Cancel church? We could never cancel church. We’ll do whatever it takes, but we won’t cancel church.
That was my mindset going into Sunday Morning. By the time I left the building around 1 p.m., though, I was already feeling less sure of myself.
We had just gone over the Third Commandment with the confirmation students. Luther’s explanation ran in my head: “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Worship is part of the fiber of a Christian’s being. Worship is our purpose. How could we cancel worship?
Firmly placed in my vault of memory treasures is Hebrews 10:25 – “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Cancel church? We could never.
But tonight, I’m entirely convinced: in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the correct move is, in fact, to cancel church.
Here are the reasons why.
We’re canceling church NOT because we despise preaching and his Word. (3rd Commandment)
I feel like this could use further clarification. The truths I stated above are all still true—we ought not give up meeting together; we regard God’s Word as holy and gladly hear and learn it; worship is part of the fiber of our being; worship is our purpose. None of that changes. Corporate worship is still a blessed opportunity that we don’t take for granted. That’s still the case.
While we are going to cancel a few weeks of regular weekly worship, our entire lives are offered to God as living sacrifices to God in a spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). Our local congregation offers us opportunities to gather with brothers and sisters to encourage each other in the Word. We thank God for those opportunities! But for now, other biblical principles are coming into play.
Any church in our fellowship that is canceling services is doing so reluctantly. That includes us.
So, in order to honor this principle, we will still be doing what we can to honor preaching and his Word. Join us at our Facebook page for “simulated” worship on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. I will go through an abbreviated worship service including the assigned readings, a devotion, and prayer. We’ll have time included for people to take advantage of online giving to continue supporting the work of Rock of Ages even in these uncertain times. And I will do my best to provide extra resources for the Family Altar, so we can use this time of social distancing as an opportunity to actually grow closer to the Word.
We’re canceling church out of respect for our government. (4th Commandment)
While we respect a separation of Church and State, we remain citizens of both of those kingdoms. We honor and respect the government as one of God’s representatives he has given to us for our good. And our government, specifically the United States’ Center for Disease Control, has (strongly) recommended that no social gathering exceed ten people.
But doesn’t the Bible say, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)? Yes, it does—but keep in mind the context. When the apostles uttered those words, those in authority over them were trying to silence their proclamation of the gospel. That’s not what’s happening here. The CDC warning is not Christian persecution or a silencing of the church’s message. It’s a warning made in our best interest and physical well-being, a mandate made with the goal of “flattening the curve” of the virus.
I anticipate that the Tennessee government may strengthen their stance on social distancing before the week is through, but I think we already have enough guidance from our leaders to make this call.
We’re canceling church out of love for our neighbors. (5th Commandment)
The goal of “flattening the curve” is to keep each other safe.
This virus spreads fast, and it spreads undetected. People can carry the virus without experiencing any symptoms themselves. Additionally, those who contract it may not exhibit symptoms for days. Even if we’re not careful for ourselves, we owe it to each other to be careful—particularly for those who are most vulnerable to the virus’s effects.
For a novel virus like COVID-19, for which testing is limited and a vaccine is not yet developed or widely available, the best solution is to limit the spread. We can do our part at Rock of Ages to do just that. And thankfully, we live in an age where we can make use of technology to make that physical distancing a lot less emotionally or relationally—or spiritually!—distant. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Let’s test that hypothesis and get creative!
Given the circumstances, I truly think this is the best decision for us. If our church is going to take these measures, I urge you to take such measures for yourselves. Stay in his Word, both with our alternative opportunities and in your personal devotions. Take some time to distance yourselves from others (text me if you would like to learn any good card games to play with your families!). And, of course, pray to the God who has this all under control!
I’ll keep working hard these next few weeks to prepare for Holy Week. I’ll be praying for you, our church, our country, our world. I’m looking forward to seeing what blessings God yields from this. How will God grow and shape us through this ordeal? That remains to be seen, but we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). And yes, “All things” means all things.
God bless you all! See you soon.