I’m a Christian Pastor.
I believe the temporary suspension of public gatherings to be the wisest course of action as we follow the suggestions of our government officials, the scientific community, and the emphatic media.
I am not alone.
Around the country we’ve seen thousands of religious leaders answer the call to #StayHome. With enthusiasm and a genuine sense of collaboration, Christian leaders have asked their congregants to remain in their houses, practice social distancing, and watch their church services online. We see the Coronavirus as a challenge we all face, together.
Of our own free will, we closed our doors and directed our congregants to Facebook Live, YouTube, and other livestreaming services.
Under the sovereign guidance of the Lord, we felt compelled to shut down our ministries in order to protect the physical lives of those who are said to be most at risk.
We have an obligation to understand and obey the Apostle Paul’s directive in Romans 13 which outlines the Christian’s general posture toward human government.
Romans 13:1-2 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
We desire to be good citizens. And, as a simple pastor of a midsize church in Las Vegas, I’d like to say that the majority of the Christian community is attempting to handle this challenge with grace, cooperation, and love.
However, it’s important to inform certain government officials who have little exposure to Christianity that you should never threaten the church with permanent closure, as was done on Friday by Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City.
I want to humbly, yet with great conviction and confidence, present three reasons why it is a bad idea to threaten the church.
1 – It Will Surely Backfire
So far, our government officials have received almost universal support from the religious community in the United States. We understand the dangers of COVID-19. The physicians and scientists in our own congregations have walked us through the potential dangers to our beloved elder population, and those with preexisting conditions. Out of love for our neighbors, we have been willing to sacrifice what we hold as sacred. Weekly services, partaking of communion, Palm Sunday, corporate prayer, Holy Week, baptisms, and even Easter Celebrations have all been willingly relinquished.
The Christian community has even been putting social pressure on the few pastors and congregations who are slow in coming to this decision through denominational leadership, social media, and personal conversations. Thus far, the attack on the Coronavirus has been a joint effort.
But men like Mayor Bill de Blasio threaten to ruin this collaboration.
“A small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues, are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s so widespread,” the New York Democrat said Friday at his daily press briefing. “I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services. If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”
I’m certainly hopeful that Mayor de Blasio simply misspoke in a moment of frustration. Otherwise, he is demonstrating a massive lack of knowledge in relation to one of the minority groups found in his city. Throughout history, Christians have been found to be good citizens who desire to obey governmental authorities…up to a specific point. However, when governmental authority indicates a willingness to prohibit us from following our faith permanently, they will soon see that true Christians are not so easily persuaded and controlled.
Yet, there’s more.
2- You Don’t Understand our Faith nor our History
Please understand! I am on your side. I am not one who believes that the prohibition of gatherings during this crisis has anything to do with religious persecution. As long as the casinos are closed, Disneyland is shut down, and the movie theaters are prohibited from opening – it seems obvious that we are all in this thing together.
What you may not understand is that the church doesn’t view herself as just another non-essential business. We view ourselves as the Bride of Christ, followers of Jesus who were commanded to fulfill certain practices and ordinances. It doesn’t surprise me that unbelievers, cultural Christians, and politicians who use Christianity as a voting block would see our weekly gatherings as nonessential.
So, here’s what you need to know. The church will be conciliatory, up to a point. Yes, Christians throughout history have temporally suspended gathering together in extreme cases of epidemic, open war, or personal illness. Yet, she has quickly returned to public gatherings and corporate worship – because that is what the church does.
The church gathers.
Occasionally, she has done so in free societies with governmental approval.
More often, she has done so against governmental edict and in defiance to tyrannical mini lords.
Again, I’m on your side. I’m trying to help you understand a minority group in your constituency. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you know who we are because you voluntarily check the “Christian” box in surveys, forms, and the decennial census. We are not like the friends you know who claim to be Christians yet only attend worship at Christmas and Easter. History of Christianity as a college elective doesn’t give you enough information to properly grasp who we are as a people group.
When true Christians hear, “If you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services…and potentially closing the building permanently.” They rightfully resist such an overreach.
Our minds immediately go to the Ancient Roman persecutions of the church. We think of current underground church in China, unsanctioned by the state. We remember the brave Christians of Syria, marching out to the seashore in their orange jumpsuits. We know the inside of the Russian Gulags because we’ve heard the firsthand accounts, in our own pulpits, from Christian ministers who lived through these atrocities.
For your own sake, I’m asking. Stop demanding like a dictator. Keep requesting like a diplomate. Otherwise, you’ll likely have an even bigger problem on your hands.
I don’t think for a moment that Mayor Bill de Blasio is attempting to persecute Christians. I think he is under a great deal of pressure, wants to help save lives, and doesn’t understand why these people are so insistent on gathering. He is a sincere man, I’m sure. Yet, sincerely out of touch with true Christian thought and a people who value liberty above safety. Listen to one of our greatest theologians of the previous century:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.” – C.S. Lewis
Finally, there is one last reason you should forgo threatening the church.
3 – You’re NOT the Ultimate Authority
Though God is our ultimate authority, it is not to Him that I signify in this last point. I speak of the Bill of Rights. These constitutional rights are universally loved in our nation and stand as the highest authority in the land. Each of our public officials are required to take an oath to defend this constitution and to obey its’ laws. Therefore, when an elected official goes beyond their limited authority and attempts to demand conformity for the sake of safety, even to the point of usurping the constitution, we’d better beware.
Mr. Mayor. You have no constitutional authority to permanently shut down ANY religious institution. You simply don’t hold that kind of power.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
As an American who values the Bill of Rights, I find the language of Mayor Bill de Blasio to be extremely dangerous.
I have a few questions for the reader to consider.
Is it possible, as the mayor of NYC, that other mayors will hear his tone and utilize similar language and terminology?
Is it possible that, unless confronted with this terrible mistake, political leaders might attempt to reach for more power beyond what is constitutionally allowed?
Is it possible that this is not the last crisis our country will ever face?
Is it possible that allowing this speech to go unchecked could embolden those who are truly antichurch and antireligion?
Fellas in government, I’m not against you. Ladies in civic leadership, I am your biggest supporter! I know you’re tired, under a lot of pressure, and making mistakes along the way. Hey, you’re human like the rest of us.
You are doing a wonderful job attempting to keep this nation moving forward through one of the most dangerous times we’ve ever encountered.
You are far more qualified than I to speak on matters of national security, economic growth, and public health. I trust you and I pray for you.
However, we the American people, will NOT allow certain things to be said.
Even during a time of crisis.
Don’t threaten the church.
Jasper SelfMarch 30, 2020 at 2:59 pm
Well said. Thank you for saying what many of us think.
Arman CastroMarch 30, 2020 at 3:08 pm
I do agree with you 100%, Pastor Josh. God bless America! His grace and mercy be upon the people of this beautiful country.
Mike StowersMarch 31, 2020 at 3:24 am
Thank you sir!!
Josh WestmorelandMarch 30, 2020 at 3:11 pm
Hey, I’ll comment!
I was unaware that Mr. de Blasio said that, but I cannot day that I didn’t feel an overreach coming, however I also did not think it would be this soon.
Thank you for the thought Josh. Thank you also for being vigilant and firm, but also full of grace.
Val FoxMarch 30, 2020 at 5:25 pm
Thank you for sharing.
Harold J. CrumMarch 30, 2020 at 6:52 pm
I believe there is an overreach of authority shown within states. President Trump has been hesitant to make this a federal shut down, thankfully. Men of deceit are using this time of fear to take our rights out of our hands. Sad to say most people do not know they have the right to resist when leaders ignore the framework of OUR CONSTITION. To threaten The Church of God is shaking your fist in the face of God Isaiah 25:1.
Rich GranataMarch 30, 2020 at 9:16 pm
I think you’re missing the point (at least part of it). While I don’t agree with the mayor threatening to permanently shut churches (I didn’t hear him say that, but taking it at face value). However, the question that should be asked, is why did he have to say it in the first place? Maybe the churches he was referring to should be following their own “advice.”
(Ro 13). Just saying!
Merton JosephsonMarch 31, 2020 at 1:46 am
I beg to differ on the third point. God is the ultimate authority. The bill of rights are not our ultimate court of appeal nor our final written mandate. The Bible has more authority than the Bill of Rights.
Appreciative ReaderMarch 31, 2020 at 10:22 am
He stated, very clearly in the article, that God is our ultimate authority.
Bob MorrisseyMarch 31, 2020 at 3:23 am
Thanks Josh! I greatly appreciate this article,
Tommy AdamsMarch 31, 2020 at 3:27 am
Thank you .This has been on my mind and in my prayers for a while. Your words parallel my beliefs.
Ed CrawfordMarch 31, 2020 at 3:13 pm
Setting aside the pandemic for a moment, If an organization is violating the fire code or building code, doesn’t the local government have a legal right to close the building? If the operator of that facility publicly states that they are going to ignore the fire or building code, the government is going to have to take an equally public position to stop the operator. As long as the government is fairly enforcing the code to both for-profit and non-profit organizations, this is not necessarily religious persecution.
It very well could be general unfair-regulations and/or over-regulations but if it is targeted at the population as a whole, churchs’ responsibility is to submit to that authority. There are other ways to meet, those are not prohibited, and every organization is facing these same restrictions. I appreciate the hard choice it is to forego services. It also is just as hard for the hair salon owner to forego their services. Be very very careful using religion as a reason to not submit to government restrictions. The government is ordained by God for our protection. It is legit to submit to God first when God’s ordinances conflict with the government. But just because something is part of our traditions doesn’t make something God’s specific ordinance.
In the Hebrews 10:25 reference to assembly, there is no mention of service time, frequency, or location. Further perhaps foresake has several definitions. Perhaps foresake meaning “renounce” or “abandon” fits more closely .
PENNY LASCHANZKYMarch 31, 2020 at 4:15 pm
to Ed Crawford, well said! I applaud you and your reply.
Joshua TeisMarch 31, 2020 at 4:32 pm
Absolutely in agreement. Have you listened to this episode of The Briefing with Albert Mohler? I see it as a helpful & necessary companion to the article I released yesterday.
Victoria StolzMarch 31, 2020 at 4:33 pm
Ed, I understand your point, and had he been referring to an ongoing violation, you would be correct. If a business tries to remain open in violation of a fire code, they can (and should) be shut down until the violation is corrected. That’s where the problem comes in. Should the places of worship be following governmental regulations, absolutely. If they violate those regulations, they should be shut down for the duration of the violation, and in this case, the duration of the regulations. Once those regulations are lifted, there will no longer be a violation, so the places of worship should be allowed to resume services. It is his statement that they will be shut permanently which qualifies as dangerous and unconstitutional overreach.
BillyMarch 31, 2020 at 6:26 pm
Sorry bro, but you can’t have it both ways in Romans. You either do what they say all of the time or none of the time . You have obviously taken Romans 13 out if context in order to bolster your fear of obedience to a higher command in Hebrews 10:25,26 nice try though !
Stephen NissleyMarch 31, 2020 at 7:58 pm
As a Christian in the USA I obey my government. I pay my taxes, obey it’s laws all according to the Constitution. When the constitution violates Scripture, it’s Scripture I obey. When a liberal democrat or any other person tells us he had the power to close the “church” permanently, we ignore him. As a Christian I live by Faith, most here I can see wouldn’t understand that.
Ed CrawfordMarch 31, 2020 at 8:47 pm
The mayor of New York was not proposing to close the “Church”, rather it was claiming it would close A church (or synagogue) building. Look at this from a city planning perspective. What if a movie theater said that “We are going to ignore building and fire codes”. Should the city quickly trust this business after the pandemic passes? No. Because the movie operator is not trustworthy under the city law as it pertains to following equitably imposed building codes.
Again, ignoring the pandemic, what if a Pastor wanted to pack a ton of people into the auditorium that far exceeded normal fire codes. And was notified in advance by the government that this was not allowed. The city would be justified in stopping that. And the city would be justified in not trusting that Pastor to abide by the rules in the future.
Ed CrawfordMarch 31, 2020 at 9:02 pm
I hope I’m not sounding harsh or dismissive of anyone trying to serve my God. I am not trying to question the legitimacy of someones walk of faith. I am simply pointing out that this is a complex, hard, and stressful time for any leader at any level. I am 100% sure that leaders will make bad decisions and it is fair to call them out on it. But our leaders are ordained of God and their job is to protect our well being.
Bro. Chad PinionMarch 31, 2020 at 8:35 pm
Thank you so much Bro. Josh for truthfully, yet gracefully, articulating this point. You put into words that which I could only grip as a feeling or negative sensation. God Bless You!