To Those Who Left

The obvious effects of Covid are easy to spot. Not only have millions died, but also many have long-term illness from the virus, and an unknown number of people are suffering from the various treatments. There are small children who do not remember a world where masks were not commonplace. Suicide rates are rising and emotional effects and affects are being reported to pastors and counselors. Christians are not immune from the effects of the fall as they have manifested themselves during the crisis. There will be a lot of after-action and post mortem reports. 

There are also less obvious effects of the virus. One is the damage done to Christians and congregations. Long-time relationships have been ruptured. Faithful pastors have been accused of infidelity because they sought to submit, as far as conscience would permit, to health regulations. Sadly, some congregations have split. Pastors report that one side was more fearful of the virus and wanted to be more cautious, and the other side was less fearful and wanted less caution. Many congregations mirrored the cultural-political divide. 

Those on either side of the division in a congregation have failed to grasp what the church is: the imperfect yet divinely instituted embassy of Christ to the world, where the Holy Spirit has promised to call efficaciously to new life and true faith all his elect. Christ’s church is not a cultural institution. It exists within a culture, and it will necessarily have a culture, but it is not principally an expression of the surrounding culture. The visible church was instituted by Christ as an embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven to the earth. Just as when a visitor enters an embassy of a foreign nation one has temporarily left one’s own nation and soil and entered the sovereign territory of another nation, so it is when one enters the church. A Christian who enters a Christian assembly has entered the sovereign, saving territory of the King of Kings. The embassy and its ambassadors speak the language of the King. The concerns of the ambassador and his staff are the concerns of the King, their policies the policies of their King. They are sent to a surrounding culture, but they are not of that culture, not as far as they represent the King.

Christians have a dual citizenship. Insofar as they are citizens of the Kingdom of God they have a loyalty that transcends language, blood, and soil. Insofar as they are citizens of a particular place, they have an appropriate, provisional loyalty to that place. As Christians they are called to submit to the magistrate (Romans 13 remains God’s Word) and to live quietly and at peace with all men as far as it is possible (Rom 12:8; 1 Tim 2:2). 

After all, Christ is the only head of the church. Rome is profoundly wrong here. The Bishop of Rome is not head of the church. No magistrate is the head of the church. Americans, however, are also often wrong about the visible church when they think of it as just another institution against which to rebel. That revolutionary spirit, governed by a lesser magistrate, has its uses in checking tyrants but it has no place in Christ’s church, which represents no egalitarian democracy but rather a totalitarian Kingdom and King, Jesus of Nazareth, who sits at the right hand of the Father, a King who is presently subduing all his enemies (even if we cannot always see it).

To be sure, the visible church did not get everything right during Covid. Some congregations turned their worship services into political rallies. Others were perhaps too timid about opening, but most NAPARC pastors labored prayerfully, carefully, and faithfully during Covid to minister Christ’s Word to his sheep. 

The truth is that there were a lot of ambiguities during Covid. Unless one was alive during 1918, there are not many now who remember how we handled the Spanish Flu pandemic. It is true that churches were also closed during the Spanish Flu, masks were imposed, and there were riots then too. It is also true that the mass media environment is radically different from what it was in 1918. Radio was an emerging technology—KDKA Pittsburgh went on the air in 1920—and television was a decade away. We simply were not in constant contact with mass media and thus neither the civil authorities nor commercial interests had the ability to stimulate our “fight or flight” response the way they do now. 

In this new media environment, when we were all being bombarded daily with new and often conflicting (and even incoherent) messages from political, cultural, and public health authorities, when some communications media (e.g., Big Social Media) declared as “misinformation” things now accepted as fact, suspicion was bred and pastors, elders, sessions, and consistories came to be seen by some as just another agent of control and manipulation. 

It is to those who left the church, or who left their congregations because of the way the church responded to Covid, that I am writing now.I understand that you are angry about what happened and that you lost confidence in authorities, that you think that your church leadership compromised with “the world” and was too compliant with a seemingly never-ending list of restrictions (especially in blue states) imposed ostensibly in the name of public health.

Please come home. As one who has done some marriage counseling, I know that there are usually two sides to every story. Except in cases of abuse, it is rare that one party is utterly righteous and the other utterly wicked. Your pastor, elders, and congregation may have erred, and they may even have sinned against you, but have you considered how you might also have sinned against them? Did you forgive them seventy times seven (Matt 18:22)? Did you allow love to cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)? Did you forget how much your pastors and elders loved you before Covid? Did Covid really change that? Yes, you disagree with how the church and her leadership responded to Covid, but do you believe that they stopped praying for you, loving you, and seeking your spiritual welfare? 

Let us imagine that the worst-case scenario is true, that all the authorities were lying from the beginning and that everything they did was for no other end than the increase of their control over our lives. On what basis do you think that your pastor and elders should have defied the public health orders? Do you imagine that Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, and Nerva (the Caesars who ruled the Roman Empire during the first century AD) were looking out for the liberties and interests of the Christians? They certainly were not. Do you see any evidence that the churches organized protests against the unjust treatment of the Christians at the hands of the Roman government—even when some of the emperors put Christians to death merely for being Christians? You do not because there is none. Was the Apostle Paul weak for allowing the Romans to arrest him and put him to death? 

It may be that elders and pastors erred during Covid, but is it not also true that your disagreement with them is less over the Christian faith and more over public health policy and the culture war? Were you not asking the visible church to “stand up” against what you regard as government overreach? I might agree with you about the government overreach, but can you show me from Scripture and the Reformed confessions the basis for the visible, institutional church speaking against the magistrate on such a matter?

The author of our Belgic Confession, Guy de Bres (1522–67) was arrested by civil authorities for doing nothing more than preaching the gospel. The Netherlands was in the early days of what would be the Eighty-Years War against Spain for religious and secular liberty. That war would cost tens of thousands of lives as the Spanish Romanists ruthlessly murdered thousands of Reformed Christians for no just cause.

Ultimately, de Bres would be one of those martyrs. After he was arrested in Valenciennes he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. There were offers of military and civil assistance. Had he wished to resist the authorities he could have done. He refused. He was so convinced that the magistrate is instituted by God that even when it acts unjustly we ought to submit to it, even unto death. I am not sure whether I agree with de Bres, but I admire the courage of his conviction and I wonder whether his martyrdom did more to advance the Kingdom of God than my (American-inspired) impulse to resist might have done. We will never know for sure, but we do know that de Bres was on solid biblical footing. 

Even Jesus forgave those who crucified him (Luke 23:34). Will you not be reconciled to those who catechized you and your children, who baptized your children, who visited you when you were sick, and with whom you worshiped and served for so long? Is it that important to be right about how to react to Covid policy?  

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Amen to the entire article. My wife and I are on the cautious end of the spectrum due to some health issues she has and due to our time spent in Japan (people there are not nearly as sensitive to the negatives of masking since they have used masks for many decades without significant problems). Our church leadership has tried so hard to be gracious and understanding to their flock in terms of the many perspectives on how to respond to COVID at every point. Still, I know there are at least a few who left. We don’t agree with every decision the leadership made, but we can see their gracious shepherd hearts and appreciate them for their examples in patience and kindness.

  2. Cackle away, Satan! There’s yet another dimension to COVID-caused non-attendance. Our church has a handful of members who are STILL no-shows, knowing that many congregants opted for vaccinations and boosters. Hence this handful is fearful of the larger group emanating spike proteins, etc. MORE fear; it’s beyond pathetic. Months ago I had a pre-Sunday-School scientific discussion with the wife of a key churchman. She coyly, smilingly told me she really shouldn’t be sitting next to me since she was vaccinated, and I was neither vaccinated nor masked. After sharing a few Malone/et al facts with her, gently adding that perhaps *I* should be fearful of sitting next to her, I concluded that we were in God’s house and I wasn’t opting for fear — esp. after surviving several thyroid-cancer related surgeries.

    • Laura: My wife and I are “STILL” no-shows that you deem pathetic. We both have been double vaccinated and boosted. I shouldn’t have to tell you that the vaccines are far from conferring near 100% immunity. At our ages and both with comorbidities there are abundant examples of similar people dying when infected. Are you signaling the “all clear”? Do you believe that we should be subject to discipline for our lack of attendance? How about everybody do what is most prudent for them as God gives them light?

    • Laura, your use of the phrase “beyond pathetic” is an example of the kind of rhetoric that is not helpful within the church. Our church has streaming and Zoom available for continuing discipleship and access to the means of grace. My wife suffers from central pain syndrome due to a thalamic stroke she suffered 10 years ago. Over time her physical pain has gotten more and more severe. Her neurologist and GP both indicate that infection by the COVID virus could exacerbate her already on-the-edge situation physically, taking her over the edge. Everyone has a different situation based on health and age, and both sides need to be very careful about labeling the other side, even in an online forum such as this.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    A few points.

    First, I never left. I was within a hairsbreadth of doing so at one point in late 2020, but didn’t. Partly that was commitment to the congregation. Partly it was lack of anywhere else to go. But we stayed.

    Second, like almost every commentator who has wielded Romans 13 in this cumbersome way, you continue to conflate “submission to authority” and “compliance with an authority’s dictates”. No, Paul did not take up arms against his captors. No, he never attempted to evade the consequences of his actions entirely. But he had no qualms whatsoever about invoking his legal rights as a Roman citizen when said rights were being infringed. He used invoked those rights to intimidate local magistrates after he had been flogged. He invoked those rights to avoid another flogging. And he invoked those rights to short-circuit a kangaroo court/Star Chamber/Kafka trap after being passed around between several different authorities in Judea. There is nothing inconsistent with submission to authorities in standing on legal rights recognized by those same authorities. There are many of us who are beyond dismayed at church officers’ insistence that the principle of submission to authorities left them with no options other than compliance. This was not true then and is not true now. It was, however, an obvious part of the Official Narrative pushed by the establishment.

    It was always possible to simply quietly decline to comply and then defend any resulting enforcement actions within the bounds of the legal system. The US government itself regards that as entirely legitimate. If the very authority in question does not consider a course of conduct to be a rejection of its authority, who are you–or any other church leader–to say otherwise? This refusal to recognize the legitimacy of any course of conduct other than full-throated compliance as legitimate is a major point of intellectual dishonesty that needs to be reckoned with before reconciliation is possible.

    Third, I will reiterate something I have said to my own Session on several occasions for more than a year now: “I will be a martyr, but I will not be a chump.” Church officers do have the authority to ask the flock to suffer for Christ’s sake. That includes complying with policies that are manifestly vicious lies. But church officers do not have the authority to ask the flock to pretend to believe things that aren’t true.

    This point is less about the details of specific decisions and more about the way in which those decisions are justified and communicated. Say, for example, the Session decides that people should wear masks to church. I’m willing to stipulate, at the very least for the purposes of argument, that this is something that is at least potentially within a Session’s authority. But like any decision by a church court, the stated reasons matter. If those reasons are based on transparent falsehoods, then we’ve got a Ninth Commandment issue.

    All of which to say that sure, I’m entirely willing to grant that a Session has the authority to tell its congregation to wear marks (or whatever). But it doesn’t have the authority to ask me to affirm something that is manifestly false. It doesn’t have the authority to suddenly announce that a radically new set of practices are required by “love for neighbor” when there are glaring reasons to think that said practices are far more harmful than helpful. It doesn’t have the authority to announce that it is adopting measures as “reasonable” while refusing to have an honest conversation about costs and benefits, i.e., the very criteria by which “reasonability” is analyzed.

    Instead, what I (and many others) were looking for was an acknowledgment by church leaders that there were legitimate, non-trivial questions about the validity and utility of COVID mitigation measures, that there were legitimate, non-trivial questions about the legality of many of these public health edicts, that there was a legitimate, non-trivial basis for refusing to comply with said edicts without rebelling against the authorities, and that there was a legitimate, non-trivial reason to believe that we were all being taken advantage of by people that did not have our best interests in mind. A church court that acknowledged those things and then asked its people to go along with various COVID measures as a question of expedience would have drawn no objection from me.

    Again, I’ve always been willing to suffer under the weight of vicious lies, to say nothing of oppressive government overreach. But I am under no circumstances willing to pretend that lies are true or that overreach isn’t overreach. Church leaders who have asked us to do so are going to have to acknowledge that fact before genuine reconciliation can come about.

    So, again, I never left. But there are plenty of people out there whose objections are most decidedly not “less over the Christian faith and more over public health policy and the culture war.” I get that there are plenty of people for whom your characterization is true. But you need to recognize that there are also plenty of people for whom it isn’t.

    • Ryan,

      I’ve explained Paul’s assertion of his rights here:

      Paul, Philippi, And Mask Mandates

      and here:

      Paul’s Twofold Citizenship And Ours

      and here:

      Of Christians And Rights

      and I’ve worked with Acts 5:29 repeatedly, e.g.:

      The Church And The Virus: Is This An Acts 5:29 Moment?

      See the resource page linked above for other examples.

      Cumbersome? Well, if insisting that Romans 13 is still God’s inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word, then ok but what I hear is, “well, that was then and this is now.” I’ve been hearing this from the theo recons for 40+ years. They simply excise Romans 13 from God’s Word and so have a lot other folks who simply cannot be bothered to take it seriously, to read it in context, and apply to this situation.

      Yes, Paul asserted his rights but only, as I’ve observed here, after he suffered, after he was beaten, after he was arrested and jailed illegally. The first thing that American Christians do is to invoke their civil rights.

      Now, we live in a twofold kingdom and American Christians certainly have a legal right to stand on their civil liberties, which the government is supposed to protect. I’m not telling Christians not to invoke their constitutional and God-given rights but we might learn something from Paul by way of wisdom and discretion here–if only we will.

      I’ve defended the rights and freedoms of Christians to refuse to comply (civil disobedience). Again, see the Covid resource page where I’ve been tracking court cases and arguing for the right/freedom of civil disobedience. This is the point of invoking Acts 5:29.

      Doesn’t your response illustrate the point of the essay?


      What you’ve haven’t engaged is the central point: when do Christians forgive and reconcile with each other?

    • To Ryan and to Prof. Clark,

      When I read Ryan’s remarks, I recognized myself …and things I have been saying to anyone who cared to listen for at least a year and a half. I live in the bluest of blue States—the type of blue that is authoritative and conveys blue in its own inimical, relentless historically Ivied way to other, lesser blues who can only crib and emulate our blue. I do not expect to have the imprimatur of Massachusetts blue stamped upon my confessional church—which I see as a retreat, a weekly escape, and a place to wallow in truth.
      Ryan, unlike yourself, we did not stay—having dropped out of the kinderspiel in Jan. 2021–when we were told that reservations would need to be made according to last name, on alternating Sundays.
      As I see it, Romans 13 is used as a hammer—like so many other things one comes across in various Reformed streams of thought and tradition. John MacArthur seemed to have a wooden interpretation of Romans 13 himself, for his entire career (I heard the expositions). But even he was forced to do some thinking along the lines of sphere sovereignty, and seemingly did a 180 degree turn when confronted with the extremity of California blue.
      Ryan, you eloquently expressed the resistance to “knee-jerk” Sessions…which is at the core of my own resentment. Nothing was discussed or reviewed or voted on. The game was simply this: if the lesser magistrate says jump—no matter how less than zero legal authority he/she/they/them has, we ask how high. Period, paragraph. When the magistrates’ “orders” were in conflict, then we went with the most tyrannical, “safest” option. We could no longer handle the cognitive dissonance and if pastors at least ATTEMPTED or possessed the erudition or disposition of Prof. Clark to make a case, then things might be different. But even devout Christians can only tolerate radio silence so long before they walk away. I do not mean from the faith, I mean from local congregations.
      I have begun to wonder: should we stop saying “Presbyterian and Reformed”, and better say Presbyterian OR Reformed? Presbyterians of the Scots variety, those in the RPCNA, those who run the website, those who tout exclusive psalmody, those who descend from the Covenanters, seem to not have the respect for the “antithesis” that the Dutch Reformed do. They are not theonomists, but there is a true militancy in that heritage such that even serving in positions of elected office are anathema to them. Even the Constitution, Pledge of Allegiance, etc…these things are loaded with significance and it’s impossible to not notice the differences between them and say a D. James Kennedy—who had American flags draped in Coral Ridge and a big 4th of July celebration every year.
      Also, one doesn’t need to be theo recon to understand that there is not a small amount of literature out there on biblical, Reformed resistance. From “Vindiciae” to “Lex Rex” to the new(ish) book by Glenn Sunshine. Educated, intelligent layman know of these resources and it would be great if pastors could please assume we have appropriated them. I’m not saying we laypeople get everything right. We are not seminarians and don’t have it all figured out. But doggone it, it would be nice if the impression was conveyed, at least, that the elders were as studied and apprised of the different streams of Reformed thought and literature as we are. We are educable; are they?
      There’s also the problem of eschatology; postmillenialists (and this needn’t entail Reconstructionism, as you well know) will never take kindly to cowardice or lack of militancy as per the lesser magistrate and secularists in general. We have 2000 years of leavening. 1500 of those were Christendom. I’m not calling for a return to official Christendom, but I’m also saying that if Machen’s 1920’s opposition to liberalism signaled an entirely different religion, then what we have today is the equivalency in coherence of the paganism of the Indians which the Mayflower Party encountered. The Roman emperor was an autocrat. God has blessed us with standing which Paul did not have. Or, is it part of the creational order that we are to suffer as he did?
      Prof. Clark, you say that we have levers to pull as American citizens. But those have to somehow be appropriated with the sacred sphere, do they not? Even theonomists recognize distinct spheres—although all of them (individual, family, church, government) cannot help but inform each other.
      I take umbrage at the criticism of looking to advocate for my “civil rights” as the “first course of action”. Yes, I do this unapologetically. I wouldn’t do it while visiting Europe, or Asia, or elsewhere. But claiming my birthright at home? You bet. Had Paul been born under the auspices that I was, I’d expect him to afford himself the same privileges. Furthermore, it is only here at this juncture of civil rights that the civil magistrate can even have a way of knowing what you’re talking about and why they are out of line. Calvin’s “duplex regimen” is lost on them.
      I will confess that I am attracted to a certain idea of “church militant”, a militant Presbyterianism. Has this not existed in the past, and can it not be recovered? Is this an appellation that can only be applied to Romanists? Not when I look at the Covenanters and their heirs.
      I agree with you, Ryan, the elders have a lot of explaining to do. But many of them haven’t considered yet that there’s even much of a problem, I imagine. Or if there’s one, it gets lumped into just a generalized, greater declension of everything having gone wrong in the burned over district that is present day America. Who knows. And, it’s become exhausting to keep wondering about it.
      Prof. Clark, you presume a lot. You presume that all churchmen are as competent and nuanced and concerned and aware as you are. They are not. Perhaps you are a type of overachiever; I am myself. But they are not. You are pro-confessional churches and you do not want Sessions attacked or criticized (outside of heresy) because you are in the business of education, formation, and planting and growth. You also undoubtedly feel that the foes of pietism, biblicism, non-cessationism, and all the rest present enough challenges for an already too small Reformed community—so you are loathe to carp on an already struggling community. But you surely cannot be so dismissive of “cultural, political differences”. That is not fair to conscientious people. Elders need to stop selling their congregants short. We read things, we know things, we have questions, and we need better, more thorough answers than we get most of the time. And I don’t mean sophistry, either.
      There’s also the issue of trust; what will we be asked to do next? No intelligent person believes that globalist actors will stop at COVID to achieve their ends. What will the churches be asked to do then? Provide names and addresses of the membership? Look how the Biden administration already hijacked most of evangelicalism to spread the COVID gospel. What next? It has been said that all of this was a beta test between governments and citizens. Maybe it’s also been a beta test of sorts between governments and churches, and/or between churches and congregants?
      We need a congress of some sort on this and some assurances made. Just my two cents.

    • Cumbersome? Well, if insisting that Romans 13 is still God’s inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word, then ok but what I hear is, “well, that was then and this is now.” I’ve been hearing this from the theo recons for 40+ years. They simply excise Romans 13 from God’s Word and so have a lot other folks who simply cannot be bothered to take it seriously, to read it in context, and apply to this situation.

      I admit I like T. David Gordon’s take on Romans 13 the best. I planned to link it but Grove City took down his page. My understanding is that the magistrate has a scope of office and we’re not obligated to obey him outside the scope of his office – he is there for our good and to punish wrongdoers but does not have authority over every area of our life. When he was there for our “good” during COVID 19, we obeyed him and gave him leeway on COVID restrictions. As time went on, it became apparent that his rules were applied to churches and were not applied to other venue such as str1p clubs and grocery stores. We may not have been targeted for our faith, but it was clear that the magistrate was apathetic or hostile to churches gathering in many counties and states. This was particularly bad in Canada and the Bay area. Even the Supreme Court agreed that the magistrate overstepped his bounds. Gavin Newsom went 0 for 5 in court, for example.

      It may be that elders and pastors erred during Covid, but is it not also true that your disagreement with them is less over the Christian faith and more over public health policy and the culture war? Were you not asking the visible church to “stand up” against what you regard as government overreach? I might agree with you about the government overreach, but can you show me from Scripture and the Reformed confessions the basis for the visible, institutional church speaking against the magistrate on such a matter??

      Perhaps some church members wanted the church to “go to war” with the magistrate, but I think many were beaten-down by the lack of church, wanted to go to church, and when it became obvious to many that the magistrate was more interested in control than public health (or at least refused to discuss any tradeoffs), they became discouraged by sessions that wouldn’t open church. Many found other places to worship.

      Have the sessions that erred repented and sought reconciliation? This seems to be the other half of the equation.

  4. Scott,

    No, I’m not proposing official grounds to leave a church. And I would never seek to bind someone else’s conscience—as they have sought to bind mine. Once we have acceded to the existence of civil rights, then it only remains for us to employ them. It is no sin for us to demand the tenets of our social contract be met. As Ryan said, a case can be made for indulging some idiocy, but the Sessions cannot be in the business of gratuitously potentiating tyranny. How could God stand for that? Tyrants which do not reckon upon God are His enemy, and they are enemies of the churches. How dare pastors err by selling out the integrity of our public gatherings to potentiate evil designs of the wicked in high places who see us as little more than vermin to beta test.
    I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I read this blog and that’s why I read others who have something worthwhile to say (ex., Gene Veith) because I do want to get it right. But if I’m honest, I think many churches and Sessions are lazy. They don’t know the literature, they don’t want to think too hard, they want respectability of the larger social (or academic) community, and I think you give them to much credit—because you are charitable, and don’t want to besmirch confessional churches. You feel a burden to sort things out for your readership and your students. It bothers you when things are amiss or precision is lacking or people advance ahistorical positions. I don’t sense that they are trying as much as you’d like to think they are. And if I’m wrong, then my faulty perception is a problem in itself—and I’m not alone.
    There are people (and we know who they are) who struggle to produce anything beyond cultural commentary. Perhaps this is their ministry or perhaps they don’t have the theological chops to do anything else. But I don’t see how it compromises the function of the gathered church to speak to issues of law, the civil magistrate, civil disobedience, etc., as the WCF itself addresses “cultural” issues. If the teaching elders have something to say, then SAY IT. MacArthur is a dispensational Baptist, but at least he recognized that there was plenty to say and he had the guts to take a very solid stab at it. Whether he acted appropriately is another question, but he stepped up to the plate and opened his mouth. That counts for something in this world. Many others need to stop pretending like there’s no problem, nothing to see, all’s well. Stop selling parishioners short. We can’t all go to seminary. We can read monographs and blogs and listen to Van Til and Gordon Clark lectures on Sermon Audio, but we need to be able to feel that what we learn and know can be taken seriously and applied in the local body. You have a great ministry, but we need more from the churches. I would LIKE militancy; I will settle for serious and concerted deliberation among those who have the richness of the Reformed faith at their fingertips.
    I say again: I think there should be a series of congresses, assemblies, whatever word you’d like to employ—where people can be given a microphone and be able to civilly hash this out and ask questions and then ask more questions. Have a Ligonier type conference of speakers and seminars that is completely in-house (NAPARC), perhaps some moderated debates between different Reformed streams of thought/traditions, and go beyond the typical softball questions that get thrown out at Ligonier or other Big Eva events. I mentioned Gene Veith; ok, he’s not in-house, but people like that who are perspicacious thinkers and go beyond the usual canned answers. We cannot just return to the churches and proceed as normal. Something greater has to materialize, because this has just been too much and too traumatizing—

    • Greg,

      You are a regular reader of the space and so you have seen me defending civil liberties. That is not in question. What is in question is whether the visible church is that institution in which that fight should be conducted.

      I should like to see evidence from scripture that the visible church is that place where or from which that fight should be conducted.

    • Greg,

      So where do traumatized people go? Where do traumatized sheep go?

      They go home. They go to their shepherd. Even if home is full of sinners and even if the shepherd is imperfect.

      At some point the disagreements over nuances cease; the family, the bride of Christ, and the sheep gather to worship God. It’s what we do.

      • Hi Cheryl,

        I appreciate your sincere response to what I wrote. And, I think I understand your admonition. I’m not sure now that I’d employ the word “traumatized” in my case (although I think I originally did use that word) but yes, perhaps. I’m not exactly sure. I really feel a cluster of emotions—informed by some thoroughgoing convictions. I am willing to say that I am immature in my Christian walk, and my understanding of some important theological/philosophical concerns—despite being heavily “churched” for the entirety of my youth and some of my adulthood. I have “experimented” with many modalities, visited different communions, read much, and had many conversations with learned friends deep into the night. At the end of the day, we are beholden to what we think we know, our particular temperament/psychology, our conscience, and all the other intangibles of decision making.
        I’m also willing to say the problem might not be with a particular NAPARC denomination —but rather the socio-political milieu in which I
        live and function—and the churches, of course, exist here by default. Prof. Clark wants us to maintain a rigid distinction between sacred/secular—and I understand the primacy of agreement on the authority of the Bible and confessional fidelity—but the simple fact of the matter is that I don’t have the emotional maturity to worship alongside people (and be shepherded by people) with whom I don’t feel that I have anything in common with beyond Sunday morning. I do not expect the visible church to be a political forum, but I also don’t think where the Confession speaks to the law and the civil magistrate should be ignored. If forced masking is to be considered unconstitutional today, then it was always unconstitutional. Which makes it illegal. When you or I do something illegal, we risk arrest, fine, or imprisonment. What of those who coerced, or…aided and abetted? They are lawbreakers.
        I think the best thing that I can do to preserve the peace of the church(es) is to stay away for now, until I can somehow think and grow my way through this. I don’t know when or if or how that may happen. My conscience presently will not allow me to worship in the right spirit. And not being a formal member, I’m denied the sacraments at any rate.
        I am not sure yet where (or if) I fit in. I know I’m not Romanist, I’m not Anglican or Anglo-Catholic, I’m not Wesleyan, I’m not Baptist, etc. In my mind, I’m Reformed. But if I’m not comfortable in Reformed communions, then perhaps this needs to be reconsidered. We will worship where we feel at home. If things seem alien, uncomfortable or annoying, then we are already in the wrong frame of mind/heart to even be there, and Sunday morning becomes an act of hypocrisy—

    • Greg,

      You are overthinking and overcomplicating it. Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? We are told not to forsake assembling together with other believers. Our primary purpose to gather is not for us; it’s to worship God through Jesus Christ, and second it is to gather with other believers (our family members).

      Family is messy. We don’t always agree with them about everything. But neither can we say that we have “nothing” in common with them. We have the same Father, we were bought with the same blood, we learn from the same Book about the same God, and we sing together to the same Savior. Differences of class, race, job status, political understanding, and so on are secondary matters.

      And we don’t get to know fellow believers, to encourage them and to be encouraged by them, until we spend time among them. You don’t get more “emotional maturity” by refusing to engage. Let’s switch the example a bit to explain. Let’s say you explained that you don’t understand women enough to date them; I’d tell you that avoiding women won’t solve your dilemma.

      You don’t get a “pass” by saying “I’m too immature to do this.” It is no more “hypocrisy” to attend church when you haven’t figured out all your questions than it is hypocrisy to eat when you aren’t an expert in food. Church is a place where strong believers and weak believers all acknowledge that we are weak and mortal and dependent–and where God Himself strengthens us.

  5. As Laura started out, “cackle on satan”, and so she is right. As a lay congregant, and huge fan of the Heidleblog and everything RSC, I learn so much here via intelligent argumentation from writers much more erudite and learned than me.
    New to the reformed faith and newer to my local church, which I love and from which I feed on the word and worship the risen Christ, all I can say is bravo to the viewpoints expressed here.
    But it seems to me some are essentially saying, “the man put restraints on our worship practice, and my local pastor cow-towed to his whims and then was disingenuous to us congregants so I’m no longer going to church!”
    Can’t we do both, be militant against an ever growing evil in the land and forgive our fellow man, as we’ve been forgiven, and keep Christ front and center?
    Cackle on satan, if you want, but I’m going to church!

  6. I appreciate this blog. I don’t think anger at the church is quite accurate. I have often told people over the last 2 years that government makes you angry, but the church devastates you – removes hope, the place to stand during a storm. When the whole world is in chaos, the Word of God is supposed to be the rock. I haven’t left my church, and I understand that many factors went into the decisions made over the last 2 years. It would have helped if those factors would have just been honestly stated. Instead, scripture was used to shame. I wanted the church to stand on the Word of God. I wanted Romans 13 to be applied in the context of 4 institutions that God has given to man: civil government, church, family, and the individual. I wanted it to be recognized that each institution is accountable to God and that each institution has a duty to exhort the others to bow before the Almighty God. I wanted it to be taught faithfully that each institution has limited authority – decisions of personal physical health belong no more to the civil government than it does to the church. These responsibilities – along with the responsibility of work – belong to the family and the individual. I hungered for Romans 13 to be taught in the context of the whole Bible.
    You say there are those who were less fearful and wanted less caution. No, not less fearful, but fear of a tyrannical government was not obliterated by our concern for personal safety and not just a want for less caution, but we saw the caution was mostly ineffective, if not harmful. We were told by our government to stay home to keep grandma alive. We were told that we are selfish if we don’t stay home, don’t close our businesses, don’t wear masks, want to be at the side of a loved one in a care facility, and finally don’t get the vaccines and even the boosters. Masking was equated to Christian love. Some have even equated the vaccine to Christian love. Churches merely parroted the government – never asking if government was acting in good faith or with honesty – while government officials applauded the burning of our cities and healthcare workers stood with signs to tell us that social justice is healthcare. I was even told that we are all in this together. How blind do you have to be to not see that we were never ALL in this together? I immediately started looking at data. At first, it all came from other countries, but within just a few days, I knew the graph thrown up at us in March 2020 was a lie. They kept coming. Some were wrong as they were being shown. But I was told that I was not being humble. Really? By June 2020, healthcare providers, who were treating the symptoms successfully, were being silenced – and not only silenced, but threatened with disciplinary action by medical boards. Would the governmental agencies have been so empowered if churches had said that we will continue to act like the church? We will never know. The church never gave voice to silenced, harrassed healthcare practitioners. The church never gave voice to business owners who had already put up plexi-glass, rearranged seating, and masked up only to be told “not good enough. You close because you are to carry the burden for the numbers and the standard the we, your government, has set” – set based on what? The church never gave voice to frustrated parents and depressed, masked children. Masking children is a form of grooming – but churches were silent – enabling it all. As many as 80% of the Covid deaths were due – not to the virus – but due to the lack of freedom clinicians had – especially in hospitals – to care for their patients. Add that to the deaths that our CDC has removed from the count and add that to the deaths that possibly were not even Covid since very early we knew the testing was flawed…then deaths from the mandates. Fast forward to vaccine injuries being largely ignored as vaccine efficacy, if there was any, wanes. An officer was just discharged from the military because he refused to get a 2nd vaccine after suffering side effects from the 1st. And I read that San Diego school board voted to require students to get the vaccine before 2022/2023 school year. I can’t think of a way to describe the last 2 years except to say that demons have been given a longer leash. We are under judgment. Has the church noticed? Crushed Christians, who are still suffering the effects of governmental lies and overreach, are looking for a church that, instead of extolling the virtues of compliance at all cost and equating it to Christian love, proclaims the Word of God and His authority in season and out of season – upholding truth and justice with clarity. This is love – especially for a fearful people. I never stopped praying for my church, but my spirit has been broken and a fear of abandonment has cast a dark shadow over trust. I pray the church develop a greater resolve to proclaim the unchanging truths of the Word of God and the riches of His mercy and grace to this lost and dying world.

      • I think Genesis is the best place to find thorough elaboration.

        Trust is rebuilt with truth. I don’t think trust would have been broken, at least as badly, if pastors/sessions would have communicated the shortfalls, according to scripture, of some of their decisions. Maybe it would have been a good time to teach Christians the role of civil government and how to question the government. We need to be well acquainted with the tendency of governments to turn tyrannical (Slaying Leviathan, Glenn S. Sunshine).

        As for where do we go now, I think this article complements your post well:

        Thank you.

    • Sue, you referred to “decisions of personal physical health”. That is a vast simplification of the decision to mask or to physically isolate involved. If a person made a decision of personal physical health not to mask and not to physically isolate before the vaccines were present, they were not only potentially getting infected (their choice – I have no problem with that), but they were acting as a spreader of the virus to others, some of whom had co-morbidities, leading to severe (sometimes long-term) maladies and death. I wonder how many people will be told on that day when all is known, “Your clinging to your rights and your ignoring the potential dangers to others was responsible for the virus moving from you to others, and then to Mrs. X, who got long COVID, Mr. Z, who suffered on an incubator for several months, and Mrs. Z, who died.”. The initial stage before the vaccines was NOT ABOUT YOU. It was about caring for the vulnerable and weak, who for whatever reason were not in a position to totally self-isolate… Perhaps someone who was a medical caregiver, hospital worker, etc. without the resources to give up their job. Now, as for after the vaccines were available, I would agree that life should have gone back to normal for almost all people. You said “The church never gave voice to frustrated parents and depressed, masked children. Masking children is a form of grooming – but churches were silent – enabling it all. “. Please avoid the hysterics that have animated the discussion of masking in the US. I lived in Japan for 7 years long ago. They have been masking (including children) to avoid spreading diseases for many decades without measurable harm to anyone’s mental or physical health. And their deaths from COVID stand at 28k while ours stand at 982k (for a population only 3 times that of Japan, and much less densely packed into a small area). Is it possible that Japan, a Shinto and Buddhist country with less than 1% Christian, showed more love for their neighbors than we did in the US? As for information about vaccines, I go to John Hopkins and Mayo Clinic for my information, rather than the government bureaucrats, and as long as they recommend the vaccines as a better alternative for vulnerable folks, I will continue to be boosted. The vast majority of those who should know the science and the relative risks of the vaccines and COVID itself are in the pro-vaccine camp, but I realize that the effects of the virus itself are not quite as clear-cut for the young and healthy (although I am seeing some troubling long-COVID maladies in studies being done on all who have experienced COVID). I think that the church should obey the authorities in cases where they judge that discipleship and the means of grace can be accomplished remotely and practice civil disobedience where they judge the remote option to be inadequate. And I think we all need to give grace to others who see things differently, realizing that we all “see through a glass darkly” (have our blind spots) and try to maintain our ties to our local church even if we disagree with them on some aspect of this issue.

      • Jeffrey,

        Re the psychological effects of masks on children, there is considerable emerging evidence that it has done significant psychological and educational harm to young people.

        As to the efficacy of masks, the evidence seems to be pretty clear that apart from a fitted KN95 with a respirator, masks aren’t effective. CDC has admitted that the masks that most wear are worthless. It’s theater.

        As to the vaccines, well, let’s just say that the evidence is far from clear that they have been either as efficacious or safe as we have been told. The story will likely not be told for some time.

        So a few of your premises are reasonably disputed.

    • Sue, you referred to “decisions of personal physical health”. That is a vast simplification of the decision to mask or to physically isolate involved. If a person made a decision of personal physical health not to mask and not to physically isolate before the vaccines were present, they were not only potentially getting infected (their choice – I have no problem with that), but they were acting as a spreader of the virus to others, some of whom had co-morbidities, leading to severe (sometimes long-term) maladies and death. I wonder how many people will be told on that day when all is known, “Your clinging to your rights and your ignoring the potential dangers to others was responsible for the virus moving from you to others, and then to Mrs. X, who got long COVID, Mr. Z, who suffered on an incubator for several months, and Mrs. Z, who died.”. The initial stage before the vaccines was NOT ABOUT YOU

      Public health is about tradeoffs and evidence-based procedures for limiting the spread of disease. There was no evidence for the lockdowns or social distancing. They were based on flimsy computer models. Do a PubMed search before 2020 and prove this to yourself. The studies on masks have always been equivocal and even the CDC now admits that only the N95 masks really work, but not on a population-level. Monica Ghandi and Vinay Prasad have documented the above extensively. Beyond telling the sick to stay home, the magistrate never had any concrete evidence that the rest of their onerous NPIs worked. The tradeoff for these NPIs has been rending of the social fabric, economic calamity, increased drug and alcohol use, and loss of education.

      You’re speaking from a position of great scientific weakness while binding the conscience of a sister for no real reason.

    • Yes. I read verses 23-25. It brought tears to my eyes. Every one of us need that stimulation, that encouragement. We all fail. We all are going to do it a little differently, but may we never lose sight of our calling – may we always be faithful to His Word.

  7. Kumbaya? But what’s wrong with letting those whose convictions led them to a resistance minded church stay there? This feels like those who beg the unvaxxed to get vaxed, which is pointless. They want choice, let them have it and the consequences.

    Our church situation was the opposite: a resistance minded pastor managed in his recklessness to infect at least one family on a Sunday. I went to bat for them and lost. It was never satisfactorily handled. They left. I don’t blame them. I can’t imagine appealing to them this way about bygones being bygones. It’s sentimentalism. We can’t paper over these things with sentiments about love and forgiveness. Don’t want to vax? Fine, have it your way. Want to leave a church and go where your convictions are affirmed? Why not?

  8. Of course, people will most likely go go where their convictions are confirmed, but you don’t do it lightly. Christ is ultimately the head of the church. No matter what any individual does, He is to be honored. Every one of us has a duty to take the whole counsel of God and apply it for His glory. If you don’t think the last 2 years has taught us to learn from each other, you haven’t been paying attention. There are good books out now if you want to learn what we really knew and when we knew it and how this virus could have been managed without so much division and ultimately so many deaths.
    Overcoming the Covid Darkness, Dr. Tyson and Dr. Fareed; Unmasked, Ian Miller

    • Sue, hindsight is 20/20. Thanks for the suggestion but I’m in the common sense camp and we tend to view recommendations like yours to be functions of the hyper-critics with an agenda to undermine expertise, etc. What happened happened and, as you say, we learned a lot about each other. From where I sit, it all happened just right in order to learn in an honest way. It was an extraordinary experience not likely to happen again, so learning how we could have done it better seems to miss the point a bit. Some understood common sense, while others tortured it to death out of some politicized agenda and seemed to have learned very little. The wheel turns.

      • I’m sorry. I am not a hyper-critic with an agenda – at least any more than you are. My agenda is simple – the Word of God, truth, honesty, justice, righteousness. I am speaking as someone who is broken by the atrocities that occurred far more at the hands of our govt, media, and paid-off hospitals – than the virus. I am speaking as someone who believes the Word of God is unchanging and brings the light of truth as it stands between the oppressors and the oppressed, and who still is unsure how my church will apply Romans 13. I am speaking as one who, with many others, were asking questions, looking at data, and largely ignored. The books are recent, but the authors were speaking and treating patients very early. During the Spanish Flu, churches were asked to shut down for a time and some did. But churches and civil govt knew at that time that the corporate worship of God belonged to the church and the church then was accountable to God. I saw a shift over the last 2 years. You saying “extraordinary experience not likely to happen again” is comical. A virus with about a 98% survival rate and with deaths boosted by poor early management – failure to protect the vulnerable, intubating people preemptively – a tyrannical govt acting to centralize power and wealth – will likely not happen again? Your lack of foresight is stunning.

  9. You might want to read:
    Overcoming the Covid Darkness, Dr. Tyson and Dr. Fareed; Unmasked, Ian Miller

  10. Having read the article and all the comments, I think there is at least one additional category of churchgoer who left and has not returned: the one who dropped out because of concern of picking up the virus (sometimes because of their personal vulnerability, and sometimes because they were caregivers) . . . and now it’s harder to go back than to continue to stay away. It’s awkward to return after so long away, when relational bonds have perhaps not been continued and when you wonder what people will say to you, and the “habit” of church attendance has been broken.

    The same answer applies to this person: please return home. Whether the wanderer is a prodigal son whose father has been watching for him every day or a sheep that got distracted for too long with one good clump of grass and therefore got separated from the flock, or a sheep who got scared away when the shepherd made too much noise killing a rattlesnake, the separation is not good and reunion is a happy ending.

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