Tom Eglinton, an Elder at Smithfield Baptist Church, explains why his church has joined today’s landmark Federal Court filing seeking injunction for religious groups to gather for worship like other essential services.
We have a God-given responsibility to physically gather for corporate worship and community
In the New Testament, the word ‘church’ or ‘ekklesia’ by definition assumes a people called out from their homes to gather in a public place. In addition, Hebrews 10:25 commands us to gather together regularly. Many of the ‘one another’ commands of the New Testament can only be obeyed in the context of the church community.
In creation, God instituted a Sabbath (Gen 2:3). This became Law in the Exodus (Ex 20:9-11). Jesus Christ proclaimed Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath and affirmed that it was created for man (Mark 2:27-28). Christians, therefore, gather to worship God and rest on the Lord’s Day. God’s people have gathered for worship throughout the Bible in obedience to God’s commands (Ex 5:1, Is 43:21, Eph 3:20-21, 1 Pet 2:4-10, Rev 7:9-12).
The church is called to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9). We proclaim those excellencies when we gather together for “where two or three are gathered in [Jesus’] name, [He is present] among them” (Matt 18:20).
The current government health orders are preventing us from being obedient to these commands. This means that the government is compelling us to break Christ’s commands to the church.
A lack of physical gathered worship is harming our community
Our church community at Smithfield Baptist Church is made up of many people for whom the regular meeting for worship was their main form of social contact and spiritual comfort. More than 12 of our church members do not have the ability to access the technology required to connect electronically due to age, disability, sickness, financial pressures or technological capability. Several more can connect but find that electronic worship does not meet their spiritual needs.
Our community in Smithfield is not unique, and we have spoken to many other churches who have found similar situations among their church communities.
The physically gathered church is an essential service to our community
Simply put, the physical gathering of the church for worship, fellowship and encouragement provides an essential service to our community. The spiritual and social nourishment that occurs in the physical meeting of the church is essential to the well-being of our community.
As it is written:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
~ Matt 4:4, Deut 8:3
It is unreasonable that we should allow people to suffer by neglecting their well-being in this way.
Physically-gathered church meetings can be conducted safely
We recognise that COVID is a highly contagious disease with the potential to cause serious health problems to some of the community. We have been and continue to be willing to provide online options for church for those of our community who wish to stay at home.
However, just as essential community services like supermarkets, petrol stations, and public transport can continue to operate physically to minimise the risk of the spread of COVID, churches must be able to operate in the same way.
As demonstrated through other essential services, when something is essential, we can find a way to do it safely.
There are people in our community who depend upon the physical gathering of the church each week who have been denied this essential service because of government restrictions.
We have addressed these concerns with the government
Since the beginning of lockdowns, members and leaders from Smithfield Baptist Church have written over 200 letters expressing our concerns to politicians at both the state and federal levels.
We have not received responses to all of these letters, but the responses that we have received have not addressed our concerns or sought to understand the essential nature of church to our community. The government has not allowed for the physical gathering of the church in any way.
Given that we have repeatedly sought to raise these concerns through normal correspondence to no avail, we are pursuing the next available legal means of bringing this critical issue to the attention of our government by pursuing a conversation through the courts.
Church is essential
Allowing people to physically gather to worship is an essential service. We provide spiritual and social sustenance that is essential for our community’s mental, physical and spiritual health and enables people to face the challenges and trials that the week ahead presents to them. This is not less essential during a pandemic; it is more essential and must be provided for in the health orders.
Editor’s Note: Tom Eglinton and Smithfield Baptist Church support The Moses Statement, an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers, urging a reopening of churches across the nation. The Moses Statement can be read and signed here.