Dear Church brethren, friends and associates,
In this article I shall be setting forth the reasons why I am convinced that the Church ought to stand in opposition to the Government’s ruling that worship services in the UK be suspended between the dates of 5th November 2020 and 2nd December 2020. This period being known generally in the UK as the ‘Second Lockdown’.
I would like to start by taking us back to the scripture and attempt a methodical explanation of why I have come to the position of dissent upon this matter at this important juncture.
Render to Caesar:
Bible believing Christian’s for centuries have well understood the principle of obedience to the ‘powers that be’ in the arena of civil life. Governments and Monarchs etc are to receive honour, respect, prayerful intercessions and obedience of the individual Christian and the Church corporately. In the modern era – we pay all due taxes required by law, we abide by vehicular speed limits, we adhere to planning regulations and health and safety laws and whatever other legislation is required by the civil authorities of the day. This is not only a respectable tradition but a biblical order from God Himself and therefore laws given in the civil realm are binding on the consciences of the Christian and the Church alike. The Church exists and labours in the civic realm and it is expedient for Gospel ministry as well Christian testimony to live peacefully and quietly among the societies we wish to reach. You can find God’s commands on civic obedience in Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Titus 3:1 and a number of other locations, which are all summarised in principle by our Lord Jesus when He said:
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. Matthew 22:21
We must obey God rather than men:
Having understood God’s command for His people to be obedient to the magistrates we must now consider the obvious basic question that arises: What if the magistrate’s rules, laws or stipulations contradict any of God’s commandments. We would generally answer this question, by saying in the case of the state requiring the Christian to sin in some form or another, to apostatise, to worship an idol, to teach as truth that which is false or contradicts God’s Word – we must disobey and proceed to follow the Lord. The most often referred to case of this kind is in Acts chapter 5 where Peter and the Apostles were forbidden to speak of or preach Christ, with Peter’s famous retort being; “We ought to obey God rather than men”. And thus the biblical precedent of dissent and non-conformity to that which contradicts a biblical requirement is laid down. Again compounded by other scriptures of like principle.
In the modern western world it may be that many of us (though aggrieved at governmental policies over the years and the continual degradation of the social fabric) may never have thought we would be in position where we must contemplate the possibility for such resistance to the powers that be. However history teaches us that large numbers of Christians have run into to such painful dilemmas in various ways, often paying the price of obedience to God with their lives. Nobody wants to be in such a position of course and I believe (in the main) as Christians we naturally do not wish to be confronted with such agonising considerations.
The question at hand:
Moving now to the current dilemma. I would like you to take careful note of the following. The position of this article is not; “Should we obey the laws of the state or not” or “Ceasar is not head of the Church”, or even other similarly styled points of view. The question being debated is:
“Has the government’s ban on worship during the second lockdown in the UK, justified non conformity based on God’s commands for gathered weekly worship?”
God’s commands on gathered weekly worship:
In order to demonstrate that the government’s new regulation triggers the necessity of non conformity we must understand the biblical command for the Church to gather for weekly worship.
Firstly, the word Church is ‘Ekklesia’ in the original Greek of scripture – it means ‘called out; assembly’, it is a religious congregation for the primary purpose of worship. While it is true Christians are part of a worldwide and universal ‘assembly’, yet the Lord has called His people to gather in localised assemblies for weekly worship. The Church must gather, if the Church cannot gather it cannot fulfil its purpose as mandated by God.
In Christian theology based upon Holy Scripture – the Spirit of Christ is present in a unique way among the gathered Church and in such a special way that is different from private worship. Singing in a living room separated from the voices and presence of Christ’s church is not an acceptable replacement, even if the flesh is satisfied with it. Likewise with the preaching of God’s word (notwithstanding the good that can still be derived from a relayed sermon) we ought to be in the presence of the minister and the brethren before God.
Secondly, this worship is indeed the chief purpose of the Lord’s Day (what we refer to as the Christian Sabbath). Worship is for God, during this discussion I have heard about “our freedoms and our worship” being taken from us, which is of course true and yet it is foremostly God’s worship that is being banned. It is God that is being robbed of what He is due and what He has commanded is being arbitrarily denied (see below). It is a command that we present ourselves before the Lord in one mind and one spirit to pray, to sing to praises, to preach the word of God, to edify each other in fellowship.
Exodus_20:8-11, Exodus_31:13-17, Exodus_36:2-3; Deu_5:12-15; Neh_13:15-22; Psa 92:1 Isa_56:2-6; Isa 58:13-14; Jer_17:21-27; John_20:19 , 1Co 11:20 , 1Co_16:2
Exodus 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Exodus 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
Exodus 20:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
Exodus 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Act_20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Thirdly, these meetings are of benefit to our entire well being to mind, body and soul. The sabbath was made for man, for him to delight in worship, to refresh his soul in the hearing of the Gospel and to confess his need of Christ. These meetings are essential to that end.
Fourth, our gatherings are the place in which proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is made for eternal salvation, that is to the eternal of good of souls. This too is essential, as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
In confused and desperate times, there may be many who turn aside to the Church for spiritual help who are being robbed of the opportunity. This is not a triviality without a consequence in any respect. But the church is being ask to treat their gatherings and faith as if they can easily be put aside.
When not to gather for worship:
There are several reasons why one may be absent from the public gathering of God’s people, including but not limited to:
- Necessary Work
- Adverse Weather
- Parental Obligations
- Government Restrictions
- In a time of war
- In a Health Emergency* see below.
The Reasons why the restrictions now justify dissent:
The Health Emergency* (Covid-19) as of November 2020 has seen the government respond with a Second Public Lockdown. Where certain sectors of business and society have been closed or limited in some way or other for four weeks. The Church of Jesus Christ (as well as other faith communities) is one of those social entities which has been selected for closure. We are not permitted to worship. It is unlawful. Churches that afford the opportunity of private prayer may continue for that purpose. But gathered weekly worship has been suspended by the British Government. In doing so it causes the Church to breach its command to gather together for the purpose of worship. My position is that the government should receive our dissenting voice and action in response to this order for the following reasons:
- The Ban on Gathered Worship in the UK is Completely Unnecessary: This is based upon parallels with other allowable gatherings (see below), as well assertions and views given by the following person’s of repute; and notably our gatherings already have restrictions in place such as masks, spacing and sanitisation.
‘Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were unable to provide evidence to Mark Logan MP (Bolton NE) that Churches spread COVID. On whether virus transmission in places of worship has been significant or negligible since July, Sir Patrick admitted: “I don’t think we have good data to answer that with any degree of certainty.”
Prof. Whitty added: “There is some very weak data to imply that even if a place of worship has been incredibly good about being COVID-secure, by bringing people together, people can congregate outside and do things which do lead to transmission”. But he added that much of this is “anecdotal” and not “scientific fact”.’ Source Christian Institute newsletter 4/11/20
Please see this small selection of MP’S objections:
Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
I want to make one point about public worship, echoing the concerns of others. My concern is that the Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship, for the best of intentions, sets a precedent that could be misused by a Government in future with the worst of intentions, and that has unintended consequences. The covid-secure remembrance service in Worcester cathedral will now be turned into a pre-recorded online service. Surely, the men and women who laid down their lives for our freedom deserve better than that… The public and Parliament want to support the Government to take the right decisions, and to do that we need to have the right figures, the right data and the proper information.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
Were it possible to table amendments, I would have done so. I have been to three Church services recently. One was for a funeral, one was the morning service on Sunday, and the other was the monthly communion at St Margaret’s, where I am the parliamentary warden. All those services were covid-safe. I believe that if we have to come back to this again, the Government ought to be able, with the faithleaders—the Jews, the Muslims, the Christian’s and other faith groups—to find a way for them to provide for at least a body of people to be together with the celebrant, with others participating remotely
Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
I add my support to comments that have been made by Members on both sides of the House about looking again at the regulations surrounding collective acts of worship and publishing the evidence to show whether they are a source of infections and outbreaks… That is critical to people’s mental health and physical wellbeing.
Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con)
Do the Government have the right to ban acts of collective worship? I am glad that at this point the Churches are standing up against this and objecting, because earlier in the year I thought they possibly went a little too quietly… We cannot ask people to follow rules that patently make no sense and expect them to have respect for what is being done. So I have a fundamental problem with much of what we are being asked to do here.
Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
The Government need to plan and to deal with social isolation and loneliness, particularly among older people and those with caring responsibilities. Many of my constituents across many faiths have asked me to tell the Government and the Prime Minister that collective acts of worship are essential and should not be made illegal by any Government: they are an essential part of their faith and an essential part of their lives. I ask the Government to reconsider the ban on collective worship.
- The Ban on Gathered Worship is Seriously Detrimental: As has been pointed out in this article, Churches are essential for the well being of the nation and the spiritual wellbeing of the Christian Church. I’m sure that many members of the Government, Parliament as well as the Royal Family would appreciate our intercessions for them which take place in the Lord’s Day Services.
- The Ban on Gathered Worship is Unequal: The physical layout of the majority of Churches most closely resembles that of a classroom rather than a restaurant or pub. There is a leader or teacher at the front with a group facing. Universities and Schools remain open however. Not forgetting one significant point, that we meet for an average of 9 hours per week and this divided into 3 separate meetings. Whereas colleges, universities and schools are far more populated than the average UK church and open for 5-6 days above 8 hours per day! This point especially demonstrates the arbitrary nature in which places of worship are being dealt with. However for a Christian to break with their obligation before God is not a slight or arbitrary issue at all and our stand against such contradictory flippancy is a righteous response in honour of God rights. See below.
4. The Ban on Gathered Worship is Contemptuous towards God: This is a major point in my case continued from above. I add this fourth in the list because I wished to establish the charge of contempt on the grounds of the bans non necessity as reasoned in point 3.
As a Church we have an obligation to be the light of the world and sometimes that obligation means standing in strengthened opposition to sin in high places. As Elijah did in 1 Kings 21:19, As John the Baptist did in his famous rebuke of Herod. Our dissent or non compliance on this issue is the Church being a voice of rebuke to a government that is trifling with God almighty. The Son of Man is Lord, even of the state whether they admit it to be so or not. God is God even of the state, notwithstanding the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of Christ distinction, the Church must remind the state that it is dealing flippantly with Christ by forbidding its duty to worship Him on very dubious grounds and contradictory. The Church has a duty to seriously warn the state to fear God in this matter. Worship is essential, it more important than worldly education and includes the most necessary education we need in spiritual matters. Gathered worship ought only to be put on hold in the most severe cases after much consideration and in such situations where the church is dealt with equally. The Lord cannot despised as “non essential” while other establishments are permitted to carry on.
When the Church calls the state to cease its unwarranted trespass, we are not asking the state to become the Church, we are asking the state to be the state and respect the God whom has ordained their position for the order of the nation and the sanctity of life. It is my view that at present the Church ought to stand in God’s honour against such flippancy and contempt.
Should it be argued that the Government is very often contemptuous toward God and the Church so this isn’t actually cause for dissent, this sentiment is true; but where the government’s contempt is accompanied by unnecessary bans on worship it ought to be resisted.
Should it be argued that laws are made (like tax or speed limits) which we may not want or may not like but we abide by anyway in obedience to Romans 13 et al. This principle is agreed on entirely, and emphatically upheld by us. But tax and speed limits don’t force one to sin nor are they a ban on Christian duty therefore these examples are not relevant to the discussion of:
“Has the government’s ban on worship during the second lockdown in the UK, justified non conformity based on God’s command’s for gathered weekly worship?”
This includes appeals to the 1689 Baptist Confession (Section 24) or the Westminster Confession of faith. These confessions only explain and synthesize the biblical doctrine, they add nothing new over that which Romans 13 et al already gives and they offer no extra light on the main question discussed in this article.
Should it be argued that we can only dissent if the Church is singled out. We understand that this principle always ought to be considered in response to any power which impedes our duties before God. However this principle is not fully determinative when considering dissent. If a communist regime banned all worship for life for all faiths, we wouldn’t abide by it because all faiths were equally mistreated. The fact is that in the government’s wild axe swings at the communities of faith in the UK, it just so happens that they have struck the tree of life, and therefore we ought to lay a hand upon the axe and petition them to stop.
I make no attempt to dress this up as targeted Christian persecution, nevertheless the Church is greatly affected and Almighty God is flippantly dealt with.
Should it be argued That we can bear with it for a short time. This is also true in a sense but the question is ought we to bear with it? And in some cases can we actually bear with it? Perhaps some have made this argument because they have the equipment and the means to stream high quality video and audio, I wonder if these facilities were taken away would their view be slightly different?
Again upon the assertion that it will be for a short time. I refer brethren back to March 2020. There is actually no pattern of evidence from which one could so confidently assert that the current lockdown will be for four weeks only. There have been enormous shifts in policy and measures all the way through this pandemic. Without wishing to be disrespectful to the government at this difficult time, they have changed tack frequently, of necessity some may say; either way, they’re have been too many alterations to measures to trust the four week promise without question.
Should it be argued that we are only doing this for a short time as above, but we would change our view if the ban was 3 months or 6 months. Well in that case, you are not talking about biblical principles of legitimate dissent you are referring to your own thresholds. And therefore if it be a threshold issue, you are not free to judge those whose threshold differs from your own. I hope it is clear that this article is not setting forth a personal threshold but a biblical reasoned response to an unwarranted government ban on worship.
Should it be argued that we shall be blamed for a surge of outbreaks. My response is that there are restrictions which we already have in place which are said to slow or stop the spread; the same measures that are being used in places that are permitted to remain open! There are plenty of groups whom have already been of target for this smear, in fact the UK Government themselves recently blamed many citizens for the spread.
Furthermore we are to expect false accusations and scapegoating from the ungodly:
Mat 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Mat 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Should it be argued that we are disregarding human life. We refer to the lack of evidence that Churches are any more responsible for transmission than schools, universities or supermarkets. I would think much less so, given that we are generally not as populated.
Also, a word must be said about the actual potency of this virus. Covid 19 is very serious indeed and even at the time of writing a family member is hospitalised because of it. I know of others whom I am closely associated with who have had it and suffered. But the vast majority of people recover from the virus and a number are even asymptomatic. The people most vulnerable are the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. I am quite sure people know this generally but Church officers have also voiced this fact in service announcements, instructing those who feel particularly vulnerable to do that which they feel is right.
Naturally voices of the past have been consulted on how to approach this whole matter, including the great Richard Baxter who had some helpful advice on Churches being temporarily closed on account of ‘pestilences’. The assumption being made however is that what we are experiencing with Covid-19, is what that great man and others in his generation would have defined as a ‘pestilence’. I suspect that our forbears idea of pestilences and plagues would not include a virus (serious as it is) that has a survival rate of around 99% and above, leaving most generally fit people ill for several days followed by a full recovery.
I respect that people will not see things the way I do. None of what I have said trumps the conscience of each individual, let each person be convinced in his or her own mind. If brethren and congregants do not agree with my case above, they ought to obey their conscience and we ought not to pass judgement upon each other.
Level of resistance:
As stated above Christian’s ought to be eager to obey the law and only with great sadness oppose it. The Church simply wishes to bring the state to a rightful and reasonable respect to the Church’s right to gather, and to cease to be contemptuous of Almighty God in its banning. Should the authorities seek to close down a meeting, there ought to be cooperation from the Church because by this time the Church has made its case known and stood for the Lord.
Apart from Peter’s mistake in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the Church in the NT reproved the authorities and continued to practice preaching or other duties, they never resisted arrest, they suffered the persecution of it at that level. Any refusal to comply with Police requests is absolutely not warranted. We give our names and identifications if required, we speak humbly and respectfully, we continue to give honour to whom honour is due. Police officers are citizens in uniform and we do not wish to make our fellow citizens our enemy.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. My prayer is that before the Lord and men we all live in good conscience according to the teaching of God’s Holy word.
Pastor Philip Mallon
Westhoughton Evangelical Church