“Conscience and the Government”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
There is nothing in the Bible about masks or vaccines. However, the Bible does discuss submission to the government and liberty of conscience, and both of these principles lead to some straightforward mask-and-vaccine applications. If the government tells us to do something, we do it (unless it asks us to disobey God’s commandment). Similarly, we respect others’ judgments about masks and vaccines, especially when we don’t agree with those judgments.
By contrast, the interaction between conscience and government is harder to sort out. What if I am conscientiously opposed to masks/vaccines, but the government requires me to mask and/or vaccinate? Does submission to the government come first, or does my conscience?
Many brethren have adopted the latter position. They point to Scriptures such as Romans 14:23, which reads in part, “Everything that is not from faith is sin.” Because they feel like masking/vaccinating would be sinful for them, they must not do either, even if the government requires it.
I presume that these Christians are reasoning in good faith, but they don’t take into account the context of Romans 14:23. Romans 14 isn’t a passage about how to handle God’s law; it’s a passage about the role of the individual conscience in areas where God has given us liberty.
We are at liberty to eat meat. However, if we think it’s wrong to eat meat but eat meat anyway, we sin against our conscience. In areas of liberty, what is not from faith is sin. When we move outside the realm of liberty, though, we also move outside the realm of Romans 14 and apply Romans 14:23 where Paul does not.
This is a fraught step. Once we start using our conscientious conviction to override one of God’s laws (His commandment to submit to the government), we open the door to others overriding God’s other laws because of their conscientious convictions.
Consider, for instance, the feminist who believes in absolute equality between the sexes and thinks it would be morally wrong for her to submit to her husband when she strongly disagrees with him. Such women certainly exist. We come to her with Ephesians 5:22, but she replies, “I can’t submit to my husband because my conscience won’t allow it.”
If we refuse to submit to the government because of our conscience, how can we tell her that she must submit to her husband despite her conscience?
Through this open door, anything can and will come. There are people who feel morally bound to set the words of an earthly religious leader as equal to the word of God. There are others who are utterly convinced that it is right for them to marry and have relations with someone of the same sex. All of these people will argue against keeping divine commandments because of conscience.
If we disobey divine commandments because of our conscience, what do we have to say to any of them?
Defying the government because of our conscientious convictions sounds very noble, but it really amounts to defying the law of God. It is nothing more than the old rule of Judges 21:25 beneath a veneer of American individualism. Once we start doing what is right in our own eyes, we must grant others the license to do what is right in their eyes too.