COVID-19 and ROMANS 14

We are changed.  All of us.  Changed. 

You might think I am referring to the miracle of the new birth in Christ Jesus.  And indeed, every Christian has been and is being and shall be changed!  But I am actually referring to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had upon us.  It has changed us.  Some more than others.  But changed we are, every single one of us.  In some ways, for good or ill, we will not emerge from this the same.

Will we ever be the same?  Well, I for one, hope so.  I pray the Lord allows us to put this thing behind us eventually and get back to loving Him and one another and our world with a humble, bold heart.

But friends, we must understand that God’s work of sanctification does not progress at the same pace for each and every one of us.  In our church family, we have some who are farther down the road to Christlikeness.  They have walked with Jesus longer.  They are quicker to confess and repent.  They are matured by the grace of God and able to endure more testing.  And in our church family we have those who are young in the faith, and those who are young in age (being raised up in the faith but not yet born again).  They are sometimes more fervent in their evangelism and excited about the new love they have in Christ and His people.  Though they have little life experience, and are not deeply rooted in the gospel faith, and have not studied the Bible rigorously for decades, they still matter greatly to the life of this congregation.  They may have been saved out of a life of alcoholism or drug addictions or abuse.  They may have been raised in a legalistic church or family, or a libertine church or family.  In other words, they bring some baggage.  But we all do, right?  Thus, we must “bear with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).

COVID-19 has potential to either divide us, or unite us.  Plain and simple.  How we treat one another and view one another, and how we even disagree with one another, over the course of the next few months, will either be a tool of the enemy to divide and destroy us, or an instrument of righteousness to make us all more like our Lord and Savior.  Surely, we all want the latter!  We want to stand united in Christ.

Romans 14 can be very useful to us in this endeavor.  I commend your in-depth study and meditation on this Chapter in weeks ahead.  Let me lay out the basic argument Paul makes in sequence:

  1. In matters not explicitly commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, allow for freedom of conscience in Christ, and do not treat others judgmentally in these matters nor question their motives (vv. 1-12).
  2. Prioritize the sanctification of others and value their growth in Christ and peace in the church more than your Christian freedom (vv. 13-19).
  3. Do not hinder or hurt someone’s walk with Jesus in non-essential matters of opinions or preferences, and be willing to sacrifice your own preferences for the sake of others’ sanctification (vv. 20-21).
  4. If you argue someone over to your point of view, but in their hearts they are not fully convinced, you may well be sinning or causing them to sin, as all Christian behavior, speech and thoughts are to flow from faith, not fear or peer pressure or superior logic (vv. 22-23; see also 1 Cor 8:7-13).

Quick Application: Rather than try to force or expect everyone to agree with us on wearing masks and social distancing, we are better to simply learn each person’s preferences and then respect them, adjusting our behavior with that person accordingly.  What we must not allow is a hard and fast split in our church into the “mask-wearers” v. “bare faces” or “hand-shakers” v. “smile and wavers.”  This would foster a spirit of judgmentalism that would please our enemy and grieve our Lord.

Our enemy wants us to think this is all so brand new.  But the Word of God says, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).  The Church throughout its history has dealt with disasters, tragedies, pandemics, conspiracy theories, and myriad issues about which faithful followers of Christ can and may disagree.  When persecution strikes, some pastors and believers flee.  Some stay.  Both may well be found faithful.  When plagues come, some pastors and believers risk their lives to serve the sick at their bedsides.  Others think it best to leave that task to medical professionals.  Both may well be found faithful.  Some believers vaccinate.  Some do not.  Both may well be found faithful.  Some believers home school.  Others do not.  Both may well be found faithful.

Let us not be ignorant of our enemy’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11).

 

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COVID-19 and Your Family

Back in mid-March when the various lock downs began, I commented to one of our home schooling families in our church, “We are all home schoolers now!

When I said it, I confess it gave me some degree of glee.  After all, I have for years strongly advocated for home education as the most biblically faithful and ideal model for families, with Christian private education and public education as a distant 2nd and 3rd places.  And with the proliferation of very fine home school curricula being published, my opinion on the matter has in no way changed.

In a home school or Christian private school, teachers have far more freedom to personally pour the gospel of Jesus Christ into students.  It’s not just the curriculum that educates and provides the worldview, in other words.  It’s the parent or teacher himself or herself, as well.  Christian public school teachers are in a noble profession, but their gospel hands are tied.  This means the curriculum bears the most weight in that system.  And the state education curricula in all 50 States are founded upon atheism, humanism, Darwinism, and socialism, and a growing history revisionism.  I know of few who even dispute this claim now.  Just grab a textbook and start reading if you do not think it so.  Add to this the radical sex education curriculum promoted and backed by Planned Parenthood and the powerful LGBTQ lobby, and no Christian should expect a pastor to endorse the public education system.  That doesn’t mean we do not love and respect public school teachers in our churches.  But the system itself is simply too far gone to endorse.

That said, some of my initial glee is subsiding.  While nearly every parent is gaining new respect for home educators, not all the news is good.  We now hear reports of increased child abuse, increased access to porn sites, increased child predatory contacts, and decreased student participation in any classroom at all.  Some students who do well with in-person classroom instruction are now struggling with the online platform.  This has exposed our homes and our parenting as a culture.  And I am afraid it is exposing some poor parenting in our churches, too.

I pose these questions to Christian parents of all stripes, as you now find your children at home with you all day every day, and I do so to encourage you to seize this moment for God’s glory in the gospel of Christ!

  • Regardless of what model of schooling your children are engaged in now, are you actively helping and encouraging them?  Reading with them?  Answering questions?  Asking questions?  Expressing joy in their accomplishments?  Helping them develop personal discipline, in every facet of their lives?
  • Are you getting to know their teachers?  Expressing gratitude to the teachers?
  • Are you pushing your child to do well?  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl 9:10).
  • Are you correcting every instance of sin or sinful attitudes in your children?  This is one of the greatest advantages to home education!  You get a front row seat to your child’s sinful depravity, and you get the unspeakable privilege of bringing God’s Law and Gospel to bear upon it.  Repeatedly. Multiple times a day!  Not correcting sin is a primary way we provoke and discourage our children (Col 3:21).
  • Are you micro-managing your child’s screen time?  Yes, I mean it.  Every evil known to mankind lurks just behind a single tap of that screen.  Protect your children!  Equip them to use technology in holy ways.
  • Are you helping your child discern the worldview in the textbooks he or she is reading?  Equipping our children to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” is critical (2 Cor 10:5).
  • Are you helping your children engage lies with the truth of God’s Word?  Are you helping them learn to lovingly interact with lost peers in a way that reflects Jesus’ holiness and power to save and give hope?  1 Peter 3:15  
  • Are you reading and discussing the Bible more with your children? Memorizing scripture?  Why would you miss this amazing opportunity to get more Deuteronomy 6 into your lives?
  • Are you seizing down times to study other interesting subjects that might not otherwise be available to your child?  Music?  Geography?  An unreached people group? A missionary biography?  Church history?
  • Are you having lots of fun with your family?  Playing games?  Enjoying God’s outdoors?  Exercising?  Taking up new hobbies? Planting gardens? Gazing at stars? Singing?  Dancing?  Goofing off?
  • Are you finding ways for your family to serve others? Are you living with faith, not fear?  Psalm 139
  • Are you praying for and with and over your children more often?
  • Are you learning alongside your children how to truly delight in Sabbath?  Resting in God’s finished work on our behalf through Christ our Lord, and ensuring all our work flows out of that rest.  Sabbath. Trust. Deep, abiding trust in God. Total dependence upon Him for everything. Sabbath.  It’s beautiful. And this slower pace seems pretty much “designed” and ordained to force us to relearn and rethink it.

Well, I am sure there are even more and even better questions to ask.  But these at least get us started.  I urge parents and grandparents to live with your families in these days in such a way that on your last day you will not look back with regret.  What a God-ordained opportunity for every family who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and who is empowered by His Spirit and His Word!  May we reflect our Heavenly Father in this unique time.

For everything there is a season . . . (Eccl 3:1).   

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COVID-19 and Governor Cuomo

COVID-19 has done some serious damage to New York City.  And it has done some serious damage in many other states and cities across the nation and world.  Whatever our politics or religious beliefs, or lack thereof, we must all at least be willing to admit a sense of sadness at tens of thousands of deaths (unless you are pro-abortion, which would be the height of hypocrisy, but I digress).

I keep reminding myself that extra health safety measures would be more meaningful to me if it were my grandmother or child fighting for life on a ventilator.  May we, as Christians, be given the compassion of our Lord. We dare not forget He touched lepers, gave sight to the blind, and was emotionally moved by crowds of unbelievers who needed a shepherd.  Before we say too much on social media about our conspiracy theories and vent our frustrations at government overreach (and there’s a ton of it at every level right now), let’s seek to reflect the love of Jesus.  A wise brother in our church once shared with me these guiding questions to social media posting:

  1. Is it necessary?
  2. Is it kind / loving?
  3. Is it true?

Well, the online world would be a better place, huh?

With these questions in view, I want to urge my few readers to consider humility.  That’s right. Humility.  Are you being humbled by what is happening around you?  I surely am.  And I confess I need even more humility.  I have been praying to God that He would keep humbling me.

And I long to see our nation and her leaders humbled, too.  Granted, I pray it doesn’t take tens of thousands more deaths to achieve, but nevertheless, I pray with Christ, “Thy will be done.”

On Resurrection Sunday, Governor Cuomo demonstrated a sickening lack of humility.  Cuomo’s state is literally unraveling at the seams and digging mass graves like we would expect to see only in Iran or North Korea.  Yet, he still made sure to say this: “The number is down because we brought the number down,” he told the press. “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that…That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”

Governor, God Almighty disagrees with your brazen assessment:

I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD who does all these things (Isaiah 45:6-7).

What will it take to bring America to its knees?  To repentance?  To humility before God?

As much as I appreciate so much of what President Trump has done and is doing, his recent statements have made me nervous.  Pompous talk of us coming out stronger, beating this thing soon, and even his claim of “absolute power” all belie the National calls to prayer he has issued.  I realize the secular motto of leadership is “never let them see you sweat” but maybe we should fall back on our National Motto, “In God We Trust.”

I wonder what impact it would have upon our nation to see President Trump, Vice-President Pence, members of Congress and the Senate, all on their knees crying out to Almighty God for mercy?  Confessing national sins and pleading the blood of Jesus over them?  Acknowledging the sovereign rule and reign of God alone?  What will it take to make them stop talking about prayer, and actually start praying?  In broken humility, on their knees, interceding for our nation.  Such a scene was normal for the first 100 years of our Nation’s history.  I long to see it.  Few things matter more than humility in this crisis.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

One of the great Kings of Judah, Uzziah, died as a leper simply because of pride.  All his accolades went to his head.  The economy boomed during Uzziah’s reign.  Other nations paid taxes / tariffs to Uzziah’s government.  But a prideful abuse of power ensured he spent his last years as an exiled King, unable to interact with his citizens due to his leprosy (see 2 Chronicles 26).

O, I can hear some readers saying, “But that was the Old Testament.  We live under the New Covenant of grace in Christ.”  Yes, and amen!  But God is still God.  That is to say, He is sovereign.  Prideful King Herod was struck dead instantly by God and then eaten by worms.  And yes, that happened after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – definitely New Testament (see Acts 12:20-24).

So I ask again, what will it take to humble us?  The consistent refrain of the Book of Revelation even with all its plagues that wipe out 1/3 of the earth’s population, is “They did not repent and give God glory” (Rev 16:9, for example).  This refrain seems to me to characterize far too many of the citizens of America and her leaders.  Jesus said tragedies should elicit one simple response from us: “Repent or you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

But let’s bring this right into our own living rooms, dear Christians.  After all, it’s easy to point fingers at pride in someone else’s life.  So, as we scratch at the pride speck in our leaders’ eyes, I wonder if we have noticed the pride log protruding from our own eyes?  God help us if we followers of Jesus are not yet humbled in this crisis!  Here are a few questions to help us self-assess, and approach God for the grace of Cross-centered, Christ-exalting humility:

  1. Have you fasted at all since the COVID-19 outbreak?  As we keep buying luxury items at Wal-Mart while wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart, Christians in Pakistan are refused food at local government distribution points (mosques).  Add starvation to a pandemic and now you’ve got real suffering.  Can we not fast and seek God’s mercy at least upon those hurting far more than we are?
  2. Have you prayed, really prayed, daily for government leaders, regardless of their political party?
  3. Have you truly been trusting only God to bring this to an end?  Not Presidents, or Popes, or Doctors, or Vaccines.  Just God.
  4. Are you secretly believing America will just get back to normal next month, and be none the worse by this time next year?

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my Rock and my Salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken (Psalm 62:5-6).

Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day might bring (Proverbs 27:1).

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever (Revelation 5:13).

Come, let us return to the Lord! For He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up (Hosea 6:1).

O God our Father, fill us with Your Spirit and humble us, for the sake of Christ, amen.  

 

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COVID, the Constitution, and the Church

Like millions around this nation and globe, I have watched a virus reign terror down upon us.  Or, is it our governments and medical professionals reigning terror down upon us?  Or is it both?

I am not a doctor or medical professional.  I have no idea how best to battle a pandemic, at least not from a medical perspective.  But I also have read enough to know that doctors around the world are not in agreement on the matter either.  The medical recommendations vary quite widely, depending upon the nation, or the worldview of the doctors giving the advice.  As usual, science, especially medical science dealing with the complexity of the human body, is anything but exact.  This is perhaps why medical professionals are urging governments to literally close everything down – because they realize they truly have no control over this invisible killer.

I also know the irony of our pro-abortion society, and others like us around the world, suddenly urging us all to sacrifice everything to spare as many lives as possible, is stratospheric.  If Darwin’s theory is true, like our state-run educational systems and universities have insisted it is for 1o0+ years, then this virus is doing the human race a favor.  It is survival of the fittest, right?  And why work so hard and sacrifice so much for organized pond scum?  If we all came from a primordial worm-like creature, as this article purports (https://phys.org/news/2020-03-ancestor-animals-australian-fossils.html) then why are we scrambling to spare human lives?  We have professors at universities who have for decades taught our nation’s leaders that a pig is a cat is a dog is a human (research some of Dr. Peter Singer’s statements, for example).  But it turns out, during a pandemic we discover we cannot really live out that godless, atheistic Darwinian worldview.  We simply cannot extinguish the Doctrine of Man made in God’s Image, no matter how much academia tells us it should be snuffed out.

The irony is even thicker, however, when we see States claiming abortion is an “essential service” while church assemblies and other needed medical procedures are not.  The state of North Carolina has determined law enforcement should arrest side-walk prayer warriors and counselors outside abortion clinics, even though they are not violating any CDC COVID-19 guidelines.  Meanwhile, inside those infanticide clinics, every code is being violated, including the ultimate one, “Thou shalt not murder.”  Watch this insanity unfold here: https://lifepetitions.com/petition/support-sidewalk-counselors-arrested-for-praying-outside-of-abortion-mills

Seems to me the most lawless among us may well be our own governments!  As a former Marine Officer, I vowed to “Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”  I am not sure how best to fight politicians who trample our Constitution in the name of a pandemic or “the greater good.”  This is the same argument that gave us Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  It’s how the eugenics movement has advanced around the globe for the last 100 years.  While I know there are many fantastic law enforcement officials all over this country, the fact that some will actually arrest peaceful Americans breaking no actual laws ought to disturb all of us greatly.

My own local county health department recently emailed pastors directly, telling us not to hold drive-in worship services until further notice.  When I pull into the parking lots at Wal-Mart or Dollar General, or get food at a Drive-Thru, or grab a carry out bag from a cashier, or pull up to a stop light in downtown Louisville with my window rolled down, I am much more at risk than anything happening at a church drive-in service.  Churches were targeted and there was so much push back that, thank God, our health department removed all those public website postings aimed at us.  If this kind of overreach and abuse of authority is happening in small-town Indiana, I can only imagine how bad it is in more populous regions.  Health Departments do not even make law!  So, as an American citizen I am very concerned about all the over-reach I see happening.  What we citizens allow our government to do, what rights we voluntarily give up, what trampling of the Constitution we permit, our government will not soon forget.  History does not lie to us in these matters.

Now, let me take a deep breath or two, and tell you as a local pastor I am very concerned to find the right balance here.  I want to protect my church, as every pastor I know does.  I do not want to do something that endangers their lives needlessly.  I am especially aware of our sweet, elderly saints who are most vulnerable to this virus.  We canceled worship services back in mid-March. We urged our older folks to stay home and let deacons deliver food or necessities to their door steps.  We have been using some online formats to do Bible studies.  We have called and texted and face-timed more.  We have tried to submit to our governing authorities, as the Lord requires (Romans 13).  I even quarantined my own family for 8-9 days when I suspected one of us may have been exposed.

But somewhere there is a line.  The early church recognized it.  When the governing officials required them to disobey or dishonor God Almighty, those first Christians said, “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).  And they were willing to bear whatever consequences came.

A pastor in Florida was arrested for allowing members to congregate in violation of CDC and local guidelines.  While I strongly oppose this pastor’s doctrine (he distorts the gospel), and I also think his actions were foolish, I am not so sure he should or even could be rightly arrested.  Not in America.  In China, yes.  But not in the USA.

Again, do not misunderstand me.  I do not think this is a time for pastors and churches to defy governing authorities.  At least not yet.  But there is a line out there somewhere . . . right?

Our Lord’s expectations on us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” combined with the dozens of “one another’s” that simply cannot be obeyed virtually, digitally or online, tell all of us who love and follow our Risen King that we may have to cross that line sooner, rather than later.

Our hope is never in government.  Or medicine. Or technology.  Our hope is Christ Himself, crucified, risen, ascended, reigning in His church, and returning to rule the whole world.  Our short-term future looks bleak, dear Church.  But our long-term future is as bright as the Son in all His radiant glory (Revelation 22:1-5).

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

 

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COVID-19 and the “Cool Church”

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others (Matt 6:5).

What I am about to say is not intended as a judgment upon any decisions being made by faithful pastors all around this nation.  And I certainly have no reason to impugn motives.  I have very close pastor friends who will not agree with all I say here.  They sharpen me.  And I offer these thoughts only to honor my Savior, stay true to His Word, and compel us all to ask good questions during this crisis concerning the essence of the church, her worship, her ordinances, and her mission.  This is not meant to be a rant.  It is, rather, a heartfelt plea to stop and prayerfully think about what we are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For the glory of God in the Gospel of Christ and for the good of His bride, the Church.     

In the last few days, I have attended in-person pastor gatherings, and online pastor gatherings.  We are, of course, all talking about the same thing – how to shepherd well the flock of God entrusted to us through this virus outbreak.  Do we cancel services?  Limit out gatherings to 50 or less (Indiana), 10 or less (Federal), or just love our neighbors enough to limit nearly all human contact for two weeks to see if the Lord will use it to slow the spread?  And then there’s the whole question of how to keep shepherding and teaching and connecting while holed up in our homes (assuming we do cancel and/or quarantine).

The elders here have decided to cancel all gatherings for the rest of this month.  And while we are offering a new podcast, and plan to do some discipleship classes via online platforms, we are not offering “online worship.”  Granted, we have not been a “cool church” ever.  I abhor what Facebook and YouTube as companies support (abortion and pornography).  I cringe to use those platforms, and have for years.  Even the online classes we are now doing make me a bit nervous.  Some churches have been streaming worship, and doing all sorts of online stuff for years now.  This crisis probably doesn’t affect much for them, with the exception of the actual physical gathering.

But that’s precisely the point at which I wish to engage us and challenge us a bit.  I offer three reasons we think it best not to do online worship and/or to live stream a local church worship service. 

  1. The Biblewe have no example at all in the Scriptures of a worship assembly being anything other than an actual worship assembly!  The expectation in the Old Testament is the “whole assembly” of Israel (including children) gathers to hear God’s Word proclaimed and to worship and commit themselves to obeying God.  See for example Deuteronomy 31:9-12 and Nehemiah 8.  That expectation carries into the New Testament.  Consider  the Book of Acts.  A church assembly in that Book clearly anticipates all those who have been baptized into the local fellowship and their children gathering for hearing doctrine, praying, and taking the Lord’s Supper together and meals together (Acts 2:41-47 being the quintessential summary statement).  The Apostle Paul assumes whole families are present together in the church worship assembly (he directly addresses children in Eph 6:1-3 and Col 3:20).  Paul speaks of the Corinthian Church gathering as “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor 14:23).  So, we who hold to the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures should be very, very skeptical and cautious when making claims that we are having “online worship gatherings” or that we are “doing church online.”  We should be more honest, I think, and just admit this actually cannot be done “online” or in quarantine, at least not the way the Lord and His apostles command / prescribe. 
  2. The Doctrine of the Churchto assemble is at the very heart of what it means to be a church.  This is why the Lord forbids us to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb 10:25).  Now, when we are sick or out-of-town or providentially hindered in some way, we are not sinning by being absent from our local church gatherings.  If you go on and read the following verse (Heb 10:26) it is clear the author has a willful neglect of the church assembly in mind.  Nevertheless, we simply cannot pretend that actually getting together as God’s redeemed people in Christ to praise Him, to pray hand-in-hand, to sing in harmony together, to hear the Word and discuss it together, to do the one another’s, is not a significant part of what makes us an actual church.  There is no virtual church!  There is no online church gathering.  Friends, I am not saying we should not try to somehow “connect” with one another in these difficult days.  I am not saying using online platforms is wrong or sinful.  But the way we use them, and the way we market or promote these methods, matters a lot.  We do not want to give our folks the idea that we can actually be a New Testament church online.  Togetherness defines us!  It’s what made the witness of the early church so powerful in their community and made people either avoid them or want to come be a part of God’s work in the church (Acts 4:12-16).  Why not just humble ourselves and admit God is pulling the carpet out from under us right now?  Our idols are being removed (sports, concerts, celebrity preacher conferences, economy, comfort).  God exiled Israel.  He removed their ability to worship Him in the way He had prescribed!  The temple was smashed!  And He did so to create a renewed hunger for worshiping God in God’s way.  The exile periods revived the righteous remnant (Ezra 7-10; Mal 3:16-18).  We have been praying for revival, haven’t we Church?  But it seems we are in danger of only wanting it to come by means of our own choosing.  While I pray all this “online worship” will actually create a renewed thirst to actually worship Christ in the way He has designed (covenantal life-on-life), I fear it may well backfire on us!  Which leads me to . . .   
  3. Our Culture – We already have a large segment of Christendom that think they are going to church or worshiping with the church by sitting in their bathrobes with a cup of java in their kitchens in front of screens.  We evangelicals have for the most part strongly opposed such a view.  We already have churches and whole denominations that do not even believe in church membership (covenant / commitment to a local body).  We Reformed Pastors have stood against this shallow, non-committed, unaccountable, undisciplined view of Church for decades now.  But it seems to me we very easily caved to that very model once a virus hit.  We are potentially and inadvertently contributing to the very mess we have opposed on doctrinal and theological grounds!  One pastor in the online training I attended earlier this week said, “We’ve not seen church-hopping like we’re about to see now.”  Well, surely we all know he’s right.  Not just digital church hopping (which so long as our people are listening to biblically faithful preaching is no worry at all actually), but actual church hopping.  Well, that church has better live streams.  Well, that church’s innovative podcast and rocking worship band (who happens now to be playing their instruments and singing their songs only for the cameras) tickles my fancy more than my more old-fashioned church.  We say we’re not in competition with other faithful churches, but it doesn’t look that way right now, dear brothers and sisters, as we rush to have the best online worship and we all (or at least most of us) preach to empty rooms! 

God help us slow down and think more carefully about what we are doing and why.  His glory in the Church is worth it, right?  Remember, as a pastor-mentor of mine used to say, “What we win them with is what we have to keep them with.”    

Now, all that said, I pray and trust Jesus will save many sinners through this pandemic.  Our God brings beauty from ashes.  Jesus will save sinners who hear the gospel online.  And I pray and trust those truly born again, that the Holy Spirit will move them to be baptized into a local fellowship as soon as possible.  I pray faithful churches who just want to shepherd their people and not miss evangelistic opportunities will be given God’s wisdom and power to exalt the Risen Christ.  I pray we will all be kind to one another as we critique and challenge each other in these trying times.  Again, I reiterate, I respect those making different decisions than we are.  And I am open to hearing a critique of my critique!  Most of all, I pray our Triune God receives all glory, every ounce of it, for both His acts of righteous judgment and His acts of saving grace! 

My own view of preaching and legitimate church worship assemblies may not be yours.  Preaching is not precisely the same thing as teaching in my view.  Our church is doing some online teaching.  But to preach to an empty room is not in line with God’s design for the preaching / worship event, in my humble opinion.  I am not against live-streaming a sermon so long as it is actually being preached to a live, in-the-flesh church / audience.  I can see the benefit to shut-in members or those providentially hindered.  But right now that’s all of us!  And while some may argue this is precisely why their online worship method is acceptable, I am arguing it is best to just say, “Church, we actually cannot have a worship gathering right now.  Let’s fast and pray God will reunite us soon!” 

Every Sunday gathering is unique and unrepeatable.  God shows up among His people in covenant with Him by Jesus’ blood, and sacrificially committed to one another, in ways that simply are not likely to be duplicated with online “gatherings.”  You may worship God in spirit and truth with your family or even your small group in your homes, and in front of an I-phone.  In fact, we are praying for a revival of Family Worship in our church!  And we are praying for a revival of true fellowship among smaller groups in our church!  But you may not, from a New Testament viewpoint, call that in home gathering a church, nor a church worship assembly.  The church is the whole body . . . together.  And when one member is missing, we all suffer (1 Cor 12).  O, that God would revive a true ecclesiology among us during this time.  

More questions – What is the benefit or upside to offering a live stream sermon with no actual church gathered to hear it, compared to just encouraging our people to go listen to the years’ worth of archived sermons we all have on our church websites already?  Do we seriously think our church members were all present for each one of those sermons?  Do we really think they remember them?  Are there no good truths or lessons or life applications from those past sermons that will serve them faithfully now?  Is it absolutely necessary that church members hear a “fresh” word or sermon this Sunday?  This crisis has reminded me just how susceptible I am as a Pastor to pride and the notion that I am somehow indispensible to the local church, so much so that they cannot even go a week or two without me.  God forgive me and us.  If we have fed them the whole counsel of God over the years, they can go be refreshed by a sermon from three years ago!  Our church has encouraged this among our members – to go listen to an old sermon.  And we are also telling them if they want to hear an online sermon at this time, why bother with us local small fries?  Log onto John MacArthur, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Steven Lawson or HB Charles, Jr.  Seize the opportunity to hear from these uber-gifted preachers.  Praise God, if our people get more exposed to God’s Word coming through these men! 

But at the same time, just know that if/when you are lying sick in the hospital, it will not be John Piper who risks his own well-being to come pray over you.  It will be that local shepherd, called by God to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2).  And THAT is a stark reminder of church God’s way.                                             

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