2 Corinthians 13:11 – …Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
The times in which we live are disturbing. We cannot escape the news of the global pandemic of the COVID-19 crisis. What is an appropriate Christian response? While churches and Christians across the country will make different decisions that make sense within their context, the basis for their decisions will account for several biblical factors. In some cases, dilemmas will ensue. In cases of ethical dilemmas, situations in which one option must be chosen from numerous competing values, God has called us to make judgments that are biblically justifiable and publicly defensible. A resolution can be reached by looking at the biblical perspectives that inform a response to this situation.
First, we must address the nature of the world and a Christian’s role in it. Pain, sickness, disease, and death are a part of the fallen condition (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 5:12). Christians are redemptive agents in this story of redemption (Matthew 5:3-12; Ephesians 5:8-10). Jesus called his followers to be “salt” and “light” who take actions to prevent decay and overcome darkness (Matthew 5:13-16). As moral agents, Christians must labor to achieve a community based on shalom (peaceful harmony and wholeness among people) in the promotion of chesed (steadfast love and kindness) as prescribed in 2 Corinthians 13:11. A shalom-based community fosters a culture of wholeness and health by promoting the enjoyment of a right relationship with God, the world, others, and oneself (2 Corinthians 13:11; Romans 14:17). Therefore, Christians must practice the virtues of mercy, justice, and peace as people who serve others before themselves (Matthew 5:9, Micah 6:8), all of which are rooted in God himself (1 Corinthians 13:11, Romans 15:33, Psalm 116:5).
There are competing values and virtues that are factors in a Christian response. Regarding a pandemic in which congregant gatherings of all kinds are discouraged or prohibited, Christians understandably feel that their traditional practices for congregational worship are disregarded and their conscience is violated. Without a doubt, the Scriptures instruct Christians to gather for worship (Hebrews 10:25). The Bible encourages faith in God during times of fear (Psalm 56:3, 2 Timothy 1:7) because he is sovereign and works all things for good (Psalm 47:2, Romans 8:28). The argument is thus made to encourage faithful attendance at church despite the pandemic. To do otherwise would cede a victory to the devil or to send a signal that church is unimportant. Some may decry the lack of attendance as a lack of faith. Others simply note that virtual contact through online tools, while good and helpful, is not sufficient.
The competing values, biblical congregant gatherings versus the promotion of biblical wholeness, are held in a tense gridlock. Which values prevail? Faith and faithfulness do not negate our responsibility for prudent judgment (Proverbs 8:12, Ephesians 1:8). We are called to approve that which is excellent by walking circumspectly as wise stewards of our lives and helpful servants to others (Philippians 1:10, Ephesians 5:15-16). Faith is a critical element in all judgments (Romans 14:23). Yet faith enables our prudent judgment to take the right actions (Ephesians 5:10). Exercising discretionary judgment and prudence are biblical virtues categorically tied to the concept of shalom and chesed, that is, the promotion of a Christian community based on steadfast love, loving-kindness that promotes harmony and protects the vulnerable. No one longs for an exclusively online congregation. However, “social distancing” cannot prevent the church to use its digital resources to continue our faith traditions and to meet needs throughout this crisis.
Putting vulnerable people at risk ignores the biblical commands to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). In a pandemic situation there is serious potential to both spread disease and to overwhelm the medical community. We can contribute to our community by protecting the vulnerable and following common sense protocols. Levitical law explained the stringency of cleanliness, and we would be wise to follow those practices as well (see Leviticus 15 as an example). Modern day “Typhoid Mary’s” are dangerous to the public because they refuse to take certain precautions or cooperate with the authorities to minimize the risk. As Christians, we must support the weak and be patient with everyone (I Thessalonians 5:10). Furthermore, Christians are exhorted to help the weak (Romans 15:1). Those who are strong ought to bear the infirmities (sicknesses and vulnerabilities) of the weak (those who are vulnerable). Therefore, the exploitation of the weak for the sake of convenience or a sense of normalcy is morally and biblically wrong.
The moral fabric of society is composed of ethical traditions in medicine and theological doctrines upholding the value of human life and compassion toward those who are potentially and actually in need of care. We cannot contribute in potentially harmful ways for the sake of normalcy or convenience. Some churches may not be affected by the pandemic, but if and when such a situation arises then they would be wise to consider the biblical call to construct a community of peace. We will enact biblical and common sense practices to prevent the spread of infection. We will bear up the infirmities of the weak and continue to make the best of a challenging situation. We will pray faithfully and fervently for the sick to heal and for our medical and response personnel to remain vigilant during this crisis. We will trust God as we apply his wisdom and persevere through this crisis by his grace.