Thinking through the Life of the Church during COVID-19
Timothy Raymond has allowed us to share what Trinity Baptist Church is thinking through this current coronavirus crisis. Prayerfully, this will assist pastors and church members in thinking through and operating during this unique time.
During the Second World War, our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were called upon to make great sacrifices to help defeat the progress of evil in our world. Desperate times called for desperate measures and the Greatest Generation willingly cooperated with food shortages, gas rationing, all manner of economic challenges, and saying goodbye to their sons in uniform (sometimes permanently). Our brothers and sisters in Christ were certainly included in this and not infrequently canceled, rescheduled, and otherwise altered scheduled church meetings.
In the curious providence of God, it appears that now is a time when we are called upon to make similar sacrifices to help defeat the progress of evil in our world. While we definitely do not want to suggest that the current coronavirus crisis is equal in severity or magnitude to World War 2, there are some obvious parallels. And this includes the need for churches to prayerfully consider modifying their scheduled meetings.
After a lengthy meeting last night, the leadership of TBC has decided to do our church meetings entirely online for the next two weeks (after which we will reevaluate). Sermons, Bible studies, and prayer meetings will continue but in a virtual capacity, via avenues such as Facebook live and SermonAudio.com. While none of us foresaw this challenge or desire it, we believe such action is wise, good, and loving given the current crisis.
This was a very difficult decision to make and was made only after much prayer and frank discussion. But our reasons for making this decision include the following:
1. We do not believe churches canceling or rescheduling meetings in emergencies is sinful – Countless illustrations of faithful brothers and sisters doing this exist from throughout history. From believers fleeing a burning Rome, to brothers and sisters evacuating to avoid the plague in Europe, to churches canceling services nationwide during the Spanish Flu of 1919, there’s a clear Christian consensus that sometimes we actually should cancel church meetings out of love for neighbor. This Sunday the vast majority of conservative evangelical churches in Indiana will not be gathering. Since most believers seem to agree on this point, at least in theory, I won’t extrapolate. But if you’d like to think more on this topic, consider this historical article summarizing how churches in Washington DC handled the Spanish Flu.
2. There is broad consensus among health care professionals that now is just such an emergency – While the number of articles written on the severity of the coronavirus is legion (and not all of them agree or are equally trustworthy), the vast majority of medical doctors and scientists now believe that the disease is such that radical measures are necessary to stop its advancement. None of your current TBC leadership have professional medical training, so last night we consulted at length with a specialist in our community who is an expert in infectious diseases (and a faithful Christian leader), and he said unequivocally that coronavirus is uniquely dangerous and if the decision were up to him, he’d cancel all our church gatherings. Might all this be overblown hype? Certainly. Might some politicians be taking advantage of the situation for self-advancement? Sure. But as those entrusted with caring for our flock, body, and soul, we would rather be safe than sorry. If you’d like to think more about this point, here is a carefully written article explaining why coronavirus is far worse and more dangerous than the common flu.
3. The President of the United States has earnestly requested all Americans participate in a two-week cessation of all meeting larger than 10 people – As believers in Jesus we are commanded to “submit to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), to “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17), and to be otherwise good citizens (in so far as we are able) of the nation to which we belong (Jeremiah 29:7). While our ultimate allegiance is always to King Jesus (Acts 17:7), we are also American citizens and need to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). Yesterday President Trump asked for 15 days to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This ban is not permanent; it is a ban only on public gatherings, not any Bible teaching, preaching or worship; and is not specifically targeting Christians. For these reasons, we believe this is a time for us to exercise good Christian citizenship, to honor our governing authorities, and to demonstrate solidarity with our fellow Americans. We anticipate not everybody agreeing with this particular point, so if you’d like to think through this one more, here’s a helpful article on why Christian churches should acquiesce to the government’s request to temporarily cease meetings.
4. For all of the above reasons, we believe our Christian witness in our community will be impacted by our response to this crisis – While not determinative, we do believe that we must take people’s perceptions into account in this decision. Christians are called to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (Colossians 4:5), to “do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17), and to maintain “a good reputation with those outside the church” (1 Timothy 3:7). In the current crisis, if we carry on with normal all services acting as if nothing unusual is happening, we run the risk of communicating to our community that we are reckless, do not care for those at risk, and are not consistently pro-life. If we develop such a reputation, this could potentially cripple our outreach and evangelism for years to come. Again, this point does not decide the matter but needs to be taken together with the above.
Lord willing, later today we’ll be sending out another email explaining the specifics of when and how we intend to hold online meetings. Since virtually everybody has a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, we would love to see everybody participating in the services in the days to come (consider inviting friends!). You’ll be invited to email and text in prayer requests and Bible questions which we hope to pray for and answer online. We view these two weeks not as a time when TBC goes on hiatus but as TBC simply meeting in a different, more creative format.
Throughout this crisis, please be especially devoted to prayer. In addition to praying against the virus and for healing and protection, pray for our church. Pray for protection for those in our congregation, especially the elderly and health care workers (of which we have several). If people start getting sick, pray for healing. Pray that our unity in the gospel would keep us together despite whatever disagreements we have on these matters. Pray for wisdom for your church leadership, as this is the most vexing matter we’ve dealt with in the last decade. Pray that everything would work well technologically during this time. And pray that the Lord would bless the Bible teaching, sermons, and prayers delivered during these next two weeks to the advancement of the gospel and the edification of His church.
If you remember your history, the Second World War not only stopped the Axis from taking over the world, but eventually it led to unprecedented growth and prosperity for our nation. Similarly, the Lord might bless the sacrifices we make now with surprising results. This difficult season where we all come together to fight the advancement of evil could turn out to be a unique opportunity for new growth and outreach, a time whereby God might bring great spiritual awakening to our community, our nation, and our entire world. Let’s pray that that’s the case.