Guidance for Churches and Religious Institutions Facing Coronavirus Restrictions on Gathering

As more and more cities, counties and even some states are passing more and more restrictions on gatherings and travel in what I believe is a well intended effort to combat COVID-19; we can not forget there exists a freedom of religion in this country that is found in no other. That being said we, as a church must proceed wisely and with caution in the these times. Last week I wrote and article COVID-19 and the Church that deals with the immediate effects of the 15 day restrictions placed on gathering of 10 or more people. This article deals with the proposed long term effects of COVID-19 and the Church and State working together. 

Guidance for Churches and Religious Institutions Facing Coronavirus Restrictions on Gathering


The following information is reprinted by permission from First Liberty.  To read and/or print the original document, please click HERE.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has motivated some state officials to impose restrictions on the gathering of large numbers of people in one place at a time, including in a house of worship. Unlike other, voluntary restrictions self-imposed by organizations such as the NCAA or the NBA, these state-mandated restrictions carry the power of law, violating them may lead to legal consequences.

Church and state have an opportunity to work together to reduce the impact of the virus on our communities while encouraging calm and preserving liberty. We offer the following guidance:

1. Religious institutions should continue to serve their local communities. America’s churches and religious institutions have played a central role in caring for their local community throughout history. Whether that is through acts of mercy, providing shelter, or simply being a source of encouragement and peace in times of crisis, America’s religious institutions should continue to be source of strength through service to their local community, especially as their communities may be particularly burdened during this pandemic.

2. Temporary, evenly applied restrictions may be permissible. Government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion unless it has a compelling reason for doing so, and even then, it must use the least burdensome approach that achieves that compelling interest. Temporary action to reduce the spread of a global pandemic is almost certainly a compelling reason, so long as the government is not treating religious institutions unfairly compared with how it treats other comparable gatherings. For instance, if state officials require churches to ensure that each service has no more than 250 persons, but officials do not require a nearby theater to do likewise, the state may have engaged in religious discrimination.

3. Extraordinary state action to limit the peaceful gathering of American citizens must be temporary. Permanent restrictions on the peaceful assembly of American citizens—and especially those gathered to exercise their religion— violate the U.S. Constitution and are not permissible. As they have throughout history, churches and America’s religious institutions will play a key role in providing care during this global pandemic.

Click here to access APN’s COVID-19 Pastoral Response Kit, and stay tuned in the coming days as APN will share further suggestions of tangible ways to meet the needs of the household of faith and meet the needs of those outside the household of faith to fulfill the obligation of furthering the Gospel and making disciples.


Today in Church (and U.S.) History

John Winthrop Made Massachusetts a Success

John Winthrop Made Massachusetts a Success

Winthrop: Church and State

Can you imagine the outcry if the Boston Globe were to announce that the Governor of Massachusetts had preached one Sunday from the Bible, using as his text, Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount?” Does the very idea sound ridiculous and impossible? Well, such an event did take place in 1630. Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony preached aboard ship to a great company of Puritans sailing with him.

John was born in Suffolk, England on this day, January 12, 1588-the same year the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England. The Winthrops were Puritans–that is, they wanted the Church of England to be purified of traditions, practices, and beliefs not specifically found in the Bible. They were also a people of means, owners of the manor at Groton who prospered by making and trading cloth.

Early Devotion

Even as a boy, John was sincerely devoted to God and even considered becoming a minister. Instead, he trained in the law and received a court appointment. Although he followed his father in trade and succeeded him as lord of the family estate at Groton Manor, John never ceased to honor God in all his undertakings. The fact that he had not entered the ministry troubled him so much that he admitted, “…I think I am the rather bound to take the opportunity for spending the remainder of my time to the best service of the church which I may.”

Leaving Persecution

During the 1620s, there was religious and political turmoil in England as King Charles I battled for the absolute power of the monarchy. Persecution of Puritans increased because the king wanted everyone to follow the formulas of the national church. Many Puritans planned to emigrate. By 1629 a group of them had formed the Massachusetts Bay Company to settle America. John was elected governor of the company. Soon he had enlisted 700 colonists for the new settlement, and in l630, their fleet sailed for America. It was on this voyage of the Arbella that John preached on Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.”

The Arbella, Winthrop's Flagship

While aboard ship, John also issued a “Model of Christian Charity,” ideas that would stamp the young Puritan colony. He called for brotherly love and a strong commitment to the Christian faith– but moderation in just about everything else.

Massachusetts Colony

He devoted over 20 years of his life to building the Massachusetts Colony. A later Puritan called him an “American Nehemiah” because, like Nehemiah (who left an influential court position to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem), John cast aside a high position to unselfishly share the hardships of his fellow colonists in establishing a godly society.

Map of Massachusetts Bay Colony

Like all great men, John had his warts. Although he was a very practical administrator, his ideals were so strong that they allowed little room for tolerance. He presided over the trial of Anne Hutchinson who diverged from Puritan views and called for women’s rights. But rather than execute her, which he might have done, he exiled her.

Pictured below: Stone Marker of John Winthrop’s Mansion in Massachusetts

John Winthrop, Massachusetts Bay Colony


Today in Church (and US) History

Illegal to Deny the Bible

Illegal to Deny the Bible

Suppose the U.S. Congress passed a law making it illegal to deny the Bible as the Word of God? Today, the Supreme Court would quickly rule that such a law is unconstitutional because it violates religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment of the American Constitution. But did you know that on this day, November 4, l646, the little Massachusetts Bay Colony passed just such a law?

For the Puritans, who founded the colony, and for John Cotton, one of their most prominent preacher-leaders, it made sense for them to have a theocratic (God-directed) government in which the laws ruling society were also the laws of God as found in the Bible.

Yet the Puritans did not strictly combine church and state. They recognized that church and state had different purposes–one was for the salvation of souls; the other was for the preservation of society through justice. Both, however, had their source in God, and both should look to the Bible as the source for standards, direction, and guidance.

Most Puritans used the Geneva Bible translation. Its preface summarized what the Bible meant by calling it the “light to our path, the key to the kingdom of heaven, our comfort in affliction, our shield and sword against Satan, the source of all wisdom, the food for our souls, and the glass in which we see God’s face.”

For the Puritans, it was unthinkable that the teachings of the Bible were meant to deal only with a narrow religious sphere. They believed the Scriptures provided the rule and guidance for all of life–government, economics, education, church, family, and morals. And so, on this day, November 4, 1646 the Massachusetts Puritans passed a law prohibiting their people from denying that the Bible is the Word of God. The penalty for persistence in this error was death. The same act also set a fine of five shillings for failing to attend church on Sunday.

I am guessing this fact is not being taught at all in Massachusetts schools. 

Today in Church History

Cambridge Synod Sets Church-State Relationship

Cambridge Synod Sets Church-State Relationship
Richard Baxter

When the Puritans arrived in New England, they were sure that the best form of government was to be found in the practice of the early church. They attempted to live out their ideas, designing their civil government around their faith. In doing so, they made immense strides toward popular government and freedom. However, they did not solve all the problems of self-government in one leap. To vote in civil elections, for instance, you had to be a member in good standing of the church. But among 15,000 whites living in Massachusetts, only about 1,700 had ever become citizens; and, because some of them had left the colony or died, perhaps only one person in twenty had the right to vote.

For the most part, Christians other than Congregationalists could not touch the levers of government. They were not members of the ruling church. After Anne Hutchinson was booted out of the Massachusetts, English religious leaders made inquiries into religious practice in New England, forcing its leaders to explain and defend their way of running things. That inquiry helped bring about the Cambridge Synod.

In 1646, the General Court of Massachusetts summoned Congregationalist pastors to a conference to be held across the Charles River from Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So independent-minded were individual churches, that the summons had to be reworded as an invitation before some pastors would attend. On this day, September 1, 1646, delegates from the Congregational churches of Massachusetts and some of the surrounding colonies met. This is known as the Cambridge Synod. It met three times in three years.

At issue at hand was not only whether Presbyterians would be allowed a say in church affairs, but who would control the colony–the Parliament in England or free men in the colonies. A committee was assigned the task of working out details and eventually Richard Mather wrote the seventeen-chapter Cambridge Platform. Through it, the Cambridge Synod hoped to establish a consistent practice throughout the colony.

One of the most telling sections of the finished Platform was chapter XVII section 6. “It is the duty of the magistrate to take care of matters of religion and to improve his civil authority for the observing of the duties commanded in the first [section]…” (The first section that is referred to, obligated church attendance.) There would be no separation of church and state yet. Although elders were elected by the people, they were given final say when their congregations disagreed with them.

Despite protests from their own members, the Congregationalists adopted the Platform. However, there was no way to force its decisions on local churches. And since New Englanders had learned to control their own destinies through their own votes (however limited the franchise), the Platform gradually fell into neglect.

Meanwhile, the New England policy excluded some men of worth. William Vassall came to Massachusetts in 1628, with a background that was either Presbyterian or Church of England. He felt that he and others like him should have a say in the colony’s affairs although they were not Congregationalists. His suggestion was that all Presbyterian and Church of England members be admitted to communion with the New England church. In 1646, the year of the Cambridge Synod, he sailed back to England where he supported a bill for liberty of conscience. When William Vassall did not get the relief he wanted, he resettled in Barbados.

Church and State.

Dr. R.C. Sproul’s five part devotional series on the subject of church and state.

Legal Force

Civil Obedience

The Sword and the Keys

An Instrument of Evil

Civil Disobedience

For more information you can listen to Dr. Sproul’s teaching series on the same subject HERE