Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God’s the things that are God’s.
—Jesus (Mk 12:17)
Gratefully, in our region at least, we’ll be able to lawfully gather together as Christians again this Lord’s Day. My heart goes out to those brothers and sisters for which this won’t be the case (and the prospect that the entire province might face yet another lockdown in some future 3rd wave).
What is curious, however, is that schools in Grey-Bruce returned to in person learning on January 18; many other regions of the province returned on February 8 and schools in the GTA returned this week, February 16; all before churches being able to reopen (or in some cases without them being with a prospect of opening). In Grey-Bruce that means schools returned to in class teaching 5 weeks before churches have been allowed to reopen. What is curious is twofold: a) the logical inconsistency in this approach and b) the apparent apathy of the Government to places of worship.
Note 1: I sympathize with the mammoth task Government has in dealing with a pandemic and the pressures this puts upon them. This is not intended to be a gripe but a constructive conversation starter.
Note 2: Throughout the pandemic I have, personally and as a Christian leader, sought to model and exhort Christians and all people to cheerfully submit to the Government. We have also been open about praying for our leaders. We want to be good witnesses (1 Pet 2:12). While I believe in the command to worship, I likewise believe in the command to submit to the government and love our neighbours, something which a pandemic, I believe, calls us to in the name of public health; to grievously and temporarily pause large worship gatherings in favour of alternative forms (online, small groups, etc). However, I have not been without my reservations of Government policy, which I have expressed to the appropriate authorities with charitability. Yet, compliance does not mean disengaging critically. In fact, democracy dies when its citizens fail to engage and when its politicians fail to listen. Most Christians think there is a line in the sand on these matters somewhere, but it can be difficult to determine exactly where it is. Could the issue of schools and churches be a legitimate marker? Put another way, would this inconsistent Government approach pass from the realm that justifiably requires submission to one that justifiably requires obedience to the “things that are God’s”?
Firstly, the act of opening schools (and some businesses) yet not churches is one logical inconsistency in the Government’s approach. The interests of some commercial and educational interests seem to be ahead of places of worship. Now, I believe people need to eat and work and learn, but the Government needs to be consistent in these matters and help people—through media—understand their actions. This builds trust.
Returning to schools and churches, both important places in local communities (churches often preceding schools in the formation of our country); how is it that schools that host hundreds and hundreds of children and staff, meeting together in one location 5 days a week, can reopen when churches (at 30%) of say dozens and dozens of people meeting in accordance with Government guidelines predominantly once a week must remain (or did remain) closed. If it’s unsafe to reopen, let there be restrictions. If it is safe for schools to reopen, why not churches? See the inconsistency? Why does this exist?
To me the simple answer is religious apathy or a disinterested ambivalence, even if it is arguably passive rather than active. This is something that should be a cause for concern regardless of whether you are a person of faith or not.
In both lockdowns I have perceived that the Government has held a disinterested ambivalence toward places of worship. This is partly because “religion” is such a complex area of society that the Government finds it difficult to provide a catered approach. It’s also largely because the Government, like much of society, has embraced a horizontal naturalism in which religion, particularly the Christian faith, is not real and so comes second behind more real matters like business and education. It is also because, culturally, classic liberalism which championed individual rights is being replaced by the philosophy of neo-liberalism that champions the rights of one group over another. This is why places of worship are treated inconsistently, they lack a priority in Government eyes. (Yet churches remain important centres where millions of Canadians find meaning and hope; necessary things, especially in a pandemic. See the Halo Project for more on the economic benefit churches bring communities).
While I speak the language of Scripture, allow me to speak the language of Government, the “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)” (click here to view).
Religious gatherings, as the Government calls them, are not optional or something Christians just do. A Christian’s faith in Jesus Christ, central to which is fellowship and corporate worship, is fundamental to who we are. It is not a mere option or something we do like playing soccer or attending the cinema. The Charter 2.a recognizes this by describing freedom of religion (including assembly, 2.c), along with conscience, as not just any right but the most fundamental ones. The freedom of religion and conscience is the number one listed right in the charter.
I realize that the Charter likewise lays down where these rights can be temporarily limited (section 1 and 33), however, this must be justifiable so. I recognize that a pandemic qualifies for a temporary limitation; however, consistency of approach is central to validating the necessary nature of the limitations put in place. If it is deemed safe for schools to reopen (hundreds x 5 days/week, not a fundamental right) but not places of worship (where dozens and dozens gather predominantly once a week, and which is a fundamental right) then to me and many others, there is an inherent inconsistency that seems to abrogate the temporary limitation of the right put in place by the Government. In other words, favouring education over places of worship is not only logically inconsistent, it not only displays apathy, it is dangerous to our fundamental Canadian freedoms.
Why is religious apathy dangerous? Because our Government is supposed to be a champion of our personal liberties, chief among them being freedom of religion. The neo-liberal shift to privileging certain freedoms over others, as evidenced by this subject, should not only concern people of faith, particularly Christians, but our neighbours. An erosion of freedom of religion and of conscience toward one group (places of worship) is a destabilization of the freedom you enjoy; might you in some way be on the receiving end of this trend in future?
What can you do?
Even prior to the Premier’s announcement of a lockdown today, Christmas and New Year’s, for many people, was going to look much different than the season of faith, family and merriment that many people often associate with the season. The lockdown announced for Boxing Day will make this an even more difficult season for many.
To put this in perspective (and provide encouragement) and to remember that Christmas is about Christ—that He is all we need for a blessed Christmas or to live a blessed life in the face of trials—let us turn to the first Christmas story to contemplate just how difficult it would have been for Joseph and Mary and how Christ made all the difference.
Though they had no Christmas by which to evaluate their lived experience, the first Christmas was no easy time for Mary and Joseph. Notwithstanding the shame the couple probably faced because of the pre-marital pregnancy, they had to travel away from their comfort zone and support network, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. While not a long distance by modern standards, it was far enough by ancient standards. We might think that because Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David” that he would have had close family to call in on. However, Luke’s silence on this matter leads us to believe that Joseph’s roots were more connected to Nazareth than they were to Bethlehem; otherwise some relative probably would have made room for them. As it stood, homes and inns full because of the census, the couple were all alone in a foreign town and had to take shelter in a stable, “because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7). Bad travel plans, a grotty motel—not to mentioned being 9 months pregnant—it all seemed as if their stay would be a miserable one. But the cherish story of the nativity is far from unhappy because Jesus made all the difference.
Trusting God’s providence in the situation, looking to Him, Joseph and Mary were pleasantly surprise that first Christmas. The promised One of old, revealed as the expected child through prophecies, dreams and visions, finally arrived. The birth of any child has the effect of bringing joy to troubled circumstances; how much greater must have their joy been to welcome the Christ child!? Then unexpected visitors dropped in and told of angelic choirs rejoicing at the Saviour’s birth. God was encouraging the couple. Mary treasured and “pondered these things in her heart” as the shepherds went away “glorifying and praising God.” It is amazing how faith in God’s providence and the presence of Christ can bring joy to otherwise discouraging circumstances!
The Christmas holidays of 2020–21 will certainly be different, but they needn’t be as grim as Satan may tempt us to think. May it be that God is stripping away all of the distractions and adornments of the holidays: goodies, good company, traditions, etc, etc, so that we might focus exclusively on Jesus? As we worship Christ at Christmas may we be filled with all the joy and wonder Joseph and Mary were on that first bleak mid-winter Christmas night, and may we be a light in the darkness.
One of the undesirable consequences of Covid-19 for many churches and Christians has been the infrequency of which Communion, the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist has been remembered, celebrated, observed or taken.
How regularly should I taken Communion and why?
Some Christians take it weekly, others monthly (like us—the first a.m. service and third p.m. service), some quarterly and some even yearly.
What was the practice of the early Church?
Sadly, both ordinances of Baptism and Communion can be undervalued, however, below are 9 reasons why we ought to observe the Lord’s Supper and do so regularly:
Covid-19 has been a challenging time for many visible churches.
During lockdown many closed completely, some for want of means of continuing virtually (etc), while others persevered into varied forms of creative ministry, gathering and worship. We continued to hold our worship services through live-stream, Life Groups and leadership meetings via Skype and Zoom and Facetime and communicated congregationally through our print and e-newsletter (along with many other means).
From June 12 places of worship in Ontario were permitted by the government emergency order to emerge from the lockdown returning to physical worship services at 30% building capacity. We safely re-opened our morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day, June 14, also continuing our live-stream for those at risk or still uncomfortable; a few other local churches did the same not long after. However, there are many, many visible churches that remain closed with all or most of their ministries shut down. Many of them cite health concerns for this, which is something genuine to assess, however, “where there is a will there is a way” (i.e. if you have a reason to meet and a purpose to exist you will labour to find a safe means to accomplish it. See also: 2 Ti 1:7). A participant of one such church confided in me his dismay at their church’s decision wondering if anyone would return come September?
You see, if something stops for a week because of a snow storm, it is not terribly life changing, but the moment you speak of ceasing to do something for weeks and months and seasons, it becomes habit forming and life altering (for good or ill).
This raises two important and interrelated points:
ONE. If a church’s god is the only God, perfect, almighty, all-wise and most holy, sovereign, loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abounding in truth and goodness, the rewarder of those who seek him and the judge of all who don’t (I’m referencing the 2nd London Baptist Confession, 2.1) and if you know this God through faith in Jesus Christ then YES, absolutely, you have a reason to bring Him the corporate worship He has commanded and to fellowship together with other believers. Nothing, not persecution, or want or pandemic will stop you from doing this. If this is NOT the case, then naturally why would you gather to worship a God who you think is not really real or worthy, or immanent or knowable or known by you?
TWO. If a church, made up of redeemed or purchased people—bought by the blood of the lamb—has been commanded by their Saviour to publish Good News to all people, a message of repentance and transformation, to glorify Him in all they do, a life lived in gratitude to their King, then YES we have a purpose to exist for we have a Great Commission to fulfil and God to glorify. If this is NOT the case, if church is only a social club or a good works hobby, couldn’t I spend my time better somewhere else?
IF you answered yes to the above questions but are still not gathering and labouring as part of your local church, then appeal to your church leadership, grant leave to gather with a small handful in your home or outside, or temporarily worship with another church.
IF you are still watching the live-stream from home and not personally and physically worshipping and serving and don’t have a legitimate health risk (i.e. you’re going to the grocery store, shopping, eating out and visiting family but not participating in your church) then it is time to lay down your excuses and do so. Live-streaming is a great outreach and it was and can be a short-term substitute, but it is a long-term compromise from the real thing; don’t grow comfortable with it.
Among many other things Covid-19 is affecting on the church and spiritual landscape of our land is the separation from the wheat and the chaff; with some churches being pruned and others experiencing growth. The churches that will continue post-Covid will have these two things in common: a reason to meet and a purpose to exist.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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