A Case for Churches Standing Up, Not Locking Down
By Tim Cantrell, Antioch Bible Church, Sr. Pastor
Johannesburg, South Africa
When lawless thieves roam the land, we need the voice of righteousness crying out in the wilderness, heralding the Law of God. How will a nation learn to fear God if they are not hearing His mighty voice thundering out from His mouthpiece, the Church (1 Tim. 3:15)?
While the cries of looters are heard in the streets, have the pulpits gone silent? While shouts of hatred and revolt go up, are the men of God on mute, or hiding behind a screen? Do we believe in preaching anymore? Real preaching as it has always been – the man of God standing before the people of God, assembled in the very presence of God (uniquely & especially promised when we gather[i]), proclaiming the living Word of God – with all its comfort and conviction (Ezra 7:10; Neh. 8; 1 Tim 4:6-16; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).[ii]
Especially in times of national crisis and calamity, the most urgent need of the hour is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord!” When other voices clamour loudly for our attention, we sit down together in a holy hush, trembling before the voice of God alone (Ps. 29; Ps. 46; Hab. 2:20). What child of God cannot testify that there is no comfort like gathering with your church family to sing the Word, pray the Word, hear the Word read and preached, and see the Word enacted through baptism and the Lord’s supper (Acts 2:41-47)?
O that Amos’ dreadful curse would be lifted from our land, “a famine of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). O that we not let the world dupe us with inferior, digital substitutes for the real thing. Who would have thought, even 18 months ago, that we would be debating something as basic as whether Christians should go to church or not?
Though painful, we praise God for how He has used Covid to purify and strengthen Christ’s Body, to expose our fears, our shockingly low views of the Church and of Christ’s lordship, and our idols of safetyism and statism, so that we will worship Him alone. “Speak O Lord”, your servants are listening (1 Sam. 3:10). Teach us all You would have us to learn through these fiery trials – help us wherever we need to repent and obey Your holy Word. O jealous and pure Husband, do whatever it takes to make us Your pure and spotless Bride, ready for Your return!
In Part 1, we sought biblical answers to these three questions:
(1) Why meet ‘illegally’?
(2) Why no livestream, ‘on-line’ church?
(3) Should we meet publicly or not?
Now let’s round the back half of this journey with the remaining three questions:
- Does it matter if lockdowns are persecuting/targeting Christians or not?
Let’s answer again with another question, ‘How does that make any difference in whether we obey the highest Government and most supreme Court of Christ our Lord and King when He commands us to gather in worship?’ Whether churches are banned by indiscriminate tyranny or discriminate persecution, we “must obey God rather than man” in either case. Since when did Christians wait until it was obvious persecution before obeying Christ? The Church is usually persecuted because she is already obeying Christ.
In fact, that’s the definition of persecution: “if anyone suffers as a Christian” (1 Pet. 414-16), i.e., any time that obeying Jesus gets you in trouble with the authorities. Is going to church not obeying Jesus? “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matt. 5:10). Isn’t it right that I “not forsake the assembling together” (Heb. 10:25)? If the state criminalises that, how is it not persecution, regardless of how they treat other religions? Make sure your definition of persecution is not more narrow than God’s definition, when His Word clearly broadens it to “all kinds” of persecution (Matt. 5:11).
Here in South Africa, government has hardly been playing fair, with a total ban on churches while crowded airplanes, taxis, buses, mines, malls, shops and businesses, restaurants and gyms carry on (as we believe they should); not to mention mass political rallies and protests.[iii] Caesar’s theology is again obvious – making money is essential, not caring for souls or worshipping God. Secularism says “this age” is all that matters (seculum, in Latin, where “secular” comes from); there is no unseen, spiritual or eternal realm, because there is no God (Ps. 14:1; Prov. 1:7). The world deems many other risks acceptable for personal, temporal benefit; but it is unacceptable risk to gather for the worship of Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth? If you can go to work and/or to the shops, why not to church? Christians dare not conform to “the spirit of this age” (Rom. 12:1-2).
Consider also: we hate all forms of evil and tyranny, not just against churches (Prov. 8:13; Ps. 97:10; Rom. 12:9; Amos 5:15). Since when did this become a Sunday-only debate? We should also support business owners on Monday-Saturday who believe that God’s Word requires civil disobedience of them too, defying unconstitutional lockdowns for the sake of putting bread on the table for their family and employees (1 Tim. 5:8). Lockdowns are a gross human rights violation; they are super-spreaders of oppression, death, despair, economic collapse, delayed immunity and prolonged health risk.[iv] More and more evidence is proving that lockdowns don’t work, they destroy.[v] Are we then surprised at resulting riots and protests of angry, desperate people?
Yet we have become complacent about all the liberties we’ve enjoyed in the West. We’ve raised Christians who will not resist tyranny because they cannot even recognise or define it. Scripture speaks about the tyranny, or “cruel dominion”, of sin (Rom. 6:18,22).[vi] The Bible and history tell the bloody tale of both individuals, groups, and the masses abusing power over others. In the words of James Madison (one of America’s founding fathers): “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”[vii] And our Protestant forefather and the reformer, John Knox of Scotland, famously declared, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”[viii]
We know that behind all worship bans is our archenemy himself, Satan, the supreme tyrant. Regardless of whatever reasons the state gives for lockdowns, we know that any obstacle to the gathering of God’s people originates in the Devil himself (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:5). As Spurgeon stated, “Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in.”[ix] Or in the words of R.C. Sproul:
The church is the most important organization in the world. It is the target of every demonic, hostile attack in the universe. Jesus personally guaranteed that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. He made no guarantee that the gates of hell would not be unleashed against it, however.[x]
Tell me Satan does not have the church in his crosshairs when our government Health Department recently sent out this notice to health workers: “…unrepentant behavioural patterns such as social gatherings remain a recipe for disaster and should be discouraged at all costs”. To which God says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). Don’t you see it? Government is rebuking worshippers for not repenting of their churchgoing! But how do I repent for obeying God’s Law instead of breaking it? May Christ our Captain strengthen us to stand against every demonic scheme to use an anti-church virus to scatter Jesus’ blood-bought sheep.
- By gathering are we denying the reality & risk of Covid and minimizing all the pain & loss (and harming our Christian witness)?
Right now, in our province of South Africa, everybody knows someone who has died of Covid in the last month. No one is debating the deadliness of this virus, or the terrible way its victims die, or the immense strain on hospitals and healthcare workers. Every church has had a funeral, every workplace a tragedy, every family affected, some severely.
I recently attended a gut-wrenching funeral for a dear brother in Christ in the prime of life and ministry, leaving behind a wife and two young children. As we buried him at West Park cemetery, I noticed many other fresh graves – a sobering reminder of our mortality and of the ravages of Covid. The question is not the grim reality of Covid; it is only about the best solutions and right response.[xi]
But here’s a common question: ‘Are we being a bad example of the gospel by putting lives at risk in our church gatherings?’ But in light of our answers to questions #1-2 above, it should be clear that we believe not assembling would be disobedience to Christ. When does He ask us to reach a lost world by disobeying Him? And His “first and greatest commandment” is not loving our neighbour; that is second to loving our God wholeheartedly (Matt. 22:34-40), by obeying His commands and doing what pleases Him.
How does the world know that we are Christ’s disciples? By our “love for one another”, even more than our love for outsiders (Jn. 13:35). We should not expect that the world will understand that our highest good is not physical safety, that we are not paralysed by the fear of death, and that we are fervent in our love for one another (1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 3:1; 1 Cor. 2:14; Heb. 2:15). The world will always accuse and slander believers; but we can have a clear conscience if we are doing what is right in God’s eyes – whether it be Sunday worship or any Christian fellowship, hospitality, or good works (1 Pet. 2:18-20; 4:14-16,19; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pet. 4:9; Tit. 2:14; 3:14).
Since when did compassion for the sick equal isolation from other believers, when prayer, worship, comfort and the human touch are most needed? Only a post-Christian, godless society could invent such cruel therapy. We have two whole chapters in the Bible calling for a quarantine of the sick, but never of the healthy (Lev. 13-14). The more burdens, the more need to “bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
It is slanderous to falsely accuse anyone of being ‘a Covid denier’ or ‘Covidiot’ or ‘conspiracy theorist’ simply when they don’t agree with the exalted experts, mainstream solutions, and government responses. Open debate and constructive disagreement over lockdowns and protocols is one thing; denouncing others as heartless ‘Grandma-killers’ is another.[xii]
Christians are welcome to defend state lockdowns, protocols, and church shutdowns, if they believe there are good and godly reasons to do so. Their church will answer to God for how they’ve handled this crisis, and so will we. Out of Christian love and conviction, we may try and zealously (and graciously) persuade one another of our position, when so much is at stake.
Speaking of which, here are a few sources that our own church elders have found proven and credible over the past 16 months, in bringing us to an anti-lockdown position of focused protection for the vulnerable, instead of shutting down society. (Note, these are helpful medically, scientifically, economically & politically; see above for theological sources already recommended.):
As God’s people, we serve a “God of truth”, and are followers of Truth incarnate, and are led by His “Spirit of truth” (Ps. 31:5; Jn. 14:6; 16:13). Only His Word is perfect, infallible truth. But we then measure all things by this biblical standard of truth, we stand for truth in every realm, and we oppose all lies, wherever we find them – theologically, scientifically, politically or anywhere.
Churches should surely allow for a wide range of consciences and convictions on matters of personal healthcare (Rom. 14-15; 1 Cor. 8,10). Who cannot sympathise with older folk who fear gathering when at the peak of another Covid wave? Yet such isolation from worship and fellowship should not be indefinite. And often, when vulnerable people are weaned off of the mainstream panic narrative and taught further facts about the virus, they may find ways to return to church sooner rather than later.
- Should I get the vaccine; or is it the mark of the beast?
This question may not be as decisive in whether a church gathers or not; but it is a volatile issue dividing churches, and all of society. In our church for many months we’ve taught about the three biblical spheres of God-given authority: the family, church, and state, each with their own assigned jurisdiction.[xiii] We’ve held that mask-wearing and social distancing is a personal health decision, outside of both state and church authority. The vaccine choice then falls under this same family sphere. You don’t need Caesar, or the pastor, to decide what vitamins you take, or how warmly to dress in the winter or how cool in the summer.
At the same time, since it is widely known that the vaccines are a rushed, new technology, not yet undergoing the same rigorous trials as previous vaccines, we recommend these three crucial steps:
- Consult your doctor as to the potential pros and cons for your particular health profile. Consider also seeking a 2nd opinion.[xiv]
- Do your homework and research to ensure best stewardship of your bodily “temple” the Lord has entrusted to you (1 Cor. 6:19). Examine also the adverse outcomes of the vaccine being reported around the world, and the benefits of natural immunity.[xv]
- As with all the Christian life, examine your motive for taking or not taking the vaccines (Prov. 4:23): Is it only medical? Is it caving into social pressure? Is it job security? Coercion by government, employers or social memberships of any kind is wrong and tyrannical.[xvi] As with masks, the vaccine has become another pillar of the new moralism and virtue-signalling, all in the name of the public good: ‘I didn’t get the jab for myself, but to protect others.’ In every age, the Church must be vigilant against all manmade forms of self-righteousness and extra-biblical spirituality (Matt. 15:1-20; Col. 2:16-23; Gal. 3:3; 4:8-11; 5:1-26; 6:12-15).
No, the vaccine is not the “mark of the beast” (666) in Revelation 13, that sign of loyalty to Antichrist’s kingdom.[xvii] Christians should not fear that “666” will be some accidental allegiance they are tricked into accepting, without knowing it or being able to reverse it. Satan and his antichrist empire will be very deceitful, and many false converts and pretend believers will fall; but God’s faithful will “endure to the end” and not be overcome (Mk 13:13; Rev. 12:11; 13:10,18).
Getting the ‘Covid jab’ is not the beast’s mark; but it could become the beast’s tool.[xviii] The Church must stay alert against tyrannical coercion and persecution, and never compromise.[xix] It is no virtue to be blindly naïve about evil agendas and destructive ideologies.[xx] But we must also be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, and guard against any violation of Christian liberty and the freedom of each believer to act according to his/her own conscience in these grey areas (Eph. 4:1-6; Rom. 14-15:13; 1 Cor. 8-10). Disagreement over non-essentials is a great opportunity to manifest the Holy Spirit’s supernatural fruit of Christian love and tolerance toward one another (Gal. 5:22-23; Col. 3:12-15).
No one loves His Church more than her Head who gave His life to save us, whose Father sent Him to redeem us, and whose Holy Spirit indwells us. May our faithful Lord use these six answers to exalt His name, preserve His Church, and advance His gospel. If ever there was a time our dying world needs to hear God’s life-giving Word proclaimed by His Church, it is now. We must not be silenced!
Aren’t you grateful that our God can always be trusted, no matter what? He is the ‘Christ of the Crises’, the Lord of the wind and the waves (Mk. 4:35-41; 6:47-50). Beneath all of the above questions about whether we should go to church or not lurks a deeper, underlying question: ‘Can I trust God with my doubts and fears?’
As we stand for truth and continue in the clear path of biblical duty, we can be assured that He will prove faithful to provide for us and our loved ones, as He always has. Our God does not need my scheming or my anxieties to plan for every contingency before I take any risks in obeying Him. Our Lord Jesus truly declared:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mk. 8:34-35)
As Mary Moffat of Kuruman once testified, after all the dangers they faced serving the Lord for 52 years in the Northern Cape (of South Africa): ‘My Lord was better to me than all my fears.’ His absolute promise still stands: “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:19).
O Church arise and put your armour on
Hear the call of Christ our Captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given. (Getty)
[i] Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:4; Psalm 84
[ii] Yesterday’s news gave this honest example of the world crying out for the hope found only in Christ and His Church: “I have spent the last 22 days in a Covid quagmire. My 17 year old daughter was in and out fairly quickly, I had it fairly mildly, but my husband has been slaying the Covid pneumonia dragon and only emerged today. He still has a long road to go. I feel we are asking the wrong questions and paying attention to the wrong things. Arguments about ivermectin, prednisone, vaccines seem less important when you’re fighting for your life. Covid is calling us to account: how we live, how we spend our time, what’s important. That is a question that must be asked by each person on the planet. As my husband’s breathing eased this morning, I sank to my knees and wept and searched my heart so that this terrifying experience does not go to waste. What did I want to let go? What is important and deserves attention? …let’s not waste the opportunity.” (https://us5.campaign-archive.com/?e=0e9e4f933e&u=1eb94755813093b86cb8f73be&id=4a7d51c86f)
[iii] https://joynews.co.za/churches-remain-shut-while-anc-eff-defy-lockdown-rules/. Yet as of last night, it appears some of our religious freedoms are being restored for now, thankfully: https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2021-07-14-government-lifts-ban-on-large-gatherings-in-bid-to-quell-unrest/
[iv] https://www.amazon.com/UNREPORTED-TRUTHS-ABOUT-COVID-19-LOCKDOWNS/dp/1953039103/ ; https://www.amazon.com/Liberty-Lockdown-Jeffrey-Tucker/dp/1630692123/; https://www.amazon.com/Price-Panic-Tyranny-Pandemic-Catastrophe/dp/B08G1Y764G/; https://www.amazon.com/State-Fear-government-weaponised-Covid-19-ebook/dp/B08ZSYN14J/; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/08/new-zealand-children-falling-ill-in-high-numbers-due-to-covid-immunity-debt
[v] A recent study looking at 43 countries plus all 50 states in the USA concluded: “We failed to find that countries/states that implemented SIP (shelter-in-place) policies earlier, and in which SIP policies had longer to operate, had lower excess deaths than countries/states that were slower to implement SIP policies. We also failed to observe differences in excess death trends before and after the implementation of SIP policies based on pre-SIP COVID-19 death rates.” (https://www.nber.org/papers/w28930) See also: https://www.pandata.org/lockdowns-dont-work-why/; https://www.biznews.com/undictated/2021/03/30/covid-19-lockdown-panda; https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4263
[viii] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/135100-resistance-to-tyranny-is-obedience-to-god. “Tyrants seek control, but apathetic citizenries allow it. Tyranny is only the victor when the citizenry abdicates the freedom they fail to cherish. Or perhaps they do cherish their freedom but are simply too naïve to see the preface of tyranny right in front of them.” (https://www.standingforfreedom.com/2021/07/05/proclaiming-liberty-with-the-reverberating-courage-of-our-founders/)
[xii] God’s Word forbids us from “bearing false witness” against others (Exod. 20:16; 23:1,7). This sin of slander should not be named among God’s people (Lev. 19:16; Ps. 101:5; Prov. 10:18; Col. 3:8; Eph. 4:31; Jam. 4:11).
[xiv] For the vaccine: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/covid-vaccine-christian-unity/; Against the vaccine: https://www.deconstructingconventional.com/post/18-reason-i-won-t-be-getting-a-covid-vaccine
[xv] “The human immune system is one of the most sophisticated achievements…. The survival of our species has depended on it for millennia. And today, we are still very much relying on it. For the record, 99% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 recover without treatment. Only 1% of SARS-CoV-2 patients, who did not receive early home-based treatment, end up hospitalised. In other words, the immune system overwhelmingly protects. Even vaccines depend entirely on the immune system: vaccines essentially teach our immune systems what viral markers to be prepared for, they are not cures per se. Without a functional immune system, there can be no effective vaccine.”
https://www.pandata.org/you-asked-we-answered/ (see helpful section on vaccines)
[xvi] Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”(https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/140634-those-who-would-give-up-essential-liberty-to-purchase-a). We face the potential for gross abuses of authority and violation of human rights and civil liberties through vaccine passports, medical apartheid, etc. See also: https://www.newsafrica.net/world/vaccine-passports-a-ticket-to-apartheid-and-racism; https://www.wsj.com/articles/declining-a-covid-19-vaccine-risks-penalties-in-some-countries-11613998997
[xviii] From a Bulgarian living under a communist regime: “You cannot understand and you cannot know that the most terrible instrument of persecution ever devised is an innocent ration card. You cannot buy and you cannot sell except according to that little, innocent card. If they please, you can be starved to death, and if they please, you can be dispossessed of everything you have; for you cannot trade, and you cannot buy and you cannot sell, without permission.” (W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Revelation, 4:120–21).
Just announced in France two days ago by their president (12 July 2021): “The unvaccinated will bear the brunt of the restrictions rather than everyone…from the beginning of August, the vax pass will be needed for coffee shops, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals, trains, buses etc…” (https://twitter.com/EmmanuelMacron). See this point-by-point, medical refutation of the French’s president’s unfounded claims: https://www.francesoir.fr/videos-les-debriefings/analyse-des-assertions-scientifiques-macron-mccullough#.YO_T0DzPNU4.twitter
[xix] “So is there something special about Covid-19 that justifies the unusual authoritarian step of making vaccination mandatory? No….” (https://www.aier.org/article/externality-is-no-good-excuse-for-mandatory-vaccination/)
[xx] As the GCC elders state: “Scripture says, ‘the whole world lies in the power of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19). That refers, of course, to Satan. John 12:31 and 16:11 call him ‘the ruler of this world,’ meaning he wields power and influence through this world’s political systems (cf. Luke 4:6; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12). Jesus said of him, ‘he is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.” (https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B200723) See also: