October 7, 2020
Christian Responsibility and Freedom
Responsibility and freedom are two words that carry much meaning for the Christian. Responsibility means that we understand and accept that there is something or someone greater than ourselves to whom we are accountable and to whom we owe something. In terms of creation and salvation, this pertains to our relationship as children of God, made so first through His sovereign act of creation and secondly via His redeeming work of Christ by which He purchased us for His glory. For these two reasons alone, we are indebted to Christ both as His siblings and His slaves.
Jesus stated the nature of our relationship to Himself clearly in John 15:8-10, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Obedience is the hallmark of our love for Christ and it is also inextricably linked to the “abiding” aspect of our relationship to the Son; the one who truly abides in Christ is the one who keeps His commandments.
Furthermore, the believer’s responsibilities to God are seen through the comparison He makes between our citizenship in His kingdom versus our citizenship in this world. Philippians 3:20 powerfully points out, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” This, and other passages, demonstrate the greater reality that though we live in this world, time and place, yet our true citizenship is firmly settled in heaven and the kingdom of our God. One of the consequences of this is that we are subject first to the laws of our true King, Jesus, and only secondly to the laws of our earthly nation with the exception of those laws that are contrary to Christ’s own.
This too, He makes clear in several passages such as Romans 12:1-7; 1 Peter 2:11-17; Acts 4:19-20, and Acts 5:29. The first two passages lay out the believer’s responsibility to God as obedience to our governing authorities, while the second two passages address those rare times when the believer must disobey those same authorities because their laws contradict our God’s law. The specific point in case in both Acts passages is the demand that the name of Christ not be taught or preached by the apostles, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” ~ Acts 5:28. This was a “legal” order that was rightly disobeyed because it was contrary to the revealed will of God as Peter declared in Acts 5:29, “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”
It is also important to notice that their conviction of civil disobedience in light of their responsibility before God was costly, as we discover in Acts 5:40, “They (the Jewish Council) took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.” Flogging was an excruciatingly painful, and humiliating punishment, but the apostles willingly embraced it as the price of following Christ; in fact, they rejoiced in what they considered a privilege to suffer in the name of the One they preached.
A final note on the Christian’s responsibility is this: the church has always faced unjust and unreasonable rulers who sought to stop her in her mission and worship of God, but this has never altered our responsibility to render obedience. Our primary obedience is to God first, and He has ordained that we obey the rulers and authorities whom He has placed over us. Yes, there may be times when a governor violates God’s commands for us, and in those times, we must humbly disobey for the sake of our greater loyalty to Christ, but those times will be rare, especially in a democracy such as ours.
Freedom is a word that expresses the longing of the human heart in so many ways. In a nobler spirit we long for freedom that enables us to be at peace with all men as 1 Timothy 2:1-2 expresses, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Of course, there is also a much darker side to human freedom that actually leads to bondage to sin, and that is the freedom from restraint or obedience. We see this in our own sin nature and in public displays of violence during this year of protests. It is easy to lose sight of the value and biblical nature of true freedom if we are not careful and to find that freedom is little more than an excuse for the expression of our sinful nature as the apostle Paul warns in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
We also need to distinguish between the American ideal of freedom and the biblical meaning of freedom. Too often, as Americans we are tempted to herald our “rights” above all else. While it is true that God has sovereignly allowed for the American “experiment” to continue it is also true that this marvelous freedom must never replace our true allegiance to our God. If anything, our American freedoms are not so much for ourselves as individuals, as they are for the outworking of God’s kingdom purposes. American freedom and prosperity places believers in a unique position; on the one hand they provide more opportunities than at any other time, and on the other, they mean we will be held to a higher accountability than at any other time. Consider this double-edged warning/promise from Jesus in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” And earlier in Luke 6:38 we find this word concerning using our blessings to bless others, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
Are we American Christians, or Christian Americans, or perhaps Christians who happen to live in America? Do our political rights come before our biblical responsibilities? How should we view both? God has granted us the freedom to live for Him and to exercise the rights of citizens of this nation. If ever the two are in conflict we must always remember our first allegiance is to Christ and act accordingly.
In light of these considerations, and the exposition of what we believe are the relevant passages of Scripture, the elders at Grace Bible Church believe that we continue to be under the authority of the governor and his most recent mandates. While we do not agree with all of his decisions nor the reasonings for them, we do not believe he has crossed a biblical mandate that would require the church to sin against God. When, or if, the government attempts to stop the clear mandates of Scripture, such as prohibition against the preaching of Christ, we will humbly refuse to comply with such an order. At this time, we do not believe this line has been crossed and thus we continue to obey the authority God has sovereignly place over us at this time.
The elders of Grace Bible Church encourage all believers to continue to pray for those in authority over them that they might receive wisdom to govern well and grace to find peace through Christ in their personal lives.
The elders of Grace Bible Church
October 1, 2020
This past week Santa Barbara County graduated to Tier 2 - Substantial Red - which allows places of worship to meet outdoors without restriction in numbers, indoors at 25% (about 75 people in our Chapel and Fellowship Room and about 10 in our nursery). We intend to continue conducting our service outdoors but will make a Live Stream available indoors where climate control is available for your comfort.
June 3, 2020
Dear Grace Bible Church,
The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed the legal ordinances that Governor Newsom of California put into place allowing churches to meet pursuant to specific State mandates. Grace Bible Church plans to meet this Sunday, June 7th, while obeying these State and Public Health Department directives. Here are the procedures we must follow in order to comply with the law:
All individuals more vulnerable to COVID 19, [older adults and those with other serious health issues] are to consider how soon they wish to attend in person. Livestreaming of our Sunday service will continue or you can ask Bo Shelly [588-3674] for a CD of the service. Whatever decision you make will be highly respected.
Anyone experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, chills or anyone who has a fever, loss of smell and/or taste, and those with gastro-intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach cramps or just not felling well should protect others by staying home.
All attendees must wear face coverings both inside and outside the church buildings and while fellowshipping outside the Church. A limited number of masks will be available so please bring your own mask if you have one. Parents are responsible for their own child’s face covering.
Family groups will be seated together by an usher, but with physical distancing from other people. At least 6 foot distancing is to be maintained at all times both inside and outside the buildings. When exiting, please wait for guidance from your usher.
No nursery, junior church or playground will be provided. Children will sit with their family. Parents should accompany their children to the restroom if their child is not mature enough to disinfect the bathroom for the next occupant.
The service will begin at 10:30 AM and will be shortened to minimize possible exposure to the virus. We will have less singing and we will not pass offering plates. There will offering baskets at each entrance.
Please plan to arrive early to be seated. Only approximately 80 persons total may attend due to the new temporary state guidelines - approximately 37 people in the sanctuary; 30 in the fellowship hall; and 13 in the nursery/classroom. Those in the latter two rooms will watch the service on TV monitors. Early arrivals may be seated when the doors open at 10:00 AM for quiet prayer and meditation. To limit the size of any possible quarantine due to a worshipper getting COVID, photos of our seating arrangements will be taken prior to the beginning of the service, kept confidential, and then deleted after three weeks.
To maintain fresh air flow during the service, all doors will remain open and fans will be on. Please dress according to the outside temperature. Since no refreshments or supplies can be provided, please bring your own pens, Bibles, and water bottles.
Hand sanitizer dispensers will be available at all entrances. Please use these before and after the service. All surfaces and chairs will be cleaned with proper anti-viral agents prior to the service. It is important that we restrain ourselves from shaking hands or other physical contacts even though we all have missed one another greatly.
Please contact David Watts [805-245-4610] or Bill Shelly [805-686-0115] with any specific questions you may have. We continue to seek to satisfy the public health guidelines in caring for each other, but our deepest purpose is to honor our God in love and reverence, to worship His holy name.
On behalf of the leadership and reentry teams