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Christians worldwide have been following the judicial review launched by 27 church leaders in Scotland, driven by the tireless work of Christian Concern and a very committed legal team. The review itself allowed the petitioners and the respondents to present their arguments to the court to consider the judge’s ruling, Lord Braid. On Wednesday 24th March, the decision was announced, concluding that the Scottish government had been guilty of ‘'disproportionate interference with the Article 9 right of the petitioners and others”. This conclusion is a very significant moment for the church in Scotland. It is a lesson from history and a message for today for several different groups in our land.

For the Scottish Government

We have to understand that a ruling against the government is very rare. It is all the more surprising, earthly speaking, that it would favour 'Religion' because we are now living in a country that has abandoned God. The government thought a blanket ban on religious gatherings for three months was acceptable. Declaring it was 'not a spiritual matter' is a frightening realisation that the basis of this government overreach has been ignorance and contempt of 'matters spiritual'.

This ruling is a lesson in history for our government. They may not have any interest in the church's voice and the things of God, but our rich history and heritage tell a very different story. The Lord Braid identified a number of legislations that are currently binding.[1] These laws mean that the church has legal protection from state interference because our country has recognised and upheld its importance and corporate worship. Therefore, this is a lesson in history and a relevant message for our government. The government cannot simply redefine worship and dismiss it in the 'non-essential' pile, regardless of the majority views of a liberalising society.

For the Nation

This result has received significant media attention, and one of the overarching responses has been one of great surprise. I was interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland last week, and the main question was about whether churches believed they are now ‘above the law’. This question is rooted in our nation's ignorance of our church history that has governed and shaped our land. It is also a message for today. In the same interview, a representative from the humanist society said that this ruling was 'unfair' to groups like the retail industry. The message is simple: worship is not defined by public opinion; the Living God defines it in His Word. As a church, we must take this momentum forward and not remain silent or be compliant with godless rulings. To worship God matters incomparably to the born again Christian, and we must uphold this. We must voice that the Bible defines it. Otherwise, the church will be completely submerged by the wickedness of this nation.

For the Church

With great sadness, I believe the greatest indictment that this ruling has had on any group is the church itself. The same denominations that fought for the freedoms engrained in our law have been a significant voice that has zealously advocated full compliance with our government in relation to the lockdown of churches. What do churches who advocated for Romans 13 compliance do when the government is found to have been ignorant of the law itself? A leader of an evangelical church organisation stated, 'we can question the wisdom of this (judicial review)'. This response highlights that it is not just the liberal or apostate denominations that have been in grave error and in some cases, sinning against God. Our government criminalised corporate worship, and this set a horrifying precedent for further interference. In what ways must the wisdom of such a challenge against this be questioned?

Therefore, this ruling is a lesson in history for the church and a very clear message today. This message can begin with an impartial judge who stated,

"I accept the evidence of the petitioners and of the additional party that worship in their faiths cannot properly take place on-line, by means of internet platforms."

And also,

“an integral part of Christianity is the physical gathering together of Christians for prayer, proclamation of the gospel, the celebration of communion and the administration of the sacrament of baptism.”

If the Lord Braid can recognise this, then why can’t the church? Why has the church not proclaimed the importance of worship? Why has the church not sought to give to God the things that are God’s? Why has the church not lamented any good reason not to gather instead of 'settling into Zoom'? The church in our land must awaken to the realisation that our government has been wrong, and for the church to comply with the government at the expense of what Scripture commands is a significant issue. The church must also realise that it is increasingly likely that this issue will not simply ‘go away’ with a successful vaccination programme. The increased push for vaccination passports in order to enter many premises is now being spoken of in relation to entry into church buildings. Do the majority of churches continue the blanket acceptance of this government overreach in this matter? These are big questions that must be answered, where pride must be put down, and God must be glorified.

This ruling certainly does not answer every question the church has had to answer through this process, but there are reasons to give thanks to God. It is a very clear message that we argue from Scripture ultimately; our God must be praised. The people of God must gather to worship His Name. We are commanded to do this. I hope and pray that churches will stand boldly, not being flippant about public health issues, but being bold for the sake of the Lord’s Glory and His church.[2]

[1] General Assembly Act 1592, the Confession of Faith Ratification Act 1690, the Act for Securing of the Protestant Religion 1706, the Union with Scotland Act 1706, and the Union with England Act 1707. Church of Scotland Act 1921

[2] Interview with Christian Concern following the result.

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