This past week two churches—one in Louisiana and the other in Florida—were in the news because they defied federal and local health guidelines to practice social distancing and help curb the spread of the Coronavirus.
The pastor of the church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana summed up their position by telling a news outlet in March that the coronavirus was “not a concern…The virus, we believe, is politically motivated…We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says…We will exercise our constitutional right to assemble.”
These are not the only churches doing this. And part of the equation, for some, comes down to this: “Who are we going to trust, God or men?” Some have even led with scripture verses as their justification to gather in worship.
While I admire courageous leaders, I cringe at bad leadership. Is it simply a matter of church vs. state, or faith vs. cowardice? And how do followers of Christ deal with this “new normal” while we work through this pandemic?
We know that there have been times throughout history that countries have outlawed Christianity. But that’s not true of our time, here in the United States. In Washington state, where we are located, Governor Inslee updated his “no physical meetings” rule with an exception for media crews and staff (as “essential services”) to meet at churches to provide an online service experience for church members, while we collectively work to flatten the curve of infection.
So, instead of positioning this as a church vs. state, or a question of faith, the better question is “How would Jesus respond to this to-meet-or-not-to-meet dilemma?” The good news is that we don’t have to guess; he gives us a very clear example.
Just before Jesus started his ministry, he fasted 40 days in the desert. At the end of this time, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that he was tempted by Satan. While there were several ways he was tempted, Luke describes the final temptation:
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”Luke 4:9–11
So, Satan calls Jesus’ faith into question: “Do you have enough faith to do this, Jesus? Are you going to trust God or not?” And the fact that Satan did this in Jerusalem—the City of the great King—carried with it certain “constitutional” privileges as Messiah. This was, by rights, Jesus’ city.
But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. This is genius:
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.”Luke 4:12
Jesus had every right to take that step. But it wasn’t a lack of faith, or a lack of courage. If Jesus had jumped off, he’d be saying “God, I’m intentionally putting myself in harm’s way…now you need to keep me safe.”
Jesus called it testing God. So rather than putting himself in harm’s way, Jesus wisely declined Satan’s offer to “prove” his faith. He didn’t presume on God but chose wisdom.
According to Jesus, putting ourselves in harm’s way and expecting God to keep us safe isn’t faith, it’s folly—it’s not courageous, it’s presumptuous (the result of pride).
Meeting together is essential to spiritual growth (Hebrews 10:24-25) , and today we have so many more creative ways to meet, that there is no need to “put God to the test” by putting ourselves—or others—in harm’s way during this pandemic. Recently we’ve had a great time live-streaming our services on Facebook as well as utilizing Youtube.
In fact, there are a whole list of platforms to meet with others to pray, discuss and worship. A few of them include: GoToMeeting, Hangouts(by Google), Skype, Zoom (Note: The free version of Zoom may only allow 40-minute sessions) and Webex. Simply create a free online account through one of these video conferencing platforms, and you’re on your way.
What other creative ways/platforms are you using to meet with during this time of social-distancing? Share it below and let’s share the wealth!