CFC, COVID-19, and Coming Together Again
CFC, COVID-19, and Coming Together Again
Words from the Lord while we wait on word from the governor
Yesterday, April 28th, Governor Ivey issued new guidance for the state of Alabama, effective Thursday, April 30th, at 5 pm. Regarding churches, nothing much has changed in the short term. The same limited capacity restrictions remain in force for non-work groups, including places of worship. Governor Ivey did say that new guidelines would be issued on May 15th, but, of course, we have no details about any future orders. It’s possible that on May 15th we will see an extension of the previous orders, and it’s possible that we will see a gradual lifting of restrictions on meetings. Quite frankly, it isn’t that profitable to make lots of plans at this point. If nothing else, God is teaching us humility—humility about our incredibly limited spheres of sovereignty. If we don’t get James 4:13 after this, God help us!
Having said that, though, God’s Word is not silent in the interim. God is ever the speaking God—a God of revelation and disclosure, of clarity and certainty. So, as we wait, anticipate, and prepare, here are a few scriptures that have seemed particularly important to me as we think about gathering together again in some fashion in the future.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
This one is a layup, right? I have no idea what it looks like to gather as a church at this moment. What if we can only have 50, 100, or 200 in the building? What about kids? What about greetings of any kind? What about communion? What about passing the offering baskets? What about sharing microphones? What if we can’t find enough hand sanitizer or disinfectant for our building? And we could go on. Some of these issues have easy solutions. It’s not hard, for example, to put the offering baskets at the back of the room, and it’s not hard to forego handshakes for a verbal greeting. But easy solutions elude us on some of the more difficult problems.
All of this complexity cries out for wise deliberation and thoughtful processes. To that end, we would ask the congregation to be in continual prayer for understanding and insight from the Lord. God knows all the answers, and God is willing from His heart to provide those answers to His people. Indeed, this can be a great opportunity for us as a congregation to see the Lord answer prayers and provide clarity. Let’s ask, seek, and knock, and watch Him give, provide, and open.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)
The God who gives wisdom rarely locates that wisdom in one person. This is why we pray not only for President Trump but also for the people around President Trump. The same principle applies in the church. It would be inadvisable for me to make a decision on my gut feelings or intuition alone. I need wisdom, perspective, and insight, and I assure you I don’t have it already or exhaustively! Indeed, our entire body of leadership needs added understanding and help—the abundance of counselors that Proverbs 11:14 commends. So, the elders have asked about 15 to 20 brothers and sisters in our church to provide that counsel by serving on a reopening team. We’ve included in that number staff personnel, elders, deacons, medical professionals, children’s workers, business folks, and legal professionals. We have on this team men and women, younger and older saints, single brothers and sisters as well as those who are married with kids (we even have a grandmother so that we know we’re on the right track!). We are trusting that the Lord gifts His church with everything it needs, including the wisdom He places in His people for the good of the body.
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:3)
It’s not true to say that the church has never faced anything like this before (how many of us have learned more about the Spanish flu pandemic than we ever thought we would?), but it is true to say that we are in pretty uncharted territory for our day and age. That means there is essentially no script for what lies ahead. We can imagine conflicting guidance from state to state and from locality to locality. Likewise, we can imagine conflicting opinions and practices from family to family and Christian to Christian. Some members would feel comfortable going to church this coming Sunday, but some brothers and sisters would consider it unwise to attend a larger gathering absent significant changes in testing, new infections, etc. I fully expect our church, a body consisting of 426 individual members, to have differing opinions on the best practices moving forward. This likely reality underscores the need for humility and love in the days ahead. This doesn’t mean that we cannot hold opinions, even strongly, but it does mean that our opinions about non-Scriptural matters must be held and exercised in the context of unconditional acceptance and genuine charity. God welcomed us. Let’s welcome one another.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
I understand that this is quite the difficult text to apply right now. I mean, isn’t this the whole question? And haven’t we been neglecting to meet together already? Well, to answer the last question first, no, we haven’t been neglecting to meet together in the willful and indifferent sense that the writer of Hebrews discourages. We have been omitting a public gathering for the sake of community, statewide, and national health. There is a meaningful difference.
I raise this verse, though, to remind us that meeting together is essential. I don’t want us to conclude from all the talk and guidance regarding “essential” and “non-essential” groups, organizations, and businesses that the church gathering falls into the latter category. COVID-19 has disrupted almost everything, but you can be sure that the work of the Evil One is not disrupted. Satan is not quarantined or sheltering-in-place. He is a prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. That reality is why Hebrews 10:24-25 matters now as much as it ever has. The Day of the Lord is drawing near, so our accounting before the Lord is on the horizon. I trust that you, like me, have felt the absence of gathered worship in many ways, including in the fight against the lies and schemes of Satan. It’s harder and more wearisome to fight alone, to fight without weekly (in person) encouragement, comfort, and exhortation. Let’s ask the Lord to redeem this time in our lives, awakening us afresh to the privilege and purposes of corporate worship. It is, in fact, essential.
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