“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Psalm 94:8
“Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’” Acts 5:29
By Allen Payton
As part of his new statewide health orders issued on Wednesday, July 1, California Governor Gavin Newsom included a new requirement that “*Places of worship must therefore discontinue singing and chanting activities” during worship services. (Note: The asterisk does not refer to anything else in the document) See https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-places-of-worship.pdf
Under the section entitled Considerations for Places of Worship it reads, “Discontinue singing (in rehearsals, services, etc.), chanting, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets.
The state’s document, entitled COVID-19 INDUSTRY GUIDANCE: Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies refers to the practice of one’s faith as “personal” as if it’s not supposed to be done in public, like other activities such as protesting.
“Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations. In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing,” the document reads.
However, in response after contacting county officials, leaders of Golden Hills Community Church, one of the larger churches in Eastern Contra Costa County with campuses in Brentwood and Antioch which will hold their first in-person service in 17 weeks on Sunday, July 5, shared with their members that singing while wearing masks will be allowed.
In an email on Friday, June 3 Senior Pastor Phil Ward wrote, “This week both the state and the county announced a ban on ‘singing and chanting’ in houses of worship. Since we now have the ability to gather for in-person worship, and since singing is an essential aspect of Christian worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), we found this prohibition unreasonable because it dictates what is permissible in worship. As a result, we reached out to the governing authorities to express our concern. In response, we were told that singing is permitted so long as masks are being worn—something we already planned to do.”
Although the sanctuary at their Brentwood campus has a capacity of 1,700 people and could easily accommodate 350 people while social distancing, the church will be following the limits of only 100 people per service. They will also utilize their former sanctuary, now used as a multipurpose room, which can also meet the state and county’s limitations of 100 people maximum or 25% of room capacity whichever is less. Finally, the church will be offering four services this Sunday and adding a fifth service, beginning next Saturday night, July 11.
Debate Over Following All Government Laws & Orders
International evangelist and San Francisco native Mario Murillo wrote this week in response to the governor’s order that Christians should not follow such laws or orders because they are evil and go against what God teaches His followers.
“I can’t think of a worse idea than to stop praise and worship because Gavin Newsom told you to,” he wrote. “It’s time to wake up to the sad truth that California has declared war on the church. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to obey them no matter what? Absolutely not. And it is shocking how many believers do not know their Bible or have been given false teaching. There is no verse in the Bible that tells you to obey evil government or laws.”
Many believers often quote a section in the book of Romans, chapter 13, verses 1-7 to support following the government’s orders: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
However, Murillo quotes other Bible verses that offer the opposite perspective, that believers are only to follow rulers who aren’t evil and laws that aren’t evil.
“It seems to say that we are to honor government in every form, right? Wrong,” he wrote. “Lost in all the quoting of this verse on submission to government is the most important part: The description of the ruling authority.”
Murillo shares that description writing, “they are not a terror to good works” and “they praise good works.”
He also shared what Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:3, “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, but do not do.”
“Do what they say, but don’t partake of their hypocrisy,” Murillo explains. “Watch them for that moment when they cross the line and come between you and your God. Just as our conscience should drive us to obey the law, we should also know when our conscience tells us not to obey an evil law.”
“Here’s when Peter reached that tipping point, speaking to those very same Pharisees,” he continues, quoting Acts 4:18-20, “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’”
Murillo then quoted Acts 5:29 writing, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’”
Newsom’s Order is an Evil Law That Must Not Be Followed
“God not only does not endorse evil government: He will have no part in it,” Murillo continues. He then quotes Psalm 94:20 writing, “Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.”
“There is your answer. A corrupt throne (government) cannot be allied with God,” he wrote. “In fact, evil laws are the worst form of sin. They provide legitimacy to evil.”
Murillo concludes by quoting German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident and Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Wearing a Mask While Singing or Chanting Works
So, ordering followers, of at least Christianity and Judaism, to discontinue singing violates what God wants practiced during worship. As it is written in Psalms 98:4, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Therefore Governor Newsom’s order is an evil law that must not be followed. But, for safety’s sake the spirit of the order can be met by wearing masks while singing or chanting in church.