As elders charged with leading our church and shepherding your souls, we felt it was necessary to provide some clarification and explanation regarding how we intend to lead our church into the future in regards to COIVD-19.
We recognize that within our congregation there are a diversity of viewpoints as to the appropriate way to respond to COVID-19.
In light of that, our chief aim is to continue to strive for the unity and brotherly love that the Apostle Paul calls us to in Ephesians 4:1-3:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”
In all our discussions about this, as Christians we ought to make it of utmost importance to bear with one another in love even when we disagree, and we ought to lay our lives and our desires down in an effort to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
As the elders of the church and shepherds of your souls, it is our desire and intention to model this well for you by being an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).
It is also our desire and intention as elders to model a rock solid faith and confidence in God in the midst of times of turmoil.
In our estimation, there are two primary concerns that need to be balanced in the face of COVID-19 for our church. They are both equally important concerns and one should not be sacrificed for the sake of the other.
The first concern is the love of neighbor, especially toward those within the household of God. (Galatians 6:10). The second concern is to walk by faith, not in fear, as we obey Jesus’ commands.
Love of Neighbor
It is our duty and privilege to love our neighbor and to love one another. As Jared talked about several weeks ago in his sermon from Romans 14, there are times where genuine believers may come to different convictions on matters that are unclear in Scripture.
There is a lot of grey area when it comes to the question of how to best respond to COVID-19 as far as social distancing, masks, and in person gatherings go. This means that we need to extend grace to one another.
As Ephesians 4:1-3 said, we need to “bear with one another in love”. Loving one another as Paul calls us to in Ephesians is one of the greatest ways we bear God’s image and character, especially the unity we see in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For those who are not very concerned about the threat of COVID-19, this means taking extra precautions that you may believe are unnecessary in an effort to love and respect your other brothers and sisters.
So we wear masks on Sunday mornings as an act of love, not primarily because the CDC says we should (though that does weigh into our decision). We do it primarily because we care about our brothers and sisters in Christ and we do not want to present an unnecessary stumbling block to the Gospel for those who may be visiting or watching.
We know that in times like this there will be disagreements amongst us as to how to best carry out these social distancing guidelines.That is why it is paramount that we take time to listen to one another with all humility, ready to admit when we are wrong and to seek forgiveness where necessary.
As elders, we strive to be examples of this for our congregation and we urge each one of you to approach one another with this same love, charity, and patience as we “eagerly maintain unity.”
Walking By Faith
It is also our desire as the elders of this church to lead us in walking by faith. One of our values as a church is “Childlike Faith”. As we make decisions for our church we want to trust God’s Word above the wisdom of the world.
What we believe about God and about His Word profoundly shapes the way that we live as Christians. We do not make decisions through the same lense that the world makes decisions.
In light of COVID-19, there are several biblical truths we believe are directly applicable to helping us determine how to walk by faith as a church.
First, as a church that teaches from a Reformed Christian perspective, we have a high view of the sovereignty of God. This means that we believe that God governs and orchestrates all things – even calamity (see Isaiah 45:6-7, Genesis 50:20, Deut. 32:39, Acts 4:27-28).
We believe that God governs all things and that not a molecule moves apart from His decree. Not one strain of coronavirus will enter into our bodies apart from the will of our Father in heaven.
Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-30, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Our heavenly Father who loves us determines the lifespan of even single sparrows. And we are infinitely more valuable to our Father than many sparrows!
Secondly, we also believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and in the coming bodily resurrection of the saints upon His return. Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live”.
Death is not the end, but the beginning. We joyfully affirm along with Paul in Philippians 1:21 that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
These two truths – the absolute sovereignty of our loving heavenly Father and our future bodily resurrection – form a shelter under which we can stand that keeps us from the fear of death. In Christ, we can claim promises like Psalm 91:5-6:
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
While promises like this do not guarantee that Christians will not get sick or endure hardship, because we are united to Christ we can claim promises like this in the spirit of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said to Nebuchadnezzar as they were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace:
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
We know that God is willing and able to shelter us from pestilence. But even if in His sovereign will He allows pestilence to befall one of us, we know that pestilence, sickness and even death do not have the last word for Christians. Jesus does.
Because we believe these things, our beliefs affect the way that we live. We will respond differently to things like the coronavirus than the world does.
Unlike the church of Jesus Christ, the world operates from a purely secular worldview. As such, the world largely believes it has the power and wisdom to be able to stave off or even prevent calamity and death. Additionally, the world does not have the hope of a bodily resurrection.
The world has all its eggs in the basket of this life. And the world makes decisions in light of that belief. Because the world has no hope beyond this life, the world places primary importance in physical safety. Everything must be sacrificed for the sake of physical safety.
But as Christians, we do not believe that this life is all there is. We believe that there are things that matter more than our physical safety. We believe that the Great Commission matters more than our physical safety. We believe that serving others matters more than our physical safety. We believe that obeying Jesus’ commands to gather together as the church matters more than our physical safety.
Christians throughout the centuries have operated under this same biblical worldview. And not just Christians, but Jesus himself welcomed those who were mamend, sick, and contagious into His presence for their good and His glory.
This is why Christians throughout church history have not run from the opportunity to be at the bedside of one dying from the plague. It is why Christians today continue to gather as the church in areas of high persecution at the risk of their safety and the safety of their family.
Does this mean we do not care about physical safety at all? Are we saying we should be masochists who seek out pain and suffering? Of course not. There should always be nuance and balance struck, but at the end of the day, the value system that governs the decisions we make is rooted in God’s Word, not ultimately in news reports or CDC guidelines.
Striking the Balance
Loving our neighbor and walking by faith are both of utmost importance in these days. It is possible to walk in both at the same time. But it will take humility and charity on everyone’s part.
The elders of Pillar DC greatly value your prayers as we continue to lead our church. We welcome your input and we take it seriously.
Again, we acknowledge that we have made mistakes along the way. In the days to come, we will strive to implement policies regarding church gatherings that can accommodate the entire Church, ensuring that we are doing all we can not to violate anyone’s conscience.
As such, we will continue to offer online options for worship services and prayer gatherings. Additionally, we will encourage the use of masks while indoors in public spaces or when adequate social distancing is not possible (i.e. inside homes).
We will continue to respect our governing authorities and strive to live peaceably amongst our neighbors. And we will continue to do all we can to gather together responsibly as a church whenever possible. We make the decisions and live by these policies as an act of pure love of God and neighbor for the sake of unity and expansion of the kingdom of God. We leave you with these words from our God:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:1-8).