In China, Christians have not been able to assemble freely since 1949 when Communists came to power and atheism became state ideology. Since then, the Chinese government has demanded that all churches close their doors until they are officially approved. Only a very select few state-sanctioned churches have been allowed to operate and many Chinese Christians believe that the state does not have the authority to keep them from practicing their faith.
For more than 70 years, tens of thousands of Chinese Christians have been persecuted, arrested, imprisoned, and martyred because they refused to obey the Chinese law that demanded they stop gathering together in unauthorized meetings. This was the beginning of the house church of China.
Their plight has always seemed foreign to most western observers – until now.
The coronavirus pandemic that is killing thousands of people around the world has forced governments to take extreme measures to protect their citizens. One of those measures has been to order mandatory quarantine and cancellation of all public gatherings – including Christian church services.
What do you think? Should Christians listen to the authorities and stay at home or should they live by their convictions and go to church?
In California, a state of emergency has been in place since March 4. A mandatory statewide stay-at-home order was issued by the governor on March 19. As of March 22, 2020, the CDC says that there have been 1,468 confirmed cases and 27 deaths in the state.
Almost all churches have gone online to offer Christian services for believers, but one pastor is not complying so easily – Pastor Mark Spitsbergen of Abiding Place Ministries in Southern California. His reason is simple, “Its unconstitutional for any power or authority in the USA to prohibit the free assembly of the church at anytime. The congress is going to assemble and the church is more important than the congress. The Senate will assemble and the church is more important than the Senate. There will be large assemblies on both the federal level and state level of governments and the church is more important than the government. There will be large gatherings of clinical and medical scientist and the church is more important that clinical and medical scientist. Why would we be willing to think so little of who we are, when we in fact represent the Most High.”
Pastor Mark, a biologist, goes on to say, “Just so that everyone knows that the “stay at home” order in California does not include essential travel. Church is essential travel.”
Pastor Mark and his church have also made themselves available to go and pray with anyone that has the virus. “We simply believe in the healing power of Jesus Christ,” he says during a podcast interview.
You can listen to a live interview together with Pastor Mark on our podcast:
Pastor Mark has not gone unopposed. His Facebook page has been active with critics. One person named Kirsi wrote on his page, “I think it is sad that people should be coming to church when it is not at all necessary when you have other means to connect. Jesus lives inside of everyone and is not needing a building or an encouragement of the physical presence of another person to perform miracles. …Why would you encourage people to get out of their homes to a church right now when there are other ways of doing things?”
A Christian leader named Andrew from a church I attended in Hong Kong wrote a strong appeal for Christians to stay home. Hong Kong was one of the first places to be hit by the virus. On March 22nd, he wrote on his personal Facebook Page,
I don’t normally post personal feelings about stuff.. but I need to ask you all something..
I just want to ask you all, in this global pandemic to please pay attention to the social distancing and self isolation regulations that are being set in place. I ask you this because I am an immunocompromised person.
I’ve fought cancer twice in my lifetime and I’ve been blasted by enough chemotherapy that I just don’t have a normal immune system anymore. When I get sick.. I get it bad.
I don’t look immunocompromised. I thank God everyday that I can exercise and stay fit at my age. I’m actually in the best shape of my life but it makes me concerned when I see many friends still acting like this COVID-19 virus isn’t that serious and they carry on doing whatever they want, hanging out in groups of people regardless of the social distancing rules that have been put in place.
I have a wife and 4 kids to provide for and I know that if I contract this virus, I’m gonna get it bad. Why would you put me and many others like me at risk? Many fit younger people have lost their lives to COVID-19. It’s not just the elderly who are at risk!
To my Christian friends who may be thinking, where is your faith?
Yes, I have faith. I have faith in a God who gave us a brain to make wise decisions!
I have faith in a God who shows me there is a life beyond this one on earth so that I don’t cling too tightly to it. I know that I wont live forever here and I learnt alot from fighting for my life when I battled leukemia.
My faith is in Jesus and the promised life to come. I have 100% trust in God so I’m not making this post out of fear.. I’m making this post to just ask people to be responsible!
Please don’t take COVID-19 lightly. There are many who are so vulnerable and you wouldn’t even know it. They all have families and loved ones and they all need you to practice safe social distancing and self isolation to keep everyone safe.
Please do the most loving and sensible thing at this time. Our lives depend on it.
So what is the right approach for Christians to take? Should Christians stay at home and be a responsible member of the community or should they defy the law and live by their convictions?
This is an interesting challenge the Chinese church has been facing for more than 70 years. This split the Christian community in China. Many Christians joined the government church in China and many Christians remained illegal and joined the underground house church.
Now we know a little bit about their internal struggle.