One of the questions with which many of us have been wrestling lately is: should we still meet on Sunday? Now, I am not speaking on anyone’s behalf or in response to anyone, for I have talked to several people – pastors and others – who are wrestling with this same question, and the responses are varied though tend toward caution. Here at Mt View, we as a Council decided that the best course of action was to temporarily suspend Sunday services, and here are my personal thoughts – and not necessarily the Council’s – on why.
First, the government encouraged us to do so. Now, if the government put out a message telling us to stop meeting for religious purposes, we would rightly ignore that. When it comes to matters of health and safety, however – wherein nearly every religion, business, and meeting place is given the same directive – to make this a matter of us versus the government is to read persecution into a situation where it doesn’t exist. We have not been singled out; instead, we as Christians have been asked to show love by helping to slow the spread of the virus. That’s something that I can get behind and support, even if it means adjusting to a new normal for a while.
Regarding whether or not we should continue to gather publicly, the Lord can and does perform miraculous works, but He’s a God of order. Thus, He works most commonly through systems, and governments are the systems He has put in place. It does not mean they do not err, and it does not mean they speak with the voice of God. However, it does mean that we are subject to them in matters that do not compromise God’s glory.
Here are three examples from the Bible:
In Romans 13:1-2, Paul tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment”. Paul’s command here is to understand that God is the God of the government, and He has placed us underneath this government at this time during this pandemic. To submit to the government – where they are not violating Scripture – is to submit to God. It is therefore our duty to heed their word and be faithful citizens.
Making a similar point, 1 Peter 2:13-17 commands, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor”.
Finally, our Lord Jesus himself was tested on submission to the government, and he again showed us that in matters that do not stand against God’s commands, we are to submit. Here’s how the story went: “And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, 'Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?' But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, 'Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.' And they brought one. And he said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said to him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' And they marveled at him” (Mark 12:13-17).
All in all, the government has not told us Christians to stop meeting. Rather, the reason for limiting group sizes is to stop this spread, to put less pressure on hospitals, and to avoid the horrid circumstance of deciding which patient should get care while another does not. As a Christian, I fully support our government in that request.
Second, I believe suspending gatherings is the most loving thing to do. Jesus told us that what will differentiate Christians from the rest of the world is not faith but love because everyone has faith in something. Faith is desperately necessary, but I think it naïve to say that God will keep the sickness at bay as a blessing for our continued meeting. I don’t remember seeing statistics wherein Christians survived World War 2 or the Black Plague or even lived to older ages than anyone else. Jesus told us that our lives would be filled with suffering, and while the Lord promises to take care of all our needs, we still live in a cursed world where we shall all die. To carry forward a thought that says, “God will protect us from the spread of coronavirus”, ignores the fact that He does not guarantee any of us a tomorrow. Yes, God will protect us, and Matthew 6 and Luke 12 promise that we can trust His continue care; however, Christians are not exempt from cancer, from the common cold, from miscarriages, from car accidents, from divorces, from poverty and hunger. We cannot equate God’s blessing with a supernatural protection against the flu. Maybe it happens, but I find that risk not worth taking.
Now, let’s come back to the idea that the world will know that we belong to Jesus and are his disciples because of our love for each other (John 13:35). I very much struggle with the grinding halt to which our churches have come. In a perfect world, we would all meet twice on Sundays and several times during the week. That said, I question, then, what is the most loving thing. As believers, we have a responsibility to care for the underprivileged, the widow, and the orphan. In a situation like this, we have a group of people who are considered “high risk”. In my personal opinion, to meet at this moment would be unloving in two ways: one, we encourage those that are high risk to come, when really we have been advised that their chance of then contracting the virus is considerably higher and the death rate is much larger. Second, should we meet and they cannot come, we exclude them from the gathering of the saints. Rather, I think for the time being, the best thing we can do is to understand that we will prayerfully seek the best way forward that is both faithful to the Lord’s Day commands as well as to those who are high risk.
Truthfully, I once again struggle with closing the doors of the Church, but we are not making decisions for an extended period of time. We will meet, and it will – Lord willing – be soon. In the meantime, however, it affords us the opportunity to discover new ways to be faithful to God when our normal has been taken away. As such, we will turn to live-stream and to other avenues to continue being connected, worshiping our great God, and building community. The decision is not made out of fear and lack of faith but out of love.
You may disagree with my conclusions, and that is perfectly fine and acceptable. Understand, however, that no one is making these decisions lightly. Instead, it is all with an eye of doing what is most faithful to God and His people. Unfortunately, in the wake of this pandemic, that means making the painful decision to meet online instead of in person.
Nonetheless, may God be glorified in these uncertain times. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
My name is Bryan Lanting. I am a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, and I am presently serving Mt View CRC as their pastor. I am married to a wonderful wife named Sydney, and both of us are loving life, loving Lynden, and loving the Lord!