As believers, how can we best cope with the current restrictions on group gatherings and the COVID-19 pandemic that are prohibiting us from meeting together on Sunday mornings and from other ecclesial functions?
Answer We all understand that it is our duty to meet together as Brethren in Christ and members of the household of faith. In fact, our need to meet together is more now than ever as we face this time of unprecedented global crisis. The Apostle Paul exhorts us accordingly in Hebrews 10:24-25: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV). There is no better advice or more encouraging words on this subject than this. It’s just that our “meeting together” has to look different now.
It is not easy for any of us that are trying to cope with “stay at home orders” that are in force in most states and cities due to current public health concerns. There is no question, however, that believers are to follow the laws of the land as the Apostles Paul and Peter also clearly declared: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (Romans 13:1-2).
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 (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Our first obligation is always to Fear God but we are also to honor the king (vs. 17) as long as his laws are not in opposition to God’s. And certainly, the current rash of “stay at home” orders do not contradict God’s laws or commandments. It has not always been that way as we well know. In times past, under authoritarian governments, public gatherings were banned and groups of believers were prohibited from meeting in a specific attempt to suppress God’s Truth. This is not the situation at all with the current restrictions. We all realize their purpose is to ensure our health and safety and that of others in our communities. And as it has turned out, they have not been an impediment to performing our duties as Brethren of Christ – thanks to our present-day technology. Thus, within all of our abilities, as individuals, families and ecclesias, we are obeying the current restrictions on movement, congregating and group activities. We have responded accordingly and are doing the best we can to continue “meeting together” under the present circumstances. How very thankful we are that we can continue to do so “virtually” if not in person!
Our efforts to “meet” remotely, while staying at home, has required flexibility and adaptation on our part as a community of believers, but nothing like what believers had to endure in Biblical times during similar crises. Believers have endured persecution, torture, illness, starvation, and rejection. Yet through each crisis, they clung to their faith and to each other. For example, Paul suffered all of these things as he enumerates in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30. And he concluded by saying, Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
And after Paul was imprisoned in Rome (a form of quarantine!), he couldn’t physically be with the ecclesias he had started; yet he remained “present” by penning letters to them along with individual brethren he knew and loved, such as Timothy and Titus. Just as we are trying to do, Paul found a way to stay spiritually and socially connected the best he could under the circumstances. Why did Paul put forth the effort to continue to stay in touch with those of “like precious faith”, when no one would have blamed him if he’d “holed up” in isolation? Why have believers down through the centuries who have faced persecution and even imprisonment done the same? Why do believers travel for several hours each Sunday to attend a memorial service in some parts of the world (including more than a few in this country) when it would be easier to simply stay home? Because we are commanded to do so and because we need each other and the strength that we gain from being exhorted from God’s Word and remembering our Lord’s sacrifice each week in fellowship one with another. And frankly, we need this and we need each other more now than ever.
We fully understand that this pandemic is not the first trial Christ’s ecclesia has faced; and “as we see the Day approaching”, it is likely not be the last. As a Christadelphian body, we have been in similar situations before: most predominantly with the Spanish influenza that infected ~500 million people (25% of the world’s population) from 1918-1920. This pandemic greatly affected the household with bans on gatherings and social distancing requirements. In ecclesial news and updates in The Advocate from that time, it was reported that members were having to meet in smaller groups and that individuals were meeting with others in isolation who could not travel at all. Brothers and sisters then navigated their challenges with far fewer resources and tools (no phones, no internet, and very few cars) compared to what we have today; yet were attentive to the health and wellbeing of their fellow brethren.
Again, how thankful we are that we have options now in the 21st century that they did not have 100 years ago. Through advancements in telecommunications, we now have a number of ecclesias that are conducting Sunday School, memorial services and weeknight classes online. And there are a myriad of video and audio recordings that are available for watching and listening to on various Christadelphian websites.
Yes, how thankful we are that we can continue to meet together while abiding by the current restrictions and not putting ourselves at risk of exposure to this deadly virus! Why should we meet together? We meet together to help each other persevere in faith. When life throws us a curveball, like it has with COVID-19, even those whose faith seems unshakeable can feel shaken. The simple act of meeting together gives us access to encouragement when we lack courage, comfort when we are in crisis, counsel when we are confused, prodding when we need purpose.
And we can always continue to do our daily Bible readings, pray for one another, financially support those in need within and without the household, and participate in other activities that will sustain us, spiritually, physically and emotionally, through these difficult times.
Let us then communicate any and every way we can with…
1. encouraging emails, texts or posts on the internet
2. cards or letters (especially for those that have special physical or spiritual needs);
3. video chats via Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live, Google Hangouts or Skype;
4. phone calls (it is particularly important to communicate this way with the elderly and those that do not have the internet or computers); and
5. prayers (last but certainly not least, we must be in continuous communication with our Heavenly Father, petitioning Him for the help and comfort that we all need).
With God’s help, we as individuals and as a community will not only survive, but thrive even when we are forbidden to meet together in person. As believers, we will find a way to be together because we know we must. We must stay connected with each other, our Creator and our Lord and Savior. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).