Leader's Response To Extended Lockdown

HBC Leader’s Response To The Extended Lockdown Announced January 2021

 

13 January 2021

 

Dear Church Family

 

Initially, I was inclined and ready to disobey the government if they would extend the lockdown on religious gatherings. I thought that to allow casinos, malls, restaurants, and other indoor places to operate was hypocritical and did not make sense.

 

Also, looking at how some solid churches in SA decided to meet regardless of the recent 14-day lockdown, I was inclined to follow suit. It seemed like it was a time to say, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).

 

But there were certain biblical principles which I ignored which others wisely and graciously pointed out to me. This was after I (and no doubt many of you reading this) have prayed for me and the leadership for wisdom. God is faithful to answer those prayers and I believe He has (see James 1:5).

 

What I failed to remember was that we are governed by the totality of Scripture and not just one verse. So even though we are clearly commanded to ‘not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another’ (Heb 10:25), there are other principles which applies to our specific situation.

 

And because of the principles of our love for neighbour, our witness, and submitting to the government, we have decided not to meet at this stage and to follow the government’s restrictions on indoor gatherings.

 

Please consider these principles humbly with a prayerful attitude before the Lord and His Word. Why not stop reading right now and pray for humility?

 

  1. Love For Neighbour

 

In my opinion, this is the key principle for not meeting at this stage: Love for neighbour.

 

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’ (Mt 22:36-40)

 

It is how to apply ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ where Christians disagree, and it all depends on how serious you think the virus and the new strain really is. This is a medical question, not a spiritual one.

 

If you think it is not a big deal, and that it is not that serious, then to obey the government makes no sense. But, if it is serious, and if we will truly be saving lives and helping our health-care system by not meeting, then it makes sense not to meet.

 

So is it serious? Are we in a pandemic? Is the virus real?

 

I asked a medical doctor who is both a close friend and a mature Christian for the facts regarding the condition of our hospitals to get a feel for the seriousness of the virus. What he gave me was alarming. I want to reproduce what he told me here. The goal is not to scare anyone, but to help us understand our condition and the reality of where we are in South Africa.

 

Hospitals in Gauteng as well as other private hospitals are contacting Klerksdorp hospital (and no doubt others as well) to ask if they could send their Covid-19 patients, since they have no space left for them. Klerksdorp had to decline because it too is already full.

 

Also, there is reason to believe that the infections in Klerksdorp might worsen, because workers and the miners have now returned from holiday in hotspot areas (including myself). Therefore, we can expect a spike in infections in the following few months.

He told me, “The numbers are bad; people are dying every day.”

 

Again, this is not to make an already fearful situation more fearful. But we need to know these facts to inform our decision to obey or disobey the government.

 

There is another factor to consider.

 

Not only should we be concerned for our doctors and our health-care system, but we should also be concerned for our unbelieving friends and families across South Africa.

 

Christians should not fear death (Phil 1:21). To die as a Christian is a glorious thing, for then we are with the Lord forever (see Luke 23:43). Yet, what about those who do not know Christ? What about the families left behind? Should we be careless at a time when many are dying without Christ, eternally separated from Him? Should we be careless when families will be left without a father, a mother, a brother, or a sister?

 

These considerations should cause us to do whatever we can to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.

 

Therefore, if the virus is this serious, if people are dying daily, if our health-care system is burdened and stretched beyond its capacity, is it not the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor to not meet during this time? Does not the president’s prohibition for indoor gatherings make sense?

 

But you might say, “But does it make sense to close churches while keeping casinos and malls and restaurants open?”

 

At first, it was this thought that made me think we should meet. But upon further reflection, the prohibition does have a very practical reason behind it.

 

These public, indoor places are places where social distancing is naturally kept. No one knows one another in casinos and malls and in many other activities and therefore do not have the urge to be in any physical contact with others (and this was true even before Covid-19!).

But what is the most natural thing to do at funerals and churches? Is it not to have close fellowship with one another and to hug one another? That is how it should be and what would be natural to do when we do see each other. This sort of close fellowship is commended in Scripture by greeting one another with a ‘holy kiss’ (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20). You could say in many cases that to break social distancing as Christians is irresistible, because it is so natural.

 

Therefore, the restrictions for these indoor gatherings makes sense (for now) and love for neighbour is the primary reason why we think it will glorify God to not meet as a church.

 

  1. Witness

 

The second principle which I overlooked is the principle of keeping our witness before unbelievers strong. God is concerned over His glory before a watching and unbelieving world.

 

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pt 2:12).

 

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:16).

 

We should be concerned to not give any added reasons for the world to hate God and His gospel through what we do and do not do. Therefore, if we can at all help it, we should be jealous over His glory and name before people.[1]

 

This is not to say that we should only do what the world would like. We would then have to preach an unoffensive and unbiblical gospel (see Gal 1:6-10). Rather, we should seek to remove any unnecessary stumbling blocks while obeying the Lord.

Therefore, what will the world think when we will be the cause of some dying because of our gathering together? What will the unbelieving world think when we are imprisoned for meeting? Will they say, “These Christians really love Jesus”? or will they say, “Those people are so selfish! They only care for themselves”?

 

The answer is obvious. Since God’s Name will be blasphemed through us meeting at this stage, that provides an added reason not to meet to glorify His Name.

 

  1. Submission To The Government

 

The last principle we should consider is the basic command in Scripture to honour and submit to our government in all things except in sinning.

 

I mention this one last, because of the obvious and building tension in many of our hearts against the government revealed through our words and memes (see Mt 12:34). There seems to be a basic attitude of hatred and rebellion against our government.

 

Yet, Scripture remains true and authoritative about our default attitude towards the government (good or bad).

 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Rom 13:1-2)

 

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Pt 2:13-14)

 

You could say that the Scriptures ‘shout’ that we should obey the government and ‘whisper’ that we should disobey (see Acts 4:19; 5:29). It really is in the exceptions that we disobey and even then, we should do so with a respectful attitude, longing to obey the authorities which God placed over us.

Now add to these Scriptures our specific government who has shown that they are willing to open churches to meet once ‘the curve is flatten’ or when our healthcare system is better equipped to handle the new infections, and the case to submit becomes stronger.

 

This has been a long-time concern for me which 2020 has already made clear. And that is that there is a basic attitude of rebellion instead of one of submission as the Scriptures command. It is as if we cannot wait to find a reason to disobey. This is certainly not true for everybody, but it is the ‘spirit’ of our age.

 

You will see constant memes and statements made about how ridiculous our government is. True or not, we as Christians cannot join in the mocking. We are commanded to “honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pt 2:17).

 

This is not to say that we should trust the government or even say that it is a good one. Rather, it is to submit under God’s sovereignty who placed this government over us and are making laws for the public good. We can be a voice against injustice and use whatever means available to oppose wickedness while at the same time be willing to submit by wearing a mask and not meeting for a time.

 

Some have said that wearing a mask is a form of slavery: We are ‘forced’ to do what we do not want to do, and it seems that we so easily give away our freedom.   

 

But think with me. If we can legitimately feel and deny wearing masks, what stops us from also feeling that we are enslaved to drive the speed-limit? What stops us from arguing that the government ‘owns our face’ when we must wear a helmet when driving a motorbike?

 

You might say, “But that’s different. That is saving lives. Those laws are for the public good, while the new laws do not make sense and are hypocritical.” So we are back at point one whether or not the virus is really serious or not. On masks, even though it might not stop you from getting the virus, it certainly protects you and others in other ways.[2]

 

Besides, the point is not to only obey the laws which makes sense, but to obey all the laws even if they do not make sense to you personally. The illustration of parenting settles the matter. How many rules would our children obey if they only had to obey the ones which made sense to them? And yet, under God, they are required to obey us since God gave parents as authorities over their children.

 

In the same way, God has given the government over us to make laws for the public good. Even if we might disagree with some of them, if they are not asking us to sin, our basic and default attitude should be to obey in obedience to God’s Word.

                                    

Therefore, because of our government over us, given by God, that adds another reason and motive for us as Christians to not meet at this time.

 

Conclusion

 

Am I looking forward to the new lockdown of not meeting as a church? Not at all. I love the church and the gathering of the saints. I love preaching to people who can respond with their facial expressions and emotions during a sermon.

 

But for this time, because of the principles of loving our neighbour, our Christian witness before an unbelieving world, and having a basic attitude of submitting to the government, I do believe that it will glorify God the most for us as a church to not meet during this time.

 

The only concern we do have is that the lockdown is indefinite. We will try to keep a close eye on the numbers and the news and constantly revaluate our decision.

 

But do not think that we can do nothing during this time. Here is my final exhortation for us as a church.

 

Can we use our Lord’s Day and the time we would have spent to travel and be at church to rather visit with one another? Can we use our Sundays to pursue one another more intentionally? Can we make use of technology which the Lord has blessed us with to contact one another through text and calls to encourage one another and to pray for one another? Just because we cannot meet as a church does not mean we cannot meet as Christians scattered. Let us make the most of this time we have.

 

Please know that I am planning to use this time for visitations and calls. If you have a special desire for a visit, do not hesitate to contact me, and I will do my best to come to you.

 

Remember that God is sovereign and our Father. Everything He allows in our lives and in the world is always intended to be for the good of His church, which is His body (see Eph 1:22-23).

 

Also, do not hesitate to ask me any question or raise any concern you might have. I pray that we would humbly listen to one another and love one another for God’s glory until He comes.

 

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

 

Yours Faithfully

Riaan

 

[1] I am aware that churches who are meeting despite the lockdown do so for the very same reason as why we are not meeting – The glory of God. This fact shows that we should be slow to accuse one another of evil or cowardly motives.

[2] For example 1) reminding us all that there is a pandemic we should be aware of; 2) keeping us from touching our face and nose; 3) preventing sneezing from reaching a large area around us.