In Florida, particularly in North Central Florida, many of our churches have meet for worship during the entirety of Covid experience. We have not encountered strict resistance accept through some edicts handed down from the Alachua County Commissioners and the city of Gainesville. We have, for all intents and purposes, been free to worship and gather safely.
Gathering in church during Covid, however, has been a luxury that many of our brothers and sisters around the continent have not enjoyed. In many “Blue” states and much to our north, churches, pastors, and congregations have had to meet virtually and under the ever-watchful eye of government and her restrictions. Late last year we heard about the run-in with local and state government by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. The result was a positive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Not every pastor is so fortunate. Pastor James Coates, the pastor of GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada, was recently thrown into jail for being so bold as to hold in-person services in violation of coronavirus restrictions. You are welcome to watch the video describing Pastor Coates actions on the reports Global News Hour or https://globalnews.ca/news/7646546/alberta-pastor-covid-19-bail-rcmp-custody/.
Even though Coates received a $1,200 fine in December he continued to encourage his church to meet. Alberta Health Services ordered the church to shut down in January and then arrested the pastor early in February. In an issued statement, Coates lawyer, James Kitchens says, “At this point, he is prepared to incur the consequences, up to and including imprisonment to continue to do what he believes is the right thing to do for his people.” Kitchens expressed Coates’ view, “His first obedience is to his Lord, is to his God. And normally, obeying Jesus and obeying the government go right in hand,” Kitchen told Canadian TV News that, “The government is forcing Pastor Coates into a position where he has to choose between disobeying God and obeying government, or obeying God and disobeying government.”
Coates said he must obey God over man in his last sermon. What about you? Are you willing to forego meeting with your congregation to follow the law? At what point does the need for and the command for meeting supersede government edicts? The reason for posting this article is that I sense we must start making up our mind how far we are going to let the government interfere with the call in the scripture to not forego meeting together with the saints. It depends on how one interprets scripture. The church has encountered many pandemics and in most cases continued to meet. Knowing what we know about viruses (particularly regarding the past and how viruses are transmitted), some might say we now have new information and that we have new perceptions of pandemics and how to care for people, thus we should not meet until we are completely safe. For some time I supported the shut down of churches to protect our congregations. I believe if the virus were as bad as we were made to believe from China, that shuttering our churches was the right course of action.
It is of note, many people have been affected by the virus. Many people have died. Many people have lost loved ones. This is true and ought not be minimized. Nevertheless, the question remains, is having no church or church by computer the same as in-person worship? Should electronic media be the wave of church in the future or can we regather and seriously meet to worship? Even today, government authorities continue to say that after one receives the vaccine, either one or two doses, it is still not safe to connect with people without social distancing and masking. I guess the answer is complicated. How much freedom are we willing to give up and how much risk do are we willing to assume during the next pandemic? Most churches are not robustly returning. This year will be another year of low interaction with our congregations. The effect of a year or more away from the routine of worship has weeded out those who really want to gather for worship, in person and on media. But what about the next virus?
If the government says we must shut down, if you are pressured to close your church for whatever reason, are you going to follow? Get prepared. It is coming. Coney Barrett and Kavanaugh ruled against ruling on any election related cases. When the next issue comes up it may not go in favor of the church. I encourage you today to be prepared. Have your plans in place now as to how you are going to encourage your people, worship, and minister. Are you ready to be the voice that says, “no further!” If you don’t have a plan, it is inevitable, our church members will meet less, feed less, exhort less, and frankly love God less…