There have been further reports of churches defying the current lockdown regulations in England, including one in the Observer. Now, as I understand it, we have three possible options in terms of how we view the current regulations.
- We can accept that the regulations must be obeyed on the basis that this is the Law of the Land. We may or may not disagree with them and we may or may not choose to protest but we recognise that we should obey. The basis for this is that Romans 13 asks us to submit to the Law unless, and only unless it goes against God’s direct command. The basis for compliance here recognises that Christians are called to not forsake meeting together. However, the assumption is that online provision enables a form of gathering meeting the purpose of such meetings for fellowship, corporate worship and Bible teaching.
- We can accept the regulations, similar to the first option except with one difference. Some Christians think that an online service does not meet the requirements for physical gathering. However, they consider exceptional circumstances as this, good reason to see the requirement to love your neighbour overriding the requirement to physically gather.
- We can decide that the regulations go against God’s law and therefore, we must choose to disobey them in order to obey God’s Law and meet.
Now, I have come to the conclusion that option 1 is the right one. I know other Christians who have opted for the second or third position. This does make things tricky. I think the overall consensus leans towards a mix of one or two. In other words, the vast majority of churches are choosing not to hold in person gatherings but have reverted to online provision. However, those who disagree, do so passionately.
My take on this is that there has to be an element of stronger/weaker brother thinking. Now, which is which will depend on your view. I think that the point Paul would make is we should all act as though we are the stronger brother, thus acting charitably and with humility and love towards those taking the alternative position.
So, whilst I cannot go along with the decision by some to meet, I want to say that I love them, recognise their conscience decision and will pray that they will experience God’s provision and protection leading to fruitfulness.
I only ask two things of you if you fall into that category and they are really about discerning the body.
First of all, I would ask you to take time to consider your words and actions carefully and how they affect others. Be careful to act responsibly and in a way that will not hinder the Gospel witness of others. This means not being schismatic. It concerns me when I hear pastors excitedly telling me that their decision to open has lead to growth. Of course we want to see Gospel growth. However growth that comes from the politically discontent looking for a place to protest the Government or from discontent with their own church’s failure to open will not be healthy growth. I advised one pastor that he should send back believers from other churches to their home churches just as hopefully he would on other matters. This was as much for the good of his fellowship as anything. Those who have fallen out with their elders because they chose to comply with regulations for a month will quickly find fault with their new home.
Secondly, I would ask you to temper your language. I know that all this clandestine stuff and the interest of the media sets the adrenaline pumping but please stop, think and pray before you give a journalist a quote.
“We’ve been holding clandestine services since this lockdown began,” the pastor told the Observer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It feels weird for us to act this way. People have said it feels more like an underground church in China.”
What crass, immature nonsense. I’ve spent time in China with believers. We’ve had family members live there. I’ve also spent time in another country where Christians lived under a regime and culture hostile to Christianity so that persecution was a constant and real threat. Such hyperbole shows little regard for the reality of oppression faced by many of our brothers and sisters. It trivialises the troubles they face.
What we are experiencing now is frustrating. Some of us consider it unnecessary and wrong even. I am one who has written to the Prime Minister urging him to change the decision. I’ve called for appropriate legal action to challenge it too. However, we are not being persecuted, we are not being discriminated against because of our faith. We are simply, like anyone else struggling to get our heads round what this current, temporary situation means.
Persecution will no doubt one day reach these shores. Let’s make sure that when it comes, we aren’t seen as like the boy that cried wolf.