I received a few emails the past few days from Christians who misunderstood my last article, overlooking several key sentences. The main premise of the article was that Christians should not give into fear like the world, and how we are to live, continuing to speak Scripture and words of encouragement into peoples lives while visibly showing our joy to them with a smile. In doing so, we actively testify of the hope that we profess to believe; faith is displayed to not merely be words. Read the full article here.
One of key sentences came about halfway through the article, in which I said, “The Christian should not allow any worry of life to keep him or her from living how he or she ordinarily lives” (emphasis added). I realize now that “ordinarily” is subjective. By “ordinarily,” I do not think that a Christian should put themselves in a situation where he or she is likely to encounter the virus, such as close-quarters in a large gathering or at a restaurant, such creating the possibility of passing it along to high-risk family members. We must be both gentle as lambs and wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16). However, I do not consider eating out to be an ordinary event, nor going to a sporting event or a movie theater to be ordinary events, though now I realize that many readers of this website do think of such activities as everyday things which baffles me. When I think of ordinary activities, I think of going to the grocery store, getting a haircut, running errands in town, going to one’s job, cooking supper for one’s family, etc., necessary things, not recreational things. Christians should not fear to do necessary things that simply have to be done because he or she might contract a fatal illness; for a relatively healthy person to fear such necessary things is to place one’s hope in this passing and fading world rather than on what is eternal as Paul teaches at the end of 2 Corinthians 4. The fact is, God is not mocked, and if he decides that we should get SARS, the bubonic plague, or the Wuhan Coronavirus, then it does not matter if we lock ourselves up in a completely sterile environment. That said, we should not tempt God either by doing recreational things that could lead to contracting the virus; it’s a narrow line that we have to walk
Of course, for Christians, the question naturally arises, should churches temporarily close their doors for one or two weeks? After all, church attendance should be an ordinary thing for the Christian, the apostle saying to “not neglect meeting together, as the habit of some is” (Hebrews 10:25). Yet, this is slightly different from the other “ordinary” things mentioned because Christians do not ordinarily meet together every day like they ordinarily cook or go to their jobs every day. This is a difficult, tertiary issue that every church needs to consider one way or the other, and then rest in that decision, not having made it lightly. Churches must also be careful not to judge other churches that may come to different conclusions than themselves.
I am a Baptist and believe strongly in the autonomy of the local church. It is not my place to sit in judgment on the decision of the church across the street. In the book of Revelation, the Lord says to each of the seven churches, “I know thy works,” using the singular pronoun. The church in Ephesus was not responsible for what the church in Philadelphia may be doing, nor either responsible for the decisions of the church in Thyatira. The church where I presently attend and where I grew up consists of a majority of high-risk people, and therefore, it is good and right for us to choose not to meet, although I think the pastor is intending to livestream something on the church’s Facebook page. Yet, if the church was larger, I may strongly admonish high-risk people to not come, or even may bar high-risk people from coming, while still holding services for the other members, but such is entirely hypothetical and I really have no concrete idea what I would do in such a situation.
The point is, this is a very difficult and tertiary, not even secondary, issue that churches are having to deal with, and we must guard ourselves from judging churches that either decide to cancel services or to hold services that are different from what our churches may be doing. We cannot know anyone’s heart or true motive for the decisions they make regarding this issue. Of course, if this contagion gets really bad and a State Government orders the ban of large gatherings of 50 or more, then the decision is easy, Romans 13, we should abide the rules of God’s governmental ministers in trying to contain the outbreak in the wisdom they have.
Todd Friel from Wretched Radio recently made this good, rational statement of the matter, the general answer for all churches during this time being: whatever.