Deciphering covid legislation on the rule of six.

Having unsuccessfully tried to get clarity on exactly what this means for gatherings of 6 where children are upstairs or in bed, this is my reading of the law.

1) The legislation:

The rule is that: “During the emergency period, no person may participate in a gathering which consists of more than six people.”

A gathering is defined by the legislation as: “when two or more people are present together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other.” Where a “place” is “a place is indoors if it would be considered to be enclosed or substantially enclosed.”

As children upstairs or in bed are not present nor intending to engage in social interaction or activity, they do not therefore fall under the definition of gathering.

2) The FAQS:

It states: “It is against the law to gather in groups of more than six, where people are from different households or support bubbles. The rule above does not mean that there cannot be more than six people in any one place. All activities for under 18s are exempt. There can be multiple groups of six people in a place, provided that those groups do not mingle. In practice, however, this will make it difficult for some activities to take place without breaking the law. Activities where there is a significant likelihood of groups of more than six mingling – and therefore breaking the law – should not take place until further COVID-19 Secure guidance has been developed and approved to enable the activity to happen safely.”


This seems quite clear that law is not broken by people elsewhere in a place, but only if there is mingling, which given the legislation would entail social interaction or activity.


3) The clarification:


The specific answer the government has passed to denomination leaders is: “The law is clear. If there is any risk that a group of more than six will mix (including young children) then this must not happen.”


But as one lawyer has said in an email, “this is again vague.” And it is. Yet, to my mind it is consistent with the above. The government cannot say the rule of 6 includes children in bed because the legislation is clear that it doesn’t. But if children did enter a gathering and mix (ie. engage in social interaction or activity), the law would be broken. The problem is over what is reasonable in guarding against “any risk.” It seems sensible to presume the equivalent of guarding against “any risk” of another mixing with a group of 6 in a restaurant or when chatting outside. Indeed, there would seem more risk in these contexts. Nevertheless, a parent with the children, a locked inner door, or a requirement that the children knock and wait for someone if in need, would seem to deal with this risk.


4) The media:


A Sun article argues the same point, that the legislation does permit gathering if kids asleep:


One article explicitly states it has been confirmed that babies in bed don’t count:


The need for clarity.


Denominational leaders think the rule of 6 includes all in the house. But because they are looked to by so many, they are likely to er on the side of caution. And they have not been able to provide any clear statements to this effect, other than a sense this is what the government wants. I therefore emailed my MP for clarity, but have had no response.


As things stand, I therefore think church leaders should be reluctant to disallow community groups or hospitality where adults might number 6 with children upstairs or in bed, because that is a big cost to our fellowship when the law actually seems to allow this, and is at best unclear. If things continue this way for 6 months, that would bring a significant impact – especially to churches that have no building of their own.


The problem, however, whilst denominational leaders are not taking a lead on this, is that it leaves church members unsure of the law. So, if church groups of 6 did gather with children upstairs, those invited might be worried they were breaking the law by coming or those hosting might be acting against conscience. On the principle of Romans 14, this leaves ministers no choice than to include children anywhere in the house within the 6, even when they think the law doesn’t require that.

Holy week and the coronavirus

There can be a degree of spin to Palm Sunday. We rejoice in the humility of the King who brings peace to Judah in Zechariah 9v9-12, but conveniently omit that he will achieve it through the destruction of their enemies (9v1-8, 13-17). We celebrate Jesus’ welcome into Jerusalem, but fail to note his first acts as king were to drive out the money-lenders from the temple and curse the fig tree as an illustration of his curse on the unfruitful nation (Mat 21v1-22). The point is that as King, Jesus brings long-needed judgment as well as much needed mercy. And a question we must face during this time of coronavirus, is whether he continues to do so within history, for on ascending as king: God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph 1v22).

1/ The coronavirus brings home the reality of judgment.

Intellectuals love to smugly scoff at any suggestion that such things are a judgment from God. But if they call themselves Christian, one wonders what Bible they are reading. Certainly, Jesus does caution against declaring a specific disaster is because one person or group has sinned more than another (Lk 13v4, Jn 9v1-3). But from beginning to end, scripture urges us to consider the reality of judgment when faced with national or worldwide suffering. Jeremiah implies this when lamenting Judah’s destruction by Babylon: Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lam 3v38). Just as God ordains all that comes to pass (Ps 139v16, Eph 1v11), so everything that happens stems either from his undeserved grace or tempered justice. I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.” (Jer 9v24).

By only the third chapter of the Bible, we learn that human death and so disease is a consequence of humanity’s rejection of God (Gen 3v22). In that sense we must say that this coronavirus is in some sense an expression of his outrage at sin, as all suffering is: All our days pass away under your wrath.” (Ps 90v9).

But we can note too, that at times disaster taking the form of war, famine or disease, has been a more specific expression of wrath when sin has increased and God’s patience has given way to long needed justice. God outlines the principle through Jeremiah: If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” (Jer 18v7-10).

So, the Ammonites were destroyed when their sin had “reached its full measure” (Gen 15v16) - sin that included practices very similar to those promoted in society today (Lev 18v21-28). And in terms of disease, consider Habakkuk’s picture of the LORD coming to act for his people: God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendour was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble.” (Hab 3v3-6).

Particularly striking is Psalm 2, that portrays the relationship between God’s king and human rulers, and is applied to Christ in the New Testament (see Acts 4v23-27, Rev 12v5). It urges rulers to: “Kiss [the LORD’s] son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Ps 2v12). The threat of sudden wrath implies that the king is patiently holding it back, but also that at any time it could rightly be let loose. And because it is specific to certain kings, the suggestion is that this may entail judgments within history rather than just the final judgment.

Here, we should note that plague in particular, is one of the judgments released by King Jesus himself during the church age (Rev 6v7-8). One of the most respected modern commentators on Revelation writes of chapter 6:

“Christ has received all authority from the Father and takes up His rule over the kingdoms of the earth (1:5; 2:26-27; 5:1-14). The first four seals show how this authority extends even over situations of suffering sent from the hand of God to purify saints and punish unbelievers…Some Christians may have wondered if Christ really was sovereign over disastrous circumstances, such as Nero’s mass persecutions on so cruel a scale following the fire of Rome in AD 64. Rev 6:1-8 is intended to show that Christ rules over such an apparently chaotic world and that suffering does not occur indiscriminately or by chance.”[1]

I wouldn’t presume to declare that the coronavirus is a more specific judgment on certain sins in today’s world. But nor do I think we need to. We just need to recognize that it might be. We should not underestimate just how appalling the world’s consumerism and abuse of the environment is, when one considers its impact on the poor and suffering. It’s estimated that over 40 million people today work as slaves, enabling people to enjoy the comfort they do. That’s more than three times the total number of slaves during the 15-19th centuries. It’s deeply convicting, that having done so little to check our economy for the good of others, we have not hesitated to now that our own lives are on the line. Or consider our world’s readiness to kill the unborn. The WHO estimates 40-50 million a year – something unthinkable just a hundred years ago. Again, consider the irony that over 200,000 of abortions each year are carried out by the same NHS that is so striving to save lives today. And what of the destruction to family life and mental health stemming from the undermining of marriage, and the embracing of sexual freedom and pornography? And what of the arrogance displayed in wholly redefining marriage and gender?

Given what the scriptures tell us about God’s holiness and its past expression, should we be surprised when this sort of disease arises? Perhaps the surprise should be that it's not worse. It’s particularly striking that Revelation tells us the two witnesses (most likely a reference to the church) have power “to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want” (Rev 11v6). In context, this could be describing various judgments on the earth for its persecution of believers. And in recent years the world has persecuted Christians like never before. Open Doors estimates that “over 260 million Christians” live in places where they “experience high levels of persecution.”

But, we should not for a moment consider all this implies our world is without hope or abandoned by God. We struggle with these ideas because we think they imply the Lord is somehow uncaring, and that the indiscriminate nature of the suffering they entail means he is callous. No doubt this will always test our faith. But when it does, we can remember that at the very moment Jesus predicted a judgment on Jerusalem that would lead to its destruction in AD70, he wept (Lk 19v41-44). We might say, figuratively speaking, that God executes his justice through tears. And so, Palm Sunday moves towards Good Friday, when in the greatest love, King Jesus bore the curse sin deserves so that we might be freed from it.

2/ The coronavirus brings home the wonders of God’s mercy.

Given Jesus governs all things, we can say that signs of his grace are everywhere. Consider how this crisis is bringing communities together, drawing out acts of great self-sacrifice - especially from our medics, and reminding people of the importance of family. Even the spring should be seen as a means by which he is tempering his justice with mercy. But three particular mercies can be noted.

1) The coronavirus is displaying the impotence of our gods: It is hard to deny that the gods worshipped in the UK are those of money, success, healthcare and sexual license. How easily they are shown to be subject to the Lord. The economy is in crisis, jobs are threatened, the NHS is on its knees, and people are forced to retreat into families - the very institution our society has so undermined. Ecclesiastes 3v14 tells us that God ensures we feel a sense of impotence before his providence so that people will “fear him.” Given that, could it be that in all this, King Jesus is pointing out that the branches we assume can take our weight, really can’t?

2) The coronavirus is highlighting our need of Jesus: This follows. The disease is forcing us to see just how much our lives are dependent on the Lord. Many are facing their own mortality in a way they never have previously. Surely King Jesus is showing us just how much we need him, and at the very time we celebrate his victory over death at Easter? Surely, he is reminding us that there is only one person who has ever healed the sick and raised the dead with a word; and that he is the hope for our nation and world. This is the good news it so needs at this time.

3) The coronavirus is urging us to repentance: This is inescapable given the above. There’s no easy way to say it. The coronavirus is a wake-up call – a reminder that we are a world under judgment, that our sin is an affront to God, that all of us will die, and that all of us need salvation. Repentance is the very thing Jesus put his finger on when faced with disaster in his day: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’” (Lk 13v4-5). Or consider the repeated refrain of those facing God’s judgments on the earth in the book of Revelation: Still “they refused to repent” (Rev 9v20, 21, 16v9, 16v11). The Lord’s will for people when facing the sufferings of life outside Eden is that they would be called to turn from sin, to Christ, for salvation.

3/ The coronavirus brings home the failings of the church.

Here’s the rub, and I am speaking to myself here too. It is striking how the church has responded so far. We are caught up in our discussions on how best to do services online, whether we can celebrate communion remotely, and how not to get infected. But where is the discussion on how to communicate the gospel courageously and winsomely in calling our nation or communities to repentance? Like Nero, we are playing the fiddle whilst Rome burns. Some high-profile leaders have spoken more publicly. But generally, these are words carefully chosen to offer something meaningful without the danger of offence. We are urged to abide by governmental advice, care for our neighbours, and combat fear with faith. That’s good. But isn’t there more we must say, somehow – and with fervent prayer for opportunity and response?

No doubt, the church’s failure to speak boldly results from decades in which it has tried to offer just a gentle something to elicit interest with little challenge to the nation’s practices - nor to the brazen affirmation of them within its own ranks. But the coronavirus shows just how ineffectual that is. How does that help a nation that may have to face even more disasters if its spiritual makeup doesn’t change? How does that help the neighbour who is about to pass into a lost eternity because they’ve never heard the gospel? Surely, then, the first place for repentance in this crisis is within the church: “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household.” (1 Pet 4v17).

Hard truths are like embarrassing family members. We should be unashamed of them. But we keep them hidden for fear of losing friends. However, this Friday we remember the cross which, though “the wisdom of God”, is “foolishness” to the world” (1 Cor 1v20-25) because it declares that we can be saved only by the apparent weakness of a crucified Messiah, who “took our pain and bore our suffering.” (Is 53v4). Let’s proclaim the reassuring truth, that this means that the Son of God sympathises with us in our sufferings, that he is the greatest model of forgiveness, love and self-sacrifice. But let’s not leave it there, for we’re told he suffered so that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Is 53v5). That's his glory. And so we must also find a way to proclaim that he died because we are “by nature deserving of wrath” (Eph 2v3) – because the God who is there remains supremely holy, and is outraged at even our sins, and the present crisis is in some way a taste of the final judgment that he would have us wake up to so that we might kiss his Son, for "blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Ps 2v12). 

“Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfil them; let all the neighbouring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared. He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth.” (Ps 76v10-12)

[1] Beale, G K. Revelation: A shorter commentary. (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015), p.123

Pentecost and the royal wedding sermon

Today is Pentecost. It's the day Christians remember among other things, that by his Spirit God works in believers what they cannot work in themselves. Coming to faith in Christ they are recreated to do good works (Eph 2v10) and made a new humanity (Eph 2v15) who can now live in true love (Eph 3v16-19) as a foreteaste of the perfect love and righteousness that Christ will bring about at his return, when he makes all things new (2 Pet 3v11-13). And so to yesterday's royal wedding sermon.

Facebook has been alive with enthusiasm. And I get that. I felt moved too. At one level I suspect this was because of the passionate talk about Jesus to offset the sleep inducing tones of the British clergy (someone please tell them how to smile and be personable). At another, I suspect it was because our expectation of these events is so low, and this guy spoke about the redemptive love of Christ! Finally, I think this enthusiasm reflects the fact that as Christians we heard what was said through Christian ears. So when we heard of the power of love, we thought of the love Christ works in those who trust him - the love of the Spirit given to all who've sought his forgiveness. But (and I really hate feeling the Eeyore) I'm certain the millions who listened in didn't hear it that way at all.

I've read the sermon online to be sure of what was said, and what it seems to proclaim is the gospel of try harder. It's hope, it's good news was that we, everyone, can bring about a new creation if only we will love one-another more powerfully. Just consider this paragraph: "Cause when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brother and sisters, children of God. Brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family." Think now on how the sermon ends: "Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world."

What's heard then is quite simple: "Let's try harder." What's heard is that, whoever we are, whatever we believe, we are able to do for ourselves what in truth only Christ can do.

Now it's possible Curry may not have intended that. But he is the head of a liberal denomination and this is the gospel of liberal Christianity - the gospel of our secular age. Yet this is not the true gospel. The true gospel is about Christ's remedy for the fact that we can't change the world by trying harder. The true gospel addresses the fact that no matter how hard we think we are trying, strife and poverty and racism continue because we don't (and can't) love as we should love. The gospel is therefore honest about sin. And by being honest, by speaking about the unpalatable stuff, the gospel gives true hope - real, practical hope to Harry and Megan, and to all couples who find in marriage that they can't love as they have promised to love. It proclaims that Christ alone can and will change the world, that he is returning to make it new, and wonderfully, generously, graciously calls us to share in that. The gospel is about God the Son in love pacifying his Father's right outrage at how unloving we are, and then transforming those who come to him so they can start to love with his love as children of God. That's the gospel.

Michael Curry's sermon was great rhetoric. And because those of our age are drawn more by the medium than the message, God may well use it to draw people towards Christ. But to my mind his message was at best unclear on the gospel, and at worst intentionally so.