Letter to Gov. Inslee

[This is the letter I sent to Gov. Inslee via e-mail and physical mail regarding this memorandum from yesterday.]

Dear Governor Inslee:

First, I would like to thank you for doing everything within your sphere of authority to keep the residents of Washington State safe and healthy, as well as assuring first responders and other workers that they will have the tools necessary to do their jobs. I believe you have the best interests of all Washingtonians in mind as you go about your work. I appreciate that in your Proclamation 20-25.3, issued on May 4, you say that spiritual “services are a vital part of the spiritual and mental health of our community.” I am sure that this is not an easy time for you, either as governor or personally, as you make difficult decisions about how best to uphold the welfare of the people whom you have been elected to serve.

Please know that we here at Faith Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee keep you and our other state and national elected and appointed leaders in our prayers continually, as we believe that our human governing authorities are put in place by God for the good of the citizens of our cities, states, and country.

Under the Fourth Commandment (the command to honor one’s father and mother), we also believe that governing authorities are an extension of parental authority, and therefore, we must fear God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. We always strive to keep that commandment and carry out our vocations as citizens of this state. God has appointed you to uphold the law of this state and to protect its citizens by the means granted to you by the Constitution of this state.

We also believe that God rules in two ways in this world. He rules by means of the governing authorities of a particular place, to keep order and protect the citizens of that place. But he also rules in another way, by means of his Church, in whom Jesus alone is Lord; who saves and forgives by his death and resurrection; and who grants and sustains faith by means of his living and proclaimed Word, his forgiveness given (which we call Holy Absolution), his Holy Baptism, and the Holy Supper of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

We strive to uphold and submit to both of the ways by which God rules in this world, first as members of Christ’s Church, and then as citizens of this world, of the United States of America, of the State of Washington, and of the City of East Wenatchee. Both are necessary and both are God’s.

But they are different, and neither the Church nor the governing authorities have the power to interfere or try to rule in the other realm. The Church does not have the authority to make civil law or enforce it. Likewise, the State (in the broad sense) does not have the authority to rule within the Church or to instruct the Church on how the preaching of God’s Word or the administration of God’s Gifts (sacraments) are to be carried out. That belongs to Christ’s explicit command, and not to the rule of the civil governing authorities.

In light of that, I believe you have overstepped your God-given sphere of authority by issuing the memorandum of May 6 (https://bit.ly/3dnDXNO), in which you give instructions for how to conduct “drive-in services,” specifically Number 2 under “Employees:” “No food, beverages, or other materials (whether for religious or secular purpose) may be distributed or collected before, after, or as part of the service.”

Since we also believe that under the Fifth Commandment (that one must not murder) we are commanded by God not to hurt or harm our neighbor in his or her body, I understand and agree that we ought not do anything that might intentionally cause harm, including spreading the coronavirus. We have many people in our congregation who fall into the various categories of higher risk for contracting the virus, and even if you had not issued any directives, we still would have done everything in our power to care for the members of our congregation and community by taking health precautions.

Nevertheless, it is not within your authority to teach Christians about how they may carry out the sacramental life of the Church, which requires that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper with bread and wine, by which Jesus gives us his living Body and Blood. For the sake of health and the well-being of both the congregation and the community, as well as in our voluntary submission to you as our governing authority, for the past few weeks we have only had a morning prayer service available for our members, by way of Facebook Live.

But if we gather together for our services, we will gather around both the Word of God and the eating and drinking of Jesus’ Body and Blood. These are the gifts of our Lord that make up what Lutherans call the Divine Service (“divine” because it is God’s, and “service,” because he serves us there with forgiveness, life, and salvation).

As a citizen of Washington, I ask you to continue to keep and uphold the law of the state, and to continue your good and God-given work of protecting the citizens of Washington. I will continue to pray for you and for your administration as you strive to do that.

But as a Christian pastor, responsible before God for the work of the Church and the congregation I am called to serve, I ask you to restrict the exercise of your authority to the civil sphere, in the same way that the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States also instructs Congress to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” No human government has the authority to change the command of God or the government of Jesus over his Church.

Thank you for your clear desire to carry out your office with honor and care. Thank you as well for your time and consideration of this matter.

Respectfully,

The Reverend Timothy Winterstein

Pastor, Faith Lutheran Church

East Wenatchee, Washington

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