The States’ responses to COVID-19 intersected with church practices in varying degrees, and pastors had to respond to individual state mandates without forewarning and often under intense pressure. With the COVID-19 measures now phased out, we can soberly reflect on the responses in order to gain wisdom for the future. Two polarizing responses emerged among Evangelicals, and they are worth comparing.
One group equated the civil governments’ agenda with Christ’s agenda, as represented in the BioLogos’ “Love Your Neighbor, Get the Shot: A Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times.” Another group differentiated between Christ’s agenda and the states’ agenda, as represented in “The Frankfurt Declaration of Christian and Civil Liberties.” In what follows, I will compare the two statements in order to show that the BioLogos Statement is an attempt to synthesize Christianity with the course of this world during the COVID-19 era, whereas the Frankfurt Declaration places Christianity in antithesis to the spirit of the age during the COVID-19 era. By contrasting these two statements, my hope is that Christians will grow wise to recognize and resist a syncretistic form of “Christianity” that loses its biblical potency.
Who Has Ultimate Authority?
The two statements fundamentally differ in where each locates its ultimate authority. The BioLogos Statement gives credence to “the authority of God’s Word,” but in the same sentence, immediately after this, it affirms “science as a tool to understand God’s world.” So where does the authority ultimately rest?
The thrust of the document is found in the next sentence: “We call on all Christians to follow the advice of public health experts and support scientists doing crucial biomedical research on COVID-19.” T he authority of God’s Word has little bearing on the mandates other than to convince Christians to follow them, even insisting that Dr. Fauci “should be listened to.”
In contrast, the Frankfurt Declaration’s preamble confesses the “timeless truths of God’s Word,” but it does not mention science until Article 2, in which it defines science as a tool to discover truths in “the natural world.” Unlike the BioLogos Statement, however, the Frankfurt Declaration creates two crucial categories: science as a tool, and “scientism” as an ideology that “ignores or suppresses the concerns of dissident voices” while attempting to control “complex social realities.” In other words, science is the discovery of truth, and scientism is a political agenda under the pretense of science. The bulk of the Frankfurt Declaration demonstrates that Scripture and scientism are antithetical sources of authority, whereas the BioLogos Statement, conflating science with scientism, presents Scripture as demanding compliance with scientism.
Humanity’s Capacity for Sin
Underneath so many wrong beliefs is an insufficient understanding of the nature of humanity, and, in this case, an understanding of mankind’s capacity for sin. The BioLogos Statement acknowledges that state abuses of science and medicine have occurred in the past, but undergirding the BioLogos Statement is the profound presupposition that similar misdeeds could not happen in the response to COVID-19. Synthesizing Scripture with scientism, the BioLogos Statement dismisses notions that COVID-19 responses could be in serious error or stem from nefarious intent. It accuses detractors of vilifying scientists while ignoring their findings, and generalizes them as believing in “conspiracy theories that go viral.” It grants that “thoughtful Christians may disagree on public policy,” framing disagreements as trivial matters of opinion, while emphasizing that “none of us should ignore clear scientific evidence.” With COVID-19, “Christians should listen to scientists and doctors . . . especially when millions of lives are at stake.”
The Frankfurt Declaration recognizes humanity’s continuing capacity for sin, contrasting Scripture with the claims that Christians should trust policy makers: “Since man has fallen into sin, we further affirm that all his thoughts, deductions, and institutions contain degrees of corruption which tend to distort, manipulate, or suppress the truth,” and, “We therefore deny that human governments are morally and ideologically neutral . . . and that their narrative should be unconditionally trusted.” The Frankfurt Declaration assumes the fallen nature of men who direct policy and oversee science, whereas the BioLogos Statement assumes that they should be trusted, especially in civil governments’ response to COVID-19.
On Church Gatherings
The difference is explicit in how the two statements interact with policies that bear on gathered Christian worship. The BioLogos Statement notes, “Even closer to our hearts is the impact of quarantine on church fellowship.” Compare that to the Frankfurt Declaration: “We believe that Christ, who is Lord over all, calls all without distinction of any kind to freely and regularly gather together in His Name in local congregations to seek and serve Him in truth and love.” The former subjectivizes worship as something close to our hearts, whereas the later presents worship objectively as a gathering mandated by Christ.
The BioLogos Statement then calls Christians to negotiate worship with public health policies, policies that, without qualification, it equates with protecting the vulnerable: “Christians need to balance God’s call to meet together with God’s call to protect the vulnerable among us.” It tenders the limitations or cessation of gathered worship as a “call to sacrifice ourselves for others and accept temporary limitations on our freedom.” Just the reverse, the Frankfurt Declaration presents gathered worship as exclusively designed by God for God: “We further affirm that the activities of the local church insofar as they are essential acts of worship are to be regulated by Christ alone,” and, “We thus repudiate all actions of the State that . . . regulate any of its activities which are undertaken as acts of service toward its Lord.”
The BioLogos Statement locates the impetus for worship in the hearts of believers, calls for a compromise between God’s call to worship and the state mandates, and presents alterations to worship as personal sacrifice. Quite the opposite, the Frankfurt Declaration locates the impetus for worship in the demands of Christ, calls for exclusive obedience to Him amidst pressure to compromise, and declares that worship is nonnegotiable because it belongs to Christ. The BioLogos Statement synthesizes Christian worship with the COVID-19 response, and the Frankfurt Declaration places worship as its antithesis.
Definitions of Faith and Fear
The gulf between these statements widens further when definitions of faith amidst fear are postulated. To the BioLogos Statement, faith finds its expression in resolutions to “Wear masks in indoor public places and follow other physical distancing rules given by public health officials,” “Get vaccinated,” “Correct misinformation and conspiracy theories”—in context, that means correcting dissident views—and “Work for justice for communities who suffered the most deaths from COVID-19,” which includes “the elderly in nursing homes, the Navajo nation . . . and people of color.” Each resolution is an expression of the spirit of the age, not one is grounded in explicit Scriptural commands, and some of them (masks, social distancing, vaccinations) are inconclusive on whether they actually stop the spread of Covid. The call to work for justice might have the air of being scriptural, but, in this case, it is an unscriptural collectivist view of justice, emphasizing the perceived rights of groups instead of the God-given rights of individuals.
Like the BioLogos Statement, the Frankfurt Declaration concludes with a call to courage amidst fear, but unlike the BioLogos Statement it is a call to obey God when the world demands otherwise. Referencing the Hebrews’ refusal to obey the order to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue in Daniel 3:16, the Frankfurt Declaration reads, “To those who desire to compel us to obey the secular State rather than God, we respectfully but firmly say . . . ‘We have no need to answer you in this matter.’” The Frankfurt Declaration calls on states that violate Scripture “to repent and to become again the protectors of liberty and of the rights that God has given to all men, lest in the abuse of your God-given authority, you become liable to God’s wrath.”
In sum, the BioLogos Statement calls for Christians to obey the state, but the Frankfurt Declaration calls for states and individuals to obey Christ above all. Each presents itself as a call to courage, but the actions required are poles apart.
Summary and Takeaway
In the end, each statement embodies conflicting responses that emerged among Evangelicals during the COVID-19 crisis—responses that stem from a larger understanding of ultimate authority, humanity, biblical commands, and even faith and fear itself. The BioLogos Statement attempted to synthesize Christianity with the government’s response to COVID-19, putting obedience to Christ in lockstep with obedience to the state. The Frankfurt Declaration declared that Christ is over the state, the church, and individuals, with the result that Christians in certain cases disobey the government’s response to COVID-19.
With the pressures of the crisis beyond us, we can soberly evaluate how churches responded to the COVID-19 mandates and lockdowns. Our society and civil governments, increasingly influenced by godless ideologies, are often incapable of discerning good from evil, and they regularly confuse the two, even in times of relatively low-pressure. In times of high-pressure, as in a perceived public health emergency, we should anticipate the compounding of their confusion. Turning to them for direction seems like a good decision, but ultimately Christians must heed the voice of God in Scripture, believing that He is our supreme standard in all things. A failure to heed Scripture, no matter how sincere, is still a failure. The failure is compounded when Evangelicals compromise away gathered worship and the right of King Jesus to rule His church—all in the name of allegiance to Christ, love of neighbor, and the public good. Such refusal to heed Scripture is not merely failure or even compounded failures, but it is in fact sin.