There is a basic Bible principle for Christians to obey the laws of the authorities that govern them:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (NIV Romans 13:1-3)
The purpose of governing authorities is to establish laws to protect each member of society from destructive behaviour which might threaten the survival of the whole society. But what about situations where government imposes laws which prevent Christians from coming together to worship publicly or to preach the good news of the Gospel? When the apostles disobeyed the religious leaders and refused to stop preaching the gospel, they were thrown in jail. Did that shut them up? No!
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)
This earned them a flogging, but at least Gamaliel’s intervention spared them from being killed.
But what about situations where government law prevents Christians from coming together to worship, pray, sing and partake of communion in church? King Darius issued a decree that any man who prayed to any god other than himself was to be thrown into a den of lions (Daniel chapter 6). Daniel broke that decree by continuing to pray three times a day in front of an open window, where he could be seen praying to God. I realise that isn’t quite the same situation as churches in England (for example) during the current lockdown, but it’s got to the stage where police have authority to prevent public worship in situations where the laws are being disregarded. They did this recently and stopped a baptismal service from taking place.
The motivation for preventing public gatherings is well understood – it’s to prevent the spread of the COVID pandemic. There is no suggestion that social distancing should be ignored by Christians and this question is not about civil disobedience. It’s about the line that may have to be drawn if government authorities introduce laws that ban public worship, which includes preventing Christians from partaking at the Lord’s Table – Communion.
Jesus commanded us to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
What Bible principles apply in 2020 (and presumably for some time to come) with regard to how Christians should respond to any legislation that results in the closure of Churches thereby preventing like-minded believers from gathering together for worship, prayer, singing hymns and partaking of Communion?
A precedent has already been set which could result in churches becoming impotent. No, this isn't about "persecution" from governments. It's about "where do we go from here" now that Catholic and Protestant churches have seemingly caved in from the word go and are only now waking up to the consequences of being unable to function as God intended them to.
P.S. Last week 120 UK church leaders (from a variety of denominations) asked for a judicial review on the basis of unlawful closure of religious buildings.
P.P.S. With regard to the Church of England, it seems that Justin Welby is going to take a year out (a sabbatical) in spring 2021. I wonder if any other church leaders are contemplating similar action. More to the point, I wonder how that will help church members who are isolated, alone and distressed.