Churches and COVID-19

I’ve held fire on this subject until now. But a number of folk have asked me to comment, and the court cases are increasing across Canada. So here goes, friends—

A few basics on which I’d like to think we can all agree. Can we?

• Christians should obey the authorities unless they are being ordered to defy the Word of God (Acts 5:29).

• The Word of God does not say that entire modern congregations must meet regularly, let alone every week, in their large-scale buildings. The early Christians met in homes. So do lots of Christians around the world today.

• The Word of God does not say that the eucharist is absolutely essential to one’s spiritual health. Even high church traditions recognize that hermits, prisoners, sailors, and many other Christians have lacked regular access to the eucharist. The eucharist is a means of grace to be received with thanks, but God is not incapable of compensating for its absence, however extended.

• The Word of God rebukes those in the Christian community who say that “assembling together” is of no account (Hebrews 10:25). The normative practice of the New Testament is for Christians to regularly meet for worship and fellowship.

• The Canadian Constitution (section 2) makes the following guarantees: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.

• These fundamental freedoms can be abrogated by government only in the form of “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” (section 1).

• Government imposition of stricter guidelines on Christian meetings than on meetings of other sorts—such as public demonstrations or sports events—seems not to “be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” No Canadian government, to my knowledge, has presented a convincing rationale why a nonreligious meeting should be allowed to proceed with more people than a religious meeting in similar circumstances.

• Government imposition of stricter guidelines on churches than on nonessential businesses and recreations seems not to “be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” No Canadian government, to my knowledge, has presented a convincing rationale why a store or restaurant should be allowed to contain more people than a church of similar size.

• Government imposition of stricter guidelines on churches than on essential businesses seems not to “be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” No Canadian government, to my knowledge, has presented a convincing rationale why church services are less essential to citizens’ wellbeing than buying nonessential groceries, alcohol, or cannabis.

• Citizens, including Christian citizens, are entitled according to the Canadian Constitution to complain when they seem to be treated in an unequal way.

• Whether the cause and wellbeing of Christian churches ultimately will be advanced or retarded by such complaining is a matter on which people of intelligence and good will may disagree.

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