The “Long Parliament” convened in 1643 during a time of civil war in Great Britain. The purpose of this Parliament was to produce documents which would bring the Church of England into closer union with the Church of Scotland and the Continental Reformed churches. The Church of England had always lagged behind the Reformation and was only partial reformed at best. Buton Monday, September 25, 1643, the Solemn League and Covenant was sworn by 220 members of the House of Commons and all the divines of the Westminster Assembly who gathered in St. Margaret’s Church in London. Henry Hallam is quoted by Alexander Smellie in Men of the Covenant concerning the importance of the Solemn League and Covenant:
The Covenant consisted in an oath, to be subscribed by all persons in both kingdoms, whereby they bound themselves to preserve the Reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of God and practice of the best Reformed Churches.
Those who subscribed their names to that great document were, first of all, declaring that freedom of religion according to the dictates of their consciences was more important than bowing the knee to Caesar. It was their declaration that Peter was right when he told the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). For several centuries before the Reformation, the civil magistrate in those countries under the dominion of the Pope had been subservient to the Church. Following the Reformation, the pendulum swung too far in the other direction and the civil magistrate assumed the authority to dictate to the Church. That is called Erastianism. Thomas Erastus, a sixteenth century Zwinglian, was opposed to excommunication and believed that the church should let the civil magistrate have jurisdiction over such matters. Thus, the doctrine that the state can dictate to the church concerning ecclesiastical matters is called Erastianism.
A form of Erastianism has been on display throughout North America during the Covid-19 crisis, especially in Canada and several liberal leaning states in the US. Civil authorities have assumed jurisdiction over the church that does not belong to them. This false authority has resulted in civil governments dictating to churches whether they can gather for worship; how many people are allowed to attend the services; and, whether they must wear masks and refuse to sing hymns. Too many churches have willingly submitted to the government despite the fact that businesses have often not been shackled with such rules. The “peaceful protests” of BLM which turned Portland, Oregon into a war zone were permitted while churches were forced to lock their doors in many places. Some ministers and some churches in North America did not submit to these restrictions and have been fined and/or jailed for their disobedience.
Several Canadian pastors have been fined and jailed by Canadian governmental officials. You have read about those cases. Most of the pastors are serving independent churches and, thus, have not had to receive direction from their denomination. The lone exception with which I am familiar is Steve Richardson, formerly an ARP pastor, but now a member of Vanguard Presbytery. Steve’s former presbytery fell into the old Erastian heresy which takes the crown off the head of Christ and places it on the state. That is the issue which was at the root of all his other troubles with that presbytery. Now the Canadian Presbytery of the ARP has squealed like a stuck pig at my article which was carried by The Aquila Report. They have vociferously complained that my article was filled with inaccuracies while failing to provide a single example of such even when asked to do so. By now, I am very well-accustomed to being called names by churchmen. Truth is what counts. Opinions do not matter. I have stood with Steve Richardson (and Vanguard Presbytery does the same) because to do otherwise would have placed me on the opposite side of Christ on this issue. Christ commands His church to gather for worship. A pastor who is gathering his congregation for worship is to be applauded—not persecuted, censured, and excommunicated.
While writing this article, I received an email from Rev. Kartik Pal who lives in India who is supported by Church Planting International, a Reformed indigenous mission board of which I am Executive Director. Kartik wrote:
Today is a very famous “cart festival” in our state, Odisha. In this festival three idols, “Jagannath, Bhalavadra, and Subhadra” are praised, worshiped and lifted up. In Odisha 95% of the people just blindly worship these idols. Our government allowed us to celebrate this festival even in the midst of Covid restrictions as we still have a lockdown. But our government restricts the Christians to worship. Also we have anti-conversion bill passed by the government as a result we Christians do not enjoy one of our fundamental rights; freedom to express our faith. Kindly pray that God will open the eyes of people to see the Truth: Jesus. Thanks. Kartik
Since most of you have never heard of Kartik Pal, let me also add that he ignores those restrictive laws of the civil government. He evangelizes despite the restrictions. He conducts worship services despite the lockdowns.
Yet, here are a few very important questions. How is North America any different from India in the matter of religious freedom in 2021? There is very little difference. How are the governments of North America any different from the government in India in 2021 concerning the promotion of idolatry and the suppression of Christianity? For the most part, there is very little difference. And, how is the Church in North America any different than the Church in India under this suppression and persecution? Well, the Church in India (though numerically infinitesimally smaller in numbers) is stronger and bolder than most churches in North America. How sad!
I will not be sending out emails over the next two weeks due to plans that will take me away from home for most of that time. In August, I will send out a couple of emails as follow-ups to this one.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (www.vanguardpresbytery.com)
P. S. Please send donations to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540
 Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant (Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 13.