Christians may be obliged to disobey Government, says FIEC's John Stevens

(Photo: Unsplash/Aron Van de Pol)

Evangelical leader John Stevens has urged church leaders to start thinking now about when and why it might be acceptable to disobey the Government as it continues to impose far-reaching restrictions on society to tackle coronavirus.

Stevens, National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), said on Twitter: "As we face renewed coronavirus restrictions there well may come a point at which Christians are obliged to disobey the government. It is vital we think through the biblical principles now." 

He laid out his thoughts in more detail in a recent webinar, which can be viewed below, where he set out the principles that church leaders should consider when making up their own minds about whether to defy coronavirus restrictions. 

Stevens said it should be a matter of individual conscience and that pastors need to be mindful that "many of our congregations are far more risk-averse than our leaders".

"I think that in how we approach this we've got to be very careful not to bind the consciences of others and say that others have to agree with us, to take the action that we want to take, or even support it," he said.

"So for example, if we're saying there's a duty to gather, what are we saying to the vulnerable people in our churches, what are we saying to the people who are nervous and risk-averse and don't want to come out?

"Are they disobeying Christ because they are making that judgement?

"Pastoral leadership in that context has got to take account of the different opinions amongst God's people before we start commanding them what they've got to do." 

He said Christians who decide to disobey regulations need to be clear about their reasons for doing so, but suggested that disliking a regulation was not strong enough grounds for disregarding it. 

"It seems to me that what's crucial is that the Bible doesn't allow us to disobey simply because we dislike a law and find it inconvenient, and the Bible doesn't allow us to disobey just because we distrust the Government. So distrust is not a reason for disobedience," he said.

"It seems to me that we're not entitled to disobey simply because we disagree with a policy choice and a law that's been made to implement it, and at the moment there are lots of different opinions about what's to be done about Covid, and it's hard to know which of those opinions is right."

Churches should also consider the extent to which any disobedience would be supported within their own churches or denominations, and in wider society.

Arguments claiming that churches are "a special case" are "unlikely to work with the Government and indeed the public", he added. 

Stevens went on to say that churches could be justified in disobeying the Government where there is "a higher duty to obey Christ, and obeying Christ would be prevented by obedience to legislation".

But he warned that Christians who take that decision must "accept the due penalty for our disobedience" and disobey the law "with our eyes open [...] knowing that there will be consequences that follow from that".

He concluded: "In the end, it's a matter for conscience bearing in mind all of those principles before God. And I don't think there's any easy, simplistic answer at this point." 

Hear his thoughts in full below: