“To be or not to be” is the question for the church right now, and it is not an easy question.
Responding to the crisis
The Covid-19 epidemic has taken a toll on many churches in America and across the globe. A survey by the Pew Research Centre in April found more than 90% regular churchgoers in the United States saying their churches had closed their doors to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, and the majority of them had moved entirely online. Some local authorities have also imposed additional restrictions on churches, thus making it very challenging for some churches to host in-person worship services.
However, many churches have decided to defy the guidelines of the state and host in-person worship services. In the U.S.A, the first amendment of their constitution guarantees and protects religious freedom, and the government cannot interfere with the church's affair. Thus, the Coronavirus presents to us a puzzling dilemma that is not easy to solve.
The Scriptures command us to worship the Lord (Psalm chapter 29 verses 1-11 and Colossians chapter 3 verse 16). However, it also commands us to respect and comply with the local government instituted by God (Romans 13:1-2). What should the church do now? I want to present three biblical principles that could help churches navigate through this unprecedented time:
1. Christ, not Caesar, is the Head of the Church.
Grace Community Church in Los Angeles published a powerful statement in response to the state's restriction, which is titled “Christ, not Caesar, is the Head of the Church.” Indeed, Christ is Lord of all, and He is the head of the church (Ephesians chapter 1 verse 22, and chapter 5 verse 23, and Colossians chapter 1 verse 18). Therefore, as His people, we must obey His will and commandments revealed in the Scripture.
The church does not need the permission of the state to worship the Lord in the way that the Scripture commanded. Christ is the One that found the church and is also the head of the church. He has absolute authority over the church. Therefore, if God commands us to worship Him, sing hymns and spiritual songs to one another, and not forsake the assembly, we must obey.
2. Worship is a must.
In John chapter 4 verse 23, Jesus states, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” So, worship is essential to the Christian life, and it is even more vital for Christians in this unprecedented time. In Psalm chapter 73, the psalmist was despairing over the wicked (Psalm chapter 73, verses 2-15). Like the psalmist, we are right now despairing over the death and damage that the Coronavirus brings.
However, the breakthrough came to the psalmist in the context of worship. When the psalmist came to God's sanctuary, he stated, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm chapter 73, verses 25-26). How many times, have we found this statement to be true to us as well? What can get us out of spiritual apathy other than the awakening of worship? Perhaps, corporate worship will remind us that it is good to be near God (Psalm chapter 73, verse 28). Therefore, worship is essential to us more than ever.
3. Don’t let Coronavirus divide you.
There is an array of diverse opinions regarding social distancing, crowd size, whether to require masks, or sing or not sing. Thus, the whole conversation is filled with potential division. However, the apostle Paul reminds us of the importance of having “the same mind, the same love, and being in full accord and of one mind,” and to achieve these things, we need to, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians chapter 2, verses 2-3).
Some of us might think that these precautions, such as masks and social distancing, are unnecessary. Even if that is true, we should still consider those who believe these precautions are necessary more important than ourselves.
We can choose to wear or not wear masks, but we should not let our freedom become a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 9). Likewise, those who think the lockdowns should continue should not pass judgment on those who question the wisdom of the government’s ongoing restrictions.
Because the nature of the virus is still unknown, we should take the necessary precautions to protect our church and community. The second wave of the 1918 pandemic was much more deadly than the first. The first wave had resembled typical flu epidemics; those most at risk were the sick and elderly, while younger, healthier people recovered quickly. October 1918 was the month with the highest fatality rate of the whole pandemic. As the church and part of the community, we should follow the CDC guidelines to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Finally, we should not lose hope. Though the situation is not favorable, we must remember the promise that Christ gave us: He is building His church, and the gate of hell shall not prevail against it.
Dat Nguyen is a student at the Master’s Seminary and a member of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California. His desire is to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. He loves playing basketball and watching movies.