It is written:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23)
Over the last few months, I have seen some Christians condemn churches for canceling services during the time of this global crisis. Just today, a popular denominational website on Facebook claimed that Christians who stay away from church assemblies due to the coronavirus are hypocrites who do not deserve to wear the name of Christ (as if they think somehow that THEY are worthy to wear the name of the Son of God). A friend explained to me that her church elders told her that she is sinning by not coming to church assembly during this pandemic, even though she has a compromised immune system.
Well, what of it?
I believe that these brethren-while being well-intentioned and sincere in their beliefs-have wrongly condemned the innocent.
They need to learn (or perhaps they need to relearn) what Jesus teaches us about the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11;42). Simply stated, most of the people that I know who are staying away from the church assemblies are doing so because of their concern that they may unknowingly infect someone who is more vulnerable to this virus. They are loving their neighbors as themselves; they are looking out for the ones who could get sick and die from Covid-19. This is also the most cited reason that I have witnessed from elders and preachers who have temporarily “closed their doors.”
This is loving our fellow man, as Jesus and His Apostles teach us to do.
Matthew 22:37-40-Jesus said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Romans 13:8-10-Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 6:2-Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Let’s also remember that the early church at times needed to “shut their doors” in places (cf. Acts 8:4). Jesus Himself had told His followers there may be times when such would be necessary:
Matthew 10:23-When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Even though the Gospel was to be preached to all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16), there was a time when the Spirit forbad the Apostles from preaching in certain places:
Acts 16:6-7-Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.
The point is this: there are weightier matters of the law. As important as attending church service is (Hebrews 10:24-25), there are other areas of Christianity that are more important. Please: let’s stop condemning the innocent.
Personally, I have been encouraged by the attitudes of many Christians who have seen this pandemic as an opportunity to rise up and “be the church” in numerous ways. The naysayers often ignore this fact.
Christians, we need to try and bear gently with each other (Ephesians 4:31-32). Let’s make it our aim to lift up our brethren and not destroy them (Romans 14). Whenever churches start opening back up en masse, let’s encourage each disciple to exercise his judgment as to when they return to services.
Here’s a shout out to the elders in the Lord’s church and to the preachers who have tried to stay ahead of this pandemic. God knows your love for the brethren and your good work in His Name. May He bless you.