Because it has become apparent that the current government restrictions on church worship will not be lifted anytime soon, Elmira Baptist Church has decided that it is time to obey God rather than men and structure our meetings to prioritize worshipping God and caring for His people. We will be meeting outside at 10 o'clock Sunday mornings, and inside at 5 o'clock Sunday evenings, and 7 o'clock on Wednesday evenings. We must be alert to maintain the unity that we have in Christ Jesus.
Life has its risks
Life has never been safe. Just being alive is a risk that each of us takes each day. It is important that we are not reckless and that we prioritize our risks. But every time I get into my car and drive on I-80 from home to the church, I am taking a calculated risk. As Christians, we must never give into fear; and we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow our Savior even into danger. Remember, throughout history being a Jesus-following Christian has not been popular. God will use this time of crisis to separate those who are serious about being a disciple from those who are not.
Regrettably, it has become apparent to me that this pandemic is not going away—not in a matter of weeks, perhaps not even a matter of months. Our local health official, Solano County's Dr. Bela Matyas has said, "it may be impossible for [Solano] county to get off the watch list,” citing the fact that 95% of the county's new cases are coming from social gatherings and not reopened businesses.[i] The head of the World Health Organization has said that there may never be a "silver bullet" to rid us of this virus.[ii] I do not share these stories to scare anyone, nor am I giving up on my own safety or the safety of Elmira Baptist Church. It is important to understand that if we wait for someone to give the "all clear" signal, we may be waiting for years!
The greatest danger
Given the current expectations for the future, it is apparent that the greatest danger that we face is neither from the virus nor from government interference in our church's order and conduct. The greatest danger that we face is ceasing to assemble. It is spiritually hazardous for us to miss valuable opportunities for safe fellowship that encourage us during this time of uncertainty and difficulty. If we wait for the day when the government declares it is "safe" to meet again, we risk disobeying our Lord. The gravest danger is disobedience to Him.
I will remind us all of one admonition: "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."[iii] Much has been said about our Christian duty to meet. Realize too that a church that never assembles is not a church at all. Much could be said about this topic. Others have said it better than I can.[iv]
I am not worried about the government interfering in our affairs. They may interfere or choose not to interfere. We understand that if we meet without government permission there may be consequences. We also know that we must be obedient to continue to meet "and so much the more as we see the day approaching." Meeting in the middle of a pandemic carries risks. Yet we know that we take risks everyday.
Going forward safely
So the obvious question is: how do we go forward honoring our Savior first and our government officials second? How do we go forward safely, not endangering the health or the lives of the members of Elmira Baptist Church or our visitors? How do we go forward fellowshipping with one another and worshipping our great Savior without being careless? It is not just the virus that concerns me. The hot weather affects us also. There is some danger there as well. We cannot meet recklessly so that heat stroke or heat exhaustion affects us. And we must, indeed, go forward. We cannot wait indefinitely, hoping that a sudden change in circumstances will make it markedly safer to meet.
To facilitate gathering as many people as possible on Sunday mornings, we will continue to meet outside under the makeshift canopies that have been erected. Those who wish to remain in their cars may park on both east and west side of the concrete slab. We will sing our praise and gratitude to the Lord and have a separate meeting for children.
On Sunday evenings because of the excessively hot weather, we will meet inside. Those who cannot meet with us inside, may continue to meet with us virtually through Facebook and Sermon Audio. It is much easier and more reliable to broadcast our services to Facebook and Sermon Audio from inside the church building rather than from outside the church building.
On Wednesday evenings, I will also meet with those who will inside the church's building. We will have a Bible lesson and a time of prayer. Through Facebook and Sermon Audio, the Bible lesson will be available to those who choose to join us from their homes.
Some may have different priorities. I believe that within Elmira Baptist Church we can accommodate both. If you must join us from home use Facebook or Sermon Audio. Those who can remain in their cars may join us on Sunday mornings. Those who believe it is safe to meet socially distanced with masks on may join me in the church's building on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.
A final warning about unity
Finally, let me remind you of one further danger. We cannot allow the virus, the government's mandates concerning the virus, society's response to the virus, or our own disagreements to mar the unity of Elmira Baptist Church. I am open to comments, suggestions, concerns. But our priority must continue to be to meet as often and as safely as we can. Thank you for praying for me. Know that you all are in my prayers.
[i] https://www.sfgate.com/coronavirus/article/Solano-County-state-watch-list-COVID-California-15451239.php; accessed Aug. 5, 2020
[ii] https://www.ibtimes.com/world-health-organization-warns-there-no-silver-bullet-stop-covid-19-3021768; accessed Aug. 5, 2020
[iii] Hebrews 10:23-25
[iv] Here is John MacArthur's long essay regarding churches meeting https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B200723; accessed Aug. 5, 2020; along with Paul Chappell's article https://paulchappell.com/2020/07/25/the-biblical-responsibility-of-the-church-to-assemble; accessed Aug. 5, 2020.