Should Believers Take a Stand to Gather?
I realize there are some places where churches are beginning to gather again. Some are being told to stay physically apart and not to take communion. The Kansas state government has told churches that they need to register all of their church members along with their addresses, phone numbers, etc. In WA State, the governor has now forbidden ANY gathering for church members even less than 10. I could go on, but you get the idea.
I’d like to gently remind you that if you live in the NY area, you have a .1% chance of dying of COVID and a .05% if you live pretty much anywhere else, actually less in many, many places.
The amount of control over our personal lives that we have willingly surrendered is staggering. We did so giving the powers that be the benefit of the doubt, trusting that they had our best interest in mind. I have a lot to say about that, but I will refrain for the sake of staying on topic.
The gathering of the church in real life has been paramount on my heart lately and I want to share my thoughts with you in hopes that it will help you process what’s in your own heart. It’s lengthy, but we won’t know what God is calling us to if we don’t ask ourselves the deeper questions. We cannot afford to doubt our direction. There is too much at stake: (Feel free to share. the post is public)
As a Believer, I am struggling right now. We are living in unprecedented times with new developments happening every day. My heart has had a hard time keeping up with all that’s going on, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
When we are overwhelmed, we are either paralyzed OR we choose to become more intentional and focused. If you are a Christian and you are feeling paralyzed, I would implore you to pull back, slow your heart down, get quiet with God, and LISTEN.
My inward battle has been witnessing the gross and belligerent overreach of authority. It’s been surreal, watching governors become emperors of their states all in the name of “safety”. Who knew 2 months ago that we would live in a country where the powers that be would not “allow” us to provide for our families, would arrest those trying to do so and where throngs of people would be shouting in hateful agreement as they watch it play out on the news and social media, a country where the church is not “allowed” to gather, with no end date in sight. This is now our reality.
NONE of this is a surprise to God and according to His Word and His character, I can safely say that He intends it all for the good of the Church and for His glory. But what does that look like? Some will say that this is judgment and that very well may be, but it’s not punishment for the Church. It’s purification.
The next question is how is the church to respond? As a member of the Body of Christ, I have both a collective and individual responsibility for my response. I’ve made some choices that are in reality very harmless personal choices but have been met with hate and disgust from people both outside the church and within.
I have felt an urgency to stand up for what is right while I still can and for the sake of my children and grandchildren. Other times, I wonder if I should just fly under the radar, see what God does, and work quietly. It’s an ongoing inner battle.
Let me be clear. I do not condone anarchy which would include outright rebellion, violence, or disrespect for authority. Taking a stand as a Believer isn’t about rebelling against a person or position, because I believe that God puts all governing authorities in their positions. My stand would be against an ideology. When people are being treated unjustly, speaking out because they are suffering and then being silenced through shame and bullying, we have a problem. If you have no voice because you disagree with certain, select people, THAT is a problem. When you want to listen to different perspectives on something that is deeply affecting our lives and liberties and that information is censored and removed, we definitely have a problem far bigger than the virus.
Millions of people that are struggling immensely are being silenced, shamed, and ignored. If they even begin to mention their struggles, they are called haters and uncompassionate. Those are not the earmarks of a free society, they are the same ideologies that Hitler’s regime and other tyrannical governments were born out of.
As believers we are called to defend the defenseless and as strange as it feels, the average working person is now just that. Not only can they not participate in the conversation, but he/she is also considered a non-person whose basic needs are irrelevant. It’s myopic, misguided compassion at best toward a select group and sheer tyranny at worst.
As believers, we go to the scriptures as our final authority. It seems as though there isn’t much there when it comes to what exactly we should do in this particular situation. We know that if we are asked to do something directly against God’s laws, we are to not obey, but our situation doesn’t seem quite that clear (yet).
Romans 13:1-7 addresses the issue most clearly: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
At first glance it appears we are supposed to simply submit to the governing authorities because God places them there intentionally for our good, to execute justice. However, if you step back and look at what was going on at the time, the church was being persecuted. Justice was NOT being executed (Christians were). Paul wrote this passage KNOWING that Caesar would be reading his words and he was reiterating what the role of the governing authority actually is, as a reminder. He was also telling the church that anarchy was not something we should participate in. However, a quick look at church history shows that respectful resistance to injustice is something the church has consistently participated in. Churches in Communist China still gather quietly because God’s word says not to forsake the gathering of the saints. They are breaking the law by meeting, but as Christians, we have a higher authority to answer to. If it’s possible we try to live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12:17-21 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”.
As believers, we are called to do good works in the midst of suffering. For each of us, that is going to look a little differently and we are personally responsible for fulfilling that. We are also responsible as the united Body of Christ to fulfill that calling. What does that look like right now in our present circumstances?
I just listened to a short audiobook by John Piper called The Coronavirus and Christ. He made 6 points in the book, but the fifth one, in particular, has my attention and prayers over how we are to walk it out.
“The Coronavirus is God’s call to His people to overcome(put to death) self-pity and fear and with great joy to do the works of God.” He cites many verses in 1 Peter, one of which is v 12 that says,” Keep your conduct among the Gentiles(unbelievers) as honorable.”
In all of our dealings with unbelievers, it is imperative that we keep our conduct honorable whether that’s in real life or on social media.
He said we must lean toward need(of others), not comfort…toward love, not safety. We offer light in the darkness of danger through risky kindness. In other words, we are to act counter-culturally. We are to work toward rescuing the perishing by offering the ONLY true answer and that is a relationship with Christ and forgiveness of sins. The threat of death or suffering in our society is an opportunity to bring the eternal hope of the gospel.
For me, this has meant making a personal decision to, at times, speak out for those who feel powerless and voiceless right now, which is literally millions of people in our country.
“God glorified in everything. Christ magnified in life and in death.” (John Piper) What does that look like in the everyday? If the Church is called to this, we must be equipped. How are we equipped? One biblically mandated way is through worship and the teaching of God’s Word. So the Church body must be served well in order to carry out the Great Commission.
We are being kept from gathering together (no online is NOT the same thing). This is happening in spite of the fact that the first amendment written in the law of our land says (in plain English): “Congress may not pass a law that sets up or favors any religion. It will not make any laws to limit the free practice of religion. It will not make any laws to limit freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or the people’s right to gather together peacefully. Congress will not make any law to limit the right of the people to ask the government to change laws that they find harmful to them” And the 14th amendment says: “States may not make laws or enforce any laws which limit or lessen the privileges and rights of the citizens of the United States. States may not take a person’s life, liberty, or property without going through the steps required by law. States may not deny any person within it the equal protection of the laws.”
This is the law of the land. It is not being upheld. Our leaders need to be held accountable, but even then, our higher calling is to obey God’s Word.
As I was seeking the Lord this morning, I read through Habukuk and the study notes in my Bible. I was absolutely floored at the similarities between Habukuk’s situation and ours. He lived in a day that evil appeared to be the rule as violence and corruption abounded. God’s people were questioning God’s care and if He was really in control.
This book, consisting of a whopping 3 chapters, is simply a conversation between the prophet Habakkuk and God. But it reveals some astounding insights into how God works and shows how God will ultimately always bring matters to a just end.
The situation was that the people of God were living sinfully and Habukuk wanted to know why God was seemingly ignoring it. God’s answer was that he was about to deal with Judah’s sinfulness by bringing even more violent people to judge Judah.
It seemed unfair that God would use an even more wicked group of people to deal with sin in His own people. God proceeds to list five charges against the Babylonians that reveal that BOTH the Babylonians and Judah were deserving of judgment, BUT God’s purpose for His people was to provide chastisement so they would repent and experience His loving redemption. Again, when the church suffers, it is never punishment (because of Christ), it is always purification.
I want to share the charges against the Babylonians because they are incredibly relevant to what we are currently seeing in large parts of our government. The Babylonians were guilty of: 1.) Extortion (obtaining something through force or threats) 2.) Dishonesty (they were building power through deceit and dishonesty) 3.) Using murder and corruption of human life and societies in order to build their own “cities” 4.) Disgraceful acts against people, animals, and the environment. They were likened to someone who gets their neighbor drunk and then strips them of everything. 5.) Devotion to Idolatry
Did any specific recent scenarios come to mind as you read each one of these?
My question is this: As Believers, do we patiently wait for God’s judgment while sharing the gospel, or do we respectfully stand against injustice while sharing the gospel? What does it look like to “lean toward need (of others), not comfort… toward love, not safety…to offer light in the darkness of danger through risky kindness…to act counter-culturally”?
So is gathering together as Believers essential to the ultimate goal…carrying out the Great Commission powerfully and effectively? If you are feeling the same urgency as me, it’s time to storm the gates of heaven for direction and answers. To me it seems as though the window of opportunity is quickly closing and the Enemy would love nothing more than to distract us from it by keeping us bound up in fear or anger, looking for comfort as a keyboard warrior or binging on Netflix or the news(alternative news not excluded).
Will you fervently pray with me?