(or COVID and Christian Persecution)
... 27 When they (the temple police) had brought them (Peter and the other apostles), they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” ... 40 ... and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:27-32, 40-42)
When the COVID-19 virus hit in early 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that closed churches. The following July, in a 14-page California Public Health Order entitled COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies, Newsom demanded that places of worship replace their own religious practices with his edicts. His purported reason for the restrictions was to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This order specifically prohibited all indoor worship services. His rationale, and his argument in court, was that churches are not "essential."
When he issued the order, however, he included 173 exceptions – none of which included places of worship. The order specifically forbade singing and chanting, along with worship in church buildings or in private homes. The order did allow, however, for non-religious activities to be conducted in the same church building using the very same people. It expressed no numerical limit to the number of people allowed to feed, shelter, or provide social services to the community – and even included non-religious counseling. In other words, a church building was allowed to serve as a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, a counseling center for helping people find a job or apply for unemployment, but as soon as the activity became religious, Newsom’s order slams the door.
At the same time, while eliminating the ability of churches to gather for worship, Newsom explicitly encouraged mass gatherings of protestors throughout the state.
The City of Los Angeles decided to double down on Newsom’s order by threatening $1,000.00 a day fines to anyone who violated the ban – including church pastors and congregation members.
But it is not just California politicians that have gone out of their way to put pressure on Christians to cease worshiping.
- In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio has suppressed Jewish worshipers,
- Kentucky governor Andy Beshear also shut down churches but was forced by the courts to retract his order,
- Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker limited church gatherings to 10 or less – regardless of the size of the church building,
- The city of Wilmington, North Carolina, banned drive-in church services,
- The City of Greenville, Mississippi banned drive-in church services, and police officers issued $500 tickets to attendees who were listening to their pastor’s sermon through their car radios in the church parking lot,
- Chattanooga, Tennessee prohibited drive-in church services, but allowed drive-in restaurants to continue serving,
- Kansas forbade churches from holding gatherings of 10 or more people, while allowing secular establishments to exceed that number,
- The Town of Dedham, Massachusetts sent a cease-and-desist letter to a church that was planning a meeting of 10 or fewer people – a gathering size allowed under the Massachusetts governor’s order,
- An Oregon church auditorium was allowed to host an exercise class of any size if attendees practiced social distancing, but fines and jail time awaited pastors if 25 people congregated in the same auditorium for church services,
- Indiana, government officials restricted the capacity of churches to lower levels than similarly situated businesses,
- Nevada reopened casinos at 50% capacity, but the Governor forbade more than 50 people to gather for worship in a church – regardless of the church building’s size. In spite of the casino rule, he fined the Las Vegas Ahern Hotel because they allowed a worship service in a casino ballroom. The fine was issued because the casino violated the governor’s 50 person gathering rule that limited houses of worship – this, in spite of the fact that it was permissible to allow hundreds of patrons to gather in the same space for non-church services.
- Washington State created rules that treated churches unequally compared to many secular businesses.
- Ventura County, California commissioners filed suit against Calvary Chapel Godspeak, its pastor, and 1,000 "John Does" (church members or future attendees) who want to worship.
- And this is only a partial list.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation where various government entities, at all levels, have had to institute all kinds of unusual guidance to its citizens. Some of the guidance relates to wearing masks and social distancing. Some relates to closing certain businesses, or regulating how they can operate. Agree with it or not, at the very least, everyone understands the struggle to figure out how to deal with this pandemic.
But as noted in the examples above, there are some who have taken it one step further and specifically targeted Christians in a way that can legitimately be called persecution. So why are these politicians doing this? Why are they treating Christians in an entirely different way than they are treating others? In a nutshell, they are doing it because they are zealots for their own secular religion. Whether you realize it or not, Naturalism is a religious point of view.
The Nature of Naturalistic Religion
Naturalism is one of the four worldview categories. It is the belief that the natural universe is all that exists. It does not acknowledge the existence of God or any kind of transcendent reality. Based on this foundational assumption, those who believe in naturalistic philosophy must believe, then, that everything, in every part of reality, can potentially be understood using empirical science. After all, if the material universe that operates based purely on natural laws is all that exists, then there is no other possibility. In their view, even things we don’t understand scientifically at the moment are capable of being understood in the future once technology and human knowledge catch up.
But is that true? Does Naturalism’s essential assumption hold up? Is it actually true that, at some point, humanity will come to a natural understanding of everything in existence?
Well, the quick and simple answer to those questions is a resounding NO! The fact is, Naturalism is a belief system based on underlying assumptions that cannot even be addressed using empirical science. For instance:
- Science cannot demonstrate Naturalism’s most basic belief to be true – that the natural universe is all that exists. There is no science able to even address that belief. It is an assumption based purely on faith in naturalistic philosophy.
- Science cannot show how life emerged from non-life. The best Naturalists can do is assert that once knowledge and technology advance enough, we will be able to figure it out. But notice once again, we have a belief that is based purely on faith.
- Science cannot demonstrate how the huge variety of life forms that exist on the earth came into being. Oh, they tout naturalistic evolution as the mechanism that caused it, but that, too, is based on a philosophical belief, not on science. There is no biological mechanism known to science that provides a means for less complex life forms to evolve into more complex forms. These Naturalists assume (believe) it to be true, but there is no actual science to back it up.
- Science cannot demonstrate how consciousness emerged from non-consciousness. Again, their beliefs allow for no other possibility, but there is no science to show that it is even possible. It is an article of faith.
So what can we conclude from this? The only thing we can know for sure is that Naturalism’s basic beliefs are ALL based on faith.
That being the case, we are led to one obvious conclusion – Naturalism is a religious point of view. So what does that make these politicians who are Naturalists? It makes them religious zealots. The reason they are so anti-Christian is not because they simply see churches as non-essential, they see them as expressions of a false religion that they believe must be stamped out. While they would almost never characterize their faith this way, and most would not even recognize it to be true, it is exactly the case.
The Real World Implications of Naturalistic Religion
We have already referred to some of the implications of naturalistic religion, but we need to be absolutely clear about this by making it explicit. The implications have real world expressions, and it is these implications that affect how people live out their life in the world
Implications about God
It has already been mentioned that Naturalists believe that the natural universe is all that exists. As regards God, this means that they affirmatively assert that there is no such thing as God – indeed, no transcendent reality at all. Everything that exists does so within the bounds of the material universe – which operates exclusively based on the universe’s natural laws.
Implications about Man
Since the natural universe is all that exists, Naturalists affirm that it is impossible for man to have been created by a transcendent God. As such, man is nothing more than one naturally evolved animal among many in existence. The unique features of the human animal lie purely in the unique characteristics of his evolutionary development. As it turns out, based on their beliefs, that uniqueness primarily lies in the complexity of man’s brain, as opposed to other natural animals. Of course, other animals are recognized to have evolved in other ways superior to man – such as speed, strength, ability to fly, etc.
Implications about the Ultimate One Can Achieve in Life (Salvation)
For Naturalists, the way the human species lives out life is purely an expression of what can be gained while living life on earth. Since they recognize no transcendent reality, there can be no afterlife. Additionally, with no transcendent God to provide moral guidance, morality becomes a purely relativistic expression: There can be no such thing as objective morality. Things are deemed by human beings to be moral or immoral based on how it affects a person’s, or the human species’ survival, and on individual personal fulfillment. In an elemental sense, the ultimate one can achieve in life relates purely to those two things.
The survival element does have a personal application, of course, as this life is the only one a person gets. Thus, hanging around to experience it is generally considered an important matter to each individual. However, there is also a broader application. It is not merely the survival of individual persons that is regarded as important, but also the survival of the species as a whole.
This survival element also plays out when it comes to political policy that affects society in general. In the broader sense, it is not the individual that is important, but the collective. In fact, the individual is always considered subservient to the collective. Thus when politicians deem that particular beliefs or actions can be detrimental to the survival of the whole, it is considered moral to suppress individual rights and activities. For example, if gun violence is deemed to be a problem, it can legitimately be decreed that people shall not have guns. If one man, one woman marriage is deemed to be discriminatory, it can be suppressed. If carrying a baby to term is deemed to be harmful by causing overpopulation on the earth, abortion can be declared moral. And, if people attending church can be deemed harmful to the collective by providing a place where COVID-19 can be more easily spread, banning church services can be justified as proper and moral. Morality is purely what the managers of society deem it to be.
The personal fulfillment element comes into play also because this life is the only one a person gets. The human animal has self-consciousness, along with an ability to make personal choices – abilities that are not found in other animals. The result of these abilities gives human beings a self-conscious appreciation of pleasure in a way other creatures are not able to experience. Determining and experiencing the particular things that bring pleasure, then, becomes one aspect of the ultimate purpose human beings are able to achieve in this life.
These personal expressions themselves, though, have implications. One implication has to do with sexual pleasure. Since there is no such thing as objective right and wrong, any kind of sexual activity is deemed to be moral or immoral based on an individual’s personal preferences or society’s dictates. Thus, what is right and wrong at one time can be changed if circumstances change.
It should also be recognized that this relativistic morality does not apply only as it relates to sexual issues. The same applies to other things such as honesty, justice, equality, violence, use of power, and all other matters where people make decisions that affect their own and other people’s lives.
How Should Christians and Churches Deal with this Matter?
The COVID Lie is not contained within the debate about the virus itself. Rather, it is found in the moral relativism that is being expressed by some people through the debate. For Christians, this means that the debate with people about the subject of the virus must go deeper than merely pushing back against unwanted government restrictions. The more necessary discussion must revolve around the worldview beliefs that deem it okay to restrict the Christian faith. God actually does exist, and his revelation regarding the nature of justice and equality need to be the value basis for guiding the hand of government. Man is not merely a natural animal, but is a person created in the image of God, though fallen. This means that we cannot depend purely on the reasoning of powerful politicians and bureaucrats to determine the values society accepts. The ultimate in this life is not based merely on survival, or on human pleasure and preference. That kind of collectivist approach, rather than offering a way to achieve utopia on earth, ends up destroying both the individual and society.
There are two things Christians must do to confront this situation:
- We must first recognize the battle as being essentially a religious fight, and expose Naturalism as the false religion it is. This must be done by boldly expressing and standing up for the truth.
- Second, we must deal with this situation by sharing Christ with those who don’t know him. Religious conversion is the only antidote for the sin disease represented by naturalistic beliefs.
It is one thing, though, to recognize what we need to do. It is another thing altogether to actually pull it off. While most committed Christians do recognize that there is a problem, and even recognize what the problem entails, relatively few actually know what to do about it. Simple awareness is not enough. We must become equipped to do something about it.
The obvious place for Christians to receive this kind of equipping is in our churches. After all, it is the biblical worldview beliefs that are taught there that represent reality and form the foundation for fighting this spiritual battle. Sadly, most churches do not have a systematic way to equip their members for the task.
In times past, the kind of equipping needed was much more easily done by the church. When a biblical worldview was the primary influence in society, all that was necessary was to make sure people clearly understood basic biblical doctrine. With that, they could simply go forth and reinforce the underlying worldview beliefs that almost everyone already held.
But we no longer live in that kind of societal environment. We absolutely still need to understand biblical worldview basics, but we now also need to understand worldview concepts in a broader context. Our old discipleship training paradigm is simply insufficient for the task. We need to profoundly reimagine discipleship training. We not only need to be able to push back politically and legally, but spiritually, as well. And we need to do it in a way that makes it clear that the naturalistic worldview beliefs we are facing represent a false religion. We must learn to effectively communicate that the biblical beliefs we advocate represent actual truth. To do that, we need to not only know “what” we believe, but “why” what we believe is true. This is the form witnessing for Christ must take in our pluralistic, even anti-Christian, society.
The fact of the existence of a dangerous virus is not a lie. We actually do need to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. However, political policies that oppress Christians do represent a lie. As Christians, it is essential that we begin to take the matter of defending our faith seriously, and we need to begin by equipping ourselves to stand strong in the face of the lies being poured down upon us. By boldly firing back with the truth of the Gospel, we have an opportunity to not only change the political calculus, but to also bring people to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Until we get serious about that, we will find ourselves increasingly persecuted.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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