Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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Why I cannot worship at your lockdown-compliant church

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5 minutes to read At what point does a difference of opinion about submission to state authority become a difference in worship? When the submission to state authority functionally unseats Christ as the head of that worship.

Secular modernity has taught us to think of ourselves as “individuals.” This is not the language of Scripture.

God himself thinks of us in far more organic terms, with one foundational example being the pattern of bodies. This is a pattern built into creation, and it runs implicitly through the background of many places in Scripture. In other places, it is explicitly foregrounded.

A body is a single functional unit, with many differentiated members that contribute to the harmonious working of the whole. The human body, of course, is a body—paradigmatically—but a local church is also a body.

That the church is made up of people helps alert us to the fractal nature of the pattern: it repeats at larger and larger scales. A local church is a body, but it is also in turn a member—in the best cases, a member of a larger body, the presbytery, which in turn is an organ of larger body still, the general assembly, which in turn is one part of the universal body of Christ’s Church. Each of these bodies has heads; and yet like every body, that head represents Christ, who is the Head of all (Col. 2:10).

Thus far, a brief recap of the basic creational symbolic structure.

Scripture applies this structure and pattern to worship explicitly. When we worship, according to God, we are doing so as a body. Each member participates in the whole, just as the members of a body participate in the whole (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). Put slightly differently, each person in the church, though differentiated, is not independent. What the whole does, the individual does, and what the individual does, the whole does. They participate in and partake of the same corporate identity and reality.

This is the point of Paul’s extended discussion of worship in 1 Corinthians 11:17–14:40—at the heart of which is his famous exaltation of love as the greatest virtue. Why he puts a discussion of love there becomes clear when we consider what he says in another place: that love is the bond of perfect unity (Col. 3:14). It is, as I have argued extensively, “onetogetherness.” We are one together as a body, just as the members of our own bodies are one together—differentiated but united parts of a unified whole.

Worship, then, is not less than an embodied reaffirmation, realization, and reification of the relationship between ourselves and our head, in whom we are constituted and knit together as one body.

Since worship is fundamentally about onetogetherness between members of the church body, and with their Head, Christ, what is done in worship implicates every member. No one worships alone; all are united. What the body does, the members do as one together.

So what if the local body you are worshiping with is ostensibly directing that worship toward one Head, Christ—but has functionally subordinated that worship to another head, the state?

Can worship truly be conducted in the Spirit, in truth, when it is not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body is supplied and knit together (Col. 2:19)?

Certainly not.

And can a body hold fast to one Head while submitting to the unlawful, rebellious authority of another head?

Certainly not. Either it will hate the one and love the other, or it will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Mt. 6:24). This is why I cannot worship with you if your church is complying with COVID-19 lockdown mandates.

I can worship with your church if we disagree on eschatology—because we are still holding fast to the same Head. I can worship with your church if we disagree on Calvinism—because we are still holding fast to the same Head. I can worship with your church if we disagree on baptism—because we are still holding fast to the same head. I can worship with your church if we disagree on weird stuff like exclusive psalmody, or the KJV—because we are still holding fast to the same head.

But I cannot worship with your church if we disagree on who our head is. I cannot worship with your church if it is functionally submitted to another head entirely.

And if your church stops worshiping in person any time the state commands it, we have different heads—because submitting to lawlessness is rebellion against the true Head, the true Law, whom that state is supposed to represent. The Head who commands us to worship freely, fearlessly, and faithfully.

This is the case even if you don’t think you are rebelling against our Lord. It is true even if you have the sincerest motives and cleanest conscience ever to grace the heart of man, and your pastors are angels from heaven. No matter how I like you, how I love you, how I enjoy your worship, how fervently it seems to be expressed—how can I forget that functionally your church does not hold to Christ as head, because it will close down the next time the government fraudulently decides that worship isn’t safe or essential?

How can I make myself a member of a body that has taken a different head? What partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? Shall I cut myself out of Christ’s body and graft myself into a new god—the state? For what? What communion can be had through that god? What salvation does it offer?

Why don’t you rather repent, and return to our true Head?

If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 1:6

 6 comments

Kirsty

This is so good.
As much as possible, the church I attend has been carrying on throughout these ridiculous lockdowns. On Sunday mornings, we meet for fellowship in private homes, so we’ve been able to continue doing this. But our Sunday evening and midweek evening gospel meetings have proven to be more problematic, as our church has no church building and our gospel meetings are held in public halls. However, over levels 3 and 4, we have been unable to hire public halls. Our preachers have been doing live gospel meetings using a smartphone app so we can still worship together, but it’s been really hard.
Hopefully all this nonsense will be over soon.

YN

Your whole argument hinges on “fraudulently”, so you should have made that case a lot more thoroughly. The link you posted compares covid to the flu, even though covid surpassed yearly mortality rates for the flue a long time ago. According to WHO, the flu kills around 650,000 globally in a year, and this is the upper limit. In a year and a half, covid has killed around 5 million globally (a lower limit). And our stats for covid are much better, since flu stats are often extrapolated, while covid is tested for.

There is an argument that with vaccines available, there is less reason to impose other restrictions. But I find that the people opposed to restrictions are often opposed to the vaccines as well. They tout “young and healthy” (a plurality/majority? aren’t!) and simply do not seem to care that people’s grandparents are dying or think there is some straightforward way to “protect the vulnerable” (imprison them in their homes?) while everyone else lives life normally.

But you can’t just bury the lede by linking to an article that contains all kinds of very disputed information. The studies coming out on ivermectin, for example, have been inconclusive and very low-quality. In general, the writer of the article seems not to be aware of all the developments and new knowledge we’ve been gaining and just repeats the same old talking points from the last year.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Yana. My argument does not hinge on “fraudulently.” The fraud only makes the abdication of churches especially egregious. But I have added some extra links in that section.

Btw, what is the infection fatality rate of COVID-19?

Kirsty

The latest fatality rates of covid that I can find are 218 million cases worldwide, with 4.55 million deaths.
Honestly, those are pretty good odds. Especially when you consider that most of those deaths are elderly, or obese people, with underlying health issues. Those people would likely be killed by a standard flu. We have vaccinations readily available now, so these vulnerable people can be protected.

YN

The IFR actually varies a lot (up to a factor of ten from .2 to 2 percent in Ioannidis), both between and within countries, mainly because the age distribution of infections is different. In Germany, the estimates for the 80+ age group go from 5 to 15 percent (1). The Ioannidis study uses seroprevalence from September 2020, and there’s a large margin of error.

It’s not really easy to get infection estimates, which is why I think it’s better to look at excess mortality or life-expectancy losses, which were already significant at the time of Ioannidis’ study. Deaths are more accurately reported than infections, although you do have to control for delayed treatments and so on. But even in terms of life-expectancy loss it varies from country to country because of different measures and demographics, ranging from less than a year to 1.5 years in most European countries (2). Our data from developing countries is more patchy, so again, excess death is probably the best measure. Some countries like Peru have had insane excess mortality, while Singapore or Japan are not significantly different from previous years (but they also had a lot of restrictions). The Economist has a great excess death tracker for many countries that also has comparisons to the most recent pre-covid flu seasons for different age groups (3).

The most important thing is to control the spread and not allow hospitals to be overwhelmed, and I agree that it’s possible for governments to overreach. I’m in Denmark, and we’ve lifted all restrictions, because the population is very vaxxed and R is staying low. Churches were among the first insitutions to open up. But in Bulgaria, where I’m from, we’re witnessing the greatest excess mortality since WWII, and the lack of restrictions there is not justified. So I think the legitimacy of the restrictions depends on the local circumstances. I don’t know what yours are, but I don’t think you can make blanket statements.

Are *any* limits on worship due to an epidemic justified, or do you just think they’ve gone too far now? Do you think having services with distancing and masking restrictions is a valid compromise? I want to get a more precise sense of your argument. Do you not think the magistrate has any authority on matters that have a bearing on the church’s life? Churches weren’t discriminately targeted. The visible church is still a part of society.

My church started meeting regularly again when all the old people (majority of the church) had been fully vaccinated, and I think it was right to protect them before that by having online meetings. I heard what happened in some nursing homes and did not want that for my brothers and sisters in Christ. My grandpa almost died from covid at 77 and was only able to get good treatment because of connections.

1: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11127-7
2:
https://academic.oup.com/ije/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ije/dyab207/6375510
3:
https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/coronavirus-excess-deaths-tracker

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

IFR is consistently well under 1% (and that’s being generous) for every cohort except the very old, for which just about any disease will have a high IFR. So there is no public health emergency.

I agree that the magistrate in principle can annex otherwise-unjustified powers in an emergent situation, to save lives, because its purpose is to uphold good and punish evil. That would extend to quarantining the sick lest they put others in danger. But there is no justification for lockdowns. God’s law does not provide anything like that. God does not delegate authority over personal risk-assessment to the state; he delegates it to the person. People who are at risk should decide for themselves the best way to stay safe. Lockdowns have obviously been an unmitigated disaster, and I’m afraid I have committed to not trying to convince people of the obvious any more.

The state also has no place in worship. On the contrary, the whole purpose of the church is to instruct the nations in everything the Lord Jesus commanded; not vice versa. I’d also add that Zoom is to worship as porn is to sex.

We are under a judicial stupor, and have lost our understanding of what the church is. Western Christians are treating physical life as the only priority; spiritual life is an afterthought to them. This is completely backwards; it is apostate behavior. Biological continuance without communion with God is literally what hell will be.