On the Theological Ethics of the Church Maintaining Public Worship during a Time Spreading Disease


1. David and his men intuitively, naturally and lawfully interrupted public worship by eating showbread, on the moral principle that the necessity of the creature overrides the positive command of the public worship of God.

2. The magistrate is to uphold the moral law of God in his civil jurisdiction.

3. Therefore upon sufficient natural circumstances, in a time of necessity to the life and health of the creature and commonwealth, if need be, the magistrate may enforce the moral law of God upon its citizenry, even though it interrupts and/or prohibits for the time the public worship of the Church.

4. This is called the Establishment Principle, that the magistrate has power circa sacra, around sacred things.

5. It is taught implicitly in WCF 23.3, “yet he [the magistrate] hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church…” The preservation of the Church, by outwardly and civilly making it obey the moral law of God by civil coercion is part of unity and peace being preserved in the Church.


I believe the intention of the State in this Corona matter is irrelevant, whether they are consciously seeking to uphold the 6th, or any other commandment.

They are materially intending in this instance (irrespective of other instances), by the light of nature, which the magistrate is to rule by (Rom. 13:3-4), to prevent hurt to the the citizens and commonwealth at large (the 6th commandment).

The material upholding of the 6th Commandment is sufficient unto the obedience of citizens, irrespective, in this case, of the State’s further intentions, etc.

And while the Church might disagree in conscience about the severity of the perceived danger, and if the Church is right, might lawfully disobey the magistrate, yet the magistrate in principle has the residual, latent authority, upon sufficient natural circumstances, to forbid (upon Moral Law) the Church to meet, with its civil authority, if the Church does pose a danger to others and/or the commonwealth in doing so.

What about the rights of God?

The Church is subservient to the State in matters circa sacra, and is under its authority therein.

It does not touch Christ’s crown rights over his Church, but preserves them.

It is the same in the instance that a street preacher is under the authority of the civil regulations to only preach in a free speech zone (not otherwise zoned) and has to obey sound ordinances, can’t block civil traffic, etc.  Flood zones, fire codes, etc.

The spiritual act of preaching is being rightly regulated civilly by civil ordinances, and yet the spiritual act is only elicited, or comes from the power of the spiritual preacher (who also happens to be a citizen of the State).

One doesn’t need Biblical proof for it at all. It derives from natural morality whether or not one has the Bible. The magistrate by nature is to uphold God’s Moral Law with respect to its citizens, including those of any spiritual group.

If one is going to engage in name-calling, the view that the Church has exclusive jurisdiction in matters circa sacra with respect to itself, and its own physical outward safety, outside of the Magistrate’s prerogative, would be called an Ecclesiocracy, such as with the Papacy.


If “circa sacra” means the civil magistrate can forbid the public worship of God, then the Scottish Covenanters lived in vain.

False. The civil magistrate has been given no authority from God for the harm of the Church.

Persecution against the truth in the time of the Scottish Covenanters from 1662-1688 was against the truth and for the harm of the Church.

If under sufficient natural circumstances the magistrate follow God’s Moral Law and prohibits the Church from meeting, that is not against the Church but for the Church, and is a proper function of the Magistrate’s authority, even when the Church errs.

And the State has the power of office to determine by itself (it might take counsel from the Church) outward matters relating to the safety of its citizens, including those that are the Church.

The Church does not have power of office for determining safety concerns in states of plague. The Church has the right of discernment based on conscience, but not of office unto the external man.

I agree that circa sacra is not in sacra.

And its not tyranny, just as fire codes for Church buildings are not tyranny in regular times, and it is right for the magistrate to prohibit the Church from holding public worship in a public building that does not meet fire codes, or flood zone laws, etc.

It is no more tyranny unto the Church, than it is tyranny unto the State for the Church to spiritually exhort them to their moral and spiritual duty, per Gillespie.

The Church unduly risking the outward and physical welfare of the commonwealth is not within the Church being duly settled, administered and observed, and it is the State’s prerogative to enforce that civilly.

My quick take on the actual circumstances:

1. I think the civil government in its various levels has, generally speaking, handled things well, and is handling things well, all things considering.

2. The civil government has just authority, upon sufficient natural circumstances to uphold God’s moral law therein (whether consciously or not), and quarantine in various degrees civil society, and restrain assemblies of its citizens, including the Church, as this is a legit matter of circa sacra, especially in extraordinary situations.

3. The Government, however, has been deficient in that a main priority of it it ought to be to keep the public worship of God in its land maintained for the good of social society, as far as possible, and that shutting down public worship ought to be the last on its list, along with grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.

4. It has not done this, and hence its positive laws restraining certain assemblies is not wholly in accord with God’s moral law, and hence may be disobeyed with respect to churches.

5. With respect to churches, not doing what God forbids overrules positive commands, even of the First Table of the Law, when they conflict, which is the historic reformed understanding, as God would have mercy, and not sacrifice.

6. Public worship ordinances are not wholly moral, but significantly partly positive, and hence may be deferred for the Church’s greater good.

7. The Church ought to take every reasonable precaution it can in holding public worship. If it breaks the 6th commandment in doing so, then it should cancel public worship. If it is not breaking the 6th Commandment, then they may disobey the positive ordinance of the civil magistrate.

8. I don’t think GPC, taking every precaution it can, is breaking the 6th commandment, and I would have all churches do as they are doing, including in order to teach the civil magistrate more perfectly the will of God .

9. And persons at all levels, that are able, should be putting down the erroneous, unnatural, false and possibly dangerous theologies and opinions that are springing up everywhere, and the magistrate (as well as the Church), if it is needed, should punish such (as taught in WCF 20.4).


1. The Sabbath is more foundational than all appended public worship ordinances (it coming before them all in Gen. 2, and they all being added to it).

2. Works of necessity and mercy are legit exceptions to the Sabbath.

3. The whole sabbath may be omitted in works of necessity, as is seen in Israel’s army encamping around Jericho for 7 days, and in the story of Elijah running for his life for 40 days (1 Kings 19:1-8).

4. Therefore public worship ordinances may be omitted wholly for works of necessity, as the Israelites at Jericho and Elijah so did.

5. The Civil Government has legitimate civil jurisdiction in works of necessity that affect the whole commonwealth.

6. Therefore the civil government, upon sufficient natural circumstances, can, by the moral law of God, make civil policies which indirectly disallow the Church from public assemblies when they are contrary to God’s moral law.

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