Lancaster Baptist Church is committed to the infallibility of the Bible as God’s revelation to man (2 Timothy 3:16). Included in God’s Word is the truth of Christ as the expressed image of God (Hebrews 1:2–5), the head of the church (Colossians 1:18), and the King of kings (1 Timothy 6:14–15).
As the head of the church, Jesus has commanded us to assemble (Hebrews 10:25), to preach (2 Timothy 4:2), and to sing praise to Him (Colossians 3:16). The church is described as an assembly of called out believers. While the times of these assemblies may vary and considerations may be made for health and safety, nevertheless, the church must not cease corporate worship or we will be in disobedience to Christ our head.
While obedience to human government is taught in Scripture (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2), we believe there are limits of jurisdiction as it relates to our responsibility and right to worship. God has not given government the responsibility to oversee the beliefs and practices of the church. For decades, our church has honored and assisted our local government and law enforcement. We have prayed for our political leaders. We do not, however, believe that government should decide when and how the church should worship. Jesus taught us to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). We believe, as did our country’s founders, that the church belongs to the Lord. Therefore, while we honor earthly governors and authorities, we cannot do so when their mandates for the church counter biblical teachings of morality or contradict the guidance of Christ our head.
A distinctive of the Baptists is the autonomy of the local church. Each church must decide under God when and how they will worship Him. Our Baptist forefathers were sometimes called nonconformists and were imprisoned because they refused state or ecclesiastical license (Titus 1:5). Even today in communist countries, our brothers in Christ risk persecution to assemble and worship Christ.
We believe the home, the church, and the government are given biblically-assigned spheres of responsibility under God (Romans 13, Ephesians 5, Hebrews 13, 1 Peter 2:13–14). When government restrictions upon the church limit our ability to gather, sing, worship, or greet one another, a biblical church must seek ways to honor Christ and obey His Word.
Recent events related to COVID-19 have brought about government mandates on churches for the first time in most of our lives. In some cases, these mandates have exceeded the restrictions placed upon shopping centers, movie theaters, and other places of business. While this may be a time of brief intervention, it could also set a precedent for more aggressive persecution in the future.
As human government moves further from biblical truth, believers everywhere will be tested, and we must determine to stand for the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:12, Peter 4:12, Ephesians 6:12–13). Testing may bring a time of purging to a church, yet, faithful believers will bear fruit in every season.
We were willing to not have in-person services for a brief time out of concern for our neighbors and church family. Early in this pandemic, we were asked to suspend meeting briefly to “flatten the curve” and avoid overwhelming hospitals. As the public health risk is not nearly as brief or deadly as was first described, however, we cannot indefinitely suspend services and disobey our Lord’s clear command to assemble (Hebrews 10:25). Recent decisions from the Supreme Court and ongoing indications from certain levels and sectors of government have signaled a willingness to ask churches to remain closed or severely restricted indefinitely. Not only do we believe that we have a biblical mandate to assemble, but we also believe that our community needs the spiritual hope and help of a functioning biblical church, and our church family needs the ongoing soul care that is given through the assembling and worship of a church family.
From the beginning of this pandemic, we have stated our desire to obey both Romans 13 and Acts 5:29. In the spirit of honoring government and safety, we established a vigorous COVID-19 response. However, in the spirit of Acts 5:29, when the government dictates against the clear commands of God, we, the pastors and deacons of Lancaster Baptist Church, say, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
We intend to follow Christ as our King in all matters of faith and worship. We do this with love in our heart for Christ and without rancor toward our government. We align with the apostles of Christ who, in Acts 4:19–20, said, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”