I am wrestling with this, how should the church respond to this Covid-19 virus? Yes, the church can just follow the guidelines and close its doors for the foreseeable future. That would be the easy and safe option and maybe even the smart option. But God doesn’t call us to always follow the world and go the way of the safest and easiest or even smartest (at least by the world’s standard). The Bible and history is full of examples where Christians did not go the way of smart or easy or safe. Rather they went where God called, to serve, to be a light in the darkness, to put their life and their freedom on the line for Jesus. Their earthly reward was oftentimes being ridiculed or imprisoned or even death, but even the prospect of that didn’t deter them.
Paul was instructed by his fellow workers in Christ not to travel to Jerusalem, that it was not wise, that it was not safe, that it was a trap but he defied the safe and easy way to follow Jesus. We read scripture and talk about God seldom calling Christians to live a life free from trouble, free from risk, free from persecution, free from imprisonment. Is this our time to do more than just read and preach? Is this our time to act on our faith? Is this our time to be a light shining to a scared world?
My heart isn’t settled on the answers to those questions. I know that the government guidelines aren’t meant to persecute Christians. But Satan seldom comes at Christians in an obvious, visible, out in the open way. I know that the government is trying to stop a virus from spreading. Perhaps therein lays the issue. The government is trying to stop the spread of a disease, a disease that perhaps God is using to see how faithful His church will be. Perhaps it is up to the churches, to the faithful Christians to stop this disease by stepping out in faith in some manner.
To me this isn’t about the government, about the virus, or even about worship. It is about how the church will continue to be a light in the midst of darkness. If we shutter our doors and isolate ourselves, how are we different than anyone else? How do we demonstrate our faith in a God in which there is no fear to a world that is panicking and hurting? To me this is a matter of living out my faith.
We can never tell people that the church is a safe place completely. In fact we cannot even tell them that being a Christian is a safe thing, at least in this world. But our prize, our goal is not in this world. Is this virus more dangerous than the regular flu? Sure to a subset of the population especially so. Should those that are sick stay at home until better, yes? Should those that are caring closely for a sick person stay at home until better, yes? Do we need to make the same decision in our faith life as we might in our public life, in a work or school life, no? Jesus gave up His life for us and suffered beyond anything that we can imagine. How far might we be willing to go for Jesus? How are we living like Jesus, imitating Him during this time?
There are no guarantees with this virus and our safety. We only know in part, only God knows in full. The health officials say that we should maintain six feet of separation. It is a guideline, and not an absolute determination of the safety of the space, there are far too many variables to list and to come up with a complex set of instructions that covers every scenario. The ten people per gathering rule is even more ambiguous. Ten people in my living room is a real crowd. Ten people in the sanctuary at a church may be nothing. Are they saying ten people in a 1,130 square foot room should be safe? If that logic is true, is it then equally safe for twenty people to be in a 25 x 100 room? Does it depend on the surfaces and what people are doing in the space? In restaurants you have lots of people, lots of hard surfaces, and lots of touching of those surfaces, lots of places for a virus to lay and expose someone. Is that the same in the sanctuary of a church?
During the 1918 Spanish flu the majority of churches closed. But some did not. Some met and was faced with ridicule and disdain from the public. Some met and were arrested. Some thought outside of the box and met outdoors and worshipped God and lived out their faith, publicly in that way.
Maybe that is our call. How can we honor God on the Lord’s Day during this time? How can we be a light in a frightened world? How can we show the skeptics that the faith that we talk about in easy times is a real and deep, empowering faith, that drives us to live fully for Jesus, forgetting our comfort and safety for the furtherance of the gospel. What does the Lord’s Day look like during this time? How do we celebrate and serve and witness during this time. Will we go silent and disappear because there is a risk to us to be vocal and to be seen? Or will we proclaim to the world that we have the solution to their fear. And do we believe that enough to get out from behind the walls of our house (or church even) and show it.
Again, I don’t have the answers or even a settled heart on this matter. Should we stay open or close? Should we go to two services or even three perhaps to spread out the population density and to minimize the risk? Should we just livestream a sermon to a few folks? Should we get a tent and set it up in the parking lot? Should we open the sanctuary and have a prayer vigil from 6 to 6 on Sunday, praying for our nation, but also a person there (people could pick times) to help anyone that may come in? Should we take a food package to every kid and every family that normally comes to the church or that is in the nearby church community?
Just the honest thoughts of someone that is trying to live out my faith in a way that I think God calls me to. None of this should be read or viewed as a judgment of anyone else’s faith. This isn’t about being right or wrong, or even everyone agreeing. This is about me trying to listen to what the Spirit is telling me and sharing that with others so that we can make a decision for the church.
In Christ’s love (Adapted from a letter to our church council)