Romans 13:1–5 (NASB95)
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
Hebrews 10:23–25 (NASB95)
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We find ourselves in circumstances right now (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) where people committed to Scripture are conflicted by the two passages above. We know we are supposed to submit to our governing authorities (unless they tell us to sin – see Acts 4), but we know we are also supposed to assemble together regularly. Our governor and mayor have stated that religious gatherings will be reopened following strict guidelines during Stage 3 (we are currently in Stage 2). Some churches have challenged the governor on this and have informed him that they will open for public worship on Sunday, May 31st with or without permission. Others have said that they will not only submit to the governing authorities, but they are considering being the LAST organization to reopen. Let me explain the logic behind the two positions.
The May 31st group came up with that date based on a charismatic pastor who believed God gave him that date. He was in prayer in April asking the Lord when to open and had the impression God told him May 31st. He thought that was too far away but when he looked at the calendar he saw it was Pentecost Sunday (the day the church was formed in Acts 2). He became convinced this was a message from God and encouraged other pastors to join him. They believe it is unfair for certain “essential businesses” to be open but the church not to be considered one of them. They don’t believe the church should be forced to be closed, so they are going to open now that other groups are allowed to do so.
The group that will wait as long as possible says they desire to demonstrate love for their people and be a positive testimony to the community. They don’t believe the church has ever been closed. In fact, they believe it is impossible for the church to be closed. The issue is the definition of “church” referring to the people, not to the building. As long as the church can receive instruction, pray, encourage one another, meet needs, etc., these leaders are willing to experience a temporary inability to all meet together in one place. They also mention other reasons why they should delay until it is deemed safe to gather:
- Some members would be excluded. Current orders would prohibit people over the age of 65 and anyone with a condition that puts them in the high-risk category (asthma, diabetes, other respiratory problems, etc.). In our church it would be an extremely large number of people in these categories.
- Some members would choose to be excluded. There are a number of people who are fearful of getting COVID-19 and would feel like they cannot attend. African Americans are also concerned because there is a disproportionate percentage who are getting the disease. Some have stated that they will not attend church until they figure out why.
- Worship would be extremely limited. Currently everyone would be required to wear a mask and sit at least 6 feet in every direction from those not in their immediate family. Wearing a mask would limit them both in singing and in speaking to one another. The church would be limited to about 20% of its normal occupancy and spread out. There would be no food served and no fellowship after church as everyone would be required to leave immediately after the service. There would also be no childcare.
- Worship services would have to multiply to provide for all who want to attend. Assuming everyone who normally comes would want to come, we would need to have 5 English worship services on Sunday to accommodate everybody. The other option would be to tell specific groups of people which Sunday they could attend and which they would have to stay home. We could have overflow into other rooms (with 20% of the normal seating capacity) but people would still have to leave after the service with no fellowship time.
- More people could get COVID-19. There are a large number of asymptomatic individuals who have COVID-19 and could spread it to others. It is the desire of these pastors to protect their people both physically and spiritually as much as possible. They would like to know more about the disease before purposefully exposing their people to getting it.
There are a lot of things to consider both on WHEN we should start meeting again and HOW we go about it when we do. A team at TBBF is doing massive research on this issue to make sure we are up to date. We are watching videos, reading blog articles, engaging in webinars, Zoom meetings, etc. We are seeking the counsel of our EFCA district and national offices as well as our government authorities. The elders met this week and determined that we will continue to research the issue and discuss it again at our next elder meeting on June 9th. Hopefully at that time we will have a much better idea of when we can resume meeting on the church campus and/or in small groups. Until that decision is made, we will not have public worship services at our church campus.
We want to hear from you! Please take a moment to fill out this survey. It includes several questions about your current feelings about returning to regular church activities when local government lifts its ban on public gatherings.
We long to be able to meet together face-to-face, but we have a responsibility before God to submit to our governing authorities and protect our church family. We are praying fervently that the Lord will give wisdom to both our medical community and our governing authorities to find a solution to this problem. Until that happens, please consistently take advantage of our Livestream worship services and our Zoom small group meetings. Call, send notes, email, and text one another frequently. Pray with one another over the phone.
This Sunday, please join us via Livestream as we dive into an incredibly important passage in James 1:22-25. The reason we long to meet together again, study the Scriptures, pray, exercise our spiritual gifts, and carry out the “one anothers,” is so that we can become doers of the Word of God. It isn’t enough to hear it or study it or even memorize it. We must become those who are characterized by active obedience to the Word of God. Please wake up early on Sunday, pray, get your Bible out, print out the notes, take notes, and then discuss the message so we can become doers. God promises that he will BLESS those who do so (see Psalm 1; Joshua 1:1-9; and Psalm 119).
One final thing. Thank you so much for faithfully giving to the church, the benevolence fund, and to missions even though we haven’t been able to meet. The Word of God is spreading all over the world through the ministries of this church. Thank you for making that possible through your generous support.