If everything that a church does can be replaced by a podcast, a simple recording of music and words, is it essential?
My friend, I contend that in order to be a true “essential service” to the community, to the world and to God’s economy, then a church must be serving its community so profoundly that in its absence the community groans and begs for its return.
As you likely know, Liberty Counsel is defending The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, whose internationally known pastor is Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne, due to his unconstitutional arrest by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. This church is “essential.”
The River Church is far more than a concert hall with a bit of preaching. It is so essential that 900 families rely on this church for food each week. This church even has a full-scale aquaponic gardening unit that raises fresh vegetables and fish to feed the community.
The church trains its members in gardening practices, helping them to work toward self-sufficiency, as well as skills that can be used in the high-tech agricultural industry. This church provides a weekly market offering not just food, but diapers, household supplies and more, even as it preaches and demonstrates the love of God.
This church also reaches deep into the urban and inner-city community, going door-to-door in neighborhoods that even police officers do not patrol, delivering much-needed food to poverty-ridden people and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In fact, this church’s work has been so essential to the Tampa-area community that they have actually been officially recognized for “reducing crime” in certain neighborhoods by the very same Sheriff who arrested Pastor Howard-Browne!
Further, this church translates services into 84 languages using high-tech translation earpieces for non-English speaking members who attend in person and for listeners tuning in from around the world.
And here’s a very important fact: Since we took on this case, our office has received emails and messages from pastors and others from around the world who know Pastor Howard-Browne, and who rely on his biblical teaching as well as his leadership example in truly serving his community.
The messages we are receiving resound with the same theme:
“Has America fallen so far that she will void her Constitution, trample her Bill of Rights and deny God’s people the ability to worship as they choose?”
“What does it mean if in the freest country in the world, churches are forced to be closed during the holiest week of the year, Palm Sunday through Easter?”
Our representation of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne is not solely based on a constitutional clause that says the state shall not dictate how and when a church should operate. Our representation is not even simply based on the state’s inability to prohibit the free exercise of religion.
Our representation is also based on the fact that we know churches like The River are essential to their communities – ministering both the Spirit and the Bread of Life.
Originally, the U.S. national “shut down” was supposed to end on April 15. Yet many states have delayed their re-open date to May 1 – May Day, a pagan holiday.
So, the question I leave with you today is…
Will churches choose liberty, declare they are “essential” and fling open their doors to serve their communities on Resurrection Day, the most important celebration in all of Christianity?
Or will churches submit to tyranny and allow governments to declare them to be a “non-essential service,” only allowed to re-open when they deem it appropriate?
My friend, we can open the doors of the church and take measures to protect the spiritual and physical health of people – just like The River did.
It is my fervent prayer that you, along with every church in this land, choose liberty and prove to be “essential” to your community.
May His peace be with you, now and always!