Monday, March 16, 2020 – We live in a different world today than the one we woke up a month ago. A virus that originated in another country has begun to take hold in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at the time of this writing, there are 1629 known cases in the United States, 41 deaths reported, and the virus has been reported in 47 jurisdictions (46 states and the District of Columbia). Drastic measures are in place in many areas of our country. In New Rochelle, NY, there is a quarantine zone around an outbreak that includes the closing of all schools and “houses of worship” in that area. Extended Spring Breaks are the norm in our area. Teachers are now preparing to teach courses online in case school does not return to regular session in two weeks. Various denominations have decided to move worship services online or cancel them entirely. Even Churches of Christ have begun to cancel Gospel Meetings and cancel Sunday and Wednesday evening worship services. Just last night, the CDC advised that all gatherings of 50 or more people cancel for the next eight weeks. At this point, this is only an advisory, but who knows how that may change in the coming days.
With all this in mind, how do we, as Christians, at the Fossil Creek congregation, make our way through this trying time? At my own volition, I have tried to answer some questions that may be going through the mind of members of the congregation. This article is not a complete list, I am sure, but hopefully, these will help. If there are other questions, let me know, and I will try to deal with them as well.
1. If the government were to set up a quarantine as they have done in New York, will we still gather at Fossil Creek?
Yes, I know of no scripture that allows us to not gather for worship on the Lord’s Day for any governmental reason. The early Christians were faced with this prospect often. Peter and John in Acts 5 were strictly forbidden to teach Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem at risk of beating and imprisonment. When they were miraculously released from prison, they immediately returned to Solomon’s Portico to preach. Upon being arrested again, the high priest questioned them, and they responded in Acts 5:28-29,
28 saying, We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. 29 But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men. ASV
We too must obey God rather than men.
2. However, some have responded that we are dealing with a virus that could be deadly to a certain part of our population, not the government. Does that change your answer?
No, the answer remains the same. We need to extend this conversation a little bit to help us reinforce our position. I recall several of our preachers used to ask a congregation, “If a band of armed soldiers was to break in the back door of this building and allow us to reject our faith and walk out free, or to stay in the building with our faith intact and be executed, what would we do?” The early Christians were told by Peter in his first letter that great persecution was coming, and that some would even hear that knock on their door where they would have to respond to a question about their faith. The Lord’s apostle gave this response,
13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? 14 But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed (are ye:) and fear not their fear, neither be troubled;
15 but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: (being) ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: 16 having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner to life in Christ. (1 Peter 3:13-16 ASV)
In this case, though, another remarkable story to consider is that of the three Hebrew children, as we call them, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. In their response to the king in Daniel 3:16-18, they made it clear that God was indeed able to deliver them, but whether he did or not, they would not bow down.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be (so), our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (ASV)
May our attitude be the same in this trying time.
3. What about Sunday and Wednesday evening services and gospel meetings? Some congregations have already closed for all but the Lord’s day.
Yes, a few have, and I will not judge them for the decisions they have made. However, and I have no power or authority to make decisions for our congregation. Still, to the best of my ability, the doors will be open at Fossil Creek every time our sign out front says they will be open.
Throughout time the Lord’s church has been a shining light in trying times. During the times of the Black Plague, we have historical accounts of Christians continuing in their duties toward their brethren and others. Did they all survive? Likely not, but they kept on. It is through our faithfulness in times like these that we can be a beacon for Christ in our communities. I noticed this weekend on several Facebook pages of our brethren who worship with multiple cups that the charge was going around that surely the “one-cuppers” will drop their habit and begin to worship as they do. Many were amazed when several people responded that we will continue to worship as always because we do not do it out of convenience, but out of conscious. One of the people who had started some of this even commented that even though he still disagrees with our position, he looks at it in a different light now. Who knows what difference we can make?
Now would be a good time to drop some cautions into the conversation. We do need to use common sense. There are many here who, if they can walk, will be at the assembly. Now may be the time to rethink that position. If you are not well, you should probably stay at home. There is no condemnation that I know of anyway, for someone who is not well and maybe carrying this virus to stay away from the assembly. We have members of our congregation who have immune deficiencies of some sort or another, and we have older folks among us as well. This virus can be deadly to them, and we need to remember that when we make our decisions on if we are well enough to attend. Speaking of those with immune deficiencies, I don’t believe the Lord will judge for being as cautious as you need to be to protect yourself in this situation, especially if the rest of us are acting as we should.
4. Should we change the way we partake of the Lord’s Supper because of the virus?
No, we have no authority to change how we partake of the Lord’s Supper…for any reason. I have heard questions about using straws, or spoons, or any other number of ways, but again we have no authority for them. You all know the scriptures on Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and I Corinthians 11, so I’ll not repeat them here. The Lord is always with His people when we do His will. Still, we also must remember what the Hebrew children said, and even if he does not deliver us, we will always follow his will.
5. What about greeting each other?
We know there were many ways of greeting each other in the early church. There is the “right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9), greeting one another with “a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, etc.), and others. In a situation like we are in now, I don’t think there is any problem with “elbow bumps” or “fist bumps” as some of the government web sites suggest…or even just greeting each other verbally until we know more about the virus and its spread in the population. I’ll still shake hands with anyone who wishes to shake hands, but there should be no judgment toward those who are worried about it, in my opinion.
I am sure that these are not all the concerns, but are they are some I could come up with. If you have other questions, I would be glad to try to address them, and there are other brethren, probably way more qualified than I, that you could direct questions to as well. Right now, pray for one another, pray for our government leaders that they would do what is best, and they would not interfere with our freedoms to worship. Pray for us, that even if they do, we will continue to do what is right in the sight of God.