Freedom To Worship

On 21st April 2020 The Herald published this short letter from me. ‘Churches should re-open this Sunday. Many church buildings are large and many congregations are small. There is plenty of room for safe self-distancing. Go on Christians. Stand up for Jesus’.

It didn’t happen. No Christians stood up to be counted for Jesus Christ. Churches remained closed and were later allowed to open with strict regulations extending even to the individual receiving of Holy Communion. Hymn singing was prohibited, even the singing of Christmas Carols. Christians were not allowed to meet for prayer. The second lockdown closed churches again. The Church of Scotland acquiesced in all this. Its leadership was flattered to be in the company of minor civil service employees discussing these matters. They enjoyed the scraps from the table. They did not stand up for Jesus Christ nor even for the rights and status of the Church of Scotland or other Churches in Scotland. The SNP Government’s church closures were actually unlawful. On 23rd March 2021 in response to a legal challenge in the Court of Session from some evangelical churches and one Roman Catholic priest, Lord Braid ruled that Scottish Government regulations “amount to a disproportionate infringement of the petitioners’ human rights”. Lord Braid also ruled that online worship was not real Christian worship, stating that it was not for Scottish ministers to: “Dictate to the petitioners or to the additional party, that, henceforth, or even for the duration of the pandemic, worship is to be conducted online”. This legal challenge had been denounced by the Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland who said that the Church of Scotland would have no part of it. Yet the 1921 Church of Scotland Act acknowledges the right of the Church to control of its ecclesiastical affairs independently of the state.

Thomas Erastus (1524 – 1583) was a Dutch professor of medicine and a philosopher. He had a curious take on The Reformation. He advocated the ascendancy of the state over churches in their ecclesiastical affairs. He thought that the state should punish the sins of people. ‘Erastianism’ became influential in England. The United Kingdom Parliament can still interfere in the running of the Church of England. It has the final say on the appointment of archbishops, for example. Today Erastianism rules in the Church of Scotland not so much by state imposition but by the Church’s own voluntary surrender to the Scottish Government during the pandemic.

In China, there is nominal freedom of worship in the constitution but in practice the Communist Party of China tightly controls all church activity. The Chinese State recognises Catholicism and Protestantism separately. It shares authority with Rome in China’s Catholic Church and the Three Self Patriotic Movement is the state sanctioned official Protestant Church. Its original intention was ‘to heighten our vigilance against imperialism, to make known the clear political stand of Christians in New China, to hasten the building of a Chinese church whose affairs are managed by the Chinese themselves, and to indicate the responsibilities that should be taken up by Christians throughout the whole country in national reconstruction in New China’.

There are many underground evangelical churches which are illegal. But these Chinese Christians are willing to stand up for Jesus, or, at least, to gather to worship him in secret, free of state interference and at the risk of arrest and imprisonment. Under Xi Jinping, the CCP has pushed to shape all religions to conform to the doctrines of the officially atheist party and the customs of the majority Han Chinese population. New regulations introduced in early 2020 require religious groups to accept and spread CCP ideology and values. Faith organizations must now get approval from the government’s religious affairs office before conducting any activities. Xi Jinping has placed photographic images of himself in churches. This corresponds to the Caesar worship which existed in the first century of the Christian church and against which Christians were adjudged to be ‘atheists’.

There is a possibility that Scotland may become politically independent from the United Kingdom. If the SNP triumphs in a legitimate second referendum then its form of atheist neo-communism will rule everyone in the land. Where will Christians stand? Where will the Church of Scotland stand? It is vexing that it is not distinguishing itself from the politics of the day. Its essence and raison d'être are not the same as those of any secular state, even less so an anti-Christian state with an anti-Christian First Minister. Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. (John 18 : 36)’. The Christian Church has suffered in its collusion with various states and governments over the centuries. Its calling is to be distinct and to offer a different message, the Gospel, to the population of the world. There are 2.3 billion Christians on earth. There are 5.3 million people living in Scotland. The Church of Scotland is called to proclaim the Sovereignty of God in human affairs. This was a particular doctrine of The Reformation based as it was on the teaching of John Calvin for whom all events are governed by the secret counsel of God. He wrote ‘After learning that there is a Creator, it must forthwith infer that he is also a Governor and Preserver, and that, not by producing a kind of general motion in the machine of the globe as well as in each of its parts, but by a special providence sustaining, cherishing, superintending, all the things which he has made, to the very minutest, even to a sparrow’ (Institutes 1 : 16 : 1).

The Body of Christ exists in the lives of Christians throughout the world. It is clearly visually and socially different and separate from the governments of nation states. Politics is not all that we are and have. Christianity has a message transcending human natural consciousness. It is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Proclamation, worship and service are its constituents. The free expression of these is of benefit to nations, societies and communities.

The Herald on 26th March 2021 published this letter from Alistair McBay. 'While the religious will no doubt enjoy celebrating their win against a secular government in the secular courts, the notion that the rights of the religious trump everybody else's leads us down a very dangerous path, lockdown or not. Further, religious exceptionalism and triumphalism during a global pandemic which no god or gods seem able or willing to address is not exactly a good look. It remains to the enormous credit of the Church of Scotland that it demonstrated true Christian values by distancing itself from this legal challenge'. Alistair McBay, Perth.

Here is irony upon irony and satire upon satire. A secularist praising the Church of Scotland for not standing up for Jesus Christ. Astonishingly, there are people in the Church of Scotland who will welcome this praise and are proud of it. Being associated with atheists is a badge of honour for some. Hatred of evangelical Christians outweighs fidelity to the core purposes of Christianity. Can they not see the connection between their posture and the decline of the Church of Scotland? Christianity would never have existed if their mentality had been shared by the apostles of Jesus. They are a contemporary equivalent of the Saducees who arraigned Jesus and had him crucified.

Robert Anderson 2017

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