When the initial news of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hit the United States, few came to grips with the seriousness of the situation. The speed of the virus and the implications of the virus with closings and cancelations is astonishing. It is still difficult for me to realize that in such a short time we have gone from purchasing a few extra bottles of hand sanitizer to moving our Sunday Morning Worship Service online. Wow! There are theological and gospel statements being made when the church gathers on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day—Sunday. Christians all around the world risk their lives just to gather with other believers on the Lord’s Day. So, when we made the decision to move our service online, it wasn’t a decision that was made lightly. In fact, I spent more time compiling information in reference to COVID-19 than for any other decision to cancel any service in the history of my ministry. Yet, I am confident that the right decision has been made.
The Consequence of Decisions
We made the decision to move our Morning Worship Service online because we wanted to protect the flock of Rose Hill Baptist Church. There is ample evidence that COVID-19 has the most destructive and deadly impact on those who are elderly and those with underlying health problems. It has been my experience that when there are obstacles in coming to church (health, weather, etc.) the younger, healthier people stay away and the older, more fragile people come. Simply put, the people who could be devastated most by the virus are those who will attend no matter what. As the Under-shepherd of Rose Hill Baptist Church, along with our Deacons and staff we have a responsibility to protect the flock that has been entrusted to us. We believe that we have a responsibility to the flock and a responsibility to the community.
We have a responsibility to our community to be a conduit of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not a conduit of COVID-19. There are now multiple examples of the impact that religious gatherings have on the spread of this virus. At the time of this writing 108 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have ties to the synagogue in New Rochelle, Ny. In Harrison County, Ky., a number of those diagnosed with the virus have ties to a single church. It is not enough to ask those who are sick to stay home because it appears that the virus may possibly be spread by those who are asymptomatic.
Evidence indicates that implementing social distancing, which we have heard so much about as of late, actually significantly reduces the spread of the virus. Gathering with other believers during the pandemic may actually accelerate the spread of the virus, not slow the spread of the virus. Many are taking precautions such as washing hands, reducing physical contact, etc. The same officials who encouraged these precautions also encouraged avoiding meeting in large groups.
Each church’s leadership must make the decision to meet, to meet online or to simply cancel services, but remember decisions have consequences. I believe in an autonomous church. I believe that every person is responsible for the decisions that they make. I also believe that when a pastor or church leader is encouraging people from other churches who have canceled their services to join them in worship, they are rejecting the leadership of that person’s church. Now is the time when we all must work together to protect the churches we serve. The decisions that we make may negatively or positively impact the communities that we serve.
I believe the Prophet Jeremiah’s instruction to those Jewish exiles are very helpful in times like these. He writes, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” (29:7). Jeremiah instructed them to be a blessing to the city in which they were sent as exiles. Decisions have consequences, brothers remember your decisions, whatever they may be, may not only affect you but it may affect your entire community.