As state and local governments continue to pass guidelines to “slow the spread” of the coronavirus, concerns over personal liberties and constitutional support for these actions are on the rise. Of particular concern has been mandates that restrict or prohibit religious services.
For example, New York City Mayor, Bill De Blasio threatened to close houses of worship permanently if they did not comply with the ban on public gatherings. In Greenville, MS, a local mayor banned all church gatherings, even drive-in services which have become a popular way for churches to still “gather” while adhering to the social distancing guidelines of the CDC. Two separate churches’ congregants were confronted by local law enforcement for continuing to meet after these restrictions were put in place (see here and here).
These actions trouble Christians in the United States of America. The concern about the loss of personal liberties is being compounded by what seems to be an affront to religious liberty. When a pastor has to implore the government of their state for the opportunity for his congregation to assemble in a parking lot while remaining in their cars, all Americans should cringe.
I do not personally know the men on either side of these issues (Mayor De Blasio, the mayor and pastors of Greenville, MS, or the pastor, councilwoman, and governor in Nevada). However, when a government, whose founding principles contain the recognition of the right to the free practice of religion, mandates unreasonable restrictions and prohibitions to that right, it is a government no longer standing on principle but leaning toward tyranny.
What are Christians to do?
In the early Church, Christians prayed when they were hindered by local officials (Acts 4:23-24a; 12:5). Prayer has been a pillar of the Church since the very beginning (Acts 2:42). The Book of Acts repeatedly shows God’s intervention on behalf of His people because of their prayers. Prayer is mentioned approximately twenty-five times in the twenty-eight chapters of the Book of Acts. Just as the early Christians needed God’s help and received it when they prayed, so we need God’s help and can get it when we pray.
So, what should we even be praying?
In the Old Testament, a very particular prayer has come to mind recently that speaks to times when we are opposed and persecuted:
“Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight.”Psalm 9:19
“Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.”Psalm 10:12
“Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked…”Psalm 17:13
The call for the LORD to “arise” comes mostly in the Psalms. The Hebrew word translated arise implies moving with intention or purpose, not just standing up. So, when God’s people call upon Him, they can expect that He will move with purpose about the very thing they have asked. Given the current events regarding church-related restrictions, we need to be calling upon God to defend His people and frustrate His enemies.
He is prepared to move if we are prepared to pray.