The Challenge Ahead
I know that the past two months have been difficult. The frustrations we all have felt living under quarantine measures are a testimony to the fact that "it is not good for man to be alone"--God designed us to be communal creatures. Further, the ecosystem that God has designed for Christians to grow in is the community of other believers: the local church. So, we rightly groan under being restricted from seeing friends, family, and fellow church members. I long for gathering together on Sunday morning, singing together, and taking the Lord's Supper together (preaching to an actual audience sounds nice, too!).
But, it seems like there has at least been a glimmer of light coming from the end of the tunnel. Lord willing, it would appear that (unless something major happens) some of the lockdown measures will be lifted over the next couple of months. And, Lord willing, our church may be able to gather together again soon for corporate worship sometime this Summer. This is great news! Pray hard that this would be so, that the Lord would enable us to safely gather and enjoy the benefits of corporate worship, of Christian hospitality, and fellowship.
However, I fear that with the regathering of our church there will be with it another challenge: maintaining unity. As you may already have noticed, there is a diverse array of strongly held opinions that many in our wider community carry about issues surrounding the pandemic and the quarantine. These diverse opinions are likely to present themselves in our church. This is nothing inherently wrong about people in our church having diverse opinions--in fact, it would be weird if our church agreed on everything--but, I think that the heat this debate has created runs the risk of becoming a point of division in the church. So, brothers and sisters, I am asking for our church to now get ahead of this and guard our church's unity through our prayers and efforts of "bearing with one another in love" and being "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," (Eph 4:2-3).
Will you commit to not condemning fellow church members for their response to COVID-19? Some of us will feel like other people are not taking this virus seriously enough; some of us will feel like other people are being too fearful. Our situation, personalities, and experiences will likely strongly influence our response one way or another. I do not believe that this is an issue that we need to be drawing lines in the sand over and should be a matter of Christian liberty--follow your conscience (fn.1). And thus, we ought to follow Paul's model in 1 Corinthians 8-9 and Romans 14.
Will you commit to only "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding," (Rom 14:19) in our church? To "not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother," (Rom 14:13)?
Will you commit to not making it seem like your brother who disagrees with you must violate his conscience to be a faithful Christian (1 Cor 8)?
Will you commit to being careful with your words, how you broadcast your views, and be quick to set aside your own agenda so as not to forfeit opportunities for the gospel (1 Cor 9)?
When our church does gather together again it will likely look different than it did before the quarantine. We will have to implement new rules, social distancing measures, childcare policies, and whatnot for some time. As we grapple with all of these changes we will probably feel some growing pains, and it may be tempting to feel frustrated with others who don't share your convictions. Why aren't they being more careful?? Why are they so afraid?? Before we rush to assume the worst let's give each other the benefit of the doubt and agree that this is not something important enough to divide Jesus' church. And if its not that important, than we can probably just work on memorizing and applying James 1:19, "Be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to anger."
I have begun releasing short 4-6(ish) minute devotionals twice a day that teach on how Christians can disagree with one another where I will look at Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8-9. You can find the playlist of all the videos so far here on Youtube. I pray they are helpful for your family and our church.
You can do this, church. For the sake of the gospel and with the power of the Holy Spirit, you can do this. I believe in you!
Praying hard for you all,
With much love,
While I do not believe this is an issue that Christians need to divide over, I could foresee (and have seen) ways that Christians respond that go beyond the point of Christian liberty and into outright sin. For example, if someone began openly slandering another person on the internet because of their contrary opinion, or someone began to use foul language to describe others (Eph 4:29), or encouraged people to actively disobey the government without just cause, or insinuated that violence or intimidation should be used to silence contrary viewpoints. These are all examples where we have now moved into an area where we are not disagreeing over simple matters, but are flagrantly violating Scripture and are thus sinning. Thus whoever was participating in these acts could not defend themselves by saying their Christian liberty is just being exercised and ought to be called to repentance by their pastors and fellow church members.