BIBLE readers will recognise these words of the Apostle Peter to the Jewish authorities, though ‘we ought to’ should be rendered ‘we must’. It was a duty and commission by God via an angel.
Peter had been in custody and twice threatened if he should continue to preach about Jesus. Disregarding this instruction from the authorities he was put in prison again, only to escape with the help of an angel. Later both he and the Apostle John were beaten for repeating the offence. They were again threatened and warned not to repeat it. When the furious Jewish authorities asked Peter why he had disobeyed their commands, he vigorously replied that he was speaking with a mandate from a higher authority.
To what extent do government regulations for the corona virus usurp God’s authority and commission by preventing Christians from worshipping and having communal fellowship?
Consider the case of John MacArthur, Pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. The governor of California, as is his legal right, closed all churches due to the coronavirus. Following several online weekly sermons delivered from the church, some members began to attend in person. Soon after, the church leaders opened the church for worship and a normal Sunday service. Public statements were published beforehand explaining why this decision had been made. The subject of the first sermon preached by Mr MacArthur to the assembled church is the title of this article.
His reasoning was that the government, Federal or State, had no grounds to interfere in religious matters as enshrined in the First Amendment of the American Constitution. It needs to be noted that full weight was given to factual and medical evidence concerning the virus.
The authorities went to court to stop the services, with Pastor MacArthur facing potential fines of $1,000 daily and/or arrest. However after the church offered to ensure social distancing and the wearing of face masks, Los Angeles Superior Court allowed the services to continue pending a full hearing next month.
As far as I have been able to discover, only 25 church leaders in Britain, supported by the charity Christian Concern, have attempted to hold the government to account for its lockdown measures by requesting a Judicial Review.
Since this appeal was launched, churches have been allowed to open but still with stringent conditions. The appeal for this review appears now to have either stopped or be under further consideration.
There is a private appeal being made for a Judicial Review by Simon Dolan who states in his opinion the government have acted illegally and disproportionally with the imposed lockdown measures.
Many people, not only Christians, have been seriously concerned that Churches have not been allowed to open, thereby preventing communal worship and also being able to offer some spiritual comfort to the many that are experiencing distress and anxiety.
Christians are commanded to be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13 v 1), but what if such subjection is harmful, excessive and unfairly discriminatory, and goes beyond due medical and scientific analysis? Coercion and manipulation are psychological elements many have observed in the government strategy.
In our Fellowship Bible study group we have just completed a long weekly study on the letter to the Hebrews. One key fact that emerged was the necessity of meeting together, especially when being persecuted for your faith. Some might quibble that lockdown measures are a necessary response by the government and should be respected by the churches. This view incorrectly assumes that churches are unable to implement appropriate measures themselves.
It is, perhaps, too early to understand where the controls being exerted on society are leading, not least in the churches. It may only be a matter of time before some Christians decide to actually meet together and find an acceptable way of doing so. Muzzling and muting the voice of the Spirit of God in the churches is a freedom not to be sacrificed on the altar of draconian regulations.
We must obey God rather than man.