But What If…?

Time for a thought experiment. And I am serious about it. I want you to consider a “what if?”

A little over a year ago, we reopened our church doors. We were told to keep them shut. But ten weeks of that was enough. God was to be worshiped, not from a couch but from a pew. Not just with a household, but with a congregation. The sights, sounds, and touch experienced corporately cannot be experienced watching a screen.

Two things were acknowledged and discussed amongst our leadership prior to reopening. The first was we might get in trouble. That one was dismissed in about 30 seconds. The other was much weightier. What if we were being reckless? Meaning, what if our people got sick and died? That one gave us pause but the elders and deacons were of one mind. It was time for face-to-face Word and sacrament ministry to resume.

We did not get in trouble. We received two phone calls from the state. That was it. They had no standing and they knew it. A handful of people got sick, but as best we can tell, no cases were contracted at church. And certainly no one died.

But what if someone did? And we could trace it back to one of our worship services? What if three died? What if seven died? What if twenty died? Think with me.

It is an easy assessment when there are no consequences for our decision. Plus, throw in the fact we have grown by 75% during the last year, and we are all smiles and high-fives concerning our decision.

But once again, what if people died because we were compelled to worship God the same way we did pre-pandemic? Would we still be grinning?

I certainly would not be smiling if a single parishioner passed. There would be a measure of remorse the rest of my life. But I must tell you, even with the passing of some of our members, I would still look you in the eye today and tell you we made the right decision.

This year has not been one of the church’s brightest moments. God, not COVID-19, shook the church. What did we discover? The data is still coming in but early evaluations are not good. Pastor Doug Wilson recently wrote the following in a blog post entitled, “Playing a Doctor on TV is Better Than Playing a Preacher in the Pulpit”:

This last year was an ecclesiastical shakeup. It was not a drill. It was a year of hard discovery for many parishioners. Many of the sheep found out that their shepherds did not have a firm grasp of green pastures, still waters, rods or staves, or wolves. Seminary had never really gone into all of that. Seminary was much stronger on verbs ending in mi than it was with sins beginning with me.

And so it was that too many Christians found out that their pastors were cowards. Or that they were gullible. Or that they did not really understand the biblical relationship of the church to the civil magistrate. Or that they were looking for a crisis that would help mask their leftward drift into the swamps of woke. Or that they were good men who got into something that was over their heads. Or that they were too prickly or defensive when parishioners asked perfectly reasonable questions like “how long are we going to keep doing this?” Or that they took offense too easily, misconstruing the nature of the dilemma that many faithful Christians were experiencing. No in-person worship for a year? Seriously?

The secularists shut down life to preserve life, so we were told. But why did the church shut down the church? Some opined that by doing so they were loving their neighbor. Some said we had to, “Romans 13 you biblical illiterate.” Neither argument resonates. I am going on record, no pastor or church that shut down will ever be greeted by a community member grateful for the love they felt because the church emptied its parking lot for a year. And to my pastor colleagues who doubled down on Romans 13, Peter and John gave us the qualifier in Acts 4, we obey God over man.

I can somewhat understand the secularist position. If this life is all we have, it makes sense those who believe this would protect it at all costs. But the church’s abdication of in-person Lord’s Day worship? In some cases, for over a year? Is our mist-of-a-life experience on earth more important than God’s greater call on our life? Our highest calling is to worship God; and to do so corporately and publicly. To not defy petty ordinances that demanded shut-downs, masks, and to “shut-up about it” was disappointing to see.

What will we learn from all of this? What happens next time when our thought leaders cry, “COVID-20! Shut ‘er all down!” Or, what happens when worshiping God is considered hate speech? Time for God’s shepherds to gird up. And it is time for God’s sheep to be confident when the next “crisis” comes, the church doors will remain open. And by the way, that’s how we love our neighbor, preaching the free offer of the gospel no matter the cost. And that is reminding the secularists to stay in their lane.

Pastor Rich Hamlin
June 17, 2021

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