Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
Challenge on State Mandates & Worship
A challenge statement on the obligations of the Church in worship, and how she should respond to State mandates when they curtail this worship.
Article I: Principles of worship
We affirm the plain teaching of Scripture that:
God commands worship, and determines its validity. It is our duty and purpose as created beings to offer God worship, in the way that he requires. For man to presume to know what God requires in worship, apart from his revealed will, is the root of all idolatry. God, speaking through his word, is therefore our sole and infallible authority on what constitutes valid worship.
Genesis 4:1–7; Deuteronomy 4:19–20; 32:15–21; Exodus 30:9; 32:7–10; Leviticus 9:24; 10:1–3; Psalm 78:58; Jeremiah 2:13; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 11:29–30
God commands the Church to administrate worship. It is her duty and purpose, as the minister of his word, to know his will and to obey it in every part. This charge is essential to her existence, given directly by Christ to no other authority. It is therefore her solemn duty to, firstly, determine from Scripture what constitutes valid worship; and, secondly, to faithfully administrate that worship.
Deuteronomy 7:6; Exodus 19:5–6; 1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 18:18–20; 1 Corinthians 5:4–8
Physical meeting is necessary for valid worship. In Hebrews 10:23–25, Christ forbids us from forsaking our assembling together. Scripture’s meaning must be read out of the text, not into it; and the text indisputably means that we must not abandon the practice of physically assembling. This is what the command meant when it was written—and so this is what it still means today. Key elements of worship given in Scripture assume embodied gathering. Corporate singing, which is integral to worship, cannot be done online. The Lord’s supper, a communal meal, cannot be performed without coming together. The absolute significance of embodiment is at the heart of Christianity, as the Word became flesh. The Church, in some mysterious way, is an extension of Christ’s incarnation, for it is explicitly called his body. This means that the same principle of embodiment is at work in worship, as in the incarnation itself—thus to deny its importance in worship is to deny its importance altogether. Attempting to replace worship with online meetings therefore constitutes a kind of digital docetism.
Hebrews 10:23–39; 13:3; Acts 2:42–47; 9:4–5; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 5:4; 10:16–18; 11:20–22; 27–29; 12:27; 14:26; Ephesians 4:12; 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Matthew 18:20; John 20:26; John 1:14; Romans 12:5
God uniquely ministers to our souls in worship. Scripture reveals the mystery that when we gather in worship, we gather in the heavenly places, before the throne of God himself. The Spirit of Christ is present in a way unlike other times, and uniquely blesses the souls of the gathered via the preaching of his word, the prayers of his people, and their communion in the Lord’s supper.
Hebrews 10:19–25; 12:22-29; Ephesians 1:6; Luke 24:30–35; Isaiah 55:10–11; Acts 4:31; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7; 10:16; 12:13; 14:30–33
Worship is fundamental to loving both God, and the souls of our neighbors. If we will not worship God, we cannot say we love him, and if we do not love him, we cannot be like him in our love for others. It is impossible to truly obey the second great commandment without obeying the first. Our forefathers in the faith routinely died during times of plague, because they knew that worship and fellowship were of far greater importance to the whole man than physical ease and health. They fearlessly ministered to men’s souls through these dangers precisely because, without spiritual wellbeing, physical wellbeing is empty and worthless. This does not mean that worship can never be lawfully suspended by a church. Rather, it means that it can never be eclipsed by other ways of loving our neighbors, let alone loving God, because worship is where loving God and neighbor begins.
1 John 4:7, 21; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:25–37; Matthew 5:14–15, 44–48; 22:37–40; Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6, 17–19, 26–38; Colossians 4:12; Mark 8:36; 2 Corinthians 12:7; 2 John 12; Hebrews 10:24–25; James 1:27
Article II: Application to State mandates
In light of these truths, along with our Cornerstone Statement, we challenge all believers that:
Any church that allows the State to administrate worship is functionally a state church. She has denied the sufficiency and authority of Christ’s word, and has replaced his headship with the State’s. Relevant examples of this from recent history include any instance where she allows the State to determine:
- Whether worship is essential;
- The conditions under which anyone may partake in worship (for example, only if they are vaccinated, or only if they live in an approved area);
- When or where worship may be conducted (for example, only when no virus has been detected nearby, or only outdoors);
- How many worshipers may gather;
- How closely they may congregate;
- What they must wear (for example, masks);
- Whether or not they may sing.
Obeying state mandates about worship is rebellion against Christ. The State, by directing churches to suspend worship, or to add unbiblical restrictions to worship, is acting outside its authority, overturning Christ’s law, and engaging in tyranny. Churches, by cooperating with the State instead of making their own determinations, are aiding and abetting rebellion against their Lord. Any church which does this, whether knowingly or not, in practice makes itself an agent of tyranny against Christ.
Any church denying these facts is compromised. Every affirmation we have made can be easily established by anyone with eyes to see. Therefore, any church which, after due consideration, does not arrive at substantially similar conclusions, nor act to fulfill her duty of resistance in obedience to Christ, is either credulous, corrupt, cowardly, or a combination thereof. Since discipling the nations requires us to be shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves, and bold as lions, such a church is unfit to teach Christ’s law, and unable to fulfill the Great Commission.