SAN DIEGO: In the midst of our current pandemic, social media posts contain many words of concern posted by Christians to Christians. They want their brothers and sisters to stop overreacting to government-mandated shutdowns; most specifically, the cessation of church services in exchange for regulated quarantine.
These messages are obviously well-intentioned. They call on the church to grow up, reminding us that any proper reading of Scripture portrays a God who expects us to obey our government. They point out that social distancing/shelter in place orders are not treating the religious any differently than other Americans.
Indeed, the more Christians complain, the more they are being a “bad witness.”
“What is the big deal,” they ask. “if we are unable to gather on Sunday for a very temporary period of time? Lives are at stake. We must mitigate this coronavirus and flatten the curve as our President’s team of skilled, experienced scientists and doctors have recommended. What does it hurt if we can’t gather together in a large building? The church is not a building anyway; the church is the body of Christ. Didn’t Jesus say, ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of you?’ God’s church is everywhere! When we have alternative meetings on Zoom, the teaching is no less inspirational and the prayers are no less effective.”
And so the admonishment goes…
As a Christian and pastor, I would like to offer a response. If you are not a Christian, you are certainly welcome to keep reading. I’m not trying to imply that you won’t be able to relate to any of this. I am merely identifying the audience I am addressing.
My purpose right now, is not to debate. There is a place for debate and I participate often, but that is not my intention with this specific article.
Instead, I wish to establish a framework for future discussion, a guideline for the exchange of differing viewpoints in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Since I am convinced that Christians on both sides of this matter love God and strive to do the right thing, I would like to clarify where I and others like me are coming from. I am certain everyone reading right now is just as eager to clarify where they are coming from.
Often, when people listen, I mean really LISTEN to each other, they discover that they agree far more than they realize. The modicum of leftover disagreement seems more palatable afterward. After celebrating what unites us, contrarian opinions need not threaten us.
And so, let us do away with myth and replace it with clarification.
Truth be told, many of us are more interested in people understanding our thoughts than embracing our thoughts. We all need to be heard. I can easily accept that you might disagree with me, but I do not wish to be falsely represented; neither do you.
The statements which follow are statements I believe all Christians can agree with regardless of what actions they feel God is calling them to (or in some cases, not calling them too) during this unique time of history we share together.
AGREED: One can pray, trust in God, have faith, know that God is sovereign
That He will have His way, that all things work together for good, and still be mindful of the spiritual warfare around us, our own role in carrying out God’s work, our responsibility to carefully monitor our religious liberty, a liberty which the Bible says is conducive to the spreading of the Gospel (1 Timothy 2). Trusting God, but acting as a watchman, are not mutually exclusive practices.
AGREED: Those who choose to speak in the face of perceived danger are not necessarily calling for civil disobedience.
One stance does not immediately translate into the other.
AGREED: Bible verses such as Romans 13 DO command us to obey the government.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…” (Romans 13:1, NIV).
But we also acknowledge incidents in Scripture where God’s people were called to disobey. Daniel chose to pray even when the King in Babylon issued a decree forbidding prayer (Daniel in the Lions Den – Daniel 6). Peter and John were dragged before the authorities and instructed to no longer preach the gospel out in the streets. They refused. They openly expressed their refusal before the court.
“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:18-29 NIV).
These stories do not contradict Romans 13. The same Apostle Paul who penned Romans was himself jailed many times. In fact, Paul eventually was executed because he would not refrain from speaking out! Paul would be the last one to encourage Christians to compromise their faith. However, he did not want them rebellious either. There were many sensible protections under ancient Roman law.
Christians were to obey such laws, short of denying Jesus.
Today in California, the speed limit is 65 miles per hour. I may feel that’s a stupid law, especially if I am driving on an open freeway late at night. But guess what? My Christian convictions are not compromised by obeying the speed law.
If I were told to stop sharing Christ or ordered to discontinue a conscience-driven biblical position on certain social issues, that would be another matter.
AGREED: Indeed church is not a building; church services can be held anywhere, even online, even at the beach, even in the woods.
I preached my first sermon at a small church service in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains!
We can agree that for a few weeks to a few months, being away from a literal church building is probably not the end of the world; it does not short circuit our relationship with God.
But choosing to go along with these present edicts does not make the Constitution suddenly evaporate.
Certainly, one can argue that a temporary suspension of church gatherings imposes no restriction on true heartfelt worship. But it does restrict a guaranteed First Amendment freedom, the right of assembly. Yes, our constitution allows for extenuating circumstances. So does God.
The 50-million-dollar question asks how much longer such circumstances will persist and how honestly “extenuating” they will continue to be. Should it go on for an indefinite period of time, who would not agree that the situation must be reassessed and reevaluated?
That is a discussion for the near future. Meanwhile, the discussion is not over in the present.
Can we not also agree that not everyone has access to Zoom meetings? Some, including many of our senior citizens, seldom use the Internet. Some don’t even own computers or smartphones. While it’s fine to say that “virtual church” is every bit as spiritual as “geographical church” not everyone has access to this new reality.
A lot of people are being left out. Their Bible commands them “not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).
As for the idea of churches meeting in homes, that sounds great! But at the moment, families are being told to shelter in place. And while outdoor church services can certainly be rejuvenating, many states and counties have closed down their public beaches, parks, and national forests.
So, yes, the church can meet anywhere but it becomes a problem if we are being quarantined from everywhere. I am not insisting on a specific solution. But surely we can agree that there is a problem.
AGREED: One can acknowledge that presently churches are generally not being singled out.
We can also agree that this current paradigm could easily serve as a template for the future, an excuse to curtail religious freedom. Evangelicals are all too familiar with the anti-Christian agenda of the left, and their track record for exploiting a crisis, a Trojan Horse whose aim is to eradicate any breath of thought which contradicts Political Correctness.
In some parts of the country, we already see inconsistencies where the pandemic is concerned. In Mississippi, people were not allowed to meet even for a drive-in church service. But drive-through fast food and liquor stores are permitted.
Nobody could explain in a satisfactory way why one was allowed and not the other, neither could they show how being in one’s own car got in the way of “social distancing.”
True, the double standard toward churches is not going on everywhere.
In fact, it’s not going on in most places, but yes, it is going on. Some will choose to view such confusing incidents as a mere hiccup in the system, an aberration that will self-correct in due time. Others see it as a sign of things to come. Both opinions are legitimate at the moment. Our country has never gone through anything like this, an entire nation virtually shut down for a pandemic. No one knows how it will turn out. Many feel optimistic. Many others see a need for sobering caution, a yellow light at the very least. Time will tell. Hindsight is always 20/20. Until then, it is understandable that people will interpret the situation through they’re own personal filters.
Throughout history, Christians have responded differently in the face of adversity. They always have and always will. We must extend each other some grace.
We don’t need uniformity to have unity. It is not “once size fits all” with God. He calls us to a variety of gifts and ministries. Some are involved with dynamic intercession and prayer; others are called to counsel with encouragement. Still others are called to be like Jeremiah the prophet, who sat on the city gate where people could hear a message of warning from him as they walked by.
AGREED: Will government officials easily give up hard-fought-for political power?
Some government officials enjoying their political power do not give it up so easily. That is not true of all in political leadership. State by state, and city by city, we see variations. The variations can be acknowledged.
The constant moving of the goalpost in some states and counties before public life can be allowed to return to normal must also be acknowledged.
AGREED: One can accept that the coronavirus pandemic is real (not a hoax) but still conclude that certain politicians are exploiting the danger and exaggerating the danger.
AGREED: Doctors, as a general rule are a respected profession.
This does not mean that once a doctor speaks, the discussion is automatically over. The medical profession can be quite fluid. Doctors disagree with each other constantly and doctors all over the country are in disagreement over how to handle this coronavirus.
History has provided profiles of doctors with pure motives and doctors with ulterior motives. We have seen the gamut run from Dr. Stanley Livingston to Dr. Joseph Mengele.
In the current times, we can presume the sincerity of Trump’s medical team without being afraid to call out mistakes. They have admitted to many mistakes themselves anyway.
And so, while our responses as Christians may vary, let us at least agree on our assessment of the situation without questioning the motives of those who chose alternative responses.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.
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