Trump shouldn’t decide when churches open! You may have seen the headline from CNBC, or something like it: Trump slams governors, demands they open houses of worship ‘right now’. But you know what? It’s not up to the governors to decide when churches open either. I’ve often argued that separation of church and state – if done correctly – is a good thing. The government should not dictate religion. If we learned anything from history, it should have been that many people came to “the new world” – eventually much of it to become the U.S. – to avoid the royal version of religion back in Europe. But we haven’t really learned much, have we?
Churches are closed because of the virus
That church in the image is empty. Not from Covid-19. Just because some lucky person went in to take a picture and there wasn’t anyone there. But it’s probably empty now because of the virus.
Maybe because the local / state / federal mandate was for them to close. Maybe because the pastor, bishop or someone else in the church hierarchy decided it was the right thing to do.
You know – it’s even possible that it was both the government and the church leaders who thought it was best to close. After all, the government does have a responsibility to its people.
But so does the church! It’s an entirely different kind of responsibility. A higher one, if truth be told. One that came from God. Check out the passage below. It’s one you’ve likely heard and read many times.
6:32-44 pp — Mt 14:13-21; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:5-13
6:32-44 Ref—Mk 8:2-9
Mk 6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mk 6:32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Mk 6:35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
Mk 6:37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages ! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
Mk 6:38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Mk 6:39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Did you see why it’s relevant to this discussion of when churches will open? Sure – it’s about Jesus feeding 5,000 people. But notice what Jesus thought about those people.
Mk 6:34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Like sheep without a shepherd. Lost. In need of a shepherd. And apparently needing to learn many things.
Donald Trump is not our shepherd. Neither is any other politician. For that matter, even in churches, our ultimate shepherd is still Jesus.
I’m not trying to stir anything up here, but there is something we need to pay attention to. Sometimes, as we saw between even Paul and Peter, there are disagreements. Times when even the best need to be corrected – reminded of things they already knew but may have forgotten. As in the passage below.
Gal 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Gal 2:14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Gal 2:15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Gal 2:17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Paul noticed that Peter was doing something that wasn’t according to what Jesus taught. Notice – even Barnabas was led astray by what Peter was doing. Peter was worried about peer pressure from other former Jews. So much so, that he was ignoring the Gentiles who converted. Clearly, this was against Jesus’ teaching to love everyone. In Peter’s case, it shouldn’t even have been like either group was an enemy that’s hard to love. It people of two different backgrounds, all of who converted to follow Jesus.
In many ways it’s not unlike the current disputes of when churches will open. Some want them to open NOW! Others want to wait until it’s safer.
Unfortunately, our president is concerned about one thing. Ultimately, he wants to be reelected. He also doesn’t like to lose – at anything. So he falsely turns this into an issue that has no basis. I watched him say this on the news last night:
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but have left out churches and houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
That’s just flat out wrong. We’ve passed the stage where only essential businesses are the only things allowed to open. It’s about whether or not it’s safe to open non-essential places.
He also leaves out the issue of safety. We’ll get more into it later, but churches are much more likely to have a wide impact based on even one person who’s infected, even without symptoms.
And sometimes Pastors are influenced by presidents or other politicians. They are, after all people. We all have our flaws. That’s what comes from living in a fallen world.
What was in Paul’s message that’s missing from Trump’s?
Here’s a hint as to what’s missing in everything Trump says about this virus. Even when talking about churches, houses of worship, he leaves out one little 4-letter word. A very crucial 4-letter word for Christians. Here’s a hint. Since we were looking at Peter earlier, let’s use an interaction between him and Jesus to find that 4-letter word.
13:37, 38 pp — Mt 26:33-35; Mk 14:29-31; Lk 22:33, 34
Jn 13:31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
Jn 13:33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
Jn 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jn 13:36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
Jn 13:37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jn 13:38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
Got it? Did you find the word? It’s, of course, love.
And as I pointed out, we’re not talking about loving enemies here. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t focus on that so much that we occasionally forget we’re supposed to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We forget. It’s like the saying – familiarity breeds contempt. We get into cliques without even thinking about it. Kind of like Peter did when Paul called him out in the passage above.
So let’s look at another example from Paul.
1Co 16:5 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
1Co 16:10 If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.
1Co 16:12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.
1Co 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.
1Co 16:15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, 16 to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.
That’s a letter to the people in the church in Corinth – which Paul himself planted earlier. He reminds them that Timothy is a brother in Christ and to take good care of him. And in the middle of his personal requests, Paul adds:
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.
Yes – do everything in love. Everything.
Do everything in love – including deciding when churches open
That’s one really big reason why no politician – maybe especially Trump – should be deciding when churches will open. For any politician, their agenda is to get reelected. They say what they think will get them votes. Too many of them support what will get them money and votes. There’s often little to no love involved in the process.
Think about love, God’s kind of love, while reading the items below.
Churches frequently have large numbers of people in enclosed spaces. For relatively long periods of time. And many of those people like to at least shake hands, if not share hugs.
During worship, we sing. If you haven’t thought about it already, consider that we often sing louder than we talk. That sends germs much further than when we talk in a normal voice. So even the 6-foot zone for personal space is nowhere near enough.
If there’s a choir pr worship group – how far apart do they need to be, since they’re even louder, forcing out more air. I saw a report on TV last night where a choir in one church was practicing. There were, I think it was 61 people. None of them were coughing or had any symptoms. Fifty three of them were infected by that one practice session. That’s about 90%! From one person with no symptoms!
The distancing space must be a circumference around each person – or maybe each family. Not just side to side. All the way around. How many services will have to be added to accommodate that kind of spacing? And how will churches let their people know how many are planning to come to any given service? It’s important to know, so that whatever the max number of people is doesn’t get exceeded.
Each church needs to come up with plans for social distancing, keeping things sanitized, registration or some means of keeping services within a manageable number of people, having more services, and a whole bunch of other things. What if they used to have food, coffee, snacks, Etc. Do they stop? Or do they come up with a food service quality sanitization plan? What about restrooms? Keep them open, and clean after each person? Close them? How to prevent people from congregating? This will be especially hard when the reason many people want to return to church is to see their friends. And on and on and on.
I was on a web conference with Ministry Brands where churches from around the country discussed those things – and many more. Most of them were on the session because they knew they were not ready and wanted to learn how to get ready. Plus what they didn’t even know about yet.
Then consider that one of the largest gathering places for seniors, outside of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, is – you guessed it – churches. Add to that the reality that most churches have some sort of kids programs. Imagine trying to keep the kids socially distanced, wearing their masks, Etc. Where’s the love for those vulnerable people?
Depending on where the church is, there are other issues as well. For instance, churches in poor neighborhoods. Those people don’t have the kind of health care options that wealthier people do. And let’s face it, none of us have the kind of health care the president and other federal politicians do. They live in what is a dream world for the rest of us. Getting tested every day? Not where I live.
Even if “when churches should open” is deemed to be NOW! — should they?
What do you think? Can you honestly say, in a way showing God’s kind of love, that churches should really open on Memorial weekend Sunday? Or even any time soon? Certainly, should any church open before it’s got its act together to protect the people?
The pastor at each church is Jesus’ representative as the shepherd for that flock. Isn’t the shepherd responsible for taking care of his or her flock? As in, when the flock wants to jump off a cliff – stop them! And when someone like Trump, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, tries to make an end run around the Pastor so he can get reelected, stirs up controversy and get the sheep to rebel against the Pastor, isn’t that something Jesus warned us about?
Jn 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Conclusion – Don’t be misled. Trump shouldn’t decide when churches will open.
In this time where, especially in places like where I live, when it’s safer to be at home – please be sure that the one inviting or encouraging you to go back to an open church is really the shepherd and not a self-appointed hired hand.
For those that think God will protect Christians from this virus, I believe the evidence speaks loudly. Can God protect us from the virus? Absolutely. However, we should know that just because God can do something – that doesn’t mean He always does. Sometimes there’s something for us to learn. As I’ve said many times over on godversusreligion.com – God gave us a mind. We should use it.
As we reopen churches, let’s do it with love. Including love for God’s children. Our brothers and sisters in The Lord.
One final note – just in case you haven’t thought about it.
2Co 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
2Co 9:12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Yeah – giving to the church is still important. Even if the church doors aren’t open. Actually, in the church I go to, I think the Pastors and the staff have it much harder now that before. So many new things to learn and do. And now they have to become safety and sanitation experts too. BTW – I’m a volunteer – not paid. Not even with ads on the site. My treasure – I pray – is awaiting in Heaven.
Anyway – if you still have a job, and if you still work enough hours that you can care for you and your family, don’t forget about the church staff. They have families too.
As I end all my emails these days. let me end this the same way.
Stay safe and rest in His peace,
Everyone smiles in the same language