Q:Hi Jerry, thanks for your teachings. I’m interested to get your opinion on ‘civil disobedience‘ in relation to the various restrictions that Churches (all …. not just Christian evangelical churches) have had imposed on their gatherings during the COVID19 pandemic? While streaming is still fully allowed – and God’s name can still go forth – the gathering of the saints is/was either prohibited or significantly restricted and this is/has become very contentious. I’m really interested in your opinion as I believe this has been such a divisive issue in the church that Satan is taking maximum advantage of. (to gather or to defy Gov orders; to vaccinate or not vaccinate).
Thanks in advance for your opinion,
A: Hi Kary! Thanks for reaching out to me. These are truly unique and trying times for all of us.
The relevant scripture passage that immediately comes to mind is Hebrews 10:25, where we are admonished to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
In essence, the question before us is simply this: Are Christians disobeying God by complying with government prohibitions on indoor public gatherings?
First, let me say that I believe restrictions on church gatherings should be dictated by the church itself. After all, churches will often suspend meetings due to poor weather, icy roads, etc, in the name of keeping people “safe.” I seriously doubt that any of us would consider this to be a violation of Hebrews 10:25. I certainly don’t.
That said, I can certainly understand the government imposing restrictions on public indoor gatherings if the science warrants (assuming it is equally applied to all indoor gatherings.)
Many churches were able to get around those restrictions by socially distanced outdoor gatherings with masks.
Other churches, who were unprepared or unwilling to meet outdoors also had the option of continuing their regular meetings online via Zoom, etc. While online church meetings are inferior to meeting face to face with our brothers and sisters, they still allow us to gather together as one in the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul makes this principle clear that there is no distance in the spirit several times in scripture: “For although I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit.” (1 Corinthians 5:3, Colossians 2:5)
From my perspective, it seemed the biggest complaints to the restrictions came from those churches who were unprepared/unwilling to creatively adapt to these temporary government restrictions.
Even worse, many churches assumed, without cause, that the government was singling them out simply to “persecute” them.
It should be emphasized that these restrictions on public indoor gatherings were/are obviously not permanent but temporary and are not intentionally seeking to prevent the spread of the gospel by singling out Christian groups.
As such, I do not believe these restrictions would force Christians to violate Hebrews 10:25 (to not forsake gathering together) as we have MANY other ways of gathering. (Outdoors and online)
However, the attitude I have seen many (not all) Christians adopt amid this current health crisis is lamentable. Some have chosen a path of outright rebellion to basic public health policies in seeming disregard of their neighbor’s health and an outright tempting of God.
Unfortunately, some of our nation’s leaders sought to trivialize this disease early on for political gain.
So too, basic precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing have been politicized and demonized for political purposes.
Today, a plethora of “armchair” doctors and “amateur” immunologists pervade social media and spout their unscientific opinions on masks, social distancing and even the life-saving vaccines that are now available. These voices, many of whom are deemed reliable and readily received by far too many American Christians, have served to muddy the waters on the clear efficacy of the current vaccine therapies.
Kary, I am not surprised that a tiny virus is destroying America from the inside out. We have always been a divided people, and the divisions have only become worse with time. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
Americans can’t even agree on basic facts and some, especially those who claim “spiritual discernment,” seem to be unable to detect overt lies and disinformation spewed by their leaders.
It is truly sad as the American church had a great opportunity to show Christ’s love, mercy, compassion, and wisdom amid this pandemic.
Instead of promoting the Kingdom and warning men to repent, however, too many Christian leaders (and their followers) chose to use this health crisis as an opportunity to defend certain political leaders and their own individual “rights.”
Amazingly, many of the same Christian leaders who have told us for years that “judgment is coming” and that the “end times are upon us” simply choked when a real pandemic arrived on our shores. Instead of warning America to repent, they instead sought to downplay and deny the reality of the disease.
All of this reminds me of a quote by Martin Luther, who denounced Christians in his own time who made light of a plague that ravaged his country.
In reference to them, he wrote:
“They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are…”
This sounds eerily similar to what we see today among too many American Christians.
Luther then continued by giving his own advice on how a Christian should behave amid a public health crisis:
“Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places where your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city… I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence… See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
I think this is sound advice from Luther that many modern American Christians could learn from.
So, in the final analysis, I believe that temporary government restrictions on indoor public gatherings have been unfortunate, but wise.
And I believe that the American church should seek to redeem whatever time it has left of this pandemic by getting up out of the pews and spreading the gospel in new and creative ways.
Thanks for the great question.
Blessings to you!
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