The Church, Covid-19 and the Government: An Unnatural Combination
Is the church sinning by not gathering together for worship on Sunday morning? Is this a time for civil disobedience? Isn’t worshiping together important?
Worship is ultimately why we exist. If you don’t like worshiping God now then you won’t like heaven. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. The highpoint of our week, of each day, is when we get to humbly bow before our Maker and Savior and pour out praise and adoration before Him. We were made to worship and so yes, worship is extremely important.
Not only were we made to worship, but we were made to worship together, in community, as a body of believers. The body of Christ must function together. We don’t function in isolation. Even part of our sanctification takes place in community. It’s much easier being a good Christian when I’m sitting behind my bible, but that dynamic changes when I’m with other people and my sin rubs up against their sin. God uses community to help us grow and to encourage us. This is what Hebrews 10:24-26 is getting at when it says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.” Did you notice that the author repeated says, “let us.” There is a corporate aspect to our faith. So if gathering together, worshiping together, is so important, so necessary, are we sinning by not gathering together?
The short answer is no. There are two key words in this verse that help us wrestle with it’s application: “neglect” and “habit.” When the ESV translates the greek word ἐγκαταλείπω into “neglect” the word literally means to “forsake, abandon, desert.” It’s not missing a few worship services. It’s turning your back on the body of Christ. It’s a much stronger word than simply missing a few Sundays because of the coronavirus. There is sinful motivation behind the person who “neglects” or “forsakes” meeting together with the body of Christ. A refusal to meet is at the heart of the meaning in Hebrews 10:25. The second word is habit. This is something more than just missing a few weeks or months of worship. This is a purposeful pattern and willful decision that turns into a custom or practice that becomes normal. Although our time away from one another in person might drag on for several weeks or months (I pray it won’t), our goal is that is would not become a habit. As we worship during the coronavirus quarantine it is neither “neglect” or “habit” as we long to be together. Our goal is that when this is through we will gather together again with joy.
So the final question is, “Does the civil government telling us we can’t worship together call for civil disobedience?” Now make sure you hear me clearly: absolutely not! If the government was just telling churches not to meet as a way to persecute the church or squash worship then this would be a different conversation. As it stands the government is telling everyone (religious and secular) not to gather together for the safety and well-being of our people. God’s Word tells us in Romans 13:1-3 says, "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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.” Paul makes several points: God has appointed these rules over us (if we like them or not), if we disobey the authorities God has placed over us there will be consequences, and God has placed authorities over us for our good. Only in times when the civil government calls us to do something that is different from God’s revealed will do we follow God above our civil authorities. In the case of the coronavirus quarantine the government is acting in the best interest of both our people and the people of the city. They are not contradicting God or His Word but doing what is best for our safety and longterm health. The government is acting for our good and not making this decision out of contempt for God or His people.
So as we continue to worship in our homes over the computer, let us pray for our government that God would give them wisdom, that He would protect the church and the city both physically and financially, that God would use this virus to bring people to Himself, that He would bring an end to this virus so that God’s people might live in freedom to worship and gather together "to stir one another to love and good works…encouraging one another.” In the midst of quarantine the Lord has blessed us with technology through which we can continue to check-in on one anther, encourage one another and stir one another to love and good works. May God’s church continue to worship, serve one another and share the gospel even in the midst of Covid-19.
Your Brother in Christ,
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