spoke for me at the Birmingham trial of Birmingham City Council v Afsar et al (a case about RSE in which we and the public won, although the three named Muslim defendants lost), “losing is winning”. When a secular judge hears a righteous cause pleaded, the secular law is on trial, against the criteria of Romans 13, and God’s holy purposes are served, even if the secular judgment goes against the righteous cause.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
Abuse of power is a hot topic these days. And church leaders are able to misuse their authority just as much as anyone else. We believe ‘all have sinned and fall short…’.
In the congregational form of church government (see Matthew 18.15-20), the church meeting acts as the final court of appeal. The elders, or leaders, have a certain authority in the church (Heb. 13.17), but it is an authority subject to the word of God and to the church. Hence it is the gathered church which appoints elders and to whom they must answer if they go astray (1 Tim. 5.19, 20). So the church meeting provides a mechanism for checking and balancing the leadership’s power. It is, I suppose, similar to the House of Lords, which can return Parliamentary Bills to the Commons with the message to ‘think again’.
In a climate which is now extremely sensitive to…
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