That’s a peculiar headline, I suppose – but one that expresses my gratitude for the opportunity I have had to worship with other Christians, maskless (shhh!), over the last few months, mindful of the risk.
Despite specific and quite arbitrary restrictions the governor of my (unnamed) state has demanded of churches, and the First Amendment implications of those rules, my own (unnamed) church decided to prioritize the Word of God over the word of the State. (By the way, do you remember when we didn’t need to hide information when we expressed opinions because our government overlords had far less power to hunt us down and punish us?)
While some churches in town were either shut down for in-person worship or were meeting but with nearly unworkable COVID restrictions, my church took a simple, liberty-based approach to in-person worship: The main room has no social distancing, and face masks are optional; another room, where the service is video-fed, requires masks and social distancing; and online streaming of the service is an option for those who choose to stay at home.
The church leadership, without consulting the latest restrictions from the governor’s office, made a decision that gave the people a choice of how to participate – while still having an in-person worship service every Sunday.
Could my pastor and elders have been fined or even jailed for defying the governor’s edicts for all this time? Sure – as was a pastor in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Pastor Jacob Reaume spent five weeks in jail for refusing to close his church. And this is “free” Canada we’re talking about – not China, Saudi Arabia or Eritrea.
By “obeying God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), Pastor Reaume, my local church leadership and countless other shepherds are faithfully prioritizing God’s Word and its command not to forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).
At my church, the “no-distancing-mask-optional” room, not surprisingly, is more popular than the “social-distancing-masks-required” room. So, are all those maskless worshipers irresponsible or even foolish, as the “experts” might claim? Or, rather, are they doing what everyone does every day when it comes to weighing risks and benefits and making decisions accordingly? The latter approach is what Americans had the liberty to do in many contexts – before COVID.
If you go to the grocery store, for example, you take a risk. You might slip on some spilled guava juice on the floor and crack your tailbone; you might have a store employee accidentally roll over your foot with one of those heavy-duty carts; you might suffer a spider bite from a bold arachnid hiding in the green bean bin; or you might catch a virus from another shopper, even SARS-CoV-2.
I knew the risk of worshiping close to other Christians, but decided to take that risk. I knew the risk of inhaling and exhaling in unison with other Christians as we sang praise to God, but decided to take that risk. I knew the risk of looking a brother in the eye – and, maskless, in the nose and mouth – greeting him and offering a firm handshake and smile, but decided to take that risk.
Despite the risk and despite my having endured COVID-19 after taking that risk, I would do it all over again. For me the gathering of God’s people in weekly worship and fellowship is too valuable an activity to put on the shelf for months on end. And the beauty of liberty is that other people can choose to do otherwise. Others can take different risks to participate in other activities, church-based or not. It’s called living life.
While I mentioned Christians’ struggles in Canada, we’ve also experienced some high-profile battles here in the U.S. Pastor John MacArthur has waged a consistent, admirable and successful war to keep his congregation worshiping in California, and, shockingly, a pregnant mother was cited and removed from a church recently for failing to don a mask … in Dallas, Texas.
So, why do I praise God that I caught the virus at church? Because, unlike so many, I had the opportunity to take the risk to worship corporately with the Body of Christ, and in that activity God has blessed me immeasurably. Unlike the leaders of the church in Dallas, those leading my church decided to gather in a way that respects their people, their responsibilities and, most importantly, their God. And for that I am most grateful.
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