A few days ago, our government made an announcement and immediately a new phrase was indelibly engraved into the annals of our country’s history. “Social distancing” was born. As we are known to do, pastors reacted and overreacted to the notion of the government issuing edicts that prohibited the “free exercise” of our religious faith. I understand the concern, since governments typically want to control our lives, but is the COVID-19 quarantine really an attempt to target churches?
Additionally, I have seen some pastors make the issue of complying with instructions to limit gatherings to less than 50, 25, and 10 people as a litmus test for being a true church and a true believer. Is this Biblical, reasonable, and healthy?
Finally, I have seen good pastors who love their people struggle to reluctantly comply with the recommendation to suspend services. As a result, they have pursued other remarkably creative ways to minister to their congregation. Is this Biblical, reasonable, and healthy?
1. Is the COVID-19 Quarantine an Attempt to Shutdown Churches?
I don’t think so, and here’s why:
The quarantine does not only apply to churches. It has been applied to public schools, universities, entertainment venues, professional sports, and all public gatherings of a certain size. If the government were targeting churches and religious groups, then why is every other social gathering affected also? Perhaps we should suspend our political paranoia for a few weeks and try to understand that our government is actually getting this thing right.
2. Is it Biblical to Make Church Attendance a Litmus Test During a Viral Quarantine?
No, it is not. All a believer has to do is go back and read the Old Testament—especially Leviticus. Yes, read that book…the boring recitation of purification and ritual laws that we merely skim when reading the “whole” Bible. As believers we understand that Leviticus and its contents are as much God’s will and inspired Scripture as John 3:16 and the Romans Road! Yet Leviticus contains mandates and procedures for quarantining people who contracted diseases so as not to spread them uncontrollably through the Jewish social group. The diseased were put out of the camp. When cured, they were required to be inspected by the priest and formally declared disease free. Being outside the camp, meant they were also not permitted to participate in the feasts and festivals intended as public worship of God. Viral quarantines were originally God’s idea!
Yet I see many James Dean pastors rebuking the demons of a virus and declaring God has given them power over the disease so that all people who enter their church are safe. Then these “rebel-without-a-cause” bishops declare that their church is more genuine than those who complied with the quarantine. They disparage and doubt the faith of anyone who does not attend because they are complying with a reasonable quarantine. While not comfortable or ideal, it is both reasonable and biblical to choose to comply with the government’s recommendation to practice social distancing.
3. Is it Biblical and “Right” to Comply with the Quarantine?
Yes, it is. Let me tell you something about pastors—they love people, they love meeting as a church, and they hate making these catch-22 decisions. The decision to suspend worship gatherings is probably the most excruciating ecclesiastical decision pastors have had to make in the past 50 years. If they ignore the government’s recommendation and meet, they put their people at risk. If they comply, then they face criticism and false guilt from the unreasonable minority who really don’t understand what is involved in leading people.
The closest pastors get to making similar decisions, is when they have to cancel for weather. Over the past 23 years I have had to decide about suspending services due to ice, snow, tornados, and hurricanes. Most of the time they are forecasted, and the decision has to be made hours and sometimes days in advance. Numerous times I suspended a service because of a 80% forecast of snow and ice only to have it melt off or not even show up right before the service! Then it happens…some armchair leader ridicules you for suspending services “for no reason at all”!
In one case, I refused to suspend services for snow. I held church on a Sunday morning right after a foot of snow fell on our town. It was 2 degrees outside, but “Bless God” we were going to meet! I was (rightfully) criticized for that decision. If you are a pastor or church member, remember, you can only make a decision with the information you have at that moment. Pastors are not fortunetellers, but they are generally reasonable people—trust their decisions. Remember, hindsight is 20/20 and second-guessing good leaders is not healthy for anyone—it only leads to division.
Finally, I am proud of my Christian comrades. Pastors are scrambling to provide alternate video solutions for their churches. They are holding church outside and using drive-in theaters. They are swapping large exciting gatherings for smaller intimate settings. They are being creative problem-solvers who are providing rational and reasonable solutions when secular leaders are losing their heads. They are doing all of this while also maintaining the integrity of the character and the purity of their doctrine.
My advice? Listen to your pastor, look for ways to help the church minister, and enjoy the time with your family. Trust God, and—by all means—wash your hands!
© Charles D. T. Miller, 2020