We are commanded to meet.
“… not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)
A church by definition gathers.
The Christian church is a dignified, governed, regularly gathered assembly.
Zoom is a shadow, not the substance of this.
Churches are singular units.
Churches are singular units and have a responsibility to substantially meet as singular units. Meeting only as small groups of less than 10, for example, does not fulfill the gathering responsibilities of a larger church.
We need to get close enough for the “one anothers”.
Various commands in the New Testament that are impossible to obey without gathering, e.g. practicing the Lord’s Supper and exchanging affectionate greetings of touch.
Every believer has a responsibility to relationally connect such that the “one another” commands of the New Testament are obeyed, including extending forgiveness and forbearance. If you’re not close enough to need to forgive people in your church, you’re not close enough to people in your church.
Earnest, up-front obedience was appropriate.
“The magistrate has genuine authority in times of emergency to command the church to do certain things, or refrain from certain things (as with a quarantine in a time of plague). When the church complies, it is obedience, not happenstance agreement.” (Douglas Wilson)
“As a general law of neutral applicability, a quarantine at times interferes incidentally with the worship of God. This incidental interference in itself does not necessarily exceed the civil sphere’s authority as long as it is understood to be temporary and localized, lasting no longer and extending no farther than the conditions that gave rise to it… It is hoped that [church leadership] exercised submission to the civil authority, modeling it for the sheep, when the crisis was in its early stages and no one knew the degree to which a clear and present danger existed.” (Evangelical Presbytery)
Corrupt government exceeds its God-given authority.
“At the same time, because no human authority is absolute, and because every form of human authority can be corrupted, those under authority, including the church (and especially the church), have the authority to identify when the genuine authority of the magistrate is being abused or mishandled to the point where it is now legitimate to disregard what they are saying.” (Douglas Wilson)
“Yet, through a protracted, extensive, and comprehensive quarantine whose sway over the lives of the people is nearly absolute, the civil sphere does exceed its authority. When a sphere exceeds its authority and acts ultra vires, its acts are void. Even for acts that are void from the beginning or become void over time, familial and ecclesiastical spheres must approach the proper response thereto through prayer, wisdom, humility, and honor, if not exact obedience, to the civil sphere.” (Evangelical Presbytery)
Churches have authority to govern their domain.
Like fathers over families, elders over churches have final administrative say over the domain and regular life of a church fellowship. While there may be temporary, incidental overlap or interference between the domain of civil government and the domain of church, it is to be treated as short-lived, limited, quickly expiring, and dangerously open to abuse. Elders have a responsibility to decide when such inordinate or prolonged interference has occurred. And they have the authority to decide what is best for the spiritual health of their gathered people.
Elders must practice wisdom.
Elders have a responsibility to take everything into account when deciding when they must practice peaceful civil obedience in meeting as a church:
- Whether they are being prohibited, even incidentally, from obeying what God commands.
- Local infection and fatality rate.
- The point at which the gathering is being sinfully and treacherously neglected.
- Whether the laws are genuinely held and neutrally applied by leadership.
- Whether the government is overreaching its God-ordained limits of responsibility.
Is going to church selfish during a pandemic?
An excellent article summarized:
- Everyone is morally obligated to worship the living God at church:
“Going to church is not a private, personal habit that some people enjoy, but others don’t. It is a moral duty binding on everyone. Everyone in Britain is morally obligated to worship the living God at church, just as they are obligated not to steal from shops, and to tell the truth… We understand how going to church in a pandemic could look selfish to a secular society, which sees religion as a bunch of private, personal beliefs.”
- Churches are essential services:
“The closest equivalent to church is not education, or politics, or the economy, but the supermarkets, and the hospitals, which we were all quite clear were “essential services”. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3).
- The risk of not worshipping is greater than COVID:
“The Christian church believes that the risks to our nation of not worshipping the living God through his Son Jesus Christ far outweigh the risks presented by COVID…”
- It is especially appropriate to go to church in a time of crisis:
“This is precisely the time to explain that Jesus Christ isn’t just an invisible friend or buddy, or “life-force”. He is God the Son, who has entered history, become man, was crucified, buried, and has risen. He is the Lord of all and he is coming back to hold us all to account. So, in a challenging time, with serious public health risks, getting along to church isn’t a self-indulgent habit that sacrifices my neighbour’s safety. It is an act of love for God, and love for neighbour, of the highest importance.”