I have seen a few articles recently decrying the idea that the shelter-in-place mandate has shown that the American church has crumbled under persecution because the government is asking the church not to gather together for worship. There are those espousing that the government is violating our first amendment right and that this is leading to the undeniable end of a permanent shutdown or government control of churches.
Now, I am not one to shrink back from talking about persecution and that I believe that churches will one day face it and need to be prepared for it, but this is not that day. There are several truths that explain why we as the church at this time should endure the sadness of not gathering for the sake of the common good. I will outline them below.
This mandate is not for churches alone.
If the government was stating that only churches can not gather, and they were not insisting that restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. were not also to close, then we could rightly say something does not smell right. However, to the detriment (and likely the failing for some) of these other businesses, the federal and local officials have asked for them to continue only in such a way that large crowds are not gathering to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Some have then argued that because abortion services have been given the green flag of “essential services,” therefore the church should be able to gather. While I understand the sentiment, those who do not hold the same values as Bible-believing Christians see abortion as merely another medical procedure that does not require the large gatherings of crowds. Abortion is abhorrent and our desire is that is would be abolished, but we have believed this even before COVID-19, and just as our understanding and argument have not changed, neither has the pro-abortion side. Therefore, to argue that if abortion clinics stay open, churches must be allowed to as well, we then open the large gathering argument for all other businesses to reopen and then we’re back to square one. We may not like it, but this is the current thinking, and God will ultimately be the judge of those who have made such decisions, which again are grounded in decisions made much before any of this current situation came about.
Historically churches have complied with these kinds of orders.
There have been several articles written in recent weeks which show the historicity of churches taking measure during times of pandemic to alleviate the spread of disease. In each case, adequate evidence is given that churches have complied with these orders in order to help moderate the spread of disease. There was inevitably pushback in some cases, but even those who initially resisted eventually understood the dire nature of the situation and then complied. Therefore, we are not the first generation of churches who have had to make concessions for the sake of the common good, and we likely will not be the last. We should further the example for the generations who come after us.
Love of neighbor compels us.
This is likely the one that is most distasteful to those screaming the loudest. Perhaps in frustration, someone is thinking, “If we love our neighbor shouldn’t we be allowed to proclaim the gospel to them?” To that, I say, “proclaim away!” There is nothing stopping you from writing a letter, or an email, or recording a video and posting it to YouTube or Facebook. In fact, you have means more readily available to you today, than you would, had this happened ten years ago, not to mention one hundred years ago. Love of neighbor certainly compels us in other ways as well, does it not? If I know that staying home in a reasonable manner protects the elderly saints from my church family from the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and further the possibility of dying, then I should out of love for them forgo my right to assemble for a short time in order that they may have a better quality of life. The same applies to my literal neighbors whose houses are merely a few feet away from me.
Submission to God compels us.
I have seen articles in recent days that state that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 do not apply to this situation because we must obey God rather than men when it comes to a passage like Heb. 10:25 which we are not to forsake the assembling together. This is pitting Scripture against Scripture. We are at the time providentially hindered from gathering because of the reasons listed above. The government is not telling us we can never meet again, they are asking (in some cases mandating) that all public gatherings are to be disbanded for a time. If, after this is all over, the government says, everyone can get back together, except churches, then we’ll have a case. Until that time, there is no official gathering of the church, and therefore, Heb. 10:25 is not being violated. Therefore, we are to submit to the governing authorities because God has placed them over us, and we are by virtue of that submitting to God. A glorious day will come when we will be able to gather again in our local assemblies again and we will rejoice greatly!
Let’s not focus on what we cannot do, even as we long to do it, rather let us focus upon how we can love God and neighbor uniquely in these trying times.