13 Mar 2020
Church Polity and the Coronavirus
No doubt the readers of this blog have reached the saturation point on articles about the Coronavirus. Still, some angles of the issue are getting less attention, and I am hopeful that the following points, in no particular order, may be of some value.
- When the government asks or tells the church not to meet, they are not (necessarily) asking or telling the church to disobey God. Yes, the church is to meet regularly and by common consensus, weekly, but the church can fail to gather occasionally without rendering its members guilty of “forsaking the assembly.” Now if such a policy were made permanent or uniquely for churches, we would have a problem. This is not happening this week.
- When the government asks or tells the church not to meet, they are not conflating the “two kingdoms” of God, or to be more Baptisty, violating the principle of the separation of church and state. In John Calvin’s words, the government is tasked with ascertaining that humanity be maintained among men. To that end, the government has every biblical right to enforce criminal codes and building codes and noise ordinances and child-safety measures in churches. In emergencies, they may even call upon pastors and assemblies to temporarily yield their properties, services, and even their “right peaceably to assemble” for the common good. This is what we are being asked to do this week. And, frankly, to be defiant in such circumstances is neither praiseworthy nor an act of courage.
- While it is possible to temporarily “do church” without gathering, churches that permit or encourage this practice under ordinary circumstances are churches out of order. It is true that some of the elements of regular worship can occur remotely (the sermon comes to mind, and some of the more “teachy” aspects of discipleship), but not fellowship, corporate singing, the ordinances, and so forth. And if we don’t do these things, we are not rightly regarding the Lord’s body. An assembly is not an assembly if it never assembles!
- This means that when we can’t assemble, we should dearly miss it. The Christian life has a great empty hole in it when we do not gather with God’s people, and we should make every effort and take creative measures to do so—if only electronically or in small numbers for the time being. [And by the way, dear friends, do remember that your church’s bills are still coming due, whether for operating expenses, missionary support, or your pastor’s paycheck.] Until we are able to get back with the whole assembly, we should borrow cues, analogically, from our OT brothers (with full realization that they did not constitute a church or go to church), yearning to be where God tells us to be, taking extraordinary measures to be there, and, if all else fails, opening our windows and praying, as it were, toward Jerusalem, with wistful, hopeful hearts that next week we will be back together (Ps 63; 122:1; Dan 6:10).