For the past 14 months, I’ve been struggling to understand how the Christian should respond to the government’s coronavirus regulations and guidance. And no more so than this week, after we studied Romans 13:1-7 in our small group!
Yesterday, I stumbled across a very helpful online forum hosted by Affinity. I will post the full video below but the purpose of this article is to focus on one comment that was shared by the second speaker, Matthew Roberts, minister of Trinity Church York.
If you’d like to see it for yourself, please start at 50:00. Otherwise, I’ve typed out below what Matthew said in response to the first question…
Do you think that we sinned when we didn’t meet during those Spring months of lockdown?
“That’s a very good question.
So, I think we need to make a distinction and I will, I’m afraid, differ from John [Stevens] again here on the question of; is the only criterion of disobeying the government if it would be a sin [to obey].
Is it a sin for me to sleep in a separate bed from my wife? The answer to that is; no, it’s not. In fact, because I’ve had a cold I have done so for the last few nights – although thankfully I’m feeling a lot better this morning.
Would it be wrong for the government to tell me I could never do so [sleep in the same bed as my wife] again? Yes, it would. Or, indeed, to tell me I couldn’t do so for any period of time. Yes, it would [be wrong for the government to say/do that]. The government has no right to tell me that. It’s outside of its jurisdiction to say that.”
When I heard Matthew share that thought, I realised that this is a key issue that has gone largely unaddressed in discussions of the correct Christian response to various government mandates.
I believe it requires a number of clarification questions…
Am I correct to assume that if the government created a law that from Monday 24th May 2021, for seven days, no two people in England could share a bed, you would obey their order and sleep on the sofa for a week because you believe that Christians must obey the government at all times unless such obedience would be sinful?
Am I correct to assume that if the government created a law that from Monday 24th May 2021, for seven days, no two people in England could share a bed, you would disobey their order and continue to share a bed with your wife?
If so, where do you draw the line?
Would you disobey the government if they created a law stating that all of your children must share a bedroom with you?
What if the law stated that only children under 18 months old must share a bedroom with you?
How about if they created a law making it illegal to have your dad round for lunch or to go on a walk with a couple of friends?
I should point out that prior to this week, I completely 100% agreed with Matthew Roberts. I believed that the government has a God-given authority but that that authority has limits. And telling me that I can’t share a bed with my wife for the next week is totally outside of their authority. Therefore, as I disobeyed that hypothetical government law, I didn’t believe I was sinning against God. I didn’t believe that God was displeased with my actions. I had a clear conscience. I had done nothing wrong. It was the government who were wrong.
But is that an acceptable/correct Christian response? After all, I imagine John Stevens would say that it isn’t and that we should submit to the government even when we think that their laws are silly. And I’m guessing he knows his bible a lot better than I do and has given this a lot more thought than I have.
And if it is an acceptable/correct Christian response (to disobey the government and continue sharing a bed with your wife), again, where do we draw the line? What principle are we using to enable us to determine when we can and when we can’t disobey the government.
I couldn’t end this series without at least sharing a few ideas I’ve been thinking about! Here we go…
Instead of every single church having to create their own evangelism strategy, I think it would be much better if there was a big Christian organisation that specialised in faithful evangelism and provided free high-quality content, resources, and ideas for churches to use.
Personally, I like Christianity Explored for this – but I think “Christianity Explored” sounds like some sort of school RE course. Like it’s aimed at people who want to learn more about one of the many religions this world has to offer. Maybe they’ll try Buddism Explored next!
I would rename Christianity Explored, Jesus Explored, and go for something like…
Jesus Explored: Discover the real Jesus
Most non-Christians think they already know what Christianity is all about. After all, they did RE for an hour a week in school, didn’t they? Therefore, they have little desire to spend their evenings “exploring” Christianity. Rico even alludes to this in the video on the Christianity Explored homepage…
You might counter that they probably think they know what Jesus is all about too. But I think it’s easier (and more helpful) to take the angle of “Discover the truth about Jesus” rather than “Discover the truth about the Christian faith”.
And where do we discover the real Jesus? In the bible. So, the aim of Jesus Explored would be to get non-Christians reading (or listening to, or even watching) one of the gospel accounts.
And ‘Jesus Explored’ could be so much more than just a seven-week course. It could also include one-off talks, weekly bible study groups, and plenty of online content. Basically, everything a church might need to introduce non-Christians to Jesus throughout the year.
1. JE Course
The Jesus Explored course would basically just be an updated and rebranded version of the Christianity Explored course. Except it wouldn’t be sold as the final destination down a large evangelistic funnel (BBQ > Jazz Night > Course). Instead, it would be calling out to anybody and everybody…
“Want to discover the truth about the most famous man who ever lived? Then come along to Jesus Explored and meet the real Jesus!”
But do evangelistic courses even still work? Will 21st-century non-believers commit to a seven-week course? Wouldn’t they rather have an evening in?
I think we can all sympathise with the lure of the sofa after a long day at work. But I don’t think the evening course is dead just yet. Back in January, my wife and I did a five-week “Bump & Baby” class. There were 10 couples. Nobody dropped out. Virtually everyone was there every week.
The lesson here? If people think it’s important enough, they’ll come!
But what if you’ve tried putting on evangelistic courses and for the last few years they’ve been empty? Surely that proves they don’t work in your church context?
I think this could be more down to our shoddy advertising and general lack of publicity, rather than a problem with the course itself. Most churches seem to invite people to do a Christianity Explored course via passive friendship evangelism (“think about who you’d like to ask”). My assumption is that, after 20 years of Christianity Explored, most church members have simply run out of friends to invite!
2. JE Talks
We obviously want to do some one-off evangelistic events too. Instead of wine-tasting evenings and sports quizes, Jesus Explored could offer a selection of evangelistic talks that answer the questions non-Christians actually care about, like…
What did Jesus really say about sex?
What did Jesus really say about money?
What did Jesus really say about work?
What did Jesus really say about love?
What did Jesus really say about success?
What did Jesus really say about happiness?
What did Jesus really say about heaven?
Maybe those aren’t the things non-Christians are concerned with. I just made them up. And I’m not a non-Christian. Instead of assuming we know the questions non-Christians are asking we should probably do some proper research to find out! And whatever we discover, we want to make the talk titles more relevant and engaging than wine-tasting or a sports quiz.
And instead of each church individually trying to figure out what non-Christians are thinking and how to engage them with the good news of Jesus, it makes sense for a big organisation like Jesus Explored (Christianity Explored) to do that for them. They can afford to pay someone who actually knows what they’re doing to come up with the best titles, taglines, graphics etc.
There are loads of ways to run these one-off talks…
Churches could have the option of showing the official Jesus Explored video for the topic, which could have a Q&A (chat around your tables) sort of bit in the middle or at the end.
Churches could book one of the official Jesus Explored “Success” or “Happiness” speakers to come and speak at their event. So you have people who can preach but who also have personal testimonies that work for that specific topic.
Churches could access the official Jesus Explored resources/cheatsheet for that topic. It contains a selection of appropriate places to go in the bible and other tips for hosting a successful Jesus Explored “Love” talk, or whatever the chosen topic is.
You could even use these to create a sort of Jesus Explored mission week. You pick five of these talks and do one every evening at a university. Or maybe use them as a series of five guest services at your church’s evening meetings.
3. JE Groups
Something I’m interested to try out are gospel bible studies for mixed groups of Christians and non-Christians. These Jesus Explored groups could meet weekly (either in church buildings or local coffee shops/pubs).
The format is very simple. You read one chapter of a gospel each week (perhaps using some sort of a JE cross between the fancy ESV notebooks my wife likes and Uncover or The Word One To One) and then you meet up as a group to chat it through. If the group gets too big you can still meet all together but then split into two or three groups, or start a new group somewhere else in town.
I like the idea of non-Christians regularly digging into the gospel and having the opportunity to ask questions. And this more relaxed format means people can miss a week and it isn’t the end of the world.
I also like the fact that it feels less like your typical course or talk where the distinction between believers and non-believers is very obvious. Everyone in these groups, believers and non-believers are learning more about Jesus and the response he wants from them as they read and meditate on each chapter.
The Christians aren’t just there to make the numbers up or keep the conversation going if it’s a quiet group. And the non-Christians should feel less like outsiders who we’re trying to convince to join our “club”.
You can advertise these JE groups on sites such as Meetup and Nextdoor (more on online opportunities next). It’s probably a good idea to put something in the local newspapers and magazines too. The same goes for the JE course and your one-off JE talks. If we’re putting these things on, we want to make sure everyone in our area knows about them!
4. JE Online
This is where we need to get creative. It is the 21st century, after all. I’ve had enough of naff-looking booklets!
I’m yet to be convinced that your average local church needs a really impressive website and social media presence. It can be really expensive to do that stuff well and doing it on the cheap can end up being worse than not doing it at all.
But a worldwide organisation such as Jesus Explored needs to be crushing it online! Especially producing attention-grabbing video content that churches can then re-share.
What can we do with video that delivers the gospel to 21st-century non-believers in an engaging and entertaining way? There are so many possibilities!
99% of churches can’t afford to produce high-quality video content. But that’s ok. We only need one big evangelical Christian organisation to be regularly creating this kind of stuff and then all the churches can use it. Nobody in Tunbridge Wells is going to be saying, “I’ve seen that video already on Christ Church, Nottingham’s Instagram!”
And we can combine the worldwide online element with local door-to-door stuff. Here’s an idea I had…
Jesus Explored makes a really great evangelistic video about Jesus. They also create a template for flyers that look professional, match the branding/theme of the video, and can be tweaked by each church. Churches then make a page on their website with the video and a sign-up form where people can enter their name and email or phone number if they want to find out more.
I like this because;
It’s all about Jesus.
It is a bit of a funnel – but it’s a funnel that starts with Jesus.
It’s door-to-door – so you’re reaching everyone.
And it’s opt-in instead of opt-out. So, instead of saying, “We’re coming to your door unless you tell us not to.” It’s saying, “We think Jesus is great and we want to tell you about him. If you want to discover what all the fuss is about, go to this link and watch our video.”
The idea of friendship evangelism has become super popular over the last couple of decades. Perhaps because it’s the polar opposite of the street preacher, standing on a corner, shouting into a megaphone. Friendship evangelism sounds personal and loving.
In this article, I’ll be writing about; what friendship evangelism actually is, my failed attempts at it, and why it might be time for a rethink.
Pink gin has been everywhere for the past 18 months and there are now loads of pink gins to choose from. But which is the best pink gin?
My BBC Weather app is telling me it’s going to be 37°C tomorrow in Tunbridge Wells! If that’s true, it’s time to refill those ice trays, get the tonic water in the fridge, and buy yourself a new bottle of pink gin.
If you’re looking for WP Engine alternatives, this is the post for you. After a few weeks of research, I think I’ve found the best option for professional bloggers – like me!
I should start by saying, I’ve been using WP Engine’s managed hosting since 2015. And it’s great. My WordPress site has been consistently fast and live. But recently it’s been getting more and more expensive.