A while back a message was sent out to the congregation, opening things up for people to submit questions in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. One of the questions I received in response, and a frequent topic of conversation, centers around social distancing. Here is the question:
The government is asking people to keep their distance from others, and depending on the province or state, have asked churches to close. How should we as followers of Jesus respond to this? Should we continue to meet and worship? Is it OK for me to get together with friends?
Here are some thoughts worth considering…
Let me begin by sharing with you some news that I was reading. I have recently read a few stories that have been particularly disturbing. In one article, I read about how a Pastor in the Tampa Bay area was arrested for holding church services, despite the constraints that the government is imposing. In another article, I read of a group who were meeting in France back in February. The author of the article is tracing a conference hosted by this church as the source of a large number of newly surfaced instances of infection with the coronavirus around the globe.
Now what bothers me about these articles is twofold. First off, I don’t like hearing that more and more cases of this virus are being found. While some people are only getting mildly sick, some very young and healthy people are getting sick and dying from it. The second reason I didn’t like what I was reading is that it is Christians that are being blamed, and/or potentially causing the problem.
I wonder how many of us are aware of our obligation to submit to the governing authorities of the day. In Romans 13, the very first verse exhorts us all to subject ourselves to the government. We would do well to remember that the governments that existed back when this was written were not the most benevolent. The early Christians for the first three centuries lived under tyrannical rule. They were persecuted in ways that we here in North American in this generation have no understanding. So, if they could do it then, it seems to me that we could certainly try today.
Understanding our obligations to the government should help us. However, our obligations as followers of Jesus go beyond that. The last time I was into town (which seems like forever ago), I was in Shoppers Drug Mart. They had tape on the floors, and guidelines about “social distancing”. As I walked around, there was a real sense of fear of getting too close to another. As a result, I got to thinking – in our current context, loving our neighbor means giving them space. To show love to those around us, even those we don’t know, requires that we respect their fears, and not get so close as to cause them concern.
There is a quote that is going around in light of recent events that I found incredibly fascinating. In 1527, Martin Luther was faced with a deadly outbreak of the bubonic plague. A fellow pastor Dr. John Hess, wrote to Luther and asked for some advice on how to proceed. Here is his response:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.
If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
Now, Luther lived in different times, and a very different context. I would suggest that in this generation, there are ways to reach out without coming into direct contact with others. We can leave gifts at the front door, or we can reach out by phone, video or even just a text. I am already hearing about some in our Alma Church community who are reaching out in some very exemplary ways. Lets keep that up.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that the best thing we can do right now is to do everything we can to love those around us, by respecting the government restrictions and practising the “social distancing” that is being asked of us. Acting in this way, will open doors of opportunity for sharing Christ in the long term. It will give us opportunities to talk to our neighbors, and befriend them in a way that might otherwise not be possible. Besides, in our obedience, and showing love for others, we ultimately are bringing glory to God – and that is a good thing.