“Our freedom to worship God and obey His Word has come under unprecedented attack. Powerful politicians…have engaged in unchartered abuses of religious liberty, silencing the faithful, banning our voices, and outright attacking our God-given right to declare His goodness.”
This is not a letter from a Chinese house church leader. This is not a statement from a persecuted Iranian Christian.
These are the words of an American worship leader named Sean Feucht. The musician, who is often associated with Burn 24-7 and Bethel Church in California, is disgruntled that due to Covid-19, the state government has issued a temporary ban on indoor singing in places of worship. In response, he has launched a campaign entitled ‘Let us worship’, which involves him touring across American cities and holding worship concerts outdoors.
Speaking to CBN, the worship leader said: “The freedom to worship God is the constitutional right of every American citizen and those who exercise this right should not be unfairly targeted for criticism."
Breaking the law
In Romans 13, Paul says everyone “should be subject” to governing authorities. He writes that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities…as a matter of conscience”. At the same time, most Christians today would agree that there are exceptions to this rule. Clearly there are times when Christians must break their nation’s laws and disobey their rulers. For example, there are nations where it’s illegal to be a Christian, and we understand that in extreme scenarios like that, God’s law supersedes man’s law. I can’t see how a temporary ban on singing in church is reason to disobey the authorities, but clearly Feucht can. And he’s not alone. John MacArthur has also continued to hold church services in breach of local regulations.
Here in the UK, the vast majority of Christians have accepted the government-imposed restrictions on our churches. (David Hathaway and a handful of others were the notable exceptions to that rule). Generally speaking, we Brits understand that all large-scale gatherings (not just churches) present a genuine threat to public health. We’ve accepted – albeit reluctantly – that right now, as a temporary measure, we can’t sing together. Not because the government hates the sound of Christians worshipping and wants to restrict us, but because singing spreads Covid-19. Right now, to engage in singing would harm our neighbours (and ourselves!). And given we are commanded to love our neighbours, we must do all we can to avoid spreading this deadly virus.
Having grown up in the evangelical Church, I’ve often heard the phrase “Worship is about so much more than just singing songs!” It strikes me, that this pandemic has gifted us an opportunity to put that clever-sounding aphorism into practice. It isn’t safe to sing right now, so let’s worship in the myriad other ways that are still available to us. When Feucht says: ‘Let us worship’, my response is: “No one is stopping you".
When I interview American Christians for The Profile, I often ask them: “What blind spots do we have in the UK Church?” It often takes an ‘outsider’ who doesn’t live here to spot the misguided, wrong and sinful attitudes that can become so deeply and easily embedded in our psyche. Well right now, I believe some of American Christianity’s blind spots are being highlighted. The belief that bigger is always better. The belief that without a large scale church service, we cannot worship properly. The belief that the US government can never be trusted and officials are motivated by a desire to clamp down on Christians (the definition of a 'persecution complex'). I might add in Feucht’s case, that the apparent endorsement of Covid-19 conspiracy theories is another concerning feature.
Sean Feucht believes revival is on the way. He’s seeing people give their lives to Christ at his events, and the Holy Spirit is clearly moving. I rejoice with him in all of this. And as a charismatic evangelical myself, I’m missing the large-scale worship gatherings we used to take for granted here in the UK. I can’t wait for our church to return to some kind of normality. I’m desperate to praise God with loud crashing cymbals again. But I won’t break the law to do so. And I will not cry 'persecution' where there is no persecution.
As we’ve seen across the world, there have been serious Covid-19 outbreaks in places where churches have continued to gather (see here and here). When we carry on meeting, even though it could result in the death of our non-Christian neighbours, we have to ask ourselves a very serious question. Has the ‘right’ to gather in person become an idol?
My message to American Christians is this: Your Government is not cracking down on worship services. They are doing all they can to save lives. If saving lives means you can’t sing songs for the next few months, then so be it. Besides, they can take your guitars, but they’ll never take your worship.