On this weekend as we celebrate America’s birthday and her independence from tyranny, pastors across California are perplexed at the most recent COVID-19 mandate from the governor’s office: No singing or chanting in religious services.
Some days feel like we have a new tyrant. (And you were afraid of zombies.)
On Friday we had lunch with a local pastor and wife – they sat at one end of the table and we sat at the other end, to maintain social distancing. As we visited, members of their worship team bombarded him with texts. What will we do about worship on Sunday?
And his question to us was, How do we have a worship service with no music? Our hearts were heavy. Not only because of the current dilemma, but because in recent months a government official continues to close or limit gatherings of believers on the Lord’s day and on every day.
In looking at history there have been times of disease when churches closed their doors in an effort to protect themselves and their neighbors. There have been other times in history when men in power called believers to pray, to seek the living God for mercy and help in a time of great need.
We live in a free country. Yet, some of our freedoms have been taken away or modified, and are modified still in some states, as COVID-19 cases increase. Confusion and frustration increase as social distancing parameters seem less restrictive for businesses and government offices – not to mention the gatherings of protest early last month – than they are for faith communities.
Some pastors joked they’d be holding their next service in the plumbing aisle of Home Depot, since the home improvement stores appeared to have more freedom than the churches.
When Martin Luther was asked his views on how Christians should respond to the deadly plague, he advised believers to attend church and receive the teaching from God’s Word that would instruct and support them during a difficult time. Today we have access to God’s printed Word, as well as technology as a method of receiving instruction and encouragement. Luther continued, Keep yourself healthy, offer aid where you can, love your neighbor, limit contact with others in public, and of course, pray, and continue to pray, trusting God to accomplish His will in the time of trial (my paraphrase).
There’s a very real tension as evangelical leaders look at the news coming from the nation’s capital and state government, and as they look at Scripture. Who to obey? How to lead our children to honor authority – which is ordained by God – by our own example of honor without surrendering our freedom? And not rising up in rebellion because of distrust.
Definitely a time for entering God’s throne room, bowing in reverence with praise on our lips, and seeking much wisdom for this hour. God promises to give wisdom as we ask, and direction for our path when we look to Him. We don’t want our zeal to cloud our common sense. Nor do we want to accept blindly and passively, conditions that could be used to deny religious freedom in the long-term. History points to this hazard as well.
Panic, fear, anxiety, anger, suspicion… these are not responses fueled by the Holy Spirit. We can be wise and not cause harm. When one of us fails to love our neighbor, it doesn’t justify a lack of love on another’s part. The right response in every situation is to do right.
Although, when the right thing to do is simply added to a long list of uncertainties during a national or global crisis, where no one really knows what to do, we must still seek the good. Pray for God to reveal truth, to frustrate the plans of the ungodly, and to use His children as instruments of peace and ambassadors of good will. In a world desperate for something hopeful.
Yes, church services look different. And they feel different – the online format and the in-person format. Comments I hear often are, It’s not the same… so much is different… when can we get back to normal?
Closing church buildings doesn’t stop the Church from being the Church. We’ve been restricted from gathering together, but it just scatters us across the land and into our neighborhoods to be the salt and light Jesus told us to be. And there’s Zoom – it’s not the same as meeting in person. But I’ve experienced some rich conversation and powerful prayer using technology lately. God is not intimidated by government mandates, and His purposes aren’t impeded in the virtual world.
The mission of the Church cannot be extinguished, and the music of the Church will never die. Circumstances may add pressures and place difficult or even unrealistic expectations on us, but God’s ministers and God’s people are rising to the challenge.
And praise Him we will. Because if we don’t, the rocks will shout their praises to Him.
(I wonder what Sacramento’s response would be to that?)