Can we only disobey the government if it would be a sin to obey?

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…

To John Stevens:

  1. 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?

To Matthew Roberts:

  1. 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?
  2. If so, where do you draw the line?
  3. Would you disobey the government if they created a law stating that all of your children must share a bedroom with you?
  4. What if the law stated that only children under 18 months old must share a bedroom with you?
  5. 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.

The comments are open. Please help!