NOTE: This article was first published in its original form on April 1, 2020. The Pandemic was only a couple of weeks old in NC, the executive order against mass gatherings was only 2 weeks old, and there were reports of thousands of people dying where the pandemic was raging. We had no idea what the Pandemic was and what it wasn’t. Additionally our congregation was sufficiently split on the right course of action to take. All-in-all, in April we were streaming with limited people onsite. We Did Outdoor services in the month of May, the first ones locally. We opened our doors in June, months before most churches in our area.
I have to admit, I have been torn over what the right course of action is regarding Corporate Worship as it relates to the Coronavirus. The whole thing has been difficult to separate my personal desire if I was congregant who probably would worship if we were open, as a pastor who wants to worship with people, and my role as Senior Pastor and Session member making decisions on behalf of and for the good of the congregation, who take their cues from us. Here is some of my thinking.
It seems we are called to live in this tension. On the one hand our government has issued an order that doesn’t allow us to worship in one place due to public health concerns. On the other hand we are a people who are called to worship together. So what do we do? Here is how I am working through this dilemma.
1) Well, nowhere in Scripture are we called to do church the way we do church (large buildings, with electricity, and facilities, and security systems, all falling under state building and occupancy codes). But, Christians are called to be together and to Worship Together (Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:25).
- See this Video I did on 3 Types of Worship explaining this.
2) Christians are also called to Respect the Governing Authorities, particularly when acting in the good of public interest. (Romans 13, Titus 3)
3) So we must evaluate whether Governing Authorities are asking us to violate the law of God.
- To be sure, in those cases there are sufficient examples in Scripture that show it is appropriate and right to disobey unlawful orders. (Exodus 1, 2, 8, Acts 4, Daniel 3 & 6)
- So is the Government asking us to violate God’s law? The government is not telling us we can’t be a Christian, nor are they saying we can’t speak about our faith, nor are they saying we can’t publicly share it on media sources or in face-to-face contact.
- The government is not telling us we cannot worship.
- But they are affecting how we worship.
4) My next question is, Why is the government doing this? Is it because they don’t want Christians worshiping Our God?
- No. Clearly not. One day that might be the case. That is not where we are today. The government is doing this as agents of God (Romans 13:2, 6b) for public safety and health, to save lives, and to aid the healthcare industry’s ability to care for the sick (things Christians care about).
5) As I consider that the Government is not saying we can’t worship God. And there is nowhere in Scripture where our form of worship (Large assemblies in a common building with amenities) is described or commanded, I weigh our options:
- Benefits of defying the Order
- We are called to Worship Together, to be under the Authority of Elders
- The Church is an encouragement to one-another by being together.
- We need one another.
- Corporate Worship in one place is the best way to Worship God.
- Downside of defying the Order
- If this pandemic is what they say it is, there could be serious loss of life. Christians value life.
- We could be the cause of an outbreak like that Church in Arkansas with 35 first-hand cases, multiple hospitalizations and at least 1 death.
- We are a bad witness to the surrounding community and a cause for God’s name to be blasphemed at a point where Scripture doesn’t guide us (how to Worship during emergency)
- We will be breaking the Law.
- See this Video where I interview Dr. Ben Wilson re Coronavirus
- Benefits of defying the Order
Given the Above analysis, here are my conclusions:
6) I’d be willing to face penalties under any order that forbids all worship, bans congregated worship for an extended period, or bans Christianity. At least I’d like to think I would. But that is not what is going on here. Its one thing if our witness is – “we will die for our faith and the right to worship,” its another when our actions affect public health and those that are not Christians, and when we are a bad witness among unbelievers, when we are still allowed and able to worship different ways.
7) Christians are allowed to be Christians in public, in our neighborhoods, to exhibit whole life worship, to worship in our homes as family worship, and to worship corporately online, and to interact online during this worship and outside of it as many of our members are doing during our livestreams.
8) And this all temporary. Yes, maybe for a couple of months, but there is an end in sight. If not, I might reevaluate my position. This is the key. If it were not temporary, we’d be having a different discussion.
In looking at this, I don’t think this is a Church & State thing at all, that this isn’t a “Right to Worship” issue. But instead, right now this is an issue:
- Of containment and public health. (Romans 13, Titus 3)
- Of loving the body and others. (Matthew 12:30-31)
- Of seeking the welfare of the people and place where we live. (Jeremiah 29)
- “Let your conduct among the gentiles be beyond reproach….” (1 Peter 2:12)
- Of setting a good example as an elder where we live (1 Tim 3:2,7, Titus 1:6-7)
Saints of Meadowview, I’m so glad we want to be together to worship our King Jesus. This longing we have to be with one another should be how we always feel even when we can worship together as we look forward to that great wedding feast we will experience in the presence of our savior. I look forward to the joy we will have in the near future when we will be able to worship together once again.
Until then, I say – I love you Meadowview! But remember, God Loves you More!
PS. – This is not without precedent in our country or in Western Civilization. See the below quotes from Reformed Pastors of past days as well as the Newspaper article below among Presbyterian Churches during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 that killed millions.
Richard Baxter (A Christian Directory or a Sum of Practical Theology, London, 1673, p 870-872)
- Question 109: May we omit Church-assemblies on the Lord’s day, if the Magistrate for¬bid them?
- It is one thing to forbid them for a time upon some special cause (as infection by pestilence, fire, war, etc.) and another thing to forbid them statedly or profanely.
- If the Magistrate for a greater good, (as the common safety) forbid Church Assemblies in a time of pestilence, assault of enemies, or fire, or the like necessity, it is a duty to obey him. Because positive duties give place to those great natural duties which are their end: so Christ justified himself and his disciples violation of the external rest of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
Ashbel Green (1762-1848) was an American presbyterian minister and president of Princeton University.
The following quote relates to the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia. (ed. Joseph Jones, The Life of Ashbel Green, V.D.M. (New York, 1849), ch. 16, ‘Pestilence’,p. 281. )
- “[I] resolved to go and preach and advise all my people who could leave the city to escape for their lives. This I accordingly did, and to this in a great measure it was probably owing that, under the blessing of God, very few of my congregation became the victims of the pestilence in this year.
- To those of my charge who I knew could not leave the city, I said as much as I conscientiously could to alleviate their fears, exhorting them to put their trust in God, seeing that in the order of his providence it was impracticable for them to go from their homes. I told the people explicitly that I could not see any call of duty that they should assemble for public worship, or that I should attend to preach while the city should remain in its present state.”
Francis Grimke was a presbyterian pastor in Washington, D.C. He wrote in the context of the worldwide pandemic of the Spanish Flu in 1918-20. (Andrew Myers, ‘Reflections by Francis J. Grimke on the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu”)
- There has been considerable grumbling, I know, on the part of some, particularly in regard to the closing of the churches. It seems to me, however, in a matter like this it is always wise to submit to such restrictions for the time being. If, as a matter of fact, it was dangerous to meet in theaters and in the schools, it certainly was no less dangerous to meet in churches. The fact that the churches were places of religious gathering, and the others not, would not affect in the least the health question involved. If avoiding crowds lessens the danger of being infected, it was wise to take the precaution and not needlessly run in danger, and expect God to protect us.
- And so, anxious as I have been to resume work, I have waited patiently until the order was lifted. I started to worry at first, as it seemed to upset all of our plans for the fall work; but I soon recovered my composure. I said to myself, Why worry? God knows what He is doing. His work isn’t going to suffer. It will rather be a help to it in the end. Out of it, I believe, great good is coming. All the churches, as well as the community at large, are going to be the stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.”