Why Christian churches won’t close down during the covid-19 virus crisis, even if the state commands them to obey

As a Pastor, I’m deeply encouraged and strengthened by the witness our congregation has shown during the present crisis. Wisdom and care, all with good spirit and hope.

With that in mind, we are going to be as careful as possible with the health and well being of our people and the community. We have children and adult members with special health considerations.

All of the church’s special events have been postponed. This includes the Nursery Baby Shower, the Talent Show, the launch of the Trail Life scouting group; if it’s a special event, assume we’ve postponed it until we’re sure we can do so safely.

As for regular ministries, Kirby Pines Retirement Home ministry, Wednesday morning men’s Breakfast and Bible, Wednesday Evening Fellowship, American Heritage Girls, Thursday Homeschool Southaven, the Thursday Evening Bible Study, Choir practice and the Women’s Bible Study, let’s postpone until future notice. Hopefully in a few weeks we will all be back to normal.

Here’s something some of you might find unusual.

Churches don’t close.

Not for fires, floods or killer bees. Not for wars or rumors of wars. Not for famines and not for plagues. This is a very rich and deep part of the history of the Christian Church and when you think about it, makes a lot of sense.

Where do people go when there is terror all around and they are in need of peace and comfort?

The Church.

Where does the community come together for food, resources and other care when the usual sources fail?

The Church.

What institution must people be able to count on when all others fail?

The Church.

Churches do not “close” because we are the hope of last resort. We are the line in the sand in regard to the suffering of this present world. We are that which continues when all other worldly honors cease.

The Church is not an institution only for when things are good and everyone is happy; we are the meeting place of the people with God when things come crashing down.

It is perhaps more important that we keep the lights on now than at any other time.

We must not fail.

Also, everything else might cease but the worship service may not cease.

From the resurrection of Christ till the end of the world, sunshine and rain, winter and harvest, war and peace, the worship of the Lord our God must continue. Sometimes it will be easy, sometimes it will be hard but we will struggle on.

If you’re wondering, we want you to exercise judicious judgment and care for the safety of your selves and your families. Staying home is considered by the session to be a sound and reasonable judgment under the circumstances. Please avail yourself of the worship provided online and family worship in your homes, as the worship of the Lord our God is a joy and a privilege but in some ways a duty.

Please remember though, there is a strong current in the Christian tradition of seeing personal attendance in the worship service, especially on the Lord’s Day, as a duty. In other words, some people have a conviction that they attend and it is a matter of their conscience before God. Scripture itself tells us that we must always be very slow to coerce another person’s conscience. To act against conscience is neither right nor safe. So, for those that are convinced that it is their moral duty to attend the service in person on Sunday, we will have a service for you. We should not try to convince these folks to temper their conviction to the popular will. Each of us is accountable to a higher authority.

There are biblical exceptions. The Bible had no problem with excluding for a time, from corporate worship those suffering from a known disease. It happened that if a person had symptomology consistent with a communicable disease the Pastors did in good conscience ask that person to stay home. So if you have reason to think you’re coming down with something, stay home and rest, get better and come back soon.

Further, we understand the requests of the state in regard to businesses and personal decision making – but the church is neither of those. A church is not just a business where we do churchy things. It’s true that we have a business licence from the state and it isn’t a sin to comply with that request but that doesn’t mean that they can’t ask us to do something that is beyond their authority. Actions that are perfectly reasonable in regard to a restaurant or a bar can’t be evenly applied to a church simply because they are both gatherings of people. That similarity is not sufficient.

The Christian has Christ and the Holy Spirit and so can worship anywhere, at any time. We “pray without ceasing”’ but we also set aside certain places as “holy” and set apart for the special manifestation of worship. Moses had the Tent of Meeting, Israel had the Temple and we have Graceview. This is not Jerusalem of old but that doesn’t mean that this particular place is not set apart by blessing to the corporate worship of the people of God. Buildings matter, and where worship is to be performed (once it has been decided and ordained by the church) is a rule to be followed. It is a law for us. That doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It isn’t an unchangeable kind of law like the Ten Commandments but it is a rule that makes many of the greater laws easier to keep. It is not a perpetual command; we can change the time, the place, the music, the colors, the doors and the floors – but we can’t change the content.

Do we really want to be the first generation in 2000 years to cancel all the worship services?

There are very good reasons the state does not have jurisdiction over the church and our immunity to their commands goes to the peculiar role of the church in the world. We do have our own government independent of the state. Our elected representatives are also wise and will make the best possible decisions for the well being of the people. We will, of course, include in our analysis some issues that might not be of great concern to the state. That too is why the state is barred from making laws in regard to the faith and practice of the church. Their job is to protect the church but they are limited by God and mere human law in the expression of their authority.

You can watch online through Facebook or Youtube, we have both. (let us know if you have trouble getting on there and we will help you)

You can call me on the phone and we can talk. As you know that conversation will become an opportunity for me to start preaching at you pretty soon anyway.

All Pastoral Counseling appointments will continue as usual unless you call to cancel.

The church will be open every day for prayer and praise until the resolution of the current crisis.

In all of these things let us seek Christ and a Christian understanding of the times and their stress and strain upon the nation. This is a crisis but as all of them are, also an opportunity. Hard times will pass but the church of Jesus Christ will never pass. We are forever.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Pastor Chris
Graceview Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Southaven, Mississippi

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