Friday, October 29, 2021

A Response to, "For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is A Good Thing"

 I recently read an article at The Federalist called, "For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is A Good Thing."  I found myself…unsettled as I read. It’s not that I am bothered by the difference of opinion I have with the author about what churches should do or how cautiously Christians should respond to COVID. I think there is room for good faith disagreements as people genuinely wrestle with what to do. 

I’m bothered by the manner in which the argument is made, especially because it misuses Scripture in the process of making the argument. This is a long post, but there is much to be said.


I do not offer the following response to impugn the character of the writer, but to sort through the validity and soundness of the logical and scriptural arguments being made. 

The quotes from the article are in italics; my response follows each quote.




Blaming people for contracting a catchy virus has been one of many widely deployed COVID manipulation tactics. That has shifted into blaming people for dying of a catchy virus after they decided their risks from taking the vaccines outweighed their risks from catching the disease. 


Blaming is, according to multiple dictionaries, “assigning responsibility.” If someone who has smoked for thirty years gets lung cancer, we make the connection. It’s a tragedy, but it’s not, sadly, unexpected. There is proper blame to be placed in that case – not vindictively or maliciously, but simply as a matter of connecting the dots. If someone unexpectedly gets lung cancer, we have a different response: the patient is not to blame.


There is a distinction between someone who catches COVID in spite of taking measures (of any kind) to stay healthy safe and someone who gets sick because of not exercising reasonable caution. There must be room here for a recognition that principles of cause and effect are at work in the world. Actions and inactions have consequences. 


I certainly don’t like the hostility and shaming I have seen in some circles toward those who are unvaccinated and tragically die. As far as I know, those individuals were doing things other than taking vaccines in hopes of offsetting the ravages of COVID. Even if I think their approach is misguided, I respect that they were attempting to make wise choices. Even if they weren’t taking any precautions, I wouldn’t see that as a reason or feel like it was appropriate to shame them in death. It would be a time to grieve.


* * * * *


Shaming people for dying by accident is a bit twisted, but it might make sense if you believe life is over once a person stops breathing, and so cling to the illusion of human control over death to avoid the terror of acknowledging that’s impossible. It’s such pagan assumptions driving the ridiculous number of news articles with fear-porn titles like these: “Kansas City area official who died from COVID was unvaccinated, ‘felt he was immune’”; “Unvaccinated husband and wife die of COVID-19 leaving 5 children behind“; “Unvaccinated Father Inspired Other Family Members to Get Shot Before Dying From COVID“; “Bride Planning Funeral Instead of Wedding After Unvaccinated Groom Dies From COVID.”


The idea that we “…cling to the illusion of human control over death to avoid the terror of acknowledging that’s impossible” caught my eye. If we truly – truly – believed that there was nothing we could do to impact the timing of our death, we would live with utterly reckless abandonment. We would:


·      eat anything we wanted no matter the health risk

·      drive like no one else was on the road and ditch the seat belt

·      never take supplements, vitamins or medicine

·      pour gas on a campfire right out of the can 

·      resist treating cancer or going to the hospital when we have a heart attack

·      stop locking our doors at night

·      never call 911 in a health emergency


We don’t do this. There is a reason gun owners stress the importance of gun safety: they know that a gun used improperly can kill people. Yet I never hear them say, “You know what? If it’s our time to go, it’s our time to go. Point that wherever you want to and keep it loaded at all times for all I care.” As the course of our lives unfold, even we Christians, whether overflowing with or desperately lacking faith, think it’s reasonable to make smart decisions that steward our health and the health of others. I don’t understand why we have set COVID-related responses apart from literally everything else we do. 


* * * * *


Christian teaching diametrically opposes the underlying theology pushed in such articles and in many other popular COVID narratives. That’s true despite the appearance generated by the majority of Western churches prioritizing obedience to men instead of to God by shutting themselves down over COVID-19. Doing so contradicts numerous clear commands of scripture.


First, there are so many passages in Scripture on personal responsibility and stewardship of self and others. It is expected that we steward ourselves and others. 


Second, God ordained human government and other structures of authority. There are times when it’s part of God’s plan that we are obedient to people. Clearly, there are times when following the orders of people would cause us to sin; that, of course, is where we draw the line. 


A key question is if the church would sin when responding to COVID mandates (like suspending corporate meetings) or it would be properly responding to God-ordained authority. 


Last year I did a series of videos and articles on how to respond as Christians to the different dilemmas COVID brought. When I looked into history for precedent, I did not find as much as I would have hoped. However, I found at least a few times that civil authorities asked churches to join their community’s fight against disease by suspending services in order to stop the spread. Historically, the church has followed the law when civil authorities asked them to stop large corporate gatherings in times of disease. It was seen as a reasonable thing to do.


During the plague in Milan in the 1500s, churches were closed. St Charles became famous during this time. 


  • He had altars set up in the streets so that people could see Mass celebrated from their windows; small groups of magistrates and religious orders would walk through the streets so people could see that their officials and clergy had not fled.[1]
  • He practiced social distancing, putting up a grille so those consulting him would not be infected if he were sick. 
  • Those who gave Communion to the sick were told to hold their fingers in a candle flame immediately afterwards. 
  • Priests heard Confessions through closed doors, holding a stick to measure the distance they should stand from the threshold.
  • Booklets were distributed with prayers to use at certain times of day, when the Cathedral’s bells would be rung so everyone knew that they were praying together.[2]


In the 1600s, Puritan Richard Baxter has a section in one of his books where he says, “If the magistrate asks you to refrain from meeting because of a pestilence, you do not meet. On the other hand, if the magistrate tries to force you not to meet because of persecution of Christianity, you meet anyway.”[3]


The following is an excerpt from The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, the fifth volume, in his Christian Ecclesiastics, where he details answers to nearly 200 questions dealing with Christians and matters of conscience. I am updating the English, because it’s old and weird. 


BAXTER ON MEETING WHEN FORBIDDEN BY THE GOVERNMENT  Question 109: May we omit church assemblies on the Lord's Day if the magistrate forbid them?


Answer: It is one thing to forbid them for a time for some special cause such as infection by pestilence, fire, war, and another to forbid them continuously or profanely. It is one thing to omit them for a time, and another to do it as an ordinary thing….The assembly and the circumstances of the assembly must be distinguished: If the magistrate, for a greater good (such as common safety) forbids church assemblies in a time of pestilence, assault of enemies, or fire, or a similar necessity, it is a duty to obey him. Positive duties (like assembly) give place to those great natural duties (I assume by this he means protecting human life) which are the purpose of the positive duties. Christ justified himself and his disciples’ violation of the positive duty of the rest of the Sabbath by saying, “The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath” – in other words, it gave place to a greater duty. Because positive duties do not always bind us, keeping out-of-season duties become sins, because one individual Lord's day or assembly is not to be preferred over the observation of many of Lord’s days assemblies, and the many are likely to be obtained by the omission of the one.  If princes profanely forbid holy assemblies and public worship… as a renunciation of Christ and our religion, it is not lawful to obey them. But it is lawful and even prudent… to omit some assemblies for a time, that we may have opportunity for more assemblies… “


The Yellow Fever was an ongoing problem in the United States in the 1800s. Cities and churches responded very differently. In some places, meetings were suspended;[4] in other places, they were not.[5] It certainly didn’t help that there was a LOT of misinformation and misunderstanding about how the plague was spread, who was susceptible, etc. 


Washington DC churches responded to a ban on public gatherings in 1918 by voting unanimously to agree with the decree. The pastors released the following statement:


Resolved, in view of the prevailing condition of our city (the widespread prevalence of influenza, that has called forth the request from the District of Columbia Commissioners) we do place ourselves on record as cheerfully complying with the request of the Commissioners, which, we understand applies to all churches alike. 


One hundred and thirty-one African-American churches also suspended services. Although personal responses to this order were mixed, churches demonstrated a unified response. One Presbyterian Church explained their cancellation of services in the following way:


Inasmuch as it has seemed wise to the Commissioners of the District to prohibit the gathering of the people on Sunday in their accustomed places of worship, may I suggest that at the usual hour of morning service you gather in your homes and unite in common prayer to the God of Nations and of families, that He will guide us in all wisdom in this time of trial, that our physicians and public officers may be led in their performance of duty and be strengthened by divine help, that the people may be wise and courageous, each in his place. Let us never forget that “Help cometh from the lord which made heaven and earth.” Behold He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.[6]


To be sure, they lobbied consistently to meet again as soon as they could. 


In an article entitled "A pandemic Billy Sunday could not shut down," evangelical historian John Fea notes how prolific evangelist Billy Sunday went from claiming the Spanish flu was "fake news" by the Germans in WW1 ("The whole thing is a part of their propaganda; it started over there in Spain, where they scattered germs around, and that’s why you ought to dig down all the deeper and buy more Liberty bonds") to agreeing to suspend his revival meetings when the Providence Board of Aldermen closed all the city’s public venues.  He said, “It is up to us to hope and pray. We are always willing to help anything that is for the public good and do it cheerfully. There is nothing drastic in the (aldermen’s) order, and it is issued in an attempt to stamp out this epidemic.” 


* * * * *


It’s a mark of the weakness of the Western church that more church leaders have not proclaimed this to the world by now. They’ve left standing for basics of the faith to the far too few strong pastors such as John MacArthur and Mark Dever. Let’s go through a few of these clear biblical teachings that even this theologically basic laywoman knows thanks to parents who read the Bible to her growing up and excellent pastoral instruction since then.


For one thing, Christians believe that life and death belong entirely to God. There is nothing we can do to make our days on earth one second longer or shorter: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” says the Psalmist. “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s,” says Saint Paul in Romans 14:8.


Okay, once again: we do not live as the author is suggesting in any other area of life. We assume personal responsibility is a thing. Would we say, as we step off a third story balcony, “God decides when I die, not gravity?” Would we cross a highway on foot without looking because “God will decided when I die, not a semi”? 


I think the author is confusing what God declares must happen with what God permits to happen. God permits us to reap what we sow. God permits consequences. We are moral agents; our choices matter. The first verse simply notes God knows how our life is going to unfold; it should be read alongside Ecclesiastes 7:17  (“Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” and Proverbs 10:27 (The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.”) 


In addition, I think a logical conclusion from the author’s stance is that there is no need to fight abortion, because there is nothing that can be done on earth to make that unborn baby’s life one second longer. And if God claims the souls of the unborn for himself (as I believe He does), are we pro-life advocates not robbing them of the joy of heaven? I don’t think this, of course, and I am quite certain the author doesn’t either. But it seems like an unavoidable conclusion based on what she has written. 


* * * * *


For another thing, for Christians, death is good. 


Yes and no. 


Yes, in the sense that the one who dies enter into a better place: eternal life. “To die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).  The mortal becomes immortal, the corruptible incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54).


And yet….Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. The Bible records ten people brought back to life. 

One would think that, if dying was the ultimate good, we ought not rejoice or marvel at any of these incidents recorded in Scripture. And yet we see them as miraculous gifts rather than the individual being robbed of heaven. Why is that? 


* * * * *


Yes, death is also an evil — its existence is a result of sin. 


This, too, seems like a really important point. Death has marred the world, not enhanced it. To die is gain for the Christian who dies, but living is also important. It turns out lots of people are impacted by our death. Grief and loss can be brutal. And as in so many other areas of life where we seek to offset the ravages of sin in a broken world, we seek to avoid unnecessary death as well. We try to get better from diseases. We let doctors attempt to heal us when we are dying. We constantly make decisions to prolong our days (Proverbs 3:2), recognizing that God has a purpose for our earthly life.[7] 


I should have died of a massive heart attack 6 years ago. I had a 100% blockage Widow Maker. I have only found one other person who has survived that, and I have really searched. Since then, I have realized I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of my own death. However, I have a wife and three boys who are not so comfortable with that idea. I would like to be around for them as long as I can. This is not me fearing death or clinging to some pagan notion that this life is all there is; this is me wanting to be a present and responsible husband and father to my family.


* * * * *


But, thanks be to God, Jesus Christ has redeemed even death. In his resurrection, Christ has transformed death into a portal to eternal life for Christians. What Satan meant for evil, God has transformed into good. Verse three of the 1540 Dutch hymn, “In God, My Faithful God,” beautifully expresses this timeless theology:


If death my portion be,

It brings great gain to me;

It speeds my life’s endeavor

To live with Christ forever.

He gives me joy in sorrow,

Come death now or tomorrow.


The Christian faith makes it very clear that death, while sad to those left behind and a tragic consequence of human sin, is now good for all who believe in Christ. A Christian funeral is a cause for rejoicing, albeit understandably through tears from those of us temporarily left behind.


Yes. Jesus has redeemed even death, so death is a cause for rejoicing for the one who’s gone to be with Jesus for eternity. I’m not sure how this relates to living in such a way that we take reasonable precautions to avoid our own death or potentially stop the spead of a fatal disease to others. 


* * * * *


“Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” says 2 Corinthians 5:8. This is not a small or unclear doctrine. It is repeated over and over again in scripture. It flatly rejects the heathen idea that death is to be avoided at any cost.


First of all, that verse is an encouragement in the midst of persecution: “If people torture and kill you for your faith, you will soon be with Jesus. Stay strong.” It’s not meant to suggest we be irresponsible in the use of the life God has given us. There is a vast difference between avoiding death and avoiding death at all cost. 


Think of it this way: we all argue that life is precious; that our lives matter. We also recognize that while we are on this earth, we have the opportunity to represent God as His ambassador and spread the good news of the gospel to everyone we meet. The more we can reach, the better. So why would we not seek to avoid death if it gives us more opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God? It’s not an avoidance based on fear; it’s not an avoidance based thinking this life is better than the next. It’s an avoidance based on the premise that our lives here have an impact that ripples into eternity. Think of Paul, who couldn’t wait to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5), and yet who constantly ran away from avoidable death. 


There is another level of discussion worth having here as well. Christians have always rejected suicide. One ought not take their own life through acts of commission (active suicide) or omission (passive suicide). We assume we have a responsibility to steward our body; it is, after all, the temple of the Holy Spirit. This remains true during a pandemic.   


* * * * *


Our Christian heritage also rejects the avoidance of death at any cost by venerating the millions of martyrs we honor precisely for choosing to confess Christ despite the indescribable costs to them of comfort, health, and life itself. Still today, our brothers and sisters are routinely martyred in countries like Communist China. In the Middle East, Christians are raped and ethnically cleansed to punish their beliefs. It’s time for we comparatively comfortable Westerners to despise the shame and get back to running our race like their fellow Christians, not cowards.


Once again, this is about not denying a commitment to Jesus. It’s about an attempt to exercise proper precautions so that our friends and neighbors are not put in harm’s way to the point of death. Here in Michigan, churches were exempt from all the closings. Most churches chose to close anyway for a time, not because the boot of the state was threating to stamp them out, but because church leaders were attempting to stop the march of a pandemic that is killing people who need Jesus. 


* * * * *


As the Apostle Paul proclaimed, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He, of course, himself went on to make good on that statement with a martyr’s death.


This is the same Paul who escaped and/or avoided all the persecution he could so that he was still around to spread the gospel. 


* * * * *


If he can do that, we can go to our safe, air-conditioned churches and worship. We can even go to the hospital rooms and bedrooms of those dying with infectious diseases and love them to the end, like the imitations of our Master Christians have boldly shown themselves to be for centuries, putting pagans to shame.


Giving our lives for the dying when there is no one else to care for them has been modeled by the church for 2,000 years. Demanding that we be allowed to continue to meet on our terms in our safe, air-conditioned churches is not. If we did not spread the disease to others, and all that was at stake was our own personal health, I could envision an argument that calls Christians to step up. But the nature of a pandemic of this sort is that my attendance may put my neighbor’s life at risk, not mine. There are all kinds of passages about giving our own lives for others; there are no passages about making other people potentially forfeit their lives.


* * * * *


The Christian church has always faced a stronger prospect of suffering and death because “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” We are instructed to be, not driven by “consensus” and social comfort, but the truth as God has given it to us in His Word.


Right. That has to do with protecting the faith by making sure the voices that form our orthodoxy and orthopraxy are Christian. That is very different from seeking informed medical decisions about how to best keep ourselves and those around us safe during a pandemic. This isn’t about social comfort; it’s about an attempt to exercise social responsibility even if it brings discomfort – and often in spite of it bringing discomfort.  


* * * * *


Christ our Lord says in the 10th chapter of Matthew, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” It is this commanded, holy fear of God before all others that motivates not just the noble martyrs but all Christians today who decline to obey the rulers whose commands contradict God’s.


First, making decisions intended to keep others alive during a pandemic strikes me as something God would favor. Ecclesiastes talks about there being seasons for all kinds of things. Surely there is pandemic season, and in it we make exceptions we would not otherwise in an effort to protect human life.


Second, the implication here is that not gathering in our church building on a Sunday morning during a pandemic is a command that contradicts God’s command to gather together. We have to clarify a couple things. First, what counts as ‘gather together’? Does it only count if we drive to a church building on Sunday mornings? Are there ever exceptions? Do small groups or home churches count? Here’s a more uncomfortable question: How many of have given ourselves some Sundays off? Were we sinning that Sunday? If not, why not? 


* * * * *


Jesus is direct about what obeying Him, rather than men, can cost. He endured the worst of this cost Himself. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you,” Jesus says in John. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”


This has nothing to do with suspending in-person services for a season in the midst of a pandemic.


* * * * *


A bit later in that gospel, Jesus again emphasizes: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” To put it simply, people who want an effort-free, comfort-filled life need to fight that to be Christians.


Agreed. But just to clarify, Jesus is emphasizing persecution, not disease. 


* * * * *


Christians are explicitly called to spurn pagans’ approval, advice, and beliefs for the sake of our souls: “Enter by the narrow gate,” Christ says in Matthew. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 


Responding to a medical crisis is not what this verse is talking about. And I need some clarification on what all we should spurn from the pagans. Because of common grace, truth and knowledge “rain on the just and unjust.” You don’t have to be a Christian to know things: in this case, to know things about medicine.   


* * * * *


In a time of crisis, what do people need most? Christians believe the answer to that is: Jesus. Not food, not water, not even health. First and foremost, we need Jesus.


Yes, first and foremost. But adding food, water and health is not contradictory. This is a both/and, not an either/or. The person bleeding out needs a tourniquet. The starving person needs food. I think Jesus had a parable about the importance of meeting the physical needs of people, almost as if what we doing stuff for them is like doing stuff for Jesus.


* * * * *


This is why, for example, it has been the historic practice of the Christian church for pastors to bring the Sacraments to the sick and dying. Our faithful fathers and mothers knew that, while God certainly works through doctors and scientists, the most important work, one that belongs utterly to Him, is the “medicine of immortality.”


“God certainly works through doctors and scientists” is actually a really important point. Remember the joke about the guy stranded on the roof of his house during a flood? He prays to be rescued, then keeps ignoring all the people who show up to rescue him because he wanted something miraculous. I’m also thinking of a saying I heard recently: “Don’t expect God to dig a hole for you while you are leaning on a shovel.”


* * * * *


It is this medicine that we sacramentalists crave and receive each Sunday.


I am sympathetic to this view for the sacramentalists who believes that communion is a means of grace, and therefore must be consumed on a regular basis. However, as the author noted, the sacrament can be brought to people.


* * * * *


 It is why there is for us no such thing as “Zoom church.” Church is not church without Jesus, and where has Jesus promised to be? “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” 


The quoted verse is about church discipline. If you have a Bible that offers little headings for different areas of focus, the heading will tell you that. “Dealing With Sin in the Church” is the headline in the NIV. It has nothing to do with corporate worship gatherings. 


As for Zoom church services which allow participation in a service: does this suggest that homebound parishioners are not capable of being part of a church if they participate online?  This is not the ideal, and I would argue that those who can be in person should be physically present, but I would be loathe to claim that those who have no other choice are not participating in church.   


* * * * *


Where else has Jesus promised to be? In his Word and Holy Communion


Well, and in the praise of His people (Psalm 22:3). And in His temple which is us (1 Corinthians 6:19). And everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23), and “with us always, even unto the ends of the earth” (Matthew 28:20). 


* * * * *


We can’t get those at home by ourselves.


As the author herself noted a few paragraphs earlier, communion can be brought to you. Even the most strict sacramentalists allow for this. And His Word? You can absolutely get that at home. 


* * * * *


That’s why we’re commanded to “not forsak[e] the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25).


That’s a verse about people being together in order to encourage each other as a course of habit vs. not gathering together as a course of habit (or so the NIV translates ethos). It’s not about pausing corporate gatherings in order to stop the spread of a virus in the midst of a pandemic. 


In addition, since a key point of living in consistent church community has to do with accountability and support (as the context of Hebrews 10:25 stresses), one can certainly argue this can be experienced other ways besides being in person in a central building every Sunday if the need arises. Alternatives are not ideal, but they are not inherently sinful. 


* * * * *


To forsake assembling for worship also breaks the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” We break this commandment, says Martin Luther’s catechism, when we “despise or neglect God’s Word,” which means “failing to gather together in worship to receive God’s Word and Sacraments” and “rejecting or disregarding God’s Word.”


 “First, the Sabbath was intended to help people, not burden them. In contrast with the grueling daily work as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites were commanded to take a full day of rest each week under the Mosaic Law. Pharisaical law had morphed the Sabbath into a burden, adding restrictions beyond what God’s law said…Jesus gives a similar reminder in Mark 3:1–6 (also Matthew 12:9–14Luke 6:6–11) when He heals a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were looking to accuse Jesus and closely watched His response to a man with a shriveled hand. “Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent” (Mark 3:4). The Sabbath was not intended to burden people but to ease their burden. For someone to forbid acts of mercy and goodness on God’s day of rest is contrary to all that is right…As believers, set free in Christ, we are not judged by whether or not we keep the Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16). Instead, we follow the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ. We find our rest in Him, and seven days a week are filled with worship of Him.”


Second, by all means, let’s look at Luther. This is from a letter he wrote concerning advice during the Black Plague. 


“They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are.


“They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health...


“It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire…


“No, my dear friends, that is no good. If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbor’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die. On both counts this is a grievous offense to God and to man — here it is tempting God; there it is bringing man into despair...


“It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is therefore to seek to preserve life and avoid death if this can be done without harm to our neighbor, inasmuch as life is more than food and clothing, as Christ himself says in Matthew 5 [6:25].


“If someone is so strong in faith, however, that he can willingly suffer nakedness, hunger, and want without tempting God and not trying to escape, although he could do so, let him continue that way, but let him not condemn those who will not or cannot do the same… “


* * * * *


“How few are we within Thy fold, Thy saints by men forsaken! True faith seems quenched on every hand, Men suffer not Thy Word to stand; Dark times have us oe’rtaken,” laments Luther in one of his Reformation hymns. “…May God root out all heresy And of false teachers rid us.” Sin destroys faith. 




* * * * *


It is time for Christians individually and corporately to repent for the way we and our institutions responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our refusal to preach and obey the clear teachings of the Bible amid the world’s panic have betrayed Our Lord. Thanks be to God, there’s a way out for us. It’s the same as for Saint Peter, the coward Christ transformed into a lion. That way out is repentance! Then let us rejoice and sin no more.


Oh. So many thoughts here. Those who never stopped meeting, those who stopped and restarted, those who now meet with mitigations in place – they are all trying to follow the clear teaching of the Bible. I’d like to note how churches around the world have responded. This does not mean everyone is right; I only offer this because Christians everywhere are struggling with knowing what to do. Christians everywhere are balancing biblical tensions. And Christians everywhere are responding in different ways.


“In Italy, as elsewhere, Mass has been canceled to avoid people gathering. The Vatican said earlier that Holy Week and Easter services would be held without public participation, a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.”[8]


The Lutheran World Federation’s statement to their congregation around the world: “We advise you to follow instructions from the public health structures of your countries and to follow the World Health Organization that is coordinating the global response to the outbreak.” [9]


“As India continues its attempt at the world’s biggest social isolation effort to halt the new coronavirus outbreak, millions are struggling to navigate weeks of canceled public transit, closed businesses, and therefore no Sunday services. After greeting Christians and praising “Lord Christ” in Good Friday and Easter tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this week his decision to extend the lockdown until May 3, due to the lack of widespread testing for the virus as the death toll rises. However, despite all the disruption and our inability to worship together as usual, I believe the pandemic lockdown is being used by God to use his church in a new way.”[10]


“The Church of God in Latin America has not been immune, either to the virus or to the resulting economic crisis. Several pastors and countless church members have been infected. The church in Tela, Honduras, recently lost a key leader, a father of young children, to the virus. Church services have been suspended for months, and since very few congregations have an option for online giving, pastors have gone weeks without income. Churches that can collect tithes and offerings do not receive much since so many of their congregants have lost their jobs.The situation is dire, and, yet there is a sense of hope. Even as we hear stories of struggle, we also see that God is at work. Nearly every conversation reminds us of how much we as North Americans have to learn from our brothers and sisters south of the border. A few days ago, I participated in Costa Rica’s monthly pastors’ meeting. Because Costa Rica has thus far struggled less than many countries, some churches have been allowed to open with strict hygiene protocols. Services are restricted to one hour and fifteen minutes (they normally last at least two). Congregants must wash their hands and sanitize their shoes on arrival. They have to wear masks and maintain social distancing. And, perhaps most difficult, singing is strictly off-limits.”[12]


“The churches in France and Italy are slowly returning to their church buildings, worshipping and praying side by side with people they haven’t seen in nearly four months. In France, some churches will have the capacity to receive back most of their members, but in Italy there are still some restrictions. These new ministry tools are still in use, and the churches continue looking for new and innovative ways to preach the gospel as they move forward into a new normal.”[13]


“The coronavirus global pandemic has forced the widespread closure of churches throughout the world, including Anglican churches in Melbourne, Australia and throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion. But churches have urged their members to remain active, helping each other and the community amid the growing threat from the COVID-19 virus. Worship services are also being livestreamed over the internet where possible.[14]


“Father Healey’s primary ministry in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is with small Christian communities... When the government stopped all gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the small Christian community meetings were suspended, along with Masses and other church services throughout Kenya. In addition, four major cities, including Nairobi, restricted travel. The 5,500 communities in the capital were left with a simple choice, “go digital or die,” Father Healey said. “Now a window has opened, namely online small Christian communities that are also called virtual SCCs and digital SCCs,” said the missionary from Baltimore. Instead of physically going to a home in the local neighborhood, the parish or another meeting location, members of the “jumuiya” — Swahili for community — gather online, either via computer or their mobile phones, he said....  'Many Catholics in Kenya have turned the problem of closed churches on Sunday into an opportunity.”[15]


“Israel's caretaker-government has steadily tightened restrictions to stem the spread of the virus. Gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned. Residents should only venture out from their homes within a 100-meter radius or to buy essential items. Christian (and Islamic) leaders have adopted these emergency regulations. "This year, in short, there are cancellations, postponements and modifications: It will be an Easter week with the most live-streaming to date," says Wadie Abunassar, media advisor to the Catholic bishops in Jerusalem. "There will be no public processions, especially not along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. This is to keep people safe."[16]


Here is a really good article from Christianity Today about lessons from churches in Singapore[17] and from Eurasia’s evangelical churches.[18] It’s also interesting to see how Canadian Mennonites have responded,[19] as well as the response of the church in Bostwana.[20]


* * * * *


For Christians, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In both living and dying, we have Jesus. There is never reason to be controlled by fear or live in hopeless despair.


For Christians, protecting and preserving life is a good thing. This has been part of the Judeo-Christian ethos for thousands of years.


For Christians, the Genesis mandated to steward our health, the health of others, and the health of the world is a good thing. 


For Christians, sticking around in the midst of a groaning and fallen world to act as ambassadors for Jesus is a noble calling and a daunting privilege.


[2] From “Plagues bring fear and isolation - but Church history shows there are remedies.” Thomas Chacko,

[3]  I got these quotes from an article by John McArthur.

[6] From the article “How DC Churches Responded When the Government Banned Public Gatherings During the Spanish Flu of 1918.” Caleb Morell,

[7] Source for the following list:

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