As a pastor, I am usually trying to help people know the value of meeting together regularly if they are Christians – part of what the Bible calls the “body of Christ.” The Lord created us to function best in relationship: relationship with Him and with each other. I have been told in the past by several people that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.” That is true, but it certainly makes you a better Christian! That is why we are commanded; ” And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24-25 ESV).
Why then, have we decided not to meet this Sunday? Is it fear or lack of faith? Is it because we don’t think it is important to meet together? No, and no: There are two reasons we are choosing not to meet.
The first reason is that our governmental leaders are asking us not to meet. Romans 13 instructs us to submit to our leaders, and the greater context of scripture would tell us that they are only to be disobeyed when they command us to go against the very word of God. They are not asking us to do this permanently (if so it might be right to practice civil disobedience). This is just for a short while.
The second and greater reason is that we are told to love God first, but also to love our neighbors; ” And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk. 12:30-31 ESV) While I may be healthy and/or willing to take the risk of contracting the virus, I may pass it on to someone who is not.
This is certainly not the first time that the church has faced such decisions. When the black death was devastating lives in Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther had strong words: “It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.” Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 43, p. 131). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
I am not equating the severity of the current pandemic to that of the black death in the 1520’s but Luther’s words still are worth considering. We have what he did not, modern means of communication. We can and should be taking advantage of our phones, tablets, and computers to continue to encourage one another until we can do so face to face.