Family Business … Gospel Business

This blog is especially for those of you living in Panamá during these COVID-19 days. I want to discuss our default stance as Christians towards government and the restrictions that they’ve imposed on us.

From the beginning, the heart of your Elders has been to cooperate with the Panamanian government and support their efforts to care for the well-being of their people. Very quickly it became obvious that they wanted people to social distance and not gather in large groups. So, before the actual mandate came down, we asked you to stay home and began broadcasting from the church with a minimal number of participants. When further restrictions were added, Sue and I moved the broadcast to our home. All activities were suspended in our facility. For the past ten weeks we have not gathered because we were seeking to honor the government and their efforts to protect their citizenry.

I obtained limited permission to be out and have kept office hours to administer relief efforts for needy Panamanian families. I have also received a limited number of visitors. Surfaces have been kept wiped down, hand sanitizer has been readily available, and I have practiced social distancing with guests. All this was done to honor the government’s authority to manage public safety.

So, we’ve been trying. But if I’ve learned anything from this crisis it’s that intelligent, well-meaning people don’t always think things through. This past week was an example. Church volunteers came together to do a very good thing … but we did it in a less than good way. We were not careful in honoring government guidelines and pictures posted on social media received some pushback from the community. Here’s why I’m taking the time to address this publicly. I received a message to the effect that … “You Christians believe you’re above the law.” Although the event was the lightning rod, I’ve seen the storm brewing for some time.

This does not describe my heart as a leader and I pray it’s not your heart as a follower of Jesus Christ. No matter how we feel about the laws or restrictions, there are very few circumstances where we as Christians would be justified in disregarding them.  Consider these marching orders from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Apostle Peter,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. 1 Peter 2:13–17

Submission and honor are to be given to “every authority instituted among men.” These are given for the Lord’s sake, according to His will and in His service. Does government get a blank check? I think we get a hint in that closing phrase, “fear God, honor the king.” Fear God, honor the king … in that order. Peter set the example for this early in the life of the church. When the authorities commanded not to preach in the name of Christ, Peter replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” Act 4:19 If you are forced to choose between obedience to the government or obedience to God … always chose God. Otherwise, submit to and honor the government.

Christians should be the best citizens of whatever nation they live in. If that’s not been your attitude, if that’s not been your heart, I pray that you will reflect on God’s Word (see also Romans 13). What’s at stake if we get this wrong? Peter says that we submit to constituted earthly authorities … “for the Lord’s sake.” The meaning of that becomes clear when you read the preceding verses … 1 Peter 2:11–12

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Being a good citizen is the outer perimeter of being a good witness for Christ. Submission and honor are tools of evangelism. Christians are aliens and strangers in the world … and we are extranerjos in Panamá. Let’s live in such a way as to “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

Please keep me and the Elders in your prayers as we seek to fear God and honor the king. We have important decisions ahead of us as we receive government guidance for how to reopen our facility.

P.S.

If you encounter criticism from people outside the church for how this week’s volunteer event was conducted, don’t take the defensive. We could have done a better job of honoring government guidelines and I take full responsibility as the leader for that not happening. You can also assure them all future volunteer activities will diligently observe government safety guidelines.