the essential church

Watch the Daily Declaration’s Interview with the Director of The Essential Church

25 September 2023

2.8 MINS

The Daily Declaration sat down with Shannon Halliday, the director of the brand-new film on Covid-era abuses, The Essential Church.

The Essential Church is a feature-length documentary profiling three pastors who faced the risk of imprisonment to keep their congregations meeting during the Covid era.

First released in American cinemas in July, The Essential Church has just become available for digital streaming globally.

To mark the documentary’s release, The Daily Declaration was blessed with the opportunity to interview the film’s director, Shannon Halliday. Watch the interview below.

When Christ and State Conflict

Shannon Halliday is both the director of The Essential Church and also a member at one of the churches featured in the film — Grace Community Church, in Sun Valley, California.

When Covid restrictions began in early 2020, Grace Community Church did what most churches did at the time: it closed its doors and began posting its sermons online.

Led by well-known Bible expositor John MacArthur, who has long taught the importance of submitting to the governing authorities, the church’s eldership began questioning the state’s edicts the longer they went with no reprieve and no end in sight. They had initially justified their decision to temporarily close as something any church should do if, for example, authorities warned of an impending hurricane. By contrast, the threat of Covid turned out to be vastly overstated. Moreover, churches were being forced to suspend their ministries indefinitely.

In our interview, Shannon recounts the difficult decision — and theological reasoning — MacArthur and the church’s eldership made in ultimately reopening the church at a time when the Californian authorities still deemed church “non-essential”.

As told in the film, while a face-value reading of the New Testament suggests the church is subject to the state, Grace Community Church saw that according to Scripture, both church and state are subject to Christ. Consequently, when the state’s edicts contradict the commands of Christ, believers must choose loyalty to God first.

The other two pastors who feature in the film are James Coates and Timothy Stephens, both from Canada. Despite their differing experiences, all three pastors and their churches were ultimately legally vindicated for their courage to continue gathering.

Australian Pastors Respond to The Essential Church

Australian churches faced the same moral dilemma as their North American counterparts — though for a much longer period. While there were people in Australia defending conscience and religious liberty, “it fell to small unknown pastors who were mainly opposed by the denominational heads and various parachurch organisations,” Pastor Tim Grant tells The Daily Declaration.

Senior Pastor of Mount Isa Baptist Church, Ps Tim co-authored the ‘Ezekiel Declaration’ in August 2021, a letter petitioning then Prime Minister Scott Morrison to put a stop to Covid-era powers that impinged Australians’ God-given freedoms and coerced their consciences. The Ezekiel Declaration was signed by over 3,000 Australian church leaders and 26,000 church members and attendees.

Ps Tim co-authored the declaration with Pastor Matthew Littlefield, Senior Pastor at New Beith Baptist Church, also in Queensland. Ps Matthew has welcomed the release of The Essential Church and praised Grace Community Church for its courageous leadership. He told The Daily Declaration:

John MacArthur’s stand against Covid tyranny was like a bright light in dark time. His stand gave courage to many of us in Australia who were being told that the responsible people should just roll over to the mandates. He showed the Christian world that our greatest responsibility is to God’s commands first, above all else.

Together, Ps Tim and Ps Matthew also made a book-length, historical case against medical mandates and for religious freedom, co-authoring Defending Conscience: How Baptists Reminded the Church to Defy Tyranny (2022).

How to Watch The Essential Church

The Daily Declaration‘s interview with The Essential Church director Shannon Halliday was wide-ranging. We spoke about the film’s creative story-telling, its weaving-in of church history, and its public reception so far.

We discussed whether public health rules constitute “persecution”, how members of Grace Community Church avoided adopting a victim mindset, and what the response of MacArthur’s church would be if California ever enacted “climate lockdowns”.

The Daily Declaration is grateful to Shannon Halliday for taking the time to speak with us about The Essential Church.

The Essential Church is now available on and the streaming platforms below:

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One Comment

  1. Jim Twelves 25 September 2023 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Kurt, I am so grateful you have brought this piece together, The Essential Church is a great litmus test for believers. We can look back and with the wisdom of hindsight, say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to government mandated lock-downs/lock-outs, but it was much more fraught in the middle of the battle.
    What will we do next time? For me it is clear that governments were not being democratic in their mandates, they were at best being panicked by their own propaganda, they had no choice.
    For me this whole scenario simply says, the power of governments have got too big, the closure of churches was an over reach by people who loved the power and their daily news shots.
    I think that we must press for smaller governments and much more personal responsibility on the part of clergy and Christians, and the decisions will be much easier.

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