The church in Scotland is currently facing an increasing threat in a manner this land has not seen for centuries. Not Covid. Rather, tyrannical government. The Scottish government announced another national lockdown on 4th January 2021. From that date until now, it is illegal for people to gather corporately to worship the Lord. This is not consistent with the legislation for public worship in England and Wales, where churches are legally permitted to gather at this time. The purpose of this article is not to argue that this is ‘government overreach’ (for more information on that see here) but to give an update of the church situation in Scotland over the past month.
As the pastor of a local church that relies on a local community centre to be open for services, the lockdown announcement created many difficulties. However, our intention was not to cease meeting for those who were still able to gather, and this is what we have done. We have not sought to be antagonistic towards our government, but it is essential that the church of Jesus Christ is just that in such a season.
There is no Biblical grounding for expecting that a secular government will ‘be nice’ to the church. However, it is also very apparent that the church in our land is in a very weak and feeble state. I won’t dwell on this point but to see an increasing comfort towards ‘online church’ and apparent apathy towards the need for Biblical church is a flavour of the increasingly alarming spiritual condition of not just liberal denominations, but the evangelical church. Therefore, a letter was written by a small group of church leaders as a ‘letter of response to the Scottish Government’ following the announcement that it is illegal for churches to gather. This was signed by over 500 church leaders in the UK and received significant media attention which even warranted a question posed to the First Minister, to which she swiftly moved on. This letter was certainly not widely praised in our land. Even many professing Christians were greatly scathing this move. For example, the Baptist Union wrote a response letter to what we had done. However, this was an important initial step in making a statement to the government, but also to the church, as to how important and crucial it is that the church is free to worship God and that we are zealous and desperate to do so!
Another important thing happened this month. I believe this is of great significance longer-term: a legal challenge and judicial review organised by Christian Concern.
Our government’s decision to close churches has a number of spiritual ramifications, but there are also many legal ones. Again, I won’t unravel this in a brief article but suffice to say that this ruling violates a human right for the freedom to worship. This legal challenge is hoped to be a means of pressurising the government to overturn the current legislation swiftly. However, we also believe that it will be necessary to get legal clarity and protections for the church in the face of potential tyrannical ruling in the future. We live in a land where legislation is rapidly and blatantly assaulting God’s Word on key areas such as the sanctity of life, the family, human relationships and freedom of speech. It is also astounding to see the willingness of church denominations do all they can to accommodate, befriend and support this government in a manner increasingly like denominations in Eastern Europe. Their response became a catalyst for severe persecution against Biblical churches and Christians in the 1960s. We must recognise how serious the current actions by our government are against the church.
I strongly believe the church’s spiritual state in Scotland is the ugly fruit of decades of neglect and gradual abandoning of God’s Word. In a crisis, the church’s voice has become blunted, in a land where historically the government turned to the church. We must lament. We must repent. We must stand upon the Word of God and pray that the Lord would graciously sustain and strengthen His people for the advance of His Kingdom and to the Glory of His Name.