Christmas greetings Free Church friends!
I trust that you are sensing the presence of our Saviour in your life – especially during these challenging days of COVID Lockdown. Please know that we are praying for the very real challenges that the pandemic and the lockdown will pose for all of you this Christmas.
My thoughts in this blog article are exactly that – my thoughts! This is not an “official” EFCC declaration on what you should think about how the federal or provincial governments have handled the COVID-19 pandemic or about how you should respond as individuals and churches. Every church in the EFCC is self-governing – and every individual has the right to think biblically about how they should follow our Saviour during these times. I do trust though, that what I will share in this short article is biblically informed. You may disagree with me – that is fine! But it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to agree to disagree graciously. We also are to base our beliefs on a careful understanding of biblical passages, not simply our personal biases.
It is inevitable that we will not all agree because there are certainly a variety of biblical principles at play.
- In I Peter 2-3, Peter reminds us to respect authorities and to make sure any criticisms of our witness are not founded on our evil doing.
- The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13:1-4 and Titus 3:1 to obey even pagan rulers.
- On the other side, in Acts 5:27-32, Peter and John declare that they must continue to declare the good news about Jesus, even though the religious rulers are forbidding it.
- And of course, the author of Hebrews (10:24-25) reminds us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
- Added to that we have the Great Commandment and numerous passages challenging us to love our neighbor, the poor and the vulnerable.
If I had more room, I would flesh out the context of each of these passages. The historical and grammatical context certainly impacts the principles we can draw on and how they should be applied to these days of pandemic. The context also helps us to decide which principles supersede the others in our response to our federal or provincial government’s restrictions on our individual and corporate freedoms.
However, as I wish to keep this brief (so that some of you will read it!) Let me simply highlight two things I think are critical for followers of Jesus to keep in mind.
Jesus elevated that as the most important commandment for His followers. And in John 13 he seems to tie that in to a second concern:
I don’t wear a mask to protect myself – I wear it to protect others (those who are vulnerable or are caring for the vulnerable) from me. And just as Peter and Paul were so concerned that the gospel witness not be hindered (see I Peter 2-3 or I Corinthians 9) by the selfish exercise of my freedom, so too I am concerned that the good news not be sullied by my words or actions that might appear uncaring or callous.
Do I think that governments are getting this 100% right? Or that they are being 100% consistent? No, but I think they are getting it mostly right. I have participated in calls with both Federal and Provincial leaders. I can testify that they are trying to be fair and balanced. They understand the human costs restrictions bring. Is it fair that Walmart will be open and our churches closed this Christmas? Maybe, maybe not. One of the things that governments don’t have the ability to do is explain the full rationale for every rule of lockdown.
I suspect that they feel the human cost of not allowing people to work, to buy presents, to get out of the house, is greater than forcing us to avoid congregating: whether that is congregating at the gym, in a movie theatre, or in a worship service. So yes, we can only worship and make disciples online and do pastoral care in creative ways for the next few months. Yes, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us freedom of religion and expression – but even then, there are reasonable limits involved. Throughout history pandemics have been viewed by the church as a reasonable time to restrain our activities as the church gathered and to focus heavily on our role as Christ’s ambassadors as the church scattered.
Do I wish churches were considered an “essential service” and liquor stores were considered “non-essential”? For sure. After all, we are about the care of souls. But that maybe is the point. As long as we still have freedom to worship, declare the good news of Christmas to the world, to care for souls – even if Sunday morning looks different – I think we are ok. Our brothers and sisters in China and Iran and…well, those folks experience real persecution.
This Christmas my freedom is going to be temporarily limited – and I am ok with that, because my witness and the law of love move me to be a good neighbour. If the government ever seeks to permanently shut down the declaration of the good news – the assembling of the saints for worship – be assured that I will be one of the first to write to our leaders requesting they rethink those decisions. But at this point I don’t see that kind of conspiracy in the works. I might be wrong – but for now, let’s pray for our leaders who have the difficult task of balancing the physical, mental, social and economic and even spiritual costs of a pandemic that has impacted us all.
In the midst of what may be a lonely Christmas, let us connect with family, friends and neighbours and encourage each other with the good news of Emmanuel – God with us. And may 2021 give us an opportunity to once again enjoy connecting in person to worship, and encourage and equip one another for the mission!
Merry Christmas to each of you from Deb and me!
EFCC Executive Director