Is it Wrong for Churches to Cancel Services?

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 it 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

39 Comments

Filed under Church, Worship

39 responses to “Is it Wrong for Churches to Cancel Services?

  1. Amen, thank you. We are trying our best to make decisions considering the congregation but not all agree.

  2. James Phillips

    Great article. Thank you for your efforts of enlightenment

  3. tommythornhill

    Thanks for writing. You have made a good summary of how brethren ought to be using prudence and common sense. It will pass, so continue to trust the Lord and all things will eventually work out for good in the long run.

  4. Jim Grushon

    Well said Ken. I love Sundays and being with my Christian family in worship. It is the best day of the week every week. Not having that opportunity is hard but respecting the threat to our neighbors and brethren is important. We are streaming bible study and worship and doing the best we can to serve each other. God can use these time in a special way and I am confident that will be done.

  5. Mary Ann

    Thank you, Brother. Stay well.

  6. Wonderful article. We are a small group in central Wisconsin. We were able to meet this past Sunday (3/22) since we were under the maximum that State would allow. Now the State is not allowing any size gatherings and closing all “non essential” businesses. We did a live stream this past Sunday for some who could not make it, and we will of necessity be live streaming until the restrictions are lifted. Thank you for your encouragement.

  7. ranger

    Lots of good insight as always

    The point to me though is closer to the fact that Churches “close” more than ever and many see this as just another example.

    ie. Superbowl/Christmas/snow/rain and many Churches suspend or curtail services through the summer; it is a dangerous trend locally.

    I see this, at least so far, do what you want thru the week but suddenly on Sunday lets’ all quarantine to be safe

    Still you summed it up best with “churches are local”, I did think the 1918 example was incongruous with what we face today

    Keep writing, I’ll keep learning, and spray your screen after reading (JOKE!)

    • Chuck Richardson

      I believe the most salient point that brother Weliever made was let each church and then respective individual make their own judgment. The only challenge to that principle is that we know too much about what other are doing in the brotherhood, and we may be tempted to believe we must do it because others are. I believe I can leave each to his own judgment and be right. But I likewise believe there are more important questions that need to be raised. Is this current pandemic unique in the way that warrants quarantine, or are there other social and political factors that are at play? Is our response finally correct because we(society, government, medical experts, scientist), are more virtuous than with other pandemics? Will this be the response for all seasonal infectious viruses, or periodic pandemics from now on? If it is less than virtuous, even if there is some warrant for a response at times, will it be a tool for men with power to use political, social, and economic control over society? How might that effect, not only our assemblies, but our evangelism here and abroad? Though I raise these questions and some may, I believe consider these conspiracy theories, I still remain in peace because I changing the personal pronouns:
      Trust in the Lord with all my heart,
      And lean not on my own understanding;
      In all my ways acknowledge Him,
      And He shall direct my paths.
      I will not be wise in my own eyes;
      I’ll Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
      It will be health to my flesh,
      And strength to my bones. ~Proverbs 3:5-8

  8. Shirley Maurer

    This is a very good and helpful article. It helps us all better navigate the confusions of our thinking , and also reminds of kindness principles and respect for leaders who make different choices for their flock.

  9. Steven Estes

    Thank you for this article Ken. Good job!

  10. Such good points!!!!! And why can’t we be kind and think well of brethren who may make a different decisions than we might make?

  11. Kenny Todd

    This brings up another question. Is it scriptural to partake of the Lord’s Supper individually at home?

    • Pete Kinser

      My wife, Cathy, and I partook of the Lord’s supper this past Sunday at home. We both felt the need to observe the memorial, and “where 2 or more are gathered in my name…” told us that the Lord would approve. I would not criticize another for their not participating, just pointing out how we feel at this house. God bless.

  12. Kevin Kelly

    Great commentary, Ken. Such a challenge for either decision.

    • Barbara Yates

      A long time ago someone preached about “Attitude”. To me this could be the underlying ingredient as to this being right or wrong. —- Were we glad that the building was closed so we could just “chill out” or were we sad to be away from our brothers and sisters in Christ and missing that period of time we set aside for worship services????

  13. Phyllis Bessette

    My family met together in my home last Sunday and will do so until this danger is hopefully past. We sang, read from the Bible, discussed, prayed and took the Lords Supper together. It was a very special time, and we have done this before during snowstorms, etc. remember, the building is not the church, we are. We enjoy our services at home and we feel it is important for the kids to see our consistency as Christians. Let’s all pray for one another and for all those who are affected, especially our health care workers. And we can certainly all study our Bibles daily.

  14. Lee Wildman

    Thank you Ken. Well said and balanced as I would expect from you.

  15. Kathy Cooper-Boyle

    Very well done Ken. And let us not forget to let His grace shine through our hearts in our actions, thoughts, and emotions towards our brethren and our fellow man.

  16. Frank Acuff

    Well said Preacherman! As and elder of a church that chose to scale down services for the safety of our members, I can tell you that the decision by our five elders was not flippant and came at an emotional cost. In opposition of changing worship services, I have heard this statement out of the mouths of some of the dissenters, “I am not afraid of this virus”. It seems to me, that these individuals are more interested in their selves, than that of the collective brethren. I realize, as an elder we are to be concerned over every member of the flock. However, to decide what is best for the flock based upon the desires one or two individuals, is simply not what a true shepherd does. During these trying times, we should remember that our faith is measured by how well we persevere and continue to walk circumspectly according to God’s will. None of us, need to worry what another man’s faith may lead them to say about our decisions, concerning our own worship. Our comfort should come by knowing that God watches over us, gives us the tools to make the best decisions in these times and provides us the faith to live by those decisions. Thanks again, you covered the topic well.

    • Thank you Frank. I appreciate you reading my blog and taking the time to share your insights. You and the other elders are to be commended for your thoughtful and prayerful approach in these trying times. May God continue to bless you as you watch over the flock

  17. Larry Hafley

    Thanks for this thoughtful article.  Is it wrong for infidels to cancel the Crims

  18. norma rutherford

    God knows what is in our hearts and his love for us never fails.

  19. Solid as always Ken…

    Logic, compassion and love for the truth will always prevail.

    Than you sir.

  20. Pingback: Is it Wrong to Observe the Lord’s Supper at Home? | ThePreachersWord

  21. Jim Belcher

    As always I am thankful for your understanding and wisdom in God’s word. Thank you at this special time for each and every thought that will go a long way in helping others to make wise decisions not only in this time of uncertainty, but on other occasions, as well. God bless you Brother.

  22. Pingback: Weekly Recap: March 22-28 | ThePreachersWord

  23. Feleciana Bagbaguen

    Inspiring article..let.each one.decide avording to hed faith n judgement…thanks…

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