California Pastors, pray about being defiant to the stay-at-home order.
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My dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have the divine calling to shepherd a church in the state of California,
As a fellow California pastor, I understand the desire to meet with your congregation again. These are people you have personally invested time, study, prayer, and fellowship into and they are your dear flock. I miss my church family tremendously. I long to hug each one and share the love of Christ with them once again face to face. I am sure you can relate.
Because I love them and want to keep them safe, I refrain from these meetings, knowing in the long run, our reuniting on Earth will be all the sweeter because we will have made it through this struggle. I do this for two reasons.
The first is that I love them and would not be able to bear the weight of guilt I would be burdened with if I stubbornly ignored medical professionals and their recommendations of refraining from large gatherings and gathered, only to have my parishioners fall ill to COVID19. I look at the example of Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Georgia. They reopened on April 26 and two weeks later had to close their doors because several of their families contracted the virus at the church services. They followed best practices in social distancing. It was not enough. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/georgia-church-closes-two-weeks-after-reopening-as-families-come-down-with-coronavirus-236899/
This is not a single occurrence. Two days after Catoosa Baptist closed their doors, Holy Ghost Parish in Houston, Texas did the same thing after several of the church leaders tested positive for Coronavirus and one may have died of COVID-19 related pneumonia. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-church-cancels-masses-death-priest-possibly-coronavirus/story?id=70748522 Pastors, while meeting together is a commandment, we are blessed to live in a society with the technology to fellowship together across a distance for the sake of our flocks. As the author of Hebrews extols us, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” Hebrews 10:24-25.
I am spurring you on to being loving and to good deeds. We have all struggled with how to connect with our flocks during this time, but the Church continues to function outside of our buildings. We have preached for years that the Church of Christ, His beautiful bride, is not a building, but a people. Let us look how we can love our flocks better during this time. It is not by being defiant but by showing grace to our neighbors. It is being the servant of all. It is by denying ourselves, our religious liberties, our American rights, by taking up our cross, and following Christ.
The second reason I refrain from gathering in our church building is because our duly elected government official has issued an executive order outlawing such gatherings. While this may be unconstitutional, is there reason to disobey the order Biblically? If it is unconstitutional, we have recourse with the courts to remedy that wrong. That is not our problem here. Our problem is whether we can use scripture to disobey this governmental order.
We know that Peter and John disobeyed the government officials in Acts 4. Here, we see them before the Sanhedrin for healing and preaching Jesus resurrected. The Sanhedrin ordered Peter and John to cease preaching Jesus. This was a direct violation of the commandment of Jesus they should go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Peter and John answered them, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard,” Acts 4:19-20.
Is this kind of defiance justified here that we should defy the executive order because it goes against the commandments of Christ or the law of God? We need to look at Romans 13. This is a passage that is used by Christians to say that we should listen to our governing authorities when they agree with the Christian’s personal views. In contrast, Paul wrote this in the midst of the totalitarian Roman government. Romans 13:1-4 says,
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
First, let us look at what Paul says about the function of government. In verse 4, he says that the authorities are God’s servant for good. They are supposed to look out for the health and welfare of the governed. By ordering a stay-at-home order, the government is doing exactly what Paul says their duty is – to look out for our good. You may disagree if it is truly for our good, but the motivation behind the order is to save people’s lives. Again, this is not about the constitutionality of such an order but whether we have Biblical grounds for defiance.
If the government is looking out for our good, it would follow that we should be obedient. There is no conflict between the government order and Biblical principle, as Peter and John had. So what does Paul say about defying the authorities in this case? Verse 2 tells us that if we rebel against the authority God established, we are rebelling against God Himself. I can think of no other time where the judgement of God on such rebellion is so clearly defined as it is right now. If we rebel, people will get sick. People may die.
If you are currently planning on opening on May 31 for Pentecost in defiance to the governor’s orders because it is your God-given right as an American to do so, you may need to check your heart. This is the sin of rebellion. You are leading your flock in the ways of patriotism and Americanism when we are called to a higher kingdom where the laws are love God and love your neighbor. We are not eschewing meeting together – we are using technology to meet in a different way. We do this because we love our neighbor. We love our elderly neighbor. We love our immunocompromised neighbor. We love our diabetic neighbor.
If you are going to press on because you have the right to do so as an American, which kingdom are you representing? My dear fellow pastors, don’t march into sin boldly because you have the right to do so. Your freedom as an American pales in comparison with your freedom in Christ. In Christ, we have the freedom to love. We have the freedom to be a family at a distance as the Church is worldwide, but God binds us all with the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for my American freedoms and am proud to have served in our Armed Forces, but American freedom does not have the power to change hearts and souls to come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not give up your testimony of a people who loves the lost because you do not like the current state of ministry. We will do far more harm to our witness if we defy our leaders sinfully than any benefit of gathering in person.
I love you and pray for unity in the church. It is in our unity that Jesus says we will change the world.
The Church Which Meets in the House of the Escarzagas
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