As I write this, we’re 15 weeks into the coronavirus shutdown. Some things have opened, but others remain closed or significantly curbed in their operations. One of my chief concerns in this is for the church, Christ’s body of believers.
Many churches have decided to open again despite governors’ mandates prohibiting it. Consequently, we find ourselves in a situation that is creating division within the body of Christ. Emotions often run high in the midst of the fray preventing us from seeing clearly or responding with love.
Christians on one side are insisting that we obey our civil leaders because the Scripture tells us to (e.g., Romans 13:1ff.). Meanwhile, other followers of Jesus point out that the governors’ mandates defy our first amendment rights and God’s command “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25)
Some Christians are listening to the news reports and are fearful of catching the virus or giving it to others. They feel that the government has established these mandates to protect us. And to go against the mandates is careless—if not unloving and disrespectful of others.
Other Christians are listening to their doctors and other health professionals who debunk these precautionary mandates, claiming they are unnecessary and may even cause harm in other ways.
My point is this whole mess has the church divided, and to put it mildly, we’re not treating each other with love and respect in the midst of it.
Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 guide us through situations like this where Christians “quarrel over disputable matters.” The matters back then were different, but the principle is the same. Let’s see what the Lord says:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” (Romans 14:1-4)
And in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul says, “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
Bringing this forward to the present, “We all have knowledge.” We all think we know what’s best, right and proper during this COVID-19 situation. But to focus solely on our “knowledge” only makes us arrogant and divides. Instead, we must follow God’s way of love and accept each other in Him.
Divisions like this over “disputable matters” also greatly damage our witness to the lost and distract us from God’s mandate to spread the Gospel.
Perhaps those within the church who are suffering most from the division are our pastors. They get an earful of rants and accusations from disgruntled church members. Pastors feel the brunt of the anger and hostility of those who don’t agree with the decisions that they and their elders have made. In doing this, we defy the very command of God that we claim to uphold (e.g., to obey our leaders).
It is precisely in times of fear, distress, and calamity that the world needs to be able to see the difference that Christ makes in our lives. But I fear that we are failing miserably at that.
Imagine what would have happened if instead of praying and singing hymns to God while Paul and Silas were in jail in Philippi, they had grumbled and complained and even fought with each other about whose fault it was they were there. The jailer and his family would not have come to know Christ and we would have a report of a gross failure instead of a glowing victory.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ let us love and accept each other. Let’s focus on glorifying God and being examples of Christ to others instead of bickering and fighting. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)