Todd Friel is most certainly one of the most trustworthy more establishment voices in Evangelicalism. However, there is a great split in Evangelicalism on the role of government and whether civil or even violent disobedience to government is on the table for Christians. Todd Friel takes a near absolute stance on Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, with the only exception being if the government commands a person to sin. On the issue of vaccine mandates, Todd Friel’s argument is leads to a convoluted and squishy justification for defying vaccine mandates. But first, we should take a look at Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (NASB1995)
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (NASB1995)
In both of these passages, the sphere of government is laid out. It is to punish evil and reward good. These passages establish why God ordained these institutions in the first place. Commanding people to sin is acting outside of their sphere of authority but that’s not the only way in which the government can act outside of its authority, thus justifying a Christian to defy.
Todd Friel rejects sphere sovereignty as laid out in the Magdeburg Confession, and therefore rejects the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates and interposition. He says so explicitly. This leaves Todd Friel in a no mans land of navigating these “unprecedented” waters. John MacArthur famously held the same position on Romans 13, but would ultimately invoke the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates in order to reopen his church during lockdowns.
Sphere sovereignty would establishes the four spheres of authority: self, family, ecclesiastical, and the civil magistrate. On the issue of vaccines, the self and family are the proper spheres of authority, depending on the situation.
However, Todd Friel’s position that you can only defy government when it commands you to sin has him pondering strange arguments about situations where taking the COVID Vaccine is sinful. Essentially he takes a roundabout way to come to the conclusion that if and when the government mandates a vaccine, defying them is a conscience issue.
Things that are conscience issues are issues in which the state and the church have no authority over you on, per sphere sovereignty. Yet, Todd Friel’s pathway of coming to the same conclusion by a different name promotes eisegesis. In other words, his deconstructive theology on civil magistrates rewards or gives ample liberty to defy the government using the Bible to do so. The idea that the body is a temple to the Holy Spirit and doing something that puts the body at risk you could determine is sinful is a logical path that leads to dark places. Yet these are arguments that Friel employs, perhaps to not alienate a hesitant audience.
Instead the Christian needs a constructive theology on their relationship with the civil magistrate. When the Christian understands the sphere of government, they understand what lines the government cannot cross. And this includes vaccines. Therefore is the government mandates vaccines or vaccine passports, we have the liberty to defy. The constructive theology of the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates provides a simpler and much less Biblically convoluted path to the same conclusion.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Todd Friel does not Romans 13 properly. In addition to missing the purpose of government in these passages, he misapplies Romans 13 to not point to the US Constitution, the highest law in the United States other than Natural Law. The person enforcing unconstitutional edicts is therefore in violation of Romans 13.
In the real world, sphere sovereignty holds up under scrutiny of difficult situations, whereas Todd Friel and John MacArthur’s (former) view of Romans 13 set fourth a dangerous mentality that caused churches to defy God by locking down in 2020.