Thinking about social distancing, coronavirus, and the Gospel

March 16, 2020

Here are the givens. The coronavirus is spreading; many will become infected and some will die. That is a sad reality. The magnitude of the spread and the fatality rate is still being debated, even among those who know the most. But it is certain that the disease will spread and that it will leave death in its wake.

Our political leaders and health professionals are mandating closings of schools and calling for a strategy of social distancing to mitigate the spread and of the virus and to help diminish the risk of infection and, thus, to hopefully limit the number of deaths due to the virus.

One of the questions raised in the Christian community has to do with whether we should forego worship gatherings and Bible studies and home groups in view of the realities of the disease and the guidelines given by the political leaders and health professionals.

Some appear to be taking a “we must obey God rather than men” approach (Acts 5:29). Those adopting this view insist that we should not let “the world” dictate to the church what we should do. Affirming a confidence in the sovereignty of God and His ability to keep us safe, some believe the church should just keep on keeping on and do what we regularly do, regardless of the situation.

But is that the only response available to those who seek to trust and look to the Lord?

Paul told those living under Roman rule that every person was to be in subjection to the governing authorities because there is no authority except that which comes from God and those authorities that do exist are established by God (Romans 13:1). Clearly, if the governing authorities were calling us to disown Jesus, or deny the faith, or burn our Bibles, we would have a reasonable and Biblical call to resist. But does following the guidelines of the medical community and the government with regard to safe health practices, enacted for the good of the larger community, fall into the same category? Perhaps not.

If the local weather service alerted your church community that a tornado was seen in the area of your church building and the potential for massive damage was imminent, would you still insist on holding a gathering? Would you see this professional and governmental advice in some way as opposition to the Gospel? Or would you see it more as informed counsel that is, functionally, “Gospel–neutral” (and, hence, rightly to be followed)?

Yes, there are still lots of unknowns–while we know the One who holds the future in His hands. Yes, some people are living in panic–while we can live more securely in the certainty of His care for us. But finding ourselves anchored in the reality of our Sovereign God’s control of life does not mean that we can ignore the counsel and instructions of those in authority.

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