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(Re)Opened for Worship

Posted on June 10, 2020
(Re)Opened for Worship

Last Sabbath, the Granite Bay Hilltop Church in Granite Bay, California, had a church service—in the parking lot. About 150 cars showed up, and everyone maintained social distancing. It was the church’s public first meeting in several months.

Across America and around the world, congregations are returning to worship, including Sabbathkeeping congregations. Slowly, states and municipalities are relaxing restrictions on in-person gatherings, although it appears that opposition remains in the realm of religious liberty.

On May 30, in a controversial 5-4 majority ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States denied South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, its request to hold a worship service with a number of people in excess of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines.

The issue of the free exercise of religion—a right specifically enjoined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States—has been a “hot button” topic during the months-long lockdown imposed throughout the country. Now, it has even divided the highest court in the nation, in particular Chief Justice John Roberts and dissenting Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. While Roberts supported the state’s constitutional right “to guard and protect” its people, rebuking the opposing justices for what he deemed “judicial activism,” Kavanaugh focused on the discrimination between treatment of churches versus treatment of secular businesses.


Unequal Opportunity

To many churches, obeying restrictions was a matter of common sense and responsibility—a concern for their congregations as well as their communities.

In mid-March, an Arkansas church became known as the site of a coronavirus outbreak: 35 people developed confirmed cases of COVID-19 and, unfortunately, three of them died. Among those infected were the pastor and his wife. Consequently, the church abstained from meeting to prevent further spread of the disease.

What began to rankle, however, were the seemingly unfair rules for houses of worship, which differ from other places where large groups can gather, most recently in areas of protest. Indeed, during and following the high court’s hearing of the South Bay case, massive public demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, an African American who was killed while in police custody, were held in every large U.S. city with closely packed crowds in violation of COVID-19 social distancing regulations. (To be clear, the issue here is not the validity of the protests.)

Black Lives Matter protest

After thousands—notably about 1,000 each in Los Angeles and in New York City and over 40,000 in Washington, D.C.— gathered in protest of racial injustice and police brutality, it seems clear that our country views the right to peaceably assemble on a different scale than the right to free exercise of religion. What is interesting is that these rights are both guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

According to Nicole Russell of online magazine The Federalist, “extremely arbitrary state mandates … kept churches shuttered while mass protestors gathered without receiving even the slightest rebuke.” She concludes that “it would appear religious communities can gather if they do so for a politically correct purpose.”


A Coming Time of Trouble

Currently, it looks like religious organizations in America are on the outs, but that gives all the more reason for the pendulum to swing back the other way.

In Revelation 13, we read that there will come a time when the state—specifically the government of the United States—will join forces with a religious power (vv. 11, 12). That union of church and state will seek to regulate how citizens worship and ultimately will impose a day of rest in opposition to the Bible Sabbath and what it represents.

The approach at this time will seem deeply spiritual; incredible miracles will be seen—miracles that will deceive billions of people worldwide (vv. 13, 14). Those who refuse to submit to the state’s worship will face persecution.

All this may seem rather remarkable given the situation in the United States today (and in many other nations), especially since one of the hallmarks of this great nation has been its tolerance of diverse religious activity.

But just look at the last few months around the world, let alone in the United States. What lengths will the world go to when it is under threat? What measures will leaders take in order to secure peace? Who might happily comply with the dictates of a given government in order to get what they want? The Bible assures us: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4).

Watch for the signs of the times. The Bible gives them to us so that we can prepare for the persecution that will undoubtedly arise. Yes, impositions to the free exercise of religion will come. In the last days, this is unavoidable. But as Christ says, if we endure through these injustices—now and in the days to come—we “shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Those interested in an introduction to the role of the Sabbath in true worship and what will happen at the end of times might find this free Amazing Facts Study Guide is highly informative: “ The Sabbath and the Mark of the Beast.

Also of interest might be “Bowing to Babylon,” a video Bible study featuring Pastor Doug Batchelor, in which the events prophesied in Revelation 13 and the significance of the Sabbath in the last days are fully explained.

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