This question raised today reminds me of the old joke about the politician who was asked by a reporter his position on a particular issue.
“Well, there are two ways to look at it,” he responded. Then launched into a lengthy explanation of both views, giving both the pros and cons of the respective positions. He concluded by saying he had friends on both sides of the question.
“But what’s your position?” the reporter pressed.
“I agree with my friends,” the politician replied.
I’ve heard a good bit about the wisdom of cancelling church services in the past two weeks. There have been different approaches because of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. Some have completely cancelled. Others cut back to one service. Some larger churches have divided the congregation into two separate groups. Several are using live streaming for their members to worship at home.
All of this has evoked some criticism. I’ve heard and read that the faithfulness of those cancelling services has been questioned. Shepherds have had their wisdom challenged, and even condemned. Others are calling this a form of government oppression. And faith in God has been impugned.
These are unwarranted and unfounded accusations. I’m persuaded of better motives of pastors, preachers and churches who cancel services. In the beginning, I personally questioned cancelling services, but kept my opinion to myself. However, as this unfolds and the virus spreads, it seems that it is prudent to take these precautions.
Several thoughts come to mind.
(1) I don’t recall hearing wide-spread criticism of cancelling services when a hurricane was bearing down on the Florida coast. Or when a snow storm hit the Midwest. Out of concern for the health, well-being and safety of the members, closing the doors until the danger passed was a wise decision. This is a different kind of danger. But a danger nonetheless that needs to be taken seriously.
(2) Local churches are just that. Local. They are self-governing. And autonomous. It’s ironic that we’ve pled for elders shepherd the church among them in response to para-church and institutional organizations, but now some criticize elders for the decision of their local church. Shepherds have not made this decision lightly or flippantly. It’s been difficult and done with prayerful consideration.
(3) The government is not forbidding us to worship God. Acts 5:29 doesn’t apply here. They are serving the needs of its citizens. Seeking to protect our health and welfare. Once this virus is under control and/or eradicated the meeting house doors will open again.
(4) Furthermore, this is not a Hebrews 10:25 issue. Brethren are not willingly forsaking the assembly. We never accuse someone of neglect when they’re sick, or home caring for a sick family member.
(5) While there are some who are fearful to be sure, the preachers and pastors I know are not operating out of fear instead of faith. And I think that’s true of most brethren. They’re making decisions based on wisdom, common sense and prudence. I trust in God, but I don’t play with fire. Or ignore warnings in the event of a hurricane.
(6) It’s also good to be reminded there are two great commandments. (1) Love God with all your being; (2) And love your neighbor as yourself. With the spread of this highly contagious virus, we’re showing love for our friends, relatives, neighbors, non-Christians as well as our brethren, by limiting our contact. By doing so, we may let our light shine and other see our good works.
(7) Historically, there have been other occasions where churches have closed their doors in response to health concerns. The 1918 influenza epidemic is one case. While it’s rare, it’s not unprecedented.
(8) We all need to be careful of self-righteously judging other brethren, elders and churches just because they may make a different decision. I know some smaller, rural churches where they believe the threat is low and are still meeting. Larger ones in metropolitan areas are closed. Let’s respect the right each to decide. And also respect the liberty of individual Christians who may choose to attend or not.
Lord willing, this will pass, we can resume congregational assemblies and return to some normalcy in our lives. In the meantime, as you protect your physical health, don’t neglect your spiritual health. Pray. Read the Bible. Worship God. Do good. Be a Christian.
Finally, the words of my friend and preaching colleague Doy Moyer ought to be heard and heeded.
“Be careful about divisive attitudes, especially during a distressing time that involves the whole world. We need one another, and we need each other to think clearly and love deeply.”
“I plead with you, my brothers and sisters, to focus on building each other up. Be patient with one another. Be patient in the present distress. Pray for others. Pray for the world. Pray that doors of opportunity may be opened for a renewed spread of Gospel. Who knows what God may do through us if we will be humble and submissive, loving God first and others.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman