Guest Article by John Allan - March 15, 2020
As you might know, some congregations canceled services today in hopes it would help the fight against Novel Coronavirus (aka Covid-19)...
Some congregations that did have services had drastically reduced attendance...
I suspect yet others met and had basically their "usual" attendance.
I have some thoughts on this I'd like to share, especially since some people are concerned with whether canceling services like this is a violation of Hebrews 10:25 and the instruction not to be forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.
Buckle up for this, because it's going to take me a few paragraphs. And I would advise you either commit to reading until the end, or stop reading right now.
If you're still with me, you've been warned. :-)
First: For me personally, it felt kind of weird for places to be cancelling services because a virus is spreading in the country and it might, hypothetically, possibly, maybe be breathing down your neck.
Second: Just because something feels weird to me doesn't mean it's wrong. Feelings can be deceptive, and often are. Our feelings do not determine right and wrong.
Third: If you skipped a worship assembly because you were going to skip it anyway and you used Covid-19 as an excuse, then you're just as guilty of forsaking the assembly as you would've been if you didn't have Covid-19 as an excuse.
Fourth: If Elders can decide to cancel services in anticipation that a blizzard or monsoon or hurricane might hit town (even if it turns out that weather event doesn't come to pass) then it seems to me the Elders can also decide to cancel services in anticipation of a highly contagious illness hitting town that could compromise the health of members.
Fifth: If we don't give the elderly grief for staying home on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights because it's dark outside and they have trouble driving--if that isn't considered forsaking the assembly--then it's hard for me to argue that staying home because you're legitimately at risk of contracting Novel Coronavirus is forsaking the assembly.
Sixth: My understanding of Hebrews 10:25 is that making a conscious choice to neglect being with your brethren is a problem. We don't make a big deal out of people staying home from services if they are sick or have great difficulty getting "out and about."
I don't hear this as often as I used to, but it used to be common to hear brethren pray for people who "would be (in attendance) if only they could be." They aren't "forsaking" the assembly. They'd like to be there. But there's something about their circumstances that prevents it.
I suspect so many people who weren't in worship services today would have preferred to be there. And that being the case, I'm not going to level the charge against them that they are forsaking an assembly.
Seventh: If the governing authorities banned public gatherings, including worship services, because of Covid-19 concerns I would view that the same way I'd view the governing authorities declaring a State of Emergency because of severe weather.
If time passed and the government kept insisting on the ban even though it became clear the "threat" was exaggerated or fabricated, then it becomes another conversation. But we aren't anywhere close to that, and it would be absurd to suggest otherwise.
Current guidelines being offered have to do with public gatherings of all types, not religious gatherings in particular.
As I mentioned much earlier in this email, it feels weird cancelling services because of a virus. But part of why it feels weird is because unlike a suspected blizzard or monsoon--where you can get a forecast and see it coming--you can't see a Coronavirus and there isn't a Weather Channel forecast to let you know what time you can expect it in your area.
Eighth: Frankly, I believe some people are overreacting to Covid-19. Some are guilty of worry when my Bible still tells me to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6). I don't doubt there were folks who could've come to services today--that is, they weren't at serious risk of contracting the virus but stayed home because of fear--and chose not to.
Yet, even in that case my issue is more about how they're allowing fear to impact them than it is about whether they're deliberately neglecting the assembly.
Ninth: Whatever the next few weeks hold, I hope brethren are very aware that people will be watching them to see how they handle the stress of this pandemic. If the world sees Christians acting irrationally, gripped with fear, and in panic state like the world is, it's not going to glorify God. How we act in the next few days and weeks could give us an opportunity to talk to some curious soul about how we're able to stay calm when most people panic.
It would be a shame to ruin that opportunity because we're just as alarmed as the world.
Tenth: Even if your congregation doesn't meet--or if it meets but you abstain from services because you have a compromised immune system or are otherwise at increased risk of contracting the virus or spreading it to somebody who's at higher risk--that doesn't mean you have to skip out on worshiping God. You and your family can still worship God in your own home.
While you're out looking for toilet paper, maybe you should also consider getting some grape juice and unleavened bread in case you do--somehow--quarantined with your family for a few weeks.
Give it some thought,