As many are now aware, on Easter of this year a “health officer” in Alberta, Canada, entered a church with the intention of shutting down services over “Covid” regulations.
She did not come alone.
Backing her were three burly police officers, as well as two other men. The officers carried guns and handcuffs, but no warrant. They entered the church without permission and, despite repeated requests, refused for some time to leave the private property.
The pastor officiating Easter services, Artur Pawlowski, grew up under communist rule in Poland, which was taken over by the Soviet Union in the 1940s. Religion, and especially Christianity, was banned there, and as a child, Artur had a front-row seat to brutal attacks by the government on dissidents.
Taking inspiration from his homeland, where ordinary citizens eventually made Poland too hot for the communists to hold, Artur, along with members of his congregation, ejected officials. After ascertaining that they had no warrant and politely requesting that they leave, he screamed “Out, out!” at them until they left. He also didn’t hesitate to call them communists and Nazis to their faces.
The situation Artur’s church confronted is hardly unique.
Police in England broke up a Good Friday service the same weekend, telling worshipers that “This gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently…I appreciate you would like to worship, [but]…please leave the building now.” Churches across the United States were forced to either close or limit attendance for much of the last year. The Supreme Court sided with these regulations multiple times, only recently forcing states such as California to ease restrictions. And there are similar cases still making their way through the courts.
The question is this: why is every pastor, priest, imam, and rabbi in the world not standing up like Artur Pawlowski? Why are the shepherds not defending their flocks?
In the United States of course, the First Amendment to the Constitution gives Americans a near absolute right, not only to the “free exercise” of religion, but also to peaceable assembly and free speech, all of which are violated by shuttering churches. The only legal cause for the government to prevent services is evidence that they being used to physically harm others (and spreading Covid doesn’t count – more deadly diseases, such as smallpox, were not considered reasons for invading churches when the Constitution was written).
More important than the Constitution, however, is the fact that governments and the police misunderstand their people’s beliefs when they say “I appreciate that you would like to worship.” Christians and others do not merely want to go to services, they must. And if a government orders them not to, they cannot choose obedience to the law over religious duty.
At the Last Supper, Jesus broke apart the bread He was holding and gave it to His disciples, saying “This is My body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of Me” (Luke 22:19). Each Sunday, many Christians follow the command of Jesus by accepting blessed bread from the hands of a pastor or priest, in the belief that in consuming it they are taking the body of Christ within them – not only accepting His forgiveness of sins, but becoming truly one with a God of love who wants no division between Himself and His people. For most, this is a religious obligation. Other Bible verses command Christians to sing songs of worship, gather, and pray in groups – all activities that have faced bans. Likewise, Muslim men are obliged by their faith to gather for Friday prayers, and Jewish men and women believe in attending services at their Synagogue each Saturday.
Good religious leaders cannot “voluntarily” close their people’s houses of worship, allowing the core of faith life to be swept away. Police or no, handcuffs or no, they should never have skipped a single service, because their flock’s souls should be more important to them than arrest or even disease, at least if they believe what they teach to others.
Why have more not raised their voices in protest (one priest did apologize for halting communion in a viral video)? While some believe their congregants agree with Covid regulations, and others have forgotten that the most important job of a shepherd is chasing off the wolves, I believe the main reason is simpler.
I believe that most of them are lost – at least for now – to the world. They closed the doors of God’s houses because they have come to honestly believe, as the communists themselves did, that material goods are more important than spiritual ones. And material things are good – food for the poor, healthcare for the sick, continued good health for those who are well. But many preach only these things now. They encourage charity, but rarely condemn sin. They give alms, but fail to teach the recipients that these are gifts from God. They encourage wellness, but do not preach that the best spiritual and physical health is a blessing from above, not within. A blessing that cannot come if the faithful ignore God’s command to gather and worship.
Flocks who find that their leaders no longer protect them should ask those leaders to remember their duty to God, and their honor in serving the people. Failing that, the faithful must, for the sake of God and Christ, provide new guardians for their future security. Without the strength of faith, every culture around the world will eventually crumble.