Yet Another Lockdown…
Here in Ontario we find ourselves in the midst of yet another lockdown—the harshest one yet at that. It’s been more than 13 months since the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a worldwide pandemic back on March 11, 2020. For well over a year now, we’ve had to put up with rolling lockdowns and assembly restrictions. Here we are in mid-April 2021 and the government has effectively ordered churches to shutdown yet again, restricting churches to a maximum of 10 person gatherings both indoors or outdoors beginning this coming Sunday. A church that is unable to assemble in person is a church that is unable to practice ekklesia. On this point, most pastors would agree. And yet many pastors and churches, 13 months later, have still decided to obey the civil magistrate, leaving their sheep scattered this Sunday morning.
Early in the pandemic, much of the debate surrounding whether or not churches should open their doors in civil disobedience centered around two passages: Romans 13:1-7 and Hebrews 10:24-25. In Romans 13, we’re told to be subject to our governing authorities. But in Hebrews 10:24-25, we’re told to not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some. What do we do when our governing authorities command us to not meet together as a church? We must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29). I wrote about this last May here and here. Those opposed to this conclusion argued that Hebrews 10:24-25 allows for a temporary suspension of worship services. Back in the spring of 2020, this argument might have made some sense. But after 13 months and three lockdowns, surely what started as “temporary” has now become something “more than temporary” such that this argument no longer holds any water.
For the purposes of this blog, however, I’m not interested in debating Hebrews 10 all over again. Instead, I want to look at this debate from another angle.
Why should your church doors be wide open this Sunday morning?
Here’s a simple answer: in obedience to the Second Greatest Commandment.
Love Thy Neighbour…
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31
When the government forbids what God commands or commands what God forbids, we must obey God, not men. On this point, most, if not all, pastors would agree. Keeping in mind that God has commanded us to love thy neighbour, let me then ask you this question: What is more loving of neighbour—to open your church on Sunday morning or to close it?
Some have argued that it’s more loving to neighbour to close your church in an effort to slow the spread. Admittedly, early last spring, when so much about the virus was unknown, our church decided to close its doors in part for this reason. But here we are 13 months later and the data is in. Last year in Ontario, places of worship accounted for just 0.1% of all outbreak associated hospitalizations (totaling 5 people) and 0% of all outbreak associated deaths. That means that in all of 2020, there was not a single outbreak associated death attributed to a place of worship. And remember this stat doesn’t just include churches, but all places of worship—mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. Think about how many thousands upon thousands of places of worship there are throughout this province and now think about the total amount of gatherings these places of worship were able to collectively have in 2020. And there was not one single outbreak associated death. According to the data, can someone really still argue that it’s more loving to neighbour to close their church doors?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe a church’s decision to open their doors should be primarily based upon the data in the first place. The Word of God is our primary standard. We must reason from the Scriptures. But for those who do believe the data should be the primary deciding factor, let me say it again: There was not one single outbreak associated death in Ontario attributed to a place of worship in 2020.
Since we’re on the topic of data, let’s look at some more relevant data. Consider the following:
- 1/10 Canadians say they’ve contemplated suicide since the pandemic began
- Mental health is at an all-time crisis point in Ontario
- More than 1 million jobs were lost in Ontario after the first lockdown alone
- 1 in 6 small businesses on the verge of closing in Ontario
- Opiod deaths in Ontario have skyrocketed almost 50%
- Loneliness, substance use up in Ontario teens during the pandemic
- 50% increase in emergency assessments for eating disorders in children during pandemic
- Youth suicide attemps triple at McMaster Children’s Hospital over 4-month period during COVID-19
Just in this last week alone I’ve heard of several more suicides. According to a nurse in our church, the ICU at our local hospital was busy with failed suicide attempts this past weekend. Another nurse told me recently that the mental health floor is the busiest floor. After a year of lockdowns, isolation, and fear, so many find themselves at the end of their rope right now, desperate for hope, human connection, and community. If there was ever a time for a church to open its doors, the time is now.
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” – John 4:35
During the last lockdown, our church decided that it was time to civilly disobey out of obedience to God and love for neighbour. As a result, we saw people saved and baptized. We saw many unbelievers come out to church because they were at the end of their rope and had nowhere else to turn. We have had parents in the community bring their teens out to church because they were suicidal and wanted to give them hope. Our church has been a lifeline for so many hurting and suffering people. I could share story after story with you. If you’d like to read a few short stories that came out of these services, you can do so here.
Church is a place where our neighbour can receive forgiveness, freedom, joy, and hope. It’s a place where our neighbour can find authentic community, live out the one-another’s of Scripture, and experience genuine love. It’s a place where the sufferer can be comforted, the idle can be admonished, the fainthearted can be encouraged, and the weak can he helped (2 Corinthians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Church is a peaceful refuge in the midst of a raging storm. I’ve certainly found that to be true, especially in recent months.
So as you consider the data, the collective mental state of your community right now, and the rich blessings of in-person church, and as you remember that God has called his church to be a light in the darkness and a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14), let me again ask you this question: What is more loving of neighbour—to open your church on Sunday morning or to close it?
The answer should be obvious. And it gets more and more obvious with each passing day. Romans 13 is an important passage, but there is no government edict that can trump the Second Greatest Commandment. Love your neighbour by opening your church.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:36-38