I never imagined we would do it. We’ve only canceled our Sunday worship services once in my twenty years as pastor – the Sunday after Hurricane Harvey.
This was different. We had electricity. Roads were open. In fact, we hadn’t even had a case of Coronavirus in Jackson County at the time.
Why would we cancel church?
I was watching and reading other pastors online who were saying that canceling church would be an act of doubt in God’s promises. Some even quoted Psalm 91:
“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in home I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence” (Psalm 91:2,3).
Pestilence is a fatal epidemic. God promises to protect us from pandemic. Isn’t canceling church tantamount to doubting his promises?
What really helped me as we made this decision was when I remembered that Psalm 91 is actually quoted in the New Testament – by the devil.
When the devil tempted Jesus, he took him to the highest point of the temple. He told him to throw himself down trusting that God would protect him. He quoted Psalm 91 where God promises to send his angels to protect us and keep our feet from striking a stone.
“It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).
We trust God and yet we go to the doctor. We trust God and yet we put on a seatbelt. We trust God and yet we don’t go to church when we have the flu because we don’t want to get other people sick.
One of the ways God uses to protect us is by giving us wisdom and common sense to avoid dangerous situations and to take proper precautions.
Recklessness is not trust.
By temporarily suspending our public worship services, we are obeying the Fourth Commandment which deals with honoring and obeying the authorities God has placed over us. Our national, state and local governments are all encouraging us to maintain social distancing and to self-isolate.
By suspending our public worship services, we are obeying the Fifth Commandment which deals with protecting human life. By gathering together, we put in danger the sick and the elderly who are susceptible to the disease. In the end, it is love for others which led to this decision.
But what about the Third Commandment which deals with worship and the faithful use of God’s Word and Sacraments? God commands us to not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing (Hebrews 10:25).
The truth is, we are not canceling church. We are temporarily suspending our public worship services. Church will continue. As Christians, we should and will continue to study God’s Word and worship him in our homes.
We will even continue to worship our God together through his wonderful gifts of technology. Please make use of the worship services which are being broadcast and livestreamed on the internet. Don’t use this pandemic as an excuse to not worship or grow in God’s Word.
Can this replace physically gathering as a body of believers? No. That’s why it is only temporary. We still need each other. We still need Holy Communion and Baptism.
But for now, we obey the authorities and experts. For now, we show love to those who are susceptible to the disease. For now, we worship in other ways. But understand this:
Church has definitely not been canceled!