Regardless of speculation about the doctrinal orthodoxy of his faith, the first President of the United States understood something abundantly forgotten, intentionally abandoned, and increasingly scorned by the overwhelming quorum of contemporary American politicians. George Washington understood something of the importance of the Word of God. Consider his observations:
“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor.”
“It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
While most American pastors and professing Christians would today agree with Washington’s observations, and likely also vocally bemoan the vivid absence of their import in our day, the fact is that during the last two-years of the “fifteen days to flatten the curve” Covid “pandemic,” many churches seem themselves to have jettisoned a biblically reasoned response to the onerous intrusions into the church by a godless, Scripture-less government.
Whether from an unconscious but tacit statist worldview, bolstered perhaps with an unhealthy dose of secularism, and, further wrapped up in an eager-to-retreat, “love thy neighbor” pietism, when Caesar commanded the church to shut down, even after it became obviously, statistically, and medically unnecessary, many churches unquestionably obeyed. Onerous government mandates to shut down public gatherings caused many churches to abandon Scripture-commanded gathered worship (Hebrews 10:25). When magisterial allowances were permitted for the resumption of gatherings, churches maintained complicity with those prevailing magistrates and set limits on attendance, required masks, enforced social distancing, and suspended making a joyful noise to the Lord in song (Psalm 100:1).
Why such unflinching obeisance to Caesar was so widespread in evangelicalism may have many reasons. Indeed, the responses of so many churches who willingly complied with the government’s pandemic requirements doesn’t necessarily reflect an intentional desire on the part of those churches to unrighteously render unto Caesar what is God’s. Many pastors and elders struggled with these previously unknown circumstances and the challenge to navigate them faithfully came with no little angst. Nobly intentioned church leaders desired to protect their flocks and rightfully obey Caesar where it seemed Caesar had both responsibility and reasonable intentions.
Despite the noble and prayer-laced intentions of many pastors, elders, and churches seeking to arrive at a faithful decision, there were a couple of proof-text arguments proffered in defense of their decisions to shutter their churches and then, later, to institute and maintain the onerous magisterial mandates that impacted gathered worship. Two premiere arguments arose: “Love thy neighbor” a la Mark 12:31, among other biblical texts, and, of course, the apostolic command to “submit to governing authorities” issued from Paul in Romans 13.
It is primarily to this latter argument, the one which was perhaps most central to the evangelical debate regarding the church’s response to government during this time of “pandemic,” that the Lord’s providence has brought to the church a recent and most helpful book. “Caesar And The Church: A Biblical Study on Government And The Church” by Anthony Forsyth cuts to the marrow of this debated matter. And that marrow is the matter of a proper, biblical understanding of authority.
A twenty-year pulpit veteran, Forsyth has served as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Burbank, CA for six years. His church abides geographically almost in the shadow of the more renowned Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA and its pastor, John MacArthur, the highly respected elder statesman of contemporary, conservative evangelicalism. Though proximate to Grace, Calvary and Forsyth joyfully toil in the work of the Lord in the same increasingly difficult – hostile, even – environment of an extremely left-wing political state as does Grace and MacArthur. Though MacArthur garnered global headlines for his stand against the state’s pandemic shut-down orders for churches, it was Forsyth’s church which had rather quietly resumed gathered worship a week prior to Grace. But as Forsyth thankfully notes, it was MacArthur’s stand which brought “cover” for many smaller churches who would follow suit in resistance to Caesar’s edicts. (Forsyth’s comments on this can be heard on my November 2021 podcast with him HERE.)
In October 2021, Forsyth preached a three-sermon series which carried the same title as the book he’s now published. His “Caesar And The Church” series is available on a number of media platforms including Vimeo, YouTube, and their audio may be heard on various podcast platforms. The series remains posted on the home page of his church’s website, CalvaryBaptistBurbank.org. Forsyth’s studious biblical preparation for his sermon series undergirds the content of his book.
The story of the Lord’s providence in bringing this book into existence is remarkable. Forsyth began writing it in mid-December 2021 and by early January 2021 it was available for order on Amazon, an unheard of level of literary productivity. In the course of about five weeks, Forsyth had obtained a publisher, the respected Kress Biblical Resources, had engaged the services of a couple of former Calvary members to produce a stunning cover for the book (the cover art is by Tim Moen who is a Disney illustrator and the graphics design is by Kristina Morse), had retained a typesetter, and, not to be missed, had completed writing the manuscript. (You can hear Forsyth talk about this on my podcast with him HERE.)
But what is Caesar And The Church about? The endorsement from John MacArthur perhaps best summarizes what Forsyth has done in this book.
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Jesus’ famous reply to the Pharisees’ challenge recognizes the legitimate realm of authority occupied by Caesar. Even in the realm of secular government, “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). Yet Jesus’s statement also acknowledges that God rules in righteousness over a vast domain that does not in any way pertain to Caesar. Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 further makes clear that Caesar’s authority is only derivative, and it is limited. God is the one in whom all authority ultimately resides. So when Caesar meddles in matters that belong only to God, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The COVID crisis has caused many of us to consider and apply these principles with more meticulous care and discernment than ever before, because secular governments across the globe have exploited and relentlessly worked to magnify fears about the threat to public health posed by the virus. In the process, both federal and local governments in many Western nations have tried to assert control over churches in order to restrict or reorder Christian gatherings for worship. Anthony Forsyth has considered these issues biblically, and he has written a remarkably clear and helpful overview of the topic. I know it will be a great encouragement to pastors and lay people alike as we all attempt to respond righteously to so many unexpected threats to the liberty we enjoy in Christ.”
Caesar And The Church is just under 150 pages in length, comprised of three parts plus a conclusion by Forsyth. As pastor Forsyth points out, the book is designed to expound foundational biblical principles to be accessible to the professing Christian. The book is particularly targeted at Christians who may be unfamiliar with biblical interpretation, especially on the issue of authority. It’s a book which can be read in about an hour.
Part One, “Biblical Foundations And Principles” begins with a broad, principled look at the issue of authority in Scripture. It soundly, logically explains the biblical verity that all authority is God’s, that He may delegate His authority, that any delegated authority remains His, and that God’s authority is always delegated with limits.
In Part Two, “What Has Caesar Been Delegated?”, Forsyth outlines from Scripture the particular authority God has delegated to the state, and the limits which He has placed on that delegated authority. As he writes, “we must render to Caesar the things that are his, but Caesar does not get to decide what those things are. Only God does. Because all authority belongs to Him.”
In Part Three, “Responding To A Biblical Understanding Of Authority,” Forsyth proceeds to help the Christian think through the implications of what Scripture has taught about God’s delegated authority. Thorny and difficult issues related to Covid circumstances are considered, as well as how Christians ought to respond to “evil Caesars.” A brief chapter in Part Three encourages the faithful posture which believers must exhibit when faced with very practical “authority” decisions; we must be “motivated by love and directed by conscience.” Also in Part Three is a needed warning for the church in a chapter entitled “Legalism And The Sufficiency of Scripture.”
The conclusion of Caesar and The Church finds Forsyth stating, “When Christians isolate Romans 13:1 from its context, they come to the wrong conclusions regarding the extent of Caesar’s authority.” This is precisely what many Christians and many churches erroneously did during the last two years. For Christians, Forsyth gives this guidance:
“[Romans 13] is not a call to blanket obedience to any and all civil government. If somebody tells us we have to obey them, our questions must be who are they, what authority has God delegated to them, in what realm were they granted authority, and what are God’s purposes and limits in the authority He has delegated to them.”
To fellow church leaders Forsyth speaks pastorally but pointedly:
“If God has delegated authority over a local church to you, do not cede that authority to another whom God has not granted authority in this realm. To do so is to bow before Caesar as if God had made him your good shepherd under whose authority you serve; as if he were your god.”
“Church leaders who have succumbed to the gradual encroachment of statism, whether intentionally or otherwise, have handed their God-delegated authority over to Caesar and allowed him to determine the parameters of the functioning of the local church. The responsibility of a pastor is immense – he will be held to account for the shepherding of souls. And it is to him that this has been given, not Caesar. This mutinous dereliction of duty is tantamount to idolatry, even if one is blissfully unaware. We have one Lord and God to whom belongs all authority.”
It is Forsyth’s genuine heart for the church and the Lord’s saints which echoes through his book. This is precisely the point which Paul Washer, Founder of HeartCry Missionary Society, pithily makes in his endorsement:
“This brief work was extremely helpful to me personally. I also appreciate that it was written with the kind heart of a pastor.”
Caesar And The Church is a must-read and must-share resource for Christians in our day. Hear Chris LeDuc, pastor of Cannon Beach Bible Church, in his written endorsement:
“In our present day, few things are as unclear as the topic of submission to governing authorities. Caesar is demanding unquestioning obedience, in ways that most of us have never experienced before. In this book you will find a clear and compelling explanation of the Bible’s teaching on delegated authority. Forsyth gives us the foundational principles that are necessary for walking in true, Christlike submission. If you desire to have the biblically informed convictions that produce a clear conscience as you walk through these strange days, this is the book for you.”
There is one final endorsement which is quite worthy of consideration. It comes from Jenna Ellis, attorney for John MacArthur and Grace Community Church as they stood against the illegitimate encroachment of a tyrannical state government against the church. Ellis writes:
“Forsyth’s prudent analysis of scripture shows this truth: all power comes from Christ, all authority is His alone, and the legitimate authority delegated to the state therefore must protect the Church and the Christian to exercise our faith. It is incumbent on every Christian to understand the authority of Christ and begin to scrutinize, through the lens of scripture, the laws and legal doctrines of an ever-changing political landscape. Politicians will clash, petty tyrants will come and go, but truth never changes. This book will teach you how to stand even more firmly in the truth that Christ, not Caesar, is the head of the Church.”
Anthony Forsyth, a native Brit, has shown us from Scripture the truth which George Washington recognized, that “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and without the Bible.” Forsyth has also rightly employed the biblical principle of authority in challenging tyranny not only in the state, but also in the home and in the church, spheres where delegated authority may be misunderstood and thereby unrighteously abused. And sadly, in our day, both the government and the church have shown exactly what the inverse of that Scripture-reliant Washingtonian verity of governance looks like: the tyranny of statism which can overwhelm a church that is not solidly grounded in the teaching of God in His Word.
Caesar And The Church is principled in an utterly biblical manner, provocative in a logically reasoned fashion, and polemical in a kind, corrective posture. This book helps Christians think biblically and arrive, hopefully, at a correct conclusion about the authority of God and the authority of Caesar. This book is simply a must-read for saints in our times.
Caesar And The Church: A Biblical Study of Government And Church by Anthony Forsyth is available on Amazon HERE.