fashion-man-people-sign-3952233I 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.

2 thoughts on “Why the Shelter-in-Place Order Does Not Equal Persecution of the Church

  1. My response to this article:

    //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. // The government has not asked. It has mandated. The mandate is unconstitutional and unbiblical. At least one pastor has been arrested for defying this unconstitutional mandate, and the mayor of New York City has threatened to close down churches “permanently” if they do not adhere to their mandate. The first sentence of this article is already framing the situation in a dishonest way.

    //This mandate is not for churches alone.// How does that make it less tyrannical? Seems that it would make it more tyrannical….

    //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.// Side point here, but even pagans know that abortion is not just another medical procedure. They know it is murder, and many even admit that it is murder and they just don’t care. The fact that the magistrate has deemed abortion services “essential” while prohibiting church gatherings as well as many other legitimate business brings to mind Isaiah 5:20.

    //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.// The presupposition you have is that a government mandate to shut down businesses, etc. is a good thing, saying that if they are allowed to open back up we are back to “square one”. I would posit that the magistrate has no real authority to shut down legitimate business and gatherings. We see in Romans 13 that the job of the magistrate is to wield the sword against evildoers (which in this example, would be the abortionists and all those involved). Hopefully my point that the government is acting outside of their God-given authority and role is clear.

    //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.// The argument is not that churches should not take precautions or that they should not take a contagious disease seriously. However, it ought to be up to the leaders of the church to make those decisions, not the magistrate. Wisdom is a good thing, and it is a good thing for churches to be wise with regard to the wellbeing of their congregants. It would be nice if you cited the “several articles” however. Just saying that articles have been written about something is not a good argument for it.

    //Love of neighbor compels us.// This type of argumentation is simplistic at best. Yes, we do need to love our neighbor. You are only thinking about one type of neighbor though, the elderly (and probably sick). What about the neighbor who is unable to afford their rent or mortgage because they are out of a job. What about our neighbor who put their entire life savings into their small business and now that business is going under? The false dichotomy (which Douglas Wilson expertly points out in one of his latest Blog and Mablog posts entitled “COVIDIOCY-19”) is that it is lives versus dollars. He points out that the dollars are equally as important because the represent lives i.e food, shelter, healthcare, provisions, and protection for real people. Is it loving your neighbor to stay home? The answer is more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no”.

    //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.// I have not heard anyone making the argument that the main reason we should be able to leave our homes is so we can go evangelize. That certainly has not been my argument, though I do think we should be able to leave our homes to go evangelize. There are better arguments to engage here, and either the author is not aware of them or chooses to ignore them.

    //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.// Does staying home actually protect the elderly, or does avoiding contact with the elderly protect the elderly? I seems like you have just bought the idea that staying home = protecting the elderly. I don’t buy it. It’s not that simple. Should the whole church stop gathering to protect certain people in the congregation? or should those who may be more at risk abstain? The fact that these questions have not even been discussed within the church and that many people have been accused of being unloving for bringing it up is troubling, to say the least.

    //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.// It’s only pitting Scripture against Scripture if you believe that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 teach unconditional submission to the government. That is in fact, not what these passages teach. When the magistrates reject their God-given role and reward those who do evil and punish those who do good, we have no duty to obey them.

    //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.// You’re right that the government is not telling us that we can never meet again. I fail to see how that is relevant to the argument he is supposed to be addressing that it is wrong and a form of persecution for the govt to shut down churches for any period of time ever. At least you concede at this point that it is a mandate, however saying “in some cases” is downplaying it severely. Most, if not all major cities have issued “stay at home” orders.

    //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.// “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Is Hebrews a letter to just individual Christians or to a church body? The author of Hebrews is saying that God’s people should not neglect to meet together. I don’t see how you can take Heb 10:25 to mean merely “Individual Christian, don’t skip church unless there is no church service”. It seems to me he is saying “Church, don’t neglect to meet”. As members of the church, we can rightly apply that on a personal level with the application that we should not skip out on the fellowship. I disagree with your understanding and application of Heb 10:25.

    //Let’s not focus on what we cannot do// As Christians, we should oppose tyranny on every level. God created man to be free within the precepts of His law. When man’s law exceeds the bounds of God’s law, Christians should be the first ones to point out that what they are doing is wrong and call them to repentance and conformity with God’s law. We can’t do this by not focusing on it.

    //let us focus upon how we can love God and neighbor uniquely in these trying times.// Agreed.

    1. James, thanks for your response, please see mine to yours(*):

      //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. // The government has not asked. It has mandated. The mandate is unconstitutional and unbiblical. At least one pastor has been arrested for defying this unconstitutional mandate, and the mayor of New York City has threatened to close down churches “permanently” if they do not adhere to their mandate. The first sentence of this article is already framing the situation in a dishonest way.

      *I am not seeking to be dishonest, but broad. Not all states have mandated the same restrictions across the board. Where there has been severe action such as in the case of Rodney-Howard Brown and De Blasio it is good to point that out, but it is not the case across the board that all states have mandated this in the same way.

      //This mandate is not for churches alone.// How does that make it less tyrannical? Seems that it would make it more tyrannical….

      *Here we disagree on the idea of tyranny. This is a public health crisis, we are learning as we go. Are you suggesting that the government wants to intentionally cripple our economy?

      //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.// Side point here, but even pagans know that abortion is not just another medical procedure. They know it is murder, and many even admit that it is murder and they just don’t care. The fact that the magistrate has deemed abortion services “essential” while prohibiting church gatherings as well as many other legitimate business brings to mind Isaiah 5:20.

      *I agree that the unregenerate *knows* that it is murder, but they treat it as if it is not. Abortion is abhorrent, as I said. But we should not be surprised by the idea that something that is deemed medically necessary by pagans is allowed to continue. Many likely think that strip clubs are okay too, but they have shut those down.

      //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.// The presupposition you have is that a government mandate to shut down businesses, etc. is a good thing, saying that if they are allowed to open back up we are back to “square one”. I would posit that the magistrate has no real authority to shut down legitimate business and gatherings. We see in Romans 13 that the job of the magistrate is to wield the sword against evildoers (which in this example, would be the abortionists and all those involved). Hopefully my point that the government is acting outside of their God-given authority and role is clear.

      *If the government has mandated that it is for the greater good of society that we do not gather in large groups *for a time* regardless of the group (religious or otherwise) is not the one who violates this seen as the evildoer?

      //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.// The argument is not that churches should not take precautions or that they should not take a contagious disease seriously. However, it ought to be up to the leaders of the church to make those decisions, not the magistrate. Wisdom is a good thing, and it is a good thing for churches to be wise with regard to the wellbeing of their congregants. It would be nice if you cited the “several articles” however. Just saying that articles have been written about something is not a good argument for it.

      *I am struggling to find one of the ones I had seen earlier, I am seeking to track it down. Please see here (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/blog-entries/spurgeon-and-the-cholera-outbreak-of-1854) and here (https://www.9marks.org/article/how-dc-churches-responded-when-the-government-banned-public-gatherings-during-the-spanish-flu-of-1918/). Please note it seems like the Metropolitan tabernacle did not meet during the time of the Cholera outbreak because no records show them meeting during that period.

      *What if the church decides not to comply and people are infected and die and the pandemic grows? What does this say of Christ’s church and of loving our neighbors well?

      //Love of neighbor compels us.// This type of argumentation is simplistic at best. Yes, we do need to love our neighbor. You are only thinking about one type of neighbor though, the elderly (and probably sick). What about the neighbor who is unable to afford their rent or mortgage because they are out of a job. What about our neighbor who put their entire life savings into their small business and now that business is going under? The false dichotomy (which Douglas Wilson expertly points out in one of his latest Blog and Mablog posts entitled “COVIDIOCY-19”) is that it is lives versus dollars. He points out that the dollars are equally as important because the represent lives i.e food, shelter, healthcare, provisions, and protection for real people. Is it loving your neighbor to stay home? The answer is more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no”.

      * We are learning as we go here. Right now this seems like the best way to love our neighbor. Also, I couldn’t care less about what Doug Wilson has to say, and perhaps you or he couldn’t care less what I have to say. That’s okay.

      //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.// I have not heard anyone making the argument that the main reason we should be able to leave our homes is so we can go evangelize. That certainly has not been my argument, though I do think we should be able to leave our homes to go evangelize. There are better arguments to engage here, and either the author is not aware of them or chooses to ignore them.

      *I was simply using this as an example of a possible reason. I am not choosing to ignore anything. You should be careful not to assign motives.

      //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.// Does staying home actually protect the elderly, or does avoiding contact with the elderly protect the elderly? I seems like you have just bought the idea that staying home = protecting the elderly. I don’t buy it. It’s not that simple. Should the whole church stop gathering to protect certain people in the congregation? or should those who may be more at risk abstain? The fact that these questions have not even been discussed within the church and that many people have been accused of being unloving for bringing it up is troubling, to say the least.

      *The health officials who have spent years working on these things are saying it is the safest way to deal with it. I am not a health official and neither is the church a health organization. I am going to go with the health experts at this point. Yes, I am a two kingdom guy.

      //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.// It’s only pitting Scripture against Scripture if you believe that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 teach unconditional submission to the government. That is in fact, not what these passages teach. When the magistrates reject their God-given role and reward those who do evil and punish those who do good, we have no duty to obey them.

      *In what sense is the government stay-in-home order rewarding the wicked? I understand the abortion thing, but that was in place before this order came. Again, I point to my argument earlier.

      //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.// You’re right that the government is not telling us that we can never meet again. I fail to see how that is relevant to the argument he is supposed to be addressing that it is wrong and a form of persecution for the govt to shut down churches for any period of time ever. At least you concede at this point that it is a mandate, however saying “in some cases” is downplaying it severely. Most, if not all major cities have issued “stay at home” orders.

      *Again, this is not the case in all states. It is relevant because it is not permanent. Yes, I know what DeBlasio said, but it was clearly reactionary (and wrong) but this is not across the board.

      //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.// “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Is Hebrews a letter to just individual Christians or to a church body? The author of Hebrews is saying that God’s people should not neglect to meet together. I don’t see how you can take Heb 10:25 to mean merely “Individual Christian, don’t skip church unless there is no church service”. It seems to me he is saying “Church, don’t neglect to meet”. As members of the church, we can rightly apply that on a personal level with the application that we should not skip out on the fellowship. I disagree with your understanding and application of Heb 10:25.

      *That’s fine you can disagree with me. I see this as a major case of providential hindrance. The majority of churches aren’t gathering right now, therefore we are not in violation of Heb. 10:25.

      //Let’s not focus on what we cannot do// As Christians, we should oppose tyranny on every level. God created man to be free within the precepts of His law. When man’s law exceeds the bounds of God’s law, Christians should be the first ones to point out that what they are doing is wrong and call them to repentance and conformity with God’s law. We can’t do this by not focusing on it.

      *Please provide Scripture for where we are to do this as the church.

      //let us focus upon how we can love God and neighbor uniquely in these trying times.// Agreed.

      *Well at least we agree on something 😉

      P.S. I also found this helpful – https://firstliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Guidance-for-Churches-and-Religious-Institutions-3-20v.32.pdf

      P.P.S. While I look forward to your responses, I will not respond beyond what I have written above; I simply do not have the bandwidth at this time. Therefore, I will let you have the final word.

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