To the Prime Minister and State Premiers of Australia
As Christians, we write respectfully to you because God calls us to honour our rulers (1 Peter 2:17) who He has put in positions of authority over us (Romans 13:1). As with Christians in all generations, we want to be a great blessing to our country, as those who work diligently, submit to and honour authority, pay our taxes, love our neighbours, giving honour to all. God tells us to pray for you, and so we do. We ask Him to direct you so that we can lead a quiet peaceable life in all godliness and reverence, because this pleases God (1 Timothy 2:2-3).
We write to you at this time, because the current situation in Australia is making it increasingly difficult for Christians to obey the rules and regulations that the States are enacting. We do not want to be put in the position where we must choose between obeying God or our government (Acts 5:29).
At this time, one of our greatest concerns is the public worship of God.
We have a deep respect for lawful, civil authority (Exodus 20:12; Exodus 22:28, Matthew 22:15-22; 1 Peter 2:13-17), which arises out of our respect for the absolute authority, the only true and living God, who created everything and upholds it by His power. We respect and honour His authority above all, because He made each of us to bring glory and honour to Himself. As Christians, we confess that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rules and reigns over all creation, and that every person and all institutions are subject to His authority. He is our Saviour and Lord, the only King and Head of the Church. He has given us rules to live by, which He summarised by saying:
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and‘your neighbor as yourself. ” (Luke 10:27)
God, in His wisdom, has set up authority structures on earth. In the 5th commandment (Exodus 20:12), God teaches us that we have a duty to respect and honour earthly authorities. The command specifically speaks about parents but extends into all structures of legitimate authority in society (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:11-17; Titus 3:1-8). This includes family, business, church, and civil government.
God also puts limits on all human authority. God sets these limits because fallen humanity does not wholeheartedly love God or neighbour. If our parents command us to disobey God, we cannot obey them in this (Ephesians 6:1). If any authority commands anyone to do evil it is wrong to obey (Acts 5).
God, who has all authority and gives limited authority to people, calls all people to worship. Worshipping God is the most important activity and privilege of human existence (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:1-11, 1 Peter 2:4-10, Revelation 7:9-12). God calls everyone everywhere to worship (Psalm 96). If we are going to keep God’s command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” He calls us to physically gather together to worship and warns us not to stop (Psalm 100, Hebrews 10:25). If we are going to love our neighbour as ourselves, we must place great value on their ability to gather for worship, as this is our neighbour’s greatest privilege and duty.
While God calls everyone everywhere to worship, He gives Christ’s church a clear and direct command to gather to worship Him. The public worship of God is essential to the church’s life. Local churches obey this command by physically gathering together. The Biblical word for “church” (occurring 111 times in the New Testament) literally means “assembly” and requires a physical meeting. Therefore, virtual meeting is not a substitute.
God alone controls everything in the universe, including disease and death. In times of crisis, public worship is vitally important, as God either blesses or frustrates our efforts to combat sickness and disease. While precautions should be taken to ensure safety, and while God often uses medicine to counteract and prevent disease and death (Isaiah 38), He calls us to gather to humble ourselves and pray for mercy, because He ends plagues, stops diseases, and brings blessing when His people gather together to humble themselves, pray and seek His face (Joel 2:12-17). He also prolongs trouble when a people harden their hearts.
In a health crisis with no clear end in sight, the alarming increase in suicide, alcoholism, and depression, the pressing need to hold public worship should be even more evident (Psalm 73:16-17). God alone can heal our land and provides the greatest cure for all the troubles which overwhelm broken people (Psalm 61:1ff). Our country needs hope. People find true, lasting hope when they gather for worship and prayer, as they find forgiveness in Jesus Christ our Lord.
As God directly calls His Church to worship and promises to respond to His people when they gather together, no government on earth should tell the church it cannot gather to worship. The Bible tells us of a time when a government refused to let God’s people worship Him. When God’s people were in bondage in Egypt, God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go so they could worship Him (Exodus 3:12).* Pharaoh answered, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” God sent great plagues on Egypt because Pharaoh would not listen to His prophet Moses. All Moses asked of Pharaoh was for God’s people to go apart for worship. Pharaoh’s refusal led to the destruction of most of Egypt and the annihilation of its army.
In a similar way, we come, like Moses of old, with the same plea. Let God’s people worship Him. Let God’s people gather for worship. We must answer His call to worship. We plead that you would not be like Pharaoh and stand between God and His Church, especially during the present troubles.
* God’s word to Moses in Exodus 3:12 was to serve/worship on Sinai, and the repeated references following in the narrative to freedom to go and sacrifice and serve/worship, were all refused by Pharoah – who constantly wanted to limit or diminish the number – (i.e inside Egypt, close to the border (Exodus 8:25, 28; only the men, without children Ex.10:7-10, without livestock etc. Ex. 10:24-26 ). But Moses demanded the whole people go together (Exodus10:9) as a holy people, set aside and called out to God.
As Christians, who seek, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength:
- We declare that there is no other head of the Church, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns supreme as King over all authorities and rulers (Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:15-18; Ephesians 1:20-23).
- We declare that while we are called to submit to the government, we cannot obey the government if it requires us to disobey God (Acts 5:29; Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Exodus 1:15-20; Mark 12:17).
- We declare that the worship of God is the most important activity and privilege of human existence (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:1-11, 1 Peter 2:4-10, Revelation 7:9-12).
- We declare that the public gathered worship of God is essential to the church (Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 7:9-12).
- We declare that loving the Lord our God means loving and valuing His worship (Exodus 25-31; Numbers 3:4; 1 Corinthians 11:27).
- We declare that loving our neighbour involves the provision of care for their souls (Mark 8:36; Romans 10:1).
- We declare that in times of crisis, we must, all the more urgently, call upon the name of God in public worship (Joel 1:14, Joel 2:12-13, Luke 13:4-5, Hebrews 12:7).
- We declare that since the Lord has commanded us and given us the right to worship, it is wrong for any government or official to obstruct gatherings for public worship, especially at a time like this.
We respectfully and dutifully urge you to allow Christ’s church to gather together for public worship.
Robin Tso | Minister, Hunter Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
John Forbes | Minister, Hastings River Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
David Kerridge | Minister, Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia Northern Rivers
David Lachman | Pastor, Hobart Southern Presbyterian Church
Thomas Eglinton | Elder, Smithfield Baptist Church