I want to return to the question about Churches breaking lockdown rules and meeting for worship. You will notice that people like me (see also the position of FIEC National Director, John Stevens) has not been that Churches should never go against the law on matters of gathering for worship. That would be an untenable position given that in a number of countries the practice of Christianity is illegal and subject to severe persecution.
It was my view that the measures were inconsistent disproportionate and unnecessary not just for Christians and other faiths but for a wide range of other people and businesses. I therefore argued that there was a legitimate case for protesting and challenging the decision but that if unsuccessful, we should still comply with the measures and submit to the civil authorities.
So, at what point should we consider civil disobedience and refuse to comply with Government measures that restrict worship? Here are my thoughts, obviously they come from someone who believes we are duty bound by Scripture to meet and gather to the best of our ability. Therefore, whilst not ideal, I accept online provision as an interim solution. Others might draw the line in slightly different places.
- If the Government introduces measures that are clearly designed to restrict Christian/religious worship and activities for that sole basis. In other words, where we are being discriminated against and attempts are being made to silence the Gospel.
- Should restrictions be made not just against physical gathering but against the other methods we have used for gathering then this would mean we would have to find some means by which to gather. For example, imagine a scenario where internet usage was rationed and we were neither able to meet online nor in person.
- Where a stand like this sends a clearer Gospel signal than seeking to comply with measures. There would have to be no question mark therefore that our actions were not at odds with the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.
- Where there is a level of consensus and unity amongst church leaders that this is the right action and the right time. In other words, there needs to be a sense of body discernment together on this. Whilst I don’t think that we should insist on unanimity, I do believe there should be at least something looking like a significant majority opinion that we are being called to make that choice between obeying God and obeying man.
I do not believe that the context of a Global pandemic and Governments seeking to make decisions to look after everyone’s health counts. It is clear that whilst some of the decisions made have been challengeable and that the Government does not always seem to understand Christian faith, that their aim has been to protect the population and they have sought to hear, consider and act in the interests of faith groups throughout the crisis.
However, a day may come when a Government does seek to use its power against the church. It my be overtly or it may be under the cover of a particular emergency. If that happens here, we should be bold enough to take a stand. In that this is the case already for many brothers and sisters around the world, we should pray for them and support them.