Thinking Christianly in the Day of the Coronavirus
Dear OBC Family,
In response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, your elders want to share a few thoughts with you related to our gatherings at Occoquan Bible Church. While we are not medical professionals and cannot tell you what to do medically, and while we do believe that this illness is serious, we also believe that the reporting of this disease has often been delivered without consideration for the Christian faith we hold.
The reporting that we have received frequently tells us what to do and not do, often with the backdrop of grim music and “breaking news” monikers. This presentation tempts us to increasing levels of anxiety and human-centered self-salvation, instead of leading us to prayer. The number one priority that comes across in the news and social media is self-preservation, and this is not a Christian way to think about living in times with or without a pandemic. As we think carefully about our public gatherings, we must still act in accordance with our faith, hope, and love. To that end, please consider what our Christian faith impels us to do in these days:
1. Let us remember the absolute sovereignty of God.
Unlike a world tossed to and fro by every wind of reporting, we have an anchor for our souls. Media coverage of COVID-19 must not diminish our steadfast hope in the Lord, and his sovereign plans for his world and our lives. It is wise to be informed about COVID-19, but we should not allow our newsfeeds to allow anxiety to take root in our hearts. Anxiety is a normal response to an uncertain world, but it is not something that must master us. As Jesus remind us in Matthew 6:32, unbelievers anxiously seek after food, clothing, and the provisions of life. But followers of Jesus can know that they have a heavenly Father who provides our daily bread.
Because Christ is enthroned over all Creation and is even now ruling his world to accomplish his purposes, we do not need to fear. We serve a God who gives and takes away, and we can trust him, knowing that he works all things together for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28). God’s sovereignty is not an academic point, it is the foundation of our faith, and one we must remember during these uncertain days.
2. Our Christian faith calls us to submit to the authorities ordained by God.
As of Sunday, March 15, Governor Ralph Northam has banned all gatherings of more than 100 people. The CDC then recommended that no one gather in groups of 50, and Prince William County shortly followed that with an emergency declaration that effectively banned of gatherings of 50 or more. Shortly after that, the CDC and our President recommended that no one gathers in groups of 10 or more. As of yesterday, our Governor has announced that this is no longer a recommendation, but a requirement for the next 15 days. As our nation seeks to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19, we believe it is wise to not gather together for the present.
We believe that it is right for us to obey the Lord by submitting to the authorities God has ordained (Rom 13), and we will follow these directives. We do not believe that submitting to these temporary measures is disobedience to Hebrews 10:25, which tells us not to forsake the assembly of believers. Instead, following these measures is an unusual means for us to love our neighbors in our community. Consider the historical example of how churches in DC navigated this during the Spanish Flu of 1918.
We must not make the false comparison of equivocating calls for “social distancing” with persecution. If we were ordered by the state to stop gathering because of our faith in Christ, we would have no option but to gather to worship our Lord. Faithfulness to Christ sometimes requires civil disobedience as we see in Acts 5:29, but this is not the situation we find ourselves in with COVID-19. Let us be faithful to the Lord by honoring our government and by loving our neighbors.
As we seek to take precautions in our life together, and as authorities call upon our nation to “flatten the curve,” all ministry events and worship services are paused for the next 15 days. We look forward to the day, when we will be able to meet with one another again. Until then, we are working on making connections for our church body through a variety of online platforms. We will provide ministry updates and online gathering options in the days ahead.
3. Our Christian faith calls us to gather on the Lord's Day.
In taking a time to withhold from public gatherings, we must remember that gathering together is a fundamental feature of Christian life. Our Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and so Sundays became the day of worship for the early church. This remained the pattern for Christian worship, one we gladly practice every week. Our Sunday gatherings testify to the resurrection of Christ, the power of the gospel, and universal message of hope for all who trust in Jesus. Gathering for worship is not an accessory for Christians to add to their Christian life; it is essential for the church.
In this unique season, however, we are being called to abstain from what we need. Church takes place only when we gather together, in-person, as brothers and sisters in Christ, who worship our Lord. The Greek word for church is ecclesia. It means “gathering.” We cannot “gather” without “gathering.” We were created to gather together and worship our Lord, and the social-distancing that we are being called to in this moment runs contrary to God’s created design. This time of social-distancing is rightly considered a season of fasting, and one we should pray ends quickly—for the sake of our neighbors and the sake of Christ’s church.
4. While we cannot gather together, let us not neglect one another.
In as much as you’re able, connect digitally with other church members. Call one another on the phone. Video chat with one another. Encourage and pray for one another. And as long as the mail goes, write a letter and send it in the mail.
In particular, consider three ways of connecting.
Community Groups: Join together once a week for a video-conference to fellowship with one another while practicing social distancing. Read the Word together. Pray together. Encourage one another.
Video Teaching: Follow along with the online teaching that OBC’s elders will be posting for use on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. As you are able, worship together in your home. Read the Bible together. Listen to the teaching of OBC’s elders together. Sing together. Instruct your children. Pray together.
Via Emmaus: Starting next week, Pastor David will be leading a bi-weekly video discussion on a passage of Scripture. On Tuesday night (9:00pm) and Thursday lunch (12:00pm), Pastor David will host a video discussion about a text of Scripture. If you are able, join in for a 30 minute discussion about the Bible.
While we long to be present with one another, let us imitate Paul’s example of reaching out to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ.
5. Our Christian faith gives us freedom to remain at home.
We encourage all of you to reject fear, and to respond with faith. With that in mind, we want our members with sickness, compromised immune systems, or fragile health to trust in the Lord while taking careful precautions. Age, diabetes, and other considerations are significant factors in the impact of the virus. We urge you to consult medical resources and make a wise decision.
If you have decided to self-quarantine because of a medical condition or if you are part of a demographic that is threatened by COVID-19, do so in faith, trusting the Lord. You have freedom in Christ to make that decision. And if you do, please let us know so we can care for you appropriately during this season (dropping off groceries, etc).
6. Our Christian faith impels us to love our neighbor.
As we are taught how to practice “social distancing,” let us not neglect to love our neighbors still. As Christians, we cannot not merely think about ourselves. We must also think of others. With that in mind, here are just a few ways of loving your neighbor.
- If you are sick or have been exposed to coronavirus, remain home. Faithfulness includes caring for your neighbors (or church members) by not exposing yourself to them.
- If you have been out of the country, especially in one of the countries most impacted by COVID-19 (China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, or Spain), your elders would appreciate knowing. We can imagine that such exposure may be distressing to you and we want to minister to you.
- If you become ill with COVID-19, please let the elders know so we can keep you in prayer, and care for you and your family as appropriate.
- Follow the recommendations from CDC as your responsibilities and conscience allows. Let us seek to honor our government and love our neighbor.
- Check in with loved ones, physical neighbors, and other church members. Your elders will be making calls to you in the days ahead to check in.
May God be pleased strengthen our unity together, even as this pandemic has moved us apart.
7. Our Christian faith calls us to care for one another.
Our Sunday School series on Caring for One Another was providentially timed—this last Sunday Ben encouraged us to care for the sick. In church history, we find Christians risking themselves to care for the sick. Whereas the world has often abandoned the sick, for fear of growing ill, followers of Jesus must not do so. Love for Jesus means that we will care for those who are suffering (Matt 25:31-46).
There is still a great deal of uncertainty on the scale of this pandemic. Numbers have been projected, but really, it is only God who knows. For our part, Scripture calls us to pray and to minister to one another.
In particular, this means sharing the burdens of life with one another. If you find yourself in physical or financial need, please let an elder know. For all of us, may we seek to give generously to provide for others. Even though our ministries are not as active, we still need to maintain budget to meet financial obligations in caring for our staff and facilities. May God give us generous hearts to provide out of our abundance to sustain our church’s ministry, and to care for those in need.
8. Our Christian faith provides an opportunity for us to respond to COVID-19 differently than the world.
While the world continues to respond to this deadly disease with a false hope that always ends with death, we have the chance to demonstrate confidence that God is sovereign over our life, our health, and our death. Our hope overcomes the grave. And in these days, we have a fresh opportunity to show that and tell others why. Let us talk often of Christ, and may we give of ourselves and our resources to display the love of Christ to our neighbors.
9. Let us pray throughout this season.
Brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for our church to walk wisely in these days. Pray for those in our midst who are already suffering illness, for those susceptible to this illness, and for those frightened by this news. Pray for those like Harrison, one of our church members, currently in Greece, where he has been quarantined with his roommate who has COVID-19. Pray for Dr. Sylvan Allaboe, who have visited OBC many times. He is returning to Togo and will undergo a mandatory 14-day self quarantine.
We must not underestimate the spread and proximity of this disease, and more than that, we must not underestimate the power of God to work for good in the face of this pandemic. To that end let us pray that God would be glorified through these next few days and months. May God give us faith to walk in hope and to suffer well if need be.
We look forward to gathering with you again when the Lord allows.
With hope in the resurrected Christ,
on behalf of the elders