The Free Presbyterian Church has said the spread of coronavirus is a call for people to “repent their sins”.
The strict Protestant church performed a U-turn on Monday after previously saying the ban on mass gatherings didn’t apply to its services.
On Saturday, the church made the controversial move of insisting its services should go ahead, despite government advice on social distancing during the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
But on Monday the church revised its advice and urged its ministers to close their buildings.
In a statement on Saturday, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland said: “Although many have interpreted UK government advice and remarks as meaning that all services in church buildings should cease, and have stopped meeting, the Church Interests Committee (CIC) is not of that view.”
It added: “Attending public worship is not a mere social activity or recreational pleasure like going to a public house or restaurant, and does not at all require social interaction of a physical kind.
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“Rather, it is a divine institution which can be engaged in when sitting and standing apart from one another at a safe distance.
“Things may change very soon, as they have been doing during this rapidly moving situation, but the view of the CIC at the present time is that the use of Church buildings has not been forbidden.”
The church added: “The virus is an urgent call to us all to repent of our sin and seek the Lord while He may be found, and to call upon Him while He is near.”
But the church has now changed its position, and is now advising that its buildings are closed for a temporary period.
It said on Monday it had “taken account of the strengthened language of the UK and Scottish governments since it issued its advice at lunchtime on Saturday 21 March”.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said: “You are at risk if you are surrounded by people in a church, just as you are at risk if you are surrounded by people in another crowded place.”
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