Recently the news has reported that a few pastors and churches have gotten in trouble for holding church services during COVID-19 stay at home orders. These churches claim that it is unconstitutional for any government to refuse them their right to express their religious beliefs.
As an Army Chaplain, I understand their concern well. A primary tenant of my job is to ensure that every Soldier has the freedom and ability to express their religion. However, it’s also essential to notice that we live in unprecedented times. Therefore, who is right? Churches or the government? I believe asking who is right versus who is wrong is begging the wrong question. Instead, there is a better question to ask!
The better question is, what does it look like to love my neighbor? See, the issue is not whether it is legally right or wrong for churches to hold services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeking the correct legal answer is similar to the actions of the religious leaders who crucified Jesus. That’s company we should not want. Instead, love and wisdom should supersede right and wrong. We then should look at these higher principled approaches.
If we are not acting in love, then we should reconsider our motives. Remember, the Greatest Commandment in Luke 10:27 encouraged us to love both “the Lord your God” and our “neighbor.” To love the Lord your God then is to love one’s neighbor by compassionately emulating the grace Christ displayed to us. Let’s then always ask, are what we are doing, is it in love? Either long-term or short-term?
See, Christians could successfully argue that the government cannot infringe our right to religious freedom, to include corporate worship. From a legal basis alone, the government has overreached in restricting the free exercise of religion, no matter what you think of the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution.
Yet, perhaps a reason why the government continues its overreach is that we Christians are not choosing to exercise our religious freedom beyond worship. Remember, worship is not limited to just Sunday mornings. Neither does the government control the posture of our hearts and how we choose to worship from day-to-day. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1 to practice a “living and holy sacrifice to God, which is our spiritual act of worship.” Worship then is a lifestyle, not a once a week corporate event, a lifestyle rooted in love. A love we should exercise in worship with another.
Furthermore, wisely volunteering to worship beyond in-person gatherings takes the government’s influence out of a church’s decision-making process. That leaves little room for government coercion. So, how about that for sticking it to the man? Sarcasm and jest aside, no one should be coerced to love our neighbor; instead, when we follow the Spirit of Christ who lives within, we then lead the culture than directly legally challenging it. Plus, our example might help our Christian witness to the culture.
Remember, Christians should not just win arguments alone. We should try to win people and our culture to Christ, who’s hope brings implications for both eternity and applications to impact the culture today. Loving then both God and neighbor by protecting other’s health is a great way to show His grace and hope within us to our communities. Let’s choose to show His love than our stubbornness.
In closing, I believe the answer to corporate worship is not whether we are legally right or wrong to meet as congregations during COVID-19 restrictions. Again, that’s the technical and legalistic approach, which is not great company.We can be technically right, but lovingly wrong! Instead, a wiser and grace-filled approach is one where we love both God and our neighbors. Let’s then wear face-masks, stay at home, worship virtually, cook a meal for another, even pay bills for others if we have the means. Let’s love our neighbor by protecting our neighbor as the Holy Spirit leads each of us. Examples like these will provide more powerful witnesses long-term to our communities and our nation. Let’s then consider our approach and how it impacts our witness to give people the best health and hope of all in this time of considerable uncertainty.