I’m very capable of “stupid.” We all are. It’s in our nature to be Sin’s fool. And then, lest we think we can hide it, our thoughts, words, and deeds prove to others just how deep the roots of Sin’s foolishness go.
I could share plenty of personal examples of my stupidity. But I really don’t want to. And why not? Because, as I’m sure it is with you, I’m ashamed of my foolishness—my failings, my flaws, my deficiencies. Although, for the sake of piloting toward something worthwhile this morning, this discussion brings to mind a generality that likely applies to us both—but only if as Christians we are willing to deal in honesty.
It seems to me that for an honest person, a telltale sign in most circumstances that you’re being Sin’s fool is to make excuses for something you feel shameful for doing. In other words, you know it’s wrong, and you get a sense of indecency from it, but you commit to doing it, anyway. And then from there, hoping to feel better about it, you do what you can to convince yourself (and others) it was virtuous.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the sadness we sometimes experience in certain situations. Sometimes sadness happens when we’re doing something right. I often experience sadness when punishing my children. I don’t enjoy it, and yet, I know that correcting them is the right thing to do. But if while disciplining them, I do something I shamefully regret—let’s say I’m so angry that the punishment I inflict clearly exceeds the crime—then I know by shame’s pestering that I should repent and amend my behavior, even though I’m pretty sure I could, like most parents trying to save face, conjure countless rationalizations for staying the course.
In short, when you’re doing something that stirs your inner shame, but still you find yourself making excuses for the behavior—projecting it as dutiful, or describing it as your only option, or perhaps worse, scrambling to defend it by lifting portions of God’s Word from their appropriate contexts—it could be in those moments you’ve been duped into embracing Sin; or as I said before, you’re being Sin’s fool.
“Well, I know you said you didn’t want to,” you might interject, “but can you provide an example, something that comes to mind that you can share to shed light on this?”
Sure. The first example that comes to mind as the pastor of a school is the idea of making our students wear masks. Now, having let you into my feeble mind, give me some room to explain.
For starters, if you were to look backward across the expanse of everything I’ve ever written or said publicly over the last eighteen months, you’d discover that I rarely, if ever, used my energy to argue for or against masks. Those closest to me know I’m against wearing them. They also know my reasons, which I prefer not to cram down anyone else’s throat. Instead, my steady goal has simply been to do what I can to help keep people connected to Christ during a time when the government seems to be doing everything it can to divide Christians from Him. Of course, I’ve experienced circumstances requiring me to face off with the mask issue as it relates to the State’s impositions on churches. When that happened, I made it clear that requiring masks in public worship or study, no matter how people tried to twist the “love thy neighbor” premise, was not something I would impose because it would mean straying beyond the boundaries of God’s Word. I knew the issue to be one of Christian liberty. If you wanted to wear a mask in church, you were free to do so. If you didn’t, that was okay, too. But whichever you preferred, no matter your reasoning, I could not establish your preference as a law that could potentially prevent others from being in the presence of God to receive His Word and Sacrament gifts.
Getting closer to the point, I’d say some of the same theological principles spill over and into the practice of mandating the masking of children in schools.
Aside from the serious physical, psychological, and pedagogical damages masking causes among children—all of which form a mountain of absolute wrongness I’d feel shameful while climbing—I’m far more concerned about the shame found in trespassing God’s will. I say this knowing that the authority of God vested in the Fourth Commandment and given to parents to raise and care for their children is not something I’m allowed to usurp. It is the sole duty of parents to decide if their children should or should not be masked, and for me to impose such a rule without leaving room for parental exemption or recourse would be to stray beyond the borders of God’s Word and wield a sovereignty He did not grant to me. Even worse, if I did decide to participate in it—if I try to justify it by saying I’m obligated to comply with the Health Department, or it’s my duty as a Christian according to Romans 13 to abide, or that there’s no reasonable doctrinal stance that can be taken against it—I’d be defending something I know is wrong and I’d experience shame. I’d be Sin’s fool.
That’s the example that comes to mind.
But since I brought up Romans 13 (v. 1), I might as well go a little further, because it’s likely someone has already started pulling the pin from the “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” hand grenade and is thinking of throwing it. Preemptively, I should say that I doubt in this circumstance it will detonate as expected. And why? Because as it meets with the discussion, there are plenty of other similarly minded Bible passages that help define and then test the legitimacy of governing authorities to be obeyed. Simultaneously, I’d say the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its centuries-old confessional documents have a pretty good handle on such texts, ultimately realizing their depth in the “Two Kingdoms” doctrine, which is the biblical teaching that not only understands the authority of the Church and the authority of the State, but also when, where, and how these two kingdoms meet. By this doctrine, Christians can know and understand what it means to be subject to a legitimate government established by God. And by legitimate, we mean that it maintains its divine ordination and does not transgress God’s moral law. Likewise, we can know by the Two Kingdoms doctrine the possibility of a ruling authority’s delegitimization, thereby knowing when we, as Christians, may find ourselves in an unfortunate situation requiring us to disobey men in order to remain faithful to God (Acts 5:29).
Digging a little deeper, especially since we’ve now gone down the rabbit hole of governments maintaining their ordination, we need to remember that the United States government, as well as the state and local governments, are not sovereign entities. In the U.S., all people, Christian or otherwise, live within the contours of a constitutional republic established on the premise that the citizenry is the sovereign authority. In other words, all federal, state, and local governments are, by design, holders of limited authority over and against the citizenry’s personal liberties and their right to act and defend according to concern of conscience.
That’s our form of government in a nutshell. It was thoughtfully constructed in a way that its executive, legislative, judicial, and all leadership bodies by extension would not be found suppressing its citizens’ lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness.
This means, then, that when a body of unelected appointees, such as a Health Department, begins governing with seemingly inescapable sovereignty, the kind that leaves no room by exemption for citizens to self-determine in these ways, it becomes delegitimized, and I dare say a Christian is no longer bound to obey.
Now, I know this was a lengthy answer, but you asked for an example, and this is the one that came to mind. This is true, most likely, because I’ve had so many conversations about it lately. It certainly is a relevant topic right now.
In the end, as the pastor of a school, I pray we don’t have to face off with these things again. My hope is that the Livingston County Health Department will simply leave things alone, allowing the individual schools to determine their own fate. If that’s the case, then things will be a lot easier for leadership around here at Our Savior. But if they don’t, well then, we already know that doing the right thing can sometimes bring a measure of sadness. For the record, I’m willing to accept the reward of sadness dished out by the world for doing what’s right rather than to experience shame before God for doing what I know is wrong.