". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Push to Amend Wisconsin’s Constitution Demonstrates the Necessity of In-Person Worship

August 29, 2023

Earlier this summer, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin floated the idea of a constitutional amendment to block the state government from forcing church closures during health emergencies. Similar protections have already been passed in other states including Arizona, Florida, North Dakota, and South Carolina. Ultimately, the rise in interest for amendments of this nature, and the continued issue of state-ordered church closers, raises deeper questions that Christians ought to consider regarding their churches’ purposes.

In Wisconsin, state Senator Cory Tomczyk (R) and state Representative Ty Bodden (R) have proposed a constitutional amendment to protect churches in the event of future state health emergencies. Republican lawmakers, who still blame Democratic Governor Tony Evers for unfairly targeting churches during the pandemic, believe the amendment would safeguard the religious liberty of those in the state.

Evers vetoed a bill in 2021 that would have provided additional protections for churches in the event of a state emergency, which is why Republicans in the state legislature have shifted to a constitutional amendment which would not require the governor’s signature.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in Wisconsin could not legally gather for worship due to executive orders that regulated how many people could gather for public events. This situation forced pastors to make difficult decisions about whether to gather anyway, despite being in violation of the law. Of course, pastors in other states faced similar restrictions. Perhaps the most extreme orders came from California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) who ordered churches not to sing when they gathered for worship. Specifically, California guidelines mandated that church leaders “discontinue singing, chanting, and other practices and performances” because of the possibility of spreading the virus.

Although the political efforts to protect churches from government overreach in Wisconsin are important, Christians should consider the deeper theological and biblical issues at play.

Restrictions on worship get to the heart of what Scripture requires Christians to do, and therefore are a matter of great consequence to believers pursuing faithfulness. For Christians, limits on the way we worship require our very best thinking, and the situation unfolding in Wisconsin provides an opportunity for us to consider the nature of worship and why gathering for church is essential.

First, God commands His followers to worship. Psalm 68:4 commands, “Sing to God, sing praises to his name.” We are mandated to worship as God’s people and bring praises to God. Although this aspect of praise can often be done throughout one’s day or at a distance, many aspects cannot. Repeatedly, God specifically calls His people to worship face to face. Ephesians 5:19-21 tells Christians to gather together for “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” while “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This aspect of worship is directed to each other, believer to believer, and cannot be accomplished without being present with other believers.

Additionally, worship is the proper response to God’s call that we assemble. Hebrews 10:25 states, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” God calls His people to worship, and the implication of this command is that we gather in time and space. In other words, physically gathering for worship is not a mere suggestion; it is a command, and sound ecclesiology requires Christians, if at all possible, to physically gather for worship.

Finally, worship is for the purpose of glorifying God and must be done in the ways that God commands. Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” We have a righteous and jealous God who instructs His people in the ways to gather and praise.

These purposes of worship need to continually be considered and upheld by Christians because the call to worship in the presence of believers is a part of God’s design.

Unfortunately, the government’s involvement in the worship of local churches had many unintended consequences, including the perception that physically gathering for worship is not a necessary part of Christian worship.

However, if worship requires worshipping with other believers, then the assembly of the church must be a necessary part of the Christian life.

In short, the proposed constitutional amendments in Wisconsin and other states are good reminders of the religious freedom violations experienced during the pandemic. But the ongoing debate about these amendments remind Christians that the duty of every believer is to think deeply about the nature and purpose of worship, regardless of political ideology or party affiliation.