‘DOES it concern you that, at the behest of the government, churches across the country closed their doors for three months, without any protest?’ This was the question I put to my pastor when I bumped into him last October. He justified it as being only for a limited time, and I understood this (although, personally, I would have sought to go underground). I went on to raise the issue of salami-slicing – the danger of the State incrementally reducing the substance of the Church until it no longer resembles what church should be. He graciously acknowledged my concern.
So where are we now? It’s 15 months since churches first closed their doors and although they have reopened, a number of restrictions remain. This, I would argue, is seriously undermining the integrity of the church, particularly the conservative element which so prides itself on faithful Bible teaching and practice. It feels very much as if all the excellent teaching I’ve had the privilege of receiving over the last 43 years has been blown away, as if chaff, by the church’s continued compliance.
I have been well taught that Christians are to submit to rulers and authorities until and unless they require us to go against what God commands. How then have you, church leaders, consented to the muting of singing in your churches? Are we not instructed throughout the Bible to ‘sing to the Lord’? Do we not have a whole songbook, the Psalms, incorporated within our Bible? Did you not once press upon me the book ‘Sing!’, which urges the importance of congregational singing? Were the authors – renowned song writers in conservative circles – wrong to say, ‘congregational singing is one of the greatest and most beautiful tools we have been given to declare God’s ‘excellences’, strengthening His church and sharing His glory with the world’? It seems to me that the State’s prohibition of singing in churches is diametrically opposed to what God commands. Maybe I’m missing something?
And what of the masking policy in your churches? I suppose it’s true that there is no direct proof text regarding masks. But what of your doctrine of Man? Have you not taught me that human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation – made on the sixth day, before He rested? Made in His image? Are we really to have our faces covered? The face, which in the Bible, clearly represents the Person, rather than just its constituent parts? How could you consent to the depersonalising of entire congregations? What have I not understood?
What of social distancing within your churches – members confined to their household bubbles, isolated with at least two metres between them? How does this fit with your theology of the Trinity? I thought that the relational nature of the Trinity meant that, as those made in God’s image, relationship is fundamental to our humanity? What about all your exhortations to serve the church, based on the teaching that we are ‘one body’? How can we possibly operate as one body when all physically separated out? What have I missed?
Forgive me if this feels too direct. This is my best attempt at restraint. I’m extremely angry. Having spent the best part of my adult life attentive to the church’s teaching and fully committed to the body, I find myself and my family completely adrift. We are unable to attend church, as I do not wish to sear my conscience – a conscience which has been built and formed over the last four decades, by you, the seemingly orthodox wing. Why have you abandoned your teaching? What have I misunderstood?
You may argue that I have ignored the fact that we were in the middle of a pandemic. Fine. For the sake of argument, I’ll concede that point. But you cannot claim, with any integrity, that we still face a threat. Over 78 per cent of the population have received at least one vaccination and over 56 per cent have received two. You must surely know that the government are not being honest in their use of variants to justify continued restrictions. And the argument can no longer be made that it is only for a limited period. Let’s not embarrass ourselves with the appeal to ‘it’s just for another month’. It was ‘just for three weeks’ fifteen months ago, and yet here we still are.
I’m beginning to wonder if what I’m missing is that, in fact, the conservative wing of the church is more worldly than I would like to think; more worldly than it would ever admit.
Mr Johnson has announced that, contrary to what was promised, Covid restrictions will continue until July 19. My plea is that you, church leaders, reject this extension, defy the government and end all restrictions within your churches. One of your great strengths is your networks. Use these to come together to return the church to what it should be. Because if not now, then when? It is striking that Andrew Lloyd Webber is willing to go to prison before you. Is the story of Cinderella really more valuable than the message of the gospel?
You are very much in danger of becoming the proverbial boiled frog. And I am very close to losing hope in a church that I have joyfully served and cherished all my life.