What’s the matter with “binding the conscience?” The exercise of authority perpetually binds man’s conscience, yet somehow the Church’s Covid agitators have been successful in using this phrase to savage church officers around the country. Why do these agitators always use this phrase in a pejorative way?
Stop and think for a moment. What’s wrong with binding a child’s conscience? Isn’t that the point of our instruction and discipline of children?
Having an uninstructed or defective conscience, a daughter believes it’s her right to decide how to dress herself. And specifically, she believes it is good and right for her to dress so her cleavage is on display. Everyone else does, and so should she. How is she to attract a boyfriend? She has to compete with other girls looking for men, and so on…
Meanwhile, her parents’ consciences are bound by their duty to raise their daughter in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are firmly committed to prohibiting her from breaking either the Fifth or the Seventh Commandment, and thus they command their daughter to go back up to her room and put on a top that is modest. Their daughter’s conscience was leading her to rebel against God. Bound by God’s Law, her parents’ consciences led them to bind their daughter’s foolish conscience.
Fatherhood and motherhood are the perpetual exercise of authority in such a way as to bind sons’ and daughters’ uninstructed, rebellious, and evil consciences. Fatherhood and motherhood are the perpetual exercise of authority in such a way as to instruct, inform, and rule sons’ and daughters’ consciences. We employ the God-given authority of fatherhood and motherhood in such a way as to constrain and lead our sons’ and daughters’ sense of right and wrong in the direction of God’s Law.
Well then, maybe age is the issue? Maybe the age of majority is when the individual conscience should be unbound, unrestrained, and uninhibited?
But no, the consciences of adults are also inhibited, restrained, and bound. What are speed limit signs but the civil authority binding our consciences? What are speeding tickets but the civil authority binding our consciences even more firmly in conformity to his signs? What are arrest, trial, and imprisonment but escalations in binding the conscience where previous attempts have failed? What is a man doing time in prison but that man being punished for refusing to allow the authority God has placed over him to bind his conscience? Refusing to submit to his authority binding his conscience, his authority has now bound his body, also.
We should thank God for this. Neither the consciences of children nor those of adults should be left unrestrained or unbound. When the consciences of children are left unbound, it’s called Lord of the Flies. When the consciences of adults are left unbound, it’s called Judges—that time in the history of the Sons of Israel when “each man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Like all of creation, man’s heart and mind have been corrupted by Adam’s Fall so that man’s desire reason, and conscience mislead him to hate God and his neighbor. In fact, the Fall’s debasement of logic and conscience are so thoroughgoing that man can even be brought so low as to give himself to the insanity of hating his own wife.
Binding the conscience is perpetually God’s kind gift of authority through man protecting each of us from being as bad as we’d be otherwise. The essence of authority is to punish evil and reward good, reigning in men’s consciences to the end that each man is not free to do that which is right in his own eyes.
But maybe the binding of conscience is needed for children and also right for adults under civil authority, and yet it’s wrong in the church? Then is it wrong for elders to require baptism for admittance to the Lord’s supper?
Of course not. This initiation rite is required by Scripture and must always precede admittance to the Lord’s supper.
It’s endless in churches for men to put forward their conscience as a good and necessary reason to reject their elders’ authority.
So, for instance, there are many today who give the Lord’s supper to their children with no baptism beforehand. They would report they are conscience-bound to commune their children at the Lord’s supper despite those children never having been baptized. They refuse to allow their elders to bind their conscience on the matter. In truth, though, their elders must protect their flock by binding these parents’ consciences.
And as it is obedience to God for church officers to bind members’ consciences, so it is obedience to God for individuals to submit to their officers’ binding their consciences.
As a matter of fact, the man who wants to understand the nature of authority might do well to spend a day counting the minutes between each time he submits to the authority of God delegated to man by submitting to the authority of man binding his conscience.
There are thousands of examples, but the rules of the road will suffice. Each time I leave my garage, I abhor fastening my seat belt. I think wearing a seat belt should not be subject to the civil authority, and yet that same civil authority has forced my car manufacturer to make noise at me as long as my belt remains unfastened, and if a law enforcement officer drives past me and notices my belt isn’t fastened, he may well stop and ticket me for not doing so. No surprise then that I wear my belt.
Shall I proceed to describe my conscience concerning whether or not it is necessary to come to a complete stop at the stop sign at the end of our cul-de-sac?
We all have our own judgments about the rightness and wrongness of our authorities binding our consciences in this and that in which they enforce their rules, commands, and laws. But we must recognize life is the perpetual binding of consciences and our submission to our consciences being bound. This is true for children and adults. This is true for citizens under civil authorities, employees under bosses, slaves under masters, students under teachers, wives under husbands, children under parents, members under elders, and all men under God.
Yes, there are those rare times when children must obey God rather than father or mother. There are those rare times when citizens must obey God rather than mayor, governor, or king. There are those rare times when Christians must obey God rather than the elders God has placed over them.
But to act and speak as if any binding of a man’s conscience is sin is utter foolishness. The world without authorities binding men’s consciences would be a Hellish place and the exception only proves the rule.
“We must obey God rather than man” is not the rule, but the exception to the rule.
So now, when you can provide five or ten examples in your church in which your elders have bound your own and others’ consciences out of obedience to God, you might be ready to argue that you must obey God rather than man with regard to your elders’ request that you submit to your civil authorities’ mask mandates by wearing one in the church-house. But any argument you make should be respectful of your church officers and the civil authorities they are calling you to obey.