When God closes a door, He opens a browser window: Churches must be responsible during virus crisis
Updated: Apr 7
Churches across the country are closed.
That’s the first time since the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak that sentence can be written. Now as then, closing the church doors is for good reason, in light of the Wuhan Virus ravaging New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and Florida.
In fact, those states are “hot spots” because their governors did not act quickly enough to limit the spread. There are Democrats as well as Republicans to blame for that inaction, and now — unfortunately — their residents are paying the price.
In case you doubt that, look to Washington state and California. Both threatened to be the epicenter of the virus early on. But quick, decisive action by their chief executives. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) shut down the virus through stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations made before anyone else in the country knew what that meant.
Churches followed suit, and have done so throughout the country. Believe what you will about the reasoning behind Wuhan Virus precautions, the virus is real, it is deadly and the best way to stop its spread is to keep people away from one another.
Some pastors, however, are not being smart about it, defying public orders in a misguided effort to defend their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly.
Wednesday this past week, for the second time in two days, police have charged Baton Rouge, Louisiana pastor Tony Spell with defying public orders against large gatherings by holding church services with hundreds of members. Despite the charge, he says the church doors will still be open Sunday.
When asked why he will not follow the governor's mandate, he said, "We have a mandate from the word of the Lord to assemble together. The first amendment says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the exercise of religion."
Others are heeding the warnings.
Pastor Robert Jeffress, a stalwart evangelical ally of Trump, held services at his First Baptist megachurch March 15 in accordance with Dallas-area limits on gatherings of more than 500 people. Dallas announced four days later it would comply with the Trump Administration recommendation of only 10-person gatherings, with Jeffress stating his congregation would hold online-only worship for the duration of the crisis.
Most churches across the country are doing the same. Those churches that are too small and cannot afford expensive online equipment are using existing applications like ZOOM or GoToMeeting to hold services.
Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is continuing to defy the stay-at-home order of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards barring churches from meeting as o precaution against the spread of the Wuhan Virus. (Photo: CNN)
The Church must respond with faith and action to prevent the spread of the Wuhan Virus. Meeting as a congregation, no matter how large or small, is simply irresponsible. In fact, it goes against biblical teaching.
Jesus knew how relevant His command to “fear not” would be throughout the ages, considering that it is the most discussed topic in all of Scripture. In fact, this single command is repeated 366 times in the Bible, one for each day, even in Leap Year.
Love, on the other hand, is patient, kind and hopeful. It is not self-seeking or dishonoring to others. Having been loved in this way by Christ at the cost of His life, Christians in particular are free to love our fellow human beings with intentionality and sacrifice. Rather than defying authority in direct contravention of Jesus’ command, we are to love others while being willing to comply without curbing our faith.
The bywords for followers of Christ in this crisis are “faith with caution.” Yes, our God protects us, but He does not want us to act foolishly, like the snake handlers of Appalachia. If a pastor insists on holding services in the sanctuary and people get sick from Wuhan Virus, it won’t because those succumbing to the virus “lacked faith.” It will be that the pastor is foolish in holding services in the first place.
Our First Amendment rights as followers of Christ are important. They must be defended. It is not wise, however, to challenge orders that are simply designed to protect us from ourselves.
When God closes a door, He just might open a browser window. Attending church via the Internet is a perfectly legitimate method of fulfilling Jesus’ command to assemble together regularly. But assembling is not anywhere near all Jesus has to say. His commands run the gamut of life and how to live it.
Meeting as a congregation within the confines of the church is irresponsible in the context of the Wuhan Virus. It is not loving to do so, given the high level of contagion of this disease. We love one another, and we love the world as Christians, by not putting anyone in danger of contracting this virus.
With that in mind, we are not released from the obligation to reach out in Christ's love as well. Faith with caution, in other words, not assuming “someone else will do it" but being mindful of protecting ourselves and others while we follow Christ.
We should ensure, as faithful citizens, that our government and medical communities are responding to it properly. We should be concerned to the point of taking precautionary measures to mitigate against contracting it or spreading it. Wash our hands thoroughly for a minimum of 20 seconds. (Sing The Doxology at a moderate tempo while you wash your hands. It works.)
If there are those in your neighborhood suffering, in need of food or medicine, or have perhaps contracted coronavirus, don't hesitate to reach out. Deliver food, or if possible, their prescriptions to their doorstep. Especially, if they need medical attention, find a practical safe way to help him or her get it.
Christians show God has loved us by loving other people. The Good Samaritan went to great lengths to save the half-dead man on the side of the road. He is properly understood as a picture of Jesus, who gave His life to save you: Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Be whom Christ made you to be today. You will not be sorry nor ashamed.