Before I share my ideas, I do want you to know that I have had a personal conversation with the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF is an unapologetic advocate for Christian free speech. They have represented me twice, both times with success.
The purpose of my call with them was to ascertain the lawfulness of certain orders limiting the size of church gatherings. The answer is yes, no, and maybe. In general, a government does have that power in a crisis. Unfortunately, they define the crisis.
There are certain stipulations:
The order must apply equally to all gatherings, not just church gatherings (i.e., a Democratic fundraiser cannot be exempt).
The order must be in line with that government’s own rules and procedures. Governors have that authority, and they can call out the National Guard to enforce it. Some local and county governments can make edicts, but they must be able to cite the authority they act on.
You will have to do your homework on the local level. It may be difficult to get a clear answer. Most towns have a solicitor or city attorney. They will probably be able to answer that question easier than the politician can.
Do not go by rumor. Get a copy of any edict, which should be posted on the city or state’s webpage. If you need help interpreting it, a good, local attorney should be able to assist. If not, we can contact the ADF.
I can’t say that I agree with all this. The ADF at this point does not see a constitutional conflict. There may be those who cannot, in good conscience, submit to these edicts. To this, I completely understand.
Now, before we talk about what we should to, it is critical to talk about who we are. What we do should proceed from who we are; that way all responses are in the proper context.
We are Christians, and, as such, by God’s plan, we are organized into congregations as the local church. Congregations do something unique—they congregate! We come together. We worship together. We share together. We learn together. Christianity is not done apart from others.
The marvels of present-day technology are certainly impressive, but we are more than a teaching and learning institution. God’s Holy Scriptures call us His body. We are connected to each other. To do His work, we must stay connected, and this requires coming together.
As such, I believe that gathering is critical to who we are and what our mission is. It demonstrates our relationship to God as a worshiping witness and community.
The thought of the church being shut down in this crisis does not seem to be consistent with our mission. What we offer is exactly what people need more than ever. It is not the government’s job to articulate our mission or even to understand our mission, but in a free society, to allow us to complete our mission without interference or intimidation.
The fact that the Church is being lumped together with other organizations and being referred to as nonessential should stir something in our hearts.
One of the questions we should ask ourselves is this: If the city, county, or state government were not requesting or insisting we shut down, would we consider that on our own? Is that something we would see as a remedy?
It is safe to say that the government calling on churches and businesses to shut down, to close their doors, is unprecedented. Remember: No one is required to go to church or go to a restaurant. People go there of their own choosing and at their own risk.
There should be a genuine concern to us that if we “go along to get along,” we may be giving the keys to the Church door to the government. Are we setting a precedent that we can never back out of? Is our willful compliance, which may be done on our part from a very sincere motive, ensuring or even inviting tyranny in the future?
I realize there are people that are moralizing the subject, just as people are politicizing the subject. By moralizing, I mean they are suggesting that if the Church continues to hold services, they are not showing love to their neighbor. They are not concerned about their community.
Let’s be very clear: We are in a very severe cultural crisis—in part, because love is being redefined outside of the Scriptures, seemingly, every day.
We love God, and we love our neighbors by offering them the gospel. Let us not fall into the trap of allowing the government or certain church leaders to suggest that by continuing to meet, that we are failing our neighbors—when, in fact, by doing so, we are reaching out to them and loving them by caring for their souls.
If we shut our services down simply to avoid ridicule, that doesn’t seem to be a strong moral base to lead our community from in the future. Maybe this is an opportunity for us to stand out, rather than to blend in.
One of my other concerns is that we are living in a time where courage in leadership seems to barely have a heartbeat. Could this not be a time for us to leave a legacy to the next generation? If we close the church doors, could we be communicating that our message is not vital? That we are irrelevant and not needed?
Please understand, I am NOT recommending defiance, nor am I recommending compliance to the government. We must understand that we are accountable to God.
I think it is a time for creativity on how we meet. House to house is a proven plan. How about having church every night, turning our leaders loose? How about using firehalls, libraries, etc.—having church all over the place, at all times!
It is important that we really think through our decisions, reminding ourselves that it is not our church, but the Church of God that He purchased with His blood, that we represent. It is also very vital that whatever decision we arrive at, we are able to communicate that decision clearly to the people who are looking to us for leadership.
The Network of Related Pastors will not moralize the subject. We will not place leaders and churches in categories, based on whether they choose to have services or not. And we will support each church in its decision and honor those decisions that the local church comes to.
There are some issues a crisis like this highlights that we should consider:
The multiplication of leadership is essential to a life-giving church.
We need to be technically astute.
We need to be able to communicate with our congregation effectively and efficiently.
And we need to be aggressive in making these things happen NOW.
We, as a network of men and women who deeply desire the Church to accurately represent Jesus, will continue to love and encourage one another and honor whatever decisions are made by each local church.
Let’s be prayerful.
Let’s be thoughtful.
Let’s be courageous.
And let us, in the midst of this chaos, be diligent in our calling.
When this passes, and it will, many lives and businesses will be affected. Let’s earn a voice now to speak life. Let’s strengthen the nets for the harvest.
I praise God for the brotherhood we have together! We are not standing alone. Let’s go forward.
In the Master’s Service,
NRP Apostolic Team Leader