Brothers, It's Time to Wake Up

I am a pastor in Pennsylvania.  And I appreciate my brothers who are laboring hard to understand how to handle the governor’s guidelines.  As an aside, guidelines are almost a euphemism for dictatorial power.  On March 6th Governor Wolf declared a state of emergency and placed himself in charge of Pennsylvania’s response to Covid-19. Apparently he is the only one with the power to relinquish that declaration…even according to the state supreme court.  Pennsylvania has a dictator.[1]

Again, I appreciate my pastoral colleagues and their eagerness to submit to the governing authorities.  What is more, I appreciate their charitable attitude toward those same authorities.  They say things like, “Well, the governor is not actually singling out the church for hardship.”  I think it’s important to say these things up front.  I appreciate my brothers and their labor to see our current situation in its best light.  

However, aside from whether or not Article III section 9 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution is being rightly interpreted by the governor or the state supreme court I need to put my Biblical and theological cards on the table. The church needs to wake up.

Yes, it is true that though the governor’s recent order forbidding gatherings of over twenty five people exempts the church, it is unclear as to whether or not other guidelines apply to church gatherings.  Presumably they do apply.  And that is how the camel gets his nose under the tent.  Consider the latest guidelines from California.  There Governor Newsom has mandated the discontinuance of singing or chanting in worship services. [2] Yes, you may gather but you may not do the things that God requires of you in those gatherings. 

Now, if we are charitable toward the governing authorities we might be tempted to listen.   After all, these acts do involve loving our neighbor.  And though we can never trump the first great commandment to love God with the second involving love for neighbor we can give due consideration to practices that will enable both and mitigate the negative effects of the virus.  To be clear, we can never dismiss the command to love God in favor of the commandment to love neighbor. How is that possible?  What is more, the practice of both will be accompanied by inevitable risks that we must leave to the Lord’s sovereignty. 

However, may I remind you that charity can be a cloak for naiveté at best and fear at worst?  Let me put it this way. How can we demonstrate charity toward a governor who restricts religious practice and yet encourages the riots?  I find it interesting that the Governor of New Jersey, when asked about his state guidelines regarding the church and the first amendment said, “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this.”[3] Either these elected government officials are really not thinking about the U.S. Constitution, which is, sadly, not hard to believe, or there is a more sinister and subtle motive at work.  I, for one, am casting my vote for both, stupid and sinister.

However, our elected officials would have us believe that science is the real culprit behind their decisions.  We must listen to science.  I have one question.  Are we supposed to listen to the doctors and scientists, twelve hundred of them, who signed the letter stating that these riots were essential to public health?[4]  Are we supposed to listen to the scientists who are Democrats or Republicans?  Unfortunately “science” has been politicized to the point of non-credibility. The very real threat of Covid-19 is what makes this all so sad.

So, why am I writing this article?  I am calling the church to wake up!  We are in the midst of a Marxist revolution and if it takes hold they will come for the church.[5]  So, you might ask, “What should we do?”  In Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, a handbook for humanist radicals of the 1960s, he told the story of being invited to a conservative Christian college. A group of students approached him with a simple question, “How can we change our situation?” They were apparently unhappy with the fundamentalist type rules of the college.   Alinsky asked them, “What are you permitted to do?” Basically chew gum was the answer.  So, he told them to chew gum. Gum was the weapon.  He told them to get two or three hundred students to chew two packs of gum per day and dispose of it all over the campus.  He told the students that he could paralyze Chicago with that much gum.  So, the students used their gum.  Two weeks later Alinsky said that he received a letter from ecstatic students saying, “It worked! It worked!  Now we can do just about anything so long as we don’t chew gum!”[6]

So, what’s my point?  Worship.  Keep worshiping.  Don’t stop the singing.  Don’t stop preaching. Don’t stop praying.  These are the things we can and must do. Remember what Peter said? As to the governing institutions, we are free.  As to God, we are slaves.[7]  Therefore, be obedient to God and consider yourself free to obey Him tomorrow morning and every Lord’s Day hereafter. 

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.


[6] Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, (NY: Random House, 1972), 145-146.

[7] I Peter 2:13-17.