Coronavirus and Skipping Church: A Pastor’s View
The coronavirus has zapped our hearts with fear. Now, it has pressed out the bounds of our theology convictions. What seemed unthinkable a few days ago has become the new norm. For the first time since the Spanish flu, scores of churches around the nation have closed their doors, hoping to protect their members and their communities from the coronavirus.
Western Christians now must decided if such precautions stem from wisdom or from fear. We do not want to dishonor the faith conquered the globe through the tortures of the arena, through the caring of black death victims, and through the suffering of the mission field. But at the same time, we also readily canceling church because of snowstorms, tornado’s, or the lack of natural resources caused by power or water outages. How do we make sense of the Coronavirus and the need to either cancel service or restrict our attendance at said services?
Below are the four principles guiding my approach the Coronavirus. I hope they help you find biblical clarity.
1. We should avoid the tendency towards fear. We should not flee a service because we fear death and we should not run into a service because we fear that others will think us a wimp who has undone more than a thousand years of church history. Paul’s words to Timothy need to ring in our ears today: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Our first concern should not be what our neighbors or even history will one day say of us. Our concern should solely be the words of God. Any action not based in the Scriptures is the wrong action.
Moreover as my dear wife reminded me, we should not fear this virus, for our God rules over the pestilence. He sends viruses as judgement, reminding humanity that God cherishes goodness and love (Ezek 38:22; Jer 24:10; Amos 4:1). Because God reigns over the plague, his people should they take their fears to God because he will protect them. Psalm 91:3-6 declares:
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
When tempted to fear, we must nestles our souls into the comforting wings of God, crying out to him for forgiveness, mercy, protection and healing, knowing he is gracious. He will hear our cries and do good for us today and hold us securely in heaven tomorrow. The Bible speaks to pandemics. We should listen and heed its directions.
2. We should heed the counsel of our government authorities. Romans 13:1 “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.” Unless we work in for the CDC, the department of health, or one of the institutions charged with overseeing the fight against the coronavirus, we should not flaunt the authority of the government, thinking we know better. We do not know better. We are not the health experts who have spent large portions of our lives fighting diseases and germs. We are the Monday morning quarterbacks depending on second information delivered by unverified sources. Tim Nichols helpful concludes,
No one is arguing, however, that experts can’t be wrong…Rather, the point is they are less likely to be wrong than nonexperts.
Christian humility demands that we admit the limits of our responsibilities and knowledge. Moreover, God has not charged us or our churches with governing the nation. We need to trust God to rule through our government, heeding their advice as long as it does not contradict Scripture. I am thankful for how McLean Bible Church, Grace Community Church, and Capital Hill Baptist Church have model submission to the government authorities.
3. We need to be motivated by a love for our faith family and for our community. To be hospitable is to be a lover of one’s community. When we come together, we must determine if our presence or if the gospel is causing social unrest. If men and women are opposed to the presence of the gospel, we should meet and risk persecution, imprisonment, and death. But if men and women are opposed to our presence because we have become either knowingly or unknowingly a biological weapon that could kill them, we should head their concern and avoid infecting them. At this point, our neighbors are not opposed to our faith. They are apposed to us harming them.
Moreover, the missionary, Jim Elliot, refused to use a gun to defend himself because he did not want to send an unbeliever to hell. We should follow his example and not allow our germs to unnecessarily condemn either believers or unbelievers to death. The famed sixteenth century Theologian, Martin Luther, concurs. He writes,
I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.
I have cancelled more than one outreach event at my home because a family member has become a roving, puking machine; I did not want to pass along both the gospel and the flu. To care for others well, we must listen to Paul who says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We must ask ourselves if we are furthering the well-being of others and furthering the spread of the kingdom when we host services and come to church during these trying times. If our physical presence distracts from the gospel and threatens credible harm to others, we should cancel our services and refrain from attending church. The command to worship together should be pitted against God’s command to love one’s neighbors.
4. Lastly, we should seek to love others. Though, we may have to skip church, we do not have to forsake the body of Christ and loving our neighbors. As believers, we should stand ready to help the sick, to care for displaced students, and to assist those who lost their jobs. We may not assemble in churches but we can love small expressions of the church. In the days ahead, the church will have unprecedented opportunities to love the body of Christ and to love their communities. Luther’s heart again should ring true of us today,
If my neighbor needs however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.
What theological principles are guiding your decision about whether or not to host or attend services?