Is an empty church obeying men rather than God?

A corollary to that question is: are we actually assembling when we do it virtually?

At least one pastor has been arrested for insisting that his church remain open when the government has decreed that no groups of over ten people should meet—except in hospitals, stores, and other critical places.

Many can see this pastor’s point. After all, the Bible says, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

Shouldn’t we gather? Are Facebook Live and Zoom services actually assembling ourselves?

Or, should we defy the government guidelines and sit in pews or chairs, all together, as usual?

Let’s look at the other side of the issue, okay? The government has shut things down in order to flatten the curve and save many lives. If this advice is heeded, they say literally hundreds of thousands more people will survive the coronavirus scourge than would if these measures were not heeded. If people go about normal life, the peak of the curve means hospitals are not able to cope—which is true—and many more deaths will ensue.

The Bible says, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

God says to fear God and honor the king (government). Can we do both in this situation, or do we have to choose?

Let’s consider another ethical question: is it right to value life? Almost every Christian would say yes. Life is God-given. No one has the right to take another’s life in murder. We’re against abortion, killing embrios, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.

I want to paint a scenario for you. Pastor X decides his church ought to obey God rather than men (lifted from Acts 5:29, about stopping the preaching of the gospel). Pastor X has services. His congregation comes on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evenings. Men, women, children, and seniors are together. They sing in worship. They hold children’s classes. People shake hands and greet each other. They even divide up into intimate, small prayer groups on Wednesday night.

Two weeks later, half of the congregation is infected with Covid19. Several of the seniors are in Intensive Care, and even some of the teens and children are finding it difficult to breathe.

They keep meeting, carrying on as before. Seniors are dying. So are younger people. Children with asthma and immune deficiencies are in Intensive Care.

After five weeks, there are very few people in Pastor X’s church who are not self-isolating or in the hospital. In fact, Pastor X himself is very ill and unable to preach. It’s all he can do to breathe.

Now, this is a totally hypothetical picture, and I pray it doesn’t happen anywhere. But, it’s realistic, if people do not take extreme precautions in the face of a virus with no known cure, that’s extremely contagious and dangerous.

Is it right to expose a congregation to sickness and death when it’s in your power to protect them?

Is it wrong to hold services online for a limited time in order to save lives?

Are we assembling if the assembly is virtual? Is it truly corporate worship?

And finally, what do you think God thinks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Maybe this includes temporary, online church.

What’s your opinion?

2 Replies to “Is an empty church obeying men rather than God?”

  1. If the government were saying “forever,” that would be a whole different scenario. But they are not. At least, not in America. So far. I do believe we are “assembling,” digitally, and my church has also provided for an online Sunday school class, prayer meeting, and biweekly devotionals from various church members. These internet “meetings” are a great blessing. Added to what my own church is doing, I can also find other churches all over the internet who are also offering preaching and music. I could watch the church of my choice all day, if I choose.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I believe a lot of churches actually have a greater impact at this strange time in history. I know we take in three or four services on Sundays now, which is impossible with commute and no online live services. A blessing.

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