The Christian Post this week reported on a church in Georgia who recently restarted in person worship services (here). The result was an outbreak of COVID in the congregation. The worst part about this story is they seemed to do everything the CDC and local health department recommend. We should pray for this congregation and especially for the pastor, who I am sure is feeling the burden of this decision.
There are I think two negative reactions to this case study and I have witnessed them both on display in Christian communities this. My own state, Ohio, is phasing in a plan to reopen and with that churches are beginning plans to reopen. Most pastors I have talked with are prudently making plans but I do see where pastors and congregants are rushing to negative reactions.
The first of these negative reactions sees the Georgia church as a case study in why the CDC recommendations do not work. These people will never wear a mask, are unconcerned with keeping distance, and do not see what all the fuss is about. The other negative reaction is represented by those who lament that nowhere is safe and that all efforts to reopen are futile. Both of these reactions have failed to listen to the medical professionals who have said they are working with the best data available (though it is incomplete). Also, the measures we have adopted, and continue to use, are there to slow the spread of the disease and give our healthcare system the best chance at treating the greatest number of people. One side lives in fear and the other side in willful ignorance and both are sins.
Where should a Christian start, how about here.
Normally when I put up a picture from social media I am calling out the people circulating trash. But not today, today I stand with Martin. Reading the full letter gives one an even greater sense of what he was trying to say (here).
Luther wanted Christians to first and foremost realize that God will take care of them whether they live in this world or the next, so please do not be so terribly afraid of death that we cease to do anything but live in fear. Second, take medically prudent steps to prevent the disease. All he might have known was keeping distance and airing the house, but that is what he did. Yes, we have an incomplete knowledge of how to fight this disease and we may be wrong in some ares, but we should listen to those with the greatest expertise. Third, Luther tells us to do our Christian duty; where that means keeping distance from a person (to maintain their health) do it, and where that means sitting with a person to provide healing, do it.
What does Luther’s advise mean today? It means if the medical professionals recommend I wear a mask to protect others, I do so. If I am supposed to maintain distance in public, I do so. It also means I do not live in fear of the disease, but execute my Christian duty to the community. For some, as Luther says, who have a light obligation, these can stay away longer. But we must continue to live for God despite the disease.
I commend the Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle for listening to the medical professionals, and putting trying to keep everyone safe. I also commend them for trying to reopen to provide Christian fellowship in a time when people are starved for that. I hope churches will follow this lead, not simply to reopen for its own sake, but intelligently and with the congregation’s health, physical and spiritual, in mind. And yet, we must be aware death still lingers around us and we trust God to be our keeper.