Render Unto Caesar, Or Not?

I’m not a very politically correct person. Just letting you know as you read this. Call it a “trigger warning” for which no apology is being offered.

The Chinese virus is on the rise again in various parts of the country, and the world – and don’t let the media fool you into thinking that Omicron is nothing but a bad cold – my wife and I just fought our way through it, and I’m still dealing with pneumonia.

And here is where I think that lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings will come into play yet again.

Back in early 2020, when this thing hit in earnest for the first time, it was “two weeks to flatten the curve,” and churches and other places to gather had their doors closed.

New York City was like a ghost town, along with Los Angeles and virtually every major city. This was in early March – and we all thought that by early April, this thing would die down and the quarantine would be lifted.

Not so fast. Two weeks to flatten the curve became months.

Churches went to livestreams for their sermons and this worked for a few weeks, maybe a few months, but pastors wanted to get back to normalcy.

The writer of Hebrews writes in chapter 10 and verses 24 and 25:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Notice that we’re called the Hebrews 10 Church. We were born out of this lockdown fiasco. There’s one huge difference between us and the live-streaming of sermons. We don’t purport to take the place of anyone’s home church, but rather to gather as it states in the passage in Hebrews 10, to exhort and hold each other up.

And unfortunately, I see that this could well happen again.

Some churches – and they’re in the minority now, but there are some, who are still closed, either that they’re too frighten to open, or maybe closed permanently because people have gone elsewhere, or lastly, because Caesar has still put their thumb on whether they can open.

And if they are open, some churches are the assigning seats based on the wearing of masks or vaccination status. Yes, they’re out there! If they’re not masking up or they’re not vaccinated, they sit in the back, behind the glass.

And this is where we as churches need to ask ourselves, where do we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s?

It’s not just about taxes, offerings or non-profit status, it’s also about how much authority we give the government, whether it be local, state or federal, over what is God’s.

I was listening to an interview with Phil Johnson, an elder with Grace Community Church (y’all,know John MacArthur who pastors that church – yeah, that church) and clearly delineates the line as what is physical and what is spiritual.

I think that we all agree that building and fire codes – Caesar has a say. The government can set an occupancy limit based on building size, sprinkler systems, number of parking spaces and things like that. These are clearly in Caesar’s realm.

But when Caesar starts sticking his nose into things spiritual, the pastor as the shepherd of the flock, together with the advice of the elders, must take a hard look at what the government is doing in the spiritual life of the church.

Back in early 2020, when churches closed for what was thought was for a couple of weeks was prudent, because pastors had no clue what they were dealing with. There were images of corpses being piled in morgues in New York.

Was this sickness so serious that it warranted the violation of Hebrews 10, or a response akin to Acts 5:29?

Many people would look at Romans 13 in this case where public safety and health are concerned and come down squarely on the side of this passage – the government has closed public buildings, entertainment venues and restaurants – this is clearly a health emergency and the church should be closed for however long it needs to, until the authorities get a handle on this.

Others would take the tack that as it was understood by mid-2020, that over 99% of those who come down with it, recover – and at a better rate than the flu, and that with precautions, the churches should be open.

In many of Paul’s letters, he tells the churches how much longs to be with them. This gets back to Hebrews 10. One of the purposes of the church is to provide a place for believers to gather, to edify and to hold each other up.

If the church is shut down, this can’t happen.

Again, this is precisely why the Hebrews 10 church born. We gather for Bible study, a message is put together – mostly on a weekly basis (like this one), and we gather – on Zoom, because we are all over, in many locations, to hold each other up.

We kept it going for several reasons. The first, is that we wanted to continue the fellowship with each other, and the second is that if this type of lockdown ever happens again, we still have a place to gather.

Folks, my first bout with the Chinese virus was in October, 2020 and it had me in the hospital for two and a half weeks. The Ventilator was in my room, but my orders was that it was not to be used, because back then, people placed on a ventilator, more than likely died. I was also immunocompromised in that I have Parkinson’s, and as such – am prone to pneumonia due to aspiration, common in later stages of the disease and I had pneumonia with the Chinese virus.

My wife had to battle it at home. The kids really came through, bringing her meals and Gatorade – leaving it all on the steps, for obvious reasons.

We both had it again just a few weeks ago, me with pneumonia.

God pulled us both through both times. I truly believe that Satan wants to take us both out – but our unwavering faith pulled us both through.

This church has wonderful prayer warriors and between the prayer warriors here, pastors I know here in the States and around the world as well as well as with a church I love and affiliate with around the corner from my home, we both pulled through.

That pastor of church around the corner – he was in the same hospital at the same time in 2020, so the prayer warriors there were working overtime.

So, getting back to the subject at hand, given my experience with this virus, I don’t take public health lightly, and I’ve actually decided to not attend a pastors summit later this month due to the pneumonia, but given what I know about this virus now, I would not permit Caesar to dictate to me, if I pastored a brick and mortar church.

I’d have to look at Acts 5:29 and make the decision that God beats out Caesar when it comes to matters of spirituality. I would counsel every pastor to do the same.

When it comes to physical matters such as fire codes and such, Caesar has a seat at the table.

When it comes to spiritual matters, he doesn’t – period.

And those decisions need to be made prayerfully by the pastor and his elders. Whether Caesar’s at the table or not, God always has a seat at the table.


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