A Petition to Pastors to Resume In-Person Worship Services
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1); “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:3; cf. Micah 4:3); “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20); “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers . . . And all that believed were together, and had all things common . . . And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:41-47; cf. 4:32-35); “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread...” (Acts 20:7); “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Due to the novel coronavirus, government officials have prohibited the gathering of Christians in corporate worship. Whether they explicitly mention “houses of worship,” or imply that we cannot meet by banning large gatherings, they have temporarily illegalized in-person worship services. While some of us have written our congressmen in hopes that they will overturn their decision, we turn now to our pastors, understanding that the decision to cease in-person meetings ultimately falls on them. Jesus is the Head of the Church, and He has placed pastors over local congregations as His under-shepherds (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). We understand that, while the state and federal authorities may make practicing Christianity more challenging, the pastor’s responsibility is to shepherd God’s people, even if it means defying one’s government and suffering the consequences thereof.
While God’s Holy Word may never explicitly label it a “sin,” we at least believe that it is out of line with sound godly wisdom to participate in mass hysteria (e.g. Isaiah 8:12-13). We feel that by going with the flow of society, church leaders are promoting the media’s agenda of fearmongering. Christians ought to meditate on the truth instead of following rumors or gossip. By neglecting the responsibility of “fact checking” and data analysis, pastors have made the ill-informed decision to close churches based on fear rather than facts.
The government is volatile and has communicated with little clarity during this time. This has caused much confusion among church goers, leaving them in suspense as to when they can legally return to in-person worship services. We even hear conflicting messages as to who exactly has the authority to make that judgment call for each county, region, or state. We choose instead to listen to a more stable source of information: the unchanging Word of God (1 Peter 1:23-25). Therein we learn that we do not need to wait for man to tell us when it is acceptable to worship our Creator and Redeemer.
While Scripture commands us to obey and honor our earthly authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), we believe we must defy them any time their demands cross over moral boundaries (Daniel 3:16-18; 6:10; Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29). Although our government at this time does not forbid being a Christian, or preaching the gospel, we feel that their present restrictions prohibit the free exercise of our faith and force us to violate a core tenet of our belief system. The Apostles’ Creed states, “I believe in . . . the communion of saints,” meaning that we commit ourselves to the spiritual welfare of one another and agree to use our gifts, talents, time, and energy to further the growth of God’s people. Furthermore, Christianity is not merely assent to doctrinal truth. Faith in Jesus Christ—which is currently not illegal—is merely the beginning of the sanctification process, and the dynamic of the body interacting with one another a primary means by which God matures Christians.
While we refuse to obey the government's prohibition of gathering for worship, we are at the same time willing to submit to whatever consequences they may impose on us. We are willing to be jailed or fined if that is what it takes to obey the moral obligations of our Lord and Savior.
While any good pastor will give intellectual assent to the importance of church membership, church attendance, and involvement in service opportunities, we feel that by your actions—which speak louder than words—you give the impression that you believe otherwise. Furthermore, we are concerned that these acts of cowardice model for our children that church is not important, and that service to God is only an obligation when it is safe to do so.
We would have accepted one Sunday—maybe two—without church if the leadership deemed it necessary in order to sanitize the church, and formulate a safety plan. However, to announce a cancellation of all services “until further notice,” is completely unacceptable. This has reached the point of downright foolishness, in addition to being disobedience to God.
We hold the following convictions:
• We believe that corporate worship is commanded in Scripture. We therefore deny that it is merely suggested or optional.
• We believe that online/virtual worship services are an illegitimate substitute for corporate gatherings.
• We believe that it is impossible to partake of the Lord’s Supper from long distance. We also believe that neglect of this means of grace is detrimental to the church.
• We believe that cowardice should not be a defining trait of Christians (Revelation 21:8), especially those in positions of leadership (Joshua 1:6-9). “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The same Holy Spirit Who filled the apostles and gave them boldness to preach the gospel fills believers today (Acts 4:31).
• We believe that a pastor’s primary responsibility is to oversee the spiritual health of the congregation, rather than their physical health (e.g. “for your souls,” Hebrews 13:17).
• We believe that educated adults—let alone mature Christians—are responsible enough to make their own decisions regarding what is safest for their families.
We believe that closing churches and canceling in-person worship services inhibits Christians from fulfilling the “one another” commands and exercising our spiritual gifts for the edification of the body. We simply cannot reflect the habits and standards modeled by the original followers of Jesus, as depicted in Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-35. We do not feel that separating ourselves constitutes “loving our neighbor,” but rather, makes doing so nearly impossible.
This new way of “doing church” places obstacles in the way of building up the body, e.g. when doing outreach, we have nowhere to point people for follow-up; those without internet access are left out; the lonely become more lonely; accountability is weakened since we cannot observe one another’s conduct; person-to-person discipleship becomes impossible, etc.
The questions we must ask are: Do we love God, or not? Is God’s truth as revealed in His inspired Scriptures worth standing up for, or not? Are we going to be bold about our faith, or not? Are we going to allow the Scriptures to guide our churches so that we worship Jesus how He wants to be worshiped, or not? Do we have a higher obligation to God than to our government, or not?
We implore you in the name of Jesus Christ—the Chief Shepherd, the Cornerstone, the Head of the Church, Who purchased her with His own blood—to resume in-person worship services immediately. We do not make this request in the form of a mutinous demand, nor are we dictating how you run the church. We simply recognize that your actions are not in accordance with God’s prescribed method of growing and sustaining His people. As sheep ourselves, we humbly ask you to reevaluate your decision, and give your sheep what they need most.
*By signing the petition, we affirm that we have come to this position not by the craftiness of persuasive arguments, nor the flashiness of a hip spokesperson—but through personal Bible study we have become convinced of the importance of church.