My Feeling about Church Closures

To the Clergy in Hiding,

We are writing to you to express our concerns about the church’s unwillingness to hold any kinds of services or gatherings because of fear.

Embedded in both the history of the Christian Church and our country is the need, dare we say imperative, to meet.

As believers, if there is a crisis in our society then the best place that God’s people can be is in the Church. I’ve never heard of shepherds scattering their sheep as a strategy to protect them from the devil, the flesh, or the world. If you truly believe that Covid-19 rises to the level of an existential threat to our society then we should be before the throne of God begging for mercy not hiding in our homes waiting for the end.

Our country is based on a Constitution that holds freedom of worship and assembly in very high regard. From both a biblical and Constitutional point of view, giving up this right at the request of a civil magistrate is a dubious proposition; one which may be beyond the authority of a civil magistrate to either legally request or enforce; unless you believe that the Church is established and recognized by the State and not by God.

While I do know that certain Reformers did allow in dire situations for churches to be closed or not to meet such as war and pestilence, this was regarded as an extreme measure that might be invoked occasionally in a handful of communities. The idea that such an action could disband all worship in a land of almost 40 million souls or a country of 330 million would be incomprehensible to them.

Several weeks ago, when predictions were most dire and fear was at a high mark, most Churches did decide to suspend all activities. Whether we agree with this or not, it was done.

Later word went out that some Church leaders was considering small group gatherings where worship and Communion would be offered. As the appointed time drew near, the pastoral staff cancelled the proposal. I’m bringing this up because recently I heard clergy say that cancelling any small gatherings was the right call. One minister commented I couldn’t live with myself if I knew that someone had gotten sick as a result of gathering to worship in my congregation.

We cringed when we heard that. First, one could never know if anybody got sick from them in the first place. Covid-19 is the flu not Ebola. It takes up to two weeks to get the illness after exposure. Second, most people never even know they have the illness. Third, where is God in this. Some clergy were considering offering His Sacrament to His people and planning to take extreme precautions to boot but most bailed on the idea altogether.

Dear pastors, the only place the Bible talks about people getting sick from partaking of Communion is when they do so unworthily. A medical doctor one told us that even with a common cup, the transmittal of disease was almost unheard of in medical literature, if the common cup was lined with silver. I would think individual disposable cups would be even more sterile.

Next is the issue of “essential” or “nonessential” work. I was taught long ago that all labor—sacred or secular—is God’s calling on our lives. How does it feel to know that the civil authorities that you are allowing to direct the closure of your church are also calling your ministry “nonessential” and instruct you to remain closed indefinitely but these same magistrates call killing babies at the local Planned Parenthood “essential” work.

Staying home for the sake of “flattening the curve” is not about saving lives or preventing people from being exposed to Covid-19. Flattening the curve is just prolonging the infectious period so the healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed. Something which has not happened. Furthermore, many people that work in the healthcare field have lost their jobs or been furloughed as a result of the panic about Covid-19.

If you listen closely to what the civil authorities in California are saying, you’d learn that the church will be shut down for most if not all of the summer. The idea that come May 15th, we all go back to the way it was is not going to happen. In southern California, they have already cancelled large gatherings, like church, for the rest of the year, regardless of whether this action is warranted or not.

If you want to obey the spirit of the closure and still get the church back up and running, then you need to get the entire staff tested for Covid-19 antibodies and then put people to work. Start opening the church and quit waiting for permission.

Depending on which studies you look at, and where they were done, many millions of people in the United States have already recovered from the Corona virus. Given the timeline that this illness has been active in California and your occupation, you likely had it several months ago anyway.

The point is that folks get it, they recover, and life goes on. Which circles back to the fear issue again. We’ve heard a lot from scared and fearful people in our congregations. Sadly, most pastors are right there with them. We, as Christians, are commanded not to fear but to hold fast to Christ. For God has not given us a spirit of fear…

Dear pastor, who lives and who dies is God’s decision and always has been. When your time is up, it won’t matter if you wear a face mask and gloves or nothing at all.

How is it that in ages past great men and women left the comfort of their homes and went to work with the sickly and diseased. We as Christians should not fear men or microbes but only almighty God. Whether David Livingston, Mother Teresa, Eric Liddell, or any of the rest, these folks trusted God for their safety and went about his work. I don’t understand why American pastors can’t do likewise.

Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

It just seems to us that we can stand for Christ, worship our God as he has commanded, and still show deference and respect to the elderly and at risk in our midst.