Perspective and Plan for Our Worship Gatherings - 5.19.20
Pastor Mitch's perspective on our government's guidelines and our church's plan moving forward
Greetings church family,
I’d like to give you an update on our worship gatherings.
You might be hearing in the news about other churches sending letters to the governor or suing the governor or starting up their worship services in defiance of the Governor’s stay at home order and plan, so I wanted to let you know my perspective on this situation as your pastor. In doing so, I want to be clear that I’m not commenting on the politics of the situation. I’m only commenting on my role as a pastor and the decision to hold worship gatherings or not.
First, I think that cooperating with our government’s efforts is the best way to love our neighbors at this time. I’m no expert on viruses so I’m relying on the CDC and health department to guide me here. And if they are recommending that as a church we need to not hold gatherings or limit gathering sizes and social distance and wear masks to keep the virus from spreading to more people, then as a pastor I’m going to try to follow their advice when it comes to our worship gatherings. I see canceling our worship gatherings as our way of being part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.
Second, I think that cooperating with our government’s efforts is the best way to maintain a credible gospel witness in our community. Our message as a church is about a God who loved sacrificially by giving up something very precious to him - he sent his one and only Son to die for us. Our worship gatherings are something very precious to us. Meeting in person at any time is something very precious to us.
Everyone around us has given up precious gatherings to them: graduations, birthday parties, funerals, weddings, and normal every day gatherings with friends and loved ones.
What does it say to them if we refuse to give up ours? What does it say to them if we they are willing to give up their precious gatherings for the greater good of helping and loving others but we aren’t? That goes against the very message we proclaim. We believe in Jesus who gave up his rights and who sacrificed himself to love others. The very people we want to reach might see us as not caring if they get sick or if people die.
And even if our government ends up being wrong in their approach, we have still stood in unity with everyone around who is giving up gathering. We have not put ourselves above the rules for people to point at us and say, “Who do you guys think you are gathering in big groups when none of us are?"
But someone might still say: “It doesn’t matter if other people will be mad at us, we need to do what God says.” In Acts chapter 5 verse 29, the religious leaders told the apostles to stop telling people about Jesus. But Peter answered them: “We must obey God rather than men.” Is this one of those situations where we need to obey God rather than our government officials?
Here’s a principle for when to disobey the government: when the government forbids what God commands or commands what God forbids. Some see that telling us to not gather possibly forbid what God commands in Scripture where we are told to not forsake gathering to worship him (cf. Hebrews 10:25).
In Scripture, we are commanded multiple times to submit to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Disobeying our governing authorities is an exception to the general command of Scripture. If we are going to disobey our governing authorities, there needs to be a good reason. Right now, our governing authorities are not persecuting us. They are not singling Christians out. We haven’t been asked to not preach the gospel. They are asking people to stay home and not gather with the goal of slowing the spread of a virus for the purpose of preserving life. As a church, I don’t see a reason for us to disobey that request. We want to be on the side of preserving life.
So what does this mean for us moving forward? Late last week, Governor Pritzker said that every region of the state was on track to move into phase 3 of his plan on May 29. So what’s phase 3 of his plan? In phase 2 right now, no non-essential gatherings are allowed. But religious services are considered essential and we are allowed to gather in groups of 10 or less. However, I didn’t want to take advantage of it this month while we were still under the stay at home order because I wanted us to stay above reproach. In phase 3, all gatherings are allowed but they need to be with 10 people or less. In phase 4 of the Governor’s plan, gatherings of 50 people are allowed but phase 3 will last a minimum of 28 days so the earliest we could be in phase 4 is July.
So what does June hold for us as a church? The stay at home order will be over. Hopefully in June we will be in Phase 3 of the Governor’s plan and everyone will be allowed to gather in groups of 10. Since our whole church can’t gather, we will continue to do worship at home guides. But I’d like to open a time for people to come to our house for worship through song outside if the weather permits.
My goal in all of this is to continue living as God’s people on his mission. To do that, we need to love our neighbors and stay true to the gospel. Sometimes, that means disobeying the government. In this case, I really do think it means listening and heeding what the government is asking. I’d invite you to pray for me as I navigate all of this. We are also commanded to pray for our governing authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Thanks for your flexibility as we have walked through this together as a church. Thanks for taking the time to watch this video. I love you all and am praying for you.
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May 19, 2020Perspective and Plan for Our Worship Gatherings - 5.19.20