I had a few different alternatives for how to title this blog, but I thought that I would go with the most direct. It's not even the topic that I would have liked to address today, but Governor Abbott's statement in his stay at home, it needs to be said.
And, so, now that I have your attention...
Please do not go to church Sunday. And likely, please don't go to church next week. And the week after that.
Doing so would be reckless. It would be dangerous, and potentially life threatening. And in these times, it would be potentially un-Christian.
I know, strong words. But hear me out.
I'm not advocating that people just stop going to church altogether, or that they never go to church. We should definitely not neglect "to meet together, as is the habit of some," as Hebrews warns. But that is warning against a habitual neglect of gathering. Not the purposeful social distancing and seclusion for public safety. With an eventual end, I might add, no matter how bleak it looks now.
What I am advocating is that during this pandemic, during this dangerous time, the most caring and Christian thing we can do is to remember that the Church is not a building, it is not a singular location, or a single grouping of people. The Church is the world wide body of believers. And we do not need to gather physically in order to continue to worship and "meet" together.
I realize that Governor Abbott in his stay at home declaration made an exception for churches to be considered "essential" services. That exception contains an important limitation. "In particular, all services should be provided through remote telework from home unless they are essential services that cannot be provided through remote telework. If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, they should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19." There is no Christian religious worship service that cannot be provided through remote network. We even had communion via the web this week with sacraments we provided, as there is no magic in the particular bread or the particular wine (or grape juice in far too many churches), but in the remembrance. No matter how much we may miss fellowship with other believers, the preaching of the word, the singing of songs, all can be recorded and distributed. It doesn't have to be fancy, or well produced. A pastor recording a message on an iPhone would be completely sufficient.
The exception in that stay at home/disaster declaration is more for the leadership of the church to be able to go to the church building to record the remote services than it is for the body to gather together in this time. That is more explicit in the order up here in Indiana, as it is what the churches requested. It made sure that pastors and worship leaders could continue to use the equipment they already have to continue to record and stream a service. Whether it be a Sunday morning worship service, or a Tuesday evening prayer service.
You can also use the current "remote teleworks" for small groups or Sunday School classes. Have a Zoom meeting or a Google Hangout. They are free and fairly easy to use. They allow you to see everyone together or at least hear them, if they don't have a webcam.
If you cannot web stream your local service, there are plenty of excellent alternatives on television and on radio. There are so many different ways to participate virtually in a worship service, that attending a large gathering of people in a time when it can potentially continue to spread this virulent disease does not meet the exceptions provided.
One of the most encouraging things to develop from this crisis is that I think the Church finally remembers that. Through online worship, through the church being rapidly thrust into technological advancement, we are seeing church services reaching broader and broader populations, unlimited by physical distance. This past Sunday, we took part in worship with our prior church from Wills Point and the church that we will likely attend in Brownsburg, Indiana.
Through this technical advancement, we're even seeing Baptists becoming a little Pentecostal. Watching services via Facebook live, where you can see live feedback during the feed, you see more reactions and comments than you would ever hear in a live service. Hopefully, this is something we can bring back with us when we can resume the physical meeting together.
Now, on why I think going ahead with a physical gathering this weekend and during this time would be un-Christian, Peter gives us a little guidance here. "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a coverup for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." 1 Peter 2:13-17. All of the governmental recommendations, and in many cases, requirements, are to still not have any gatherings larger than 10 people. If we want to stop the spread of this disease, if we want to protect the most vulnerable among us, if we want to silence the ignorance of foolish people, the Church should among the leaders in doing so.
We as Christians should be seen as the most caring in this time. We should be the most physically careful, the most protective of others through our actions, not the most reckless. We should be the ones caring for the general welfare of all those we come in contact with. And in these times, that means making sure we cannot spread this disease any farther. Because it can be transmitted when we are asymptomatic, that means taking extra precautions in having as little extraneous contact as possible.
It should also make us reconsider what we view as essential. What of the churches' activities are irreplaceable, and cannot be virtual. Worship can be virtual. I suspect that those of us wanting to gather Sunday are missing fellowship more than worship itself. For worship can be done alone, it can be done anywhere, it can be accomplished in many forms. And while fellowship is important, it is something we need to be careful with right now, as it is what potentially spreads the disease.
The essential functions of the church that cannot be accomplished virtually in this time are charity, generosity, and service. If you must meet, why not meet in small group shifts to pack care packages for your neighbors, sharing supplies like soap, wipes, sanitizer, and toilet paper. Or meet to bring in funds to share with those who have lost their jobs, to keep their rent and utilities paid. Meet in small groups to help deliver groceries to those who cannot get out because of age or compromised immune systems. Deliver food. If your churches have kitchens, open them up to make daily meals that can be delivered or picked up.
And if your church can do those things, wear masks, wear gloves, wash your hands, and sanitize. And do it in groups less than 10.
Our response during this times says a lot about us as believers and who we are doing this for. If we love God and we love all people, as we are commanded to, then we take this minor inconvenience in meeting together and use it for the best possible good.
I know Easter is coming up and while it makes everyone feel good to have packed churches on Easter, it matters very little in the grand scheme of things, for the quantity of people does not reflect the hearts of the worshipers. The first Easter consisted of a small group of people gathered in a house in hiding. We may not be in hiding, but our Easters may look a lot like that this year. It does not change our reason to worship that Sunday, just our manner.
I know this will likely upset a few people; this whole situation is generally upsetting. But forewarning if you are going to comment, if you come at me with Constitutional arguments, I will quickly dismantle them. I have yet to see an argument centering on the right to assembly that actually understands how our Constitutional rights actually work. And there have been NO issues regarding the free exercise of religion. The two pastors who were arrested for holding services last weekend at their megachurches were not arrested because they were worshipping but because of the number of people gathered in defiance of the local laws. The law doesn't care what you are doing with large groups of people. They could have been all reading from 1984 instead of worshipping, the result would have been the same. There is no free exercise of religion issue there. Regarding the stay at home orders generally, there may be issues regarding the degree of some of these orders, but generally, the stay at home orders are Constitutional. We recognize limits on rights when they interact with public safety concerns.
This is a trying time for all, but please don't make it worse. Don't physically go to church this week, just because you can. Let's care for each other, and decrease the curve and shorten this lock down.
Loving one another right now, means keeping your distance.