Lasting through a Long Lockdown – Why I Believe Christians Should Still Respect Social Distancing Restrictions on Corporate Worship with a Clear Conscience

By Ben Fiddian,

Quarantine seems to have its own life-cycle.
There was an initial energy, a ‘buzz’, that propelled us into preparation mode as we stocked the cupboards, searched for resources to school the kids, and adapted to working from home. National Health Service staff became heroes overnight and there was a sense of communities pulling together locally and nationally. For many, there has followed a period of what can only be called enjoyment. The spring weather arrived at the same time as your boss lowered his expectations and you didn’t have to commute anymore – there was time to binge watch TV shows and take up a new hobby. At some point I think we may enter a different phase and this one concerns me.
We start to get bored, frustrated, and impatient – even angry. Worries and concerns grow, fed by internet scaremongering and conspiracy theories. For the most part we are safe in our own homes, protected from immediate danger. Perhaps we start to wonder whether this pandemic is really as bad as the media have made it out to be. Governments make mistakes and change their guidelines and this is interpreted variously as gross incompetence or conspiratorial power plays. At the same time we all know a few people by now who have been bereaved or seriously ill themselves. We have complied with social distancing practices which are socially and economically costly out of a sense of community duty and goodwill. But sooner or later the goodwill tank can start to run a little empty. People start to ask whether such restrictions on our freedom are worth it.
When that happens the danger is that we can start to resent, and resist, and then outright rebel against the authorities and what they ask us to do. I have seen a number of discussions online arguing that Christians have a divine command to meet and that this should be obeyed regardless of what the government is telling us. After all, Hebrews 10:24-25 says
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging
one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Does this text mean that we should rebel against the coronavirus guidelines? I would argue not and this is why.
  • We still have many means of stirring each other up. Phone calls, zoom prayer meetings, internet discussions can all be used to encourage one another. Or you can use them to  stir discontent and feed your friend’s frustrations.
  • There are still plenty of opportunities for love and good works. Elderly or vulnerable church members who need shopping done, an occasional phone call, or a chat at a safe distance over the garden wall. You may have a friend who needs safe place to escape domestic abuse or someone struggling with an addiction or mental health problem. Even if you cannot assist directly you may be able to help find the support they need. I am still of the opinion that respecting the social distancing rules is a good thing for Christians to do because the principle of God’s Law prioritises love and the preservation of life. There are people looking for answers and willing to listen to what Christians have to say at this time. There are doctors, nurses, paramedics in your community who are weary and worried, and need a kind and supportive word. There is also more time to pray. We can spend our time doing good. Or you can spend the hours watching alternative news channels painting apocalyptic visions.
  • The specific command is against neglecting meeting together. This is clearly opposed to the habit of not meeting. If we are prevented from meeting by legitimate necessity – because we are involved in essential care work or because of pandemic quarantine restrictions which are being enforce across the globe – this is not sin. We are not being neglectful. The Lord looks at ours hearts and sees our longings and desires to be together in His presence, and hears our prayers that this privilege of meeting may be restored. He has taken this away temporarily in order to teach us its value. Again we can speak together of that longing, stirring up the desire for God. Or we can divide the church in the name of meeting together by ignoring the decisions and disregarding the wisdom of our church leaders by starting our own break-out house meetings.
  • In this context, encouraging one another in light of the fact that the Day of the Lord’s Return is getting closer means stirring one another to do the right thing. When He comes we want to be doing what pleases Him. Will it please Him if He finds you disrespecting the government He has put in place to rule the nation, and the elders He has put in place to lead the church? Again, as we get weary – and lockdown is wearisome – we can encourage one another to do what is wise. Or we can encourage one another to do what is foolish.
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and, in this situation, I believe that wise fear is best expressed by submitting to appointed authorities and looking to the Lord to grant that the virus will be brought under control and that He would restore to us the privilege of regular meetings. In my eyes, seeking to reinstate these privileges through the impatient and impulsive assertion of our own rights and strength is the essence of folly.

Ben is part of the lecturing team at the Faith Mission Bible College
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