Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Serving an Extraordinary God in Exraordinary Circumstances

As a result of the president's 15 day guideline (announced this past Monday), many pastors are choosing to comply with the "no group gatherings of 10 or more individuals" standard. This is quite new to all of us. It is especially new to me over the span of my own pastoral ministry. These matters should not be taken lightly and so I wanted to share a few relevant thoughts on the subject:
1. Some have asserted that a temporary cessation of church meetings is a violation of Hebrews 10:24-25, but this is a misapplication of the text. Clearly, the author of Hebrews was dealing with a persecuted church. Assembling in the name of Christ was potentially dangerous, not because of some unseen contagion, but because of the growing persecution of Christ's disciples.

2. Others have suggested that Romans 13:1-7 relates to this situation, rather than Hebrews 10:24-25, in view of its call to submit to governing authorities. I agree on the applicability of this text, even though there is no specific "law" established regarding the president's "15 day guideline."

3. While Romans 13:1-7 gives us an important reminder regarding our need to honor those who serve in governing authority, there are also important considerations to observe regarding our neighbors. I invite the reader to consider the texts of Romans 13:8-10 and Philippians 2:3. In Romans 13:8-10, Paul heralds the supremacy of the law of love, reminding us that "love does no wrong to a neighbor," and in Phil. 2:3 he says, "...with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself." Why might these texts apply to our present situation? I believe that these texts apply seeing that this particular coronavirus appears to be uniquely pernicious because those who carry it may not know that they are infected at all – for several days. This, it is believed, accounts for what is a much higher transmission rate than other known viruses. Because of this, the risks posed by this particular contagion bring to mind that there is more to consider than just submission to governing authority: there is the consideration of our neighbor and his/her well-being. Overall, a person who feels quite healthy at present may inadvertently infect others unintentionally. Though unintentional, it would still result in a measure of harm done to another, and for some it may result in their death. This consideration extends not just to the frail and elderly, but also to children.
Whatever purpose God is serving in these recent events, we can be sure that His Providence is always good, because He is good. And though these special circumstances of late seem quite strange, we can be sure that God’s calling for His church remains intact. Special circumstances cannot overrule the normative government established by God’s word: We are commanded to partake in the corporate fellowship of the saints, as far as we are able, but there will be times when we are prevented from doing so. Such special circumstances do not eliminate God's commands. John, exiled on the island of Patmos, was for a time prevented from assembling with the corporate body of Christ. The Apostle Paul, while imprisoned, asked for prayer for his deliverance (Phil 1:19) while longing to be rejoined with the brethren (Phil 1:26). In submission to God's Providence, the Apostle utilized his special circumstances in order to advance the Gospel (Phil 1:12-14) and fellowship with those who visited him in jail. My last absence from church occurred because I was in a hospital bed recovering from lung surgery. Brethren visited me, and I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with others, but (trust me when I say it) I do not advocate this as normative for God's people. Once I was released from the hospital, I was very thankful to return to the assembly of all the saints. Within God’s providence, extraordinary events may prevent us from pursuing that which is the normative calling of God’s people – that’s why we call such events “extraordinary.”

Dear reader, please know that what I have supplied in this article is a frail man's best effort to comprehend and apply the Scriptures amidst a rather perplexing time. I have no desire to vilify those who may take a differing view. Above all other considerations, let us remember that, though our times are extraordinary, we serve an extraordinary God of infinite magnitude.