Although I write this some 42 days into the phase of full lockdown as a result of the coronavirus in the UK, I still feel it is worthwhile to iterate why we are not meeting as churches neither in our building nor in any physical context.
The four key determining principles according to scripture are:
Subjection to Authorities The message from the government in general is to avoid non-essential social contact and stay-at-home. Specifically they have ordered the closing of places of worship including churches. In 1 Peter 2:13-14 we read Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor[ as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. So we seek to follow this call at this time which leads us to the cancelling our services.
Sacrifice. At this time others are restricting their activities for the common good, it would be reasonable for us to be sacrificing to the same end and so restricting our activities. At the heart of our faith is a Saviour who self-sacrificed for the good of others.
Love The whole premise on which the present government policy is based is that the less social contact there is then the less chance there is for the virus to spread. This will mean lives will be saved. It will also mean that the health service will be able to cope with the demands upon it and respond to help other emergency cases. Love to our neighbour drives us to cooperate with this policy.
Witness. To be seen to be carrying on our public meetings together when others have stopped their activities can declare that we do not care for those around us. Such a declaration can cause great harm to the cause of Christ and testimony of the church.
In not being able to meet we should feel the pain. We are called to be a people who live in community. Using the technology available to facilitate this is good, and we must use it vigorously so as to do our churches good. However, the call of Hebrews 10:24-25 looms large and should impact us: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Meeting through screens is not the same as meeting face-to-face.
Moreover, having established that it is proper that we should withdraw from meeting at this time, we can easily drift into settling down to this being an acceptable way going forward. We need to be jolted out of such thinking. Yes we need to make the best of our online situation, but we should be longing to be back in church together.
Finally we note that this is an issue of public health. Accordingly we are persuaded to acquiesce with the demands upon us. Should this slip into being a religious issue then our response should be somewhat difference. It is one thing to stop meeting to assist in the maintenance of good public health; it is a very different matter to stop meeting because we declare that Jesus is LORD and the only Saviour and the authorities, as a result, are insisting that we close.