This is one of those posts that should have been written months ago when COVID-19 was beginning to have an effect on large gatherings, but still remains relevant as churches begin the process of reopening for Sunday worship. When the coronavirus hit, state governments began banning large gatherings out of caution in order to prevent the spread of the disease, with most states banning congregational worship as a subset of these large gatherings. The question that needed to be asked then, and still needs to be asked now since COVID-19 has not evaporated and new quarantines are still a possibility, is, What duty does the church have to still meet in the face of plagues and government restrictions? Scripture teaches on the subjects of gathering for corporate worship, loving your neighbor, and submitting to the government, and so I will examine these three pertinent topics to answer this question.
The Duty to Meet For Worship
“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” (Heb. 10:24-25). These verses encapsulate the biblical teaching that the regular gathering of Christians for worship ought to be normative for the life of the believer and not set aside. This characterized the life of the church in scripture (e.g. Acts 2:42, 13:42, 20:7-10; 1 Cor. 16:1-2) and remains the duty of Christians today…
The protest outside the White House was apparently cleared by police using tear gas and grenades so that President Trump could go and have photos taken outside St. John’s Church. Leaving aside the question of the propriety of a President using police to disperse a lawful protest for a photo-op, there was no communication between the President and the church prior to his visit, and the church was relegated to a set piece in the midst of turmoil. But worse than that, the police used tear gas and concussion grenades to clear away the church’s clergy from the church property. A President used agents of the state to remove pastors from a church (who were tending to injured people) so that he could pose with a Bible in front of a place of worship. This is despicable.
It was released yesterday, and is generally superior to the Nashville Statement, which it was intended to supplant as the PCA’s position. In particular, I think its section on sanctification and homosexuality is far better than Nashville.
The center of my confessionally-oriented critique of Nashville was that it conflated homosexual orientation and desire, making them both sinful acts or arising from a sinful nature. I argued that the Westminster Standards teach that the fall into sin not only corrupted human desires, but also inflicted corrupted pressures on human desires, pressures which do no not arise from the moral character of the person being tempted. A homosexual orientation could be a way of describing a persistent pressure to have disordered affections, rather than being a way of describing disordered affections themselves.
While not embracing this error of Nashville, the PCA report simply avoids the conversation, I think very unhelpfully. §8 on the impeccability of Christ is the closest the report comes to this, acknowledging that temptation to sin can be something that occurs passively and externally to a person, but only discusses this as something occurring to Christ, “Christ had only the suffering part of temptation, where we also have the sinning part”. In context, this seems to indicate that all other people always experience temptation from both external pressure and internal sinful desires simultaneously (which may be experientially true, but I don’t think can be dogmatically asserted).
The ~50 page report spends 6 lines on the issue of orientation, and only discusses whether it is appropriate to use that term. Yes, if employed to describe a set of experiences of persistent homosexual desires; No, if the term in its context implies a rigid sense of homosexual normativity. This is wise counsel, I think, but demonstrates that the report still conflates orientation with having the desire, either in regards to classification of a history of desire or an assertion about the permanency of desire. The Side B of Gay Christianity has sometimes used the term to describe the inclination (i.e., external pressure) to the desire, which is substantially different than the report’s engagement with the issue. I think the report missed an opportunity to address this subject.
This problem [of modern mythologies of a coherence in “Calvinism”] has been enhanced by the numerous books that present interpretations of such decontextualized constructs as “Calvin’s doctrine of predestination,” “Calvin’s Christology,” or “Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” as if Calvin actually proposed a highly unique doctrine. We need to remind ourselves that the one truly unique theologian who entered Geneva in the sixteenth century, Michael Servetus, did not exit Geneva alive…
It is perhaps worth noting that the Dutch word is not “tulip” but “tulp.” “Tulip” isn’t Dutch – sometimes I wonder if Arminius was just trying to correct someone’s spelling when he was accused of omitting that “i” for irresistible grace.
From pages 52, 58 of Richard Muller’s Calvin and the Reformed Tradition. I laughed a lot at this snark, and I can’t tell if it’s really that funny or if my descent into theological nerdery is complete.
One of the questions prompted by any crisis is whether God is inactive. Is he stepping aside and allowing calamitous evil to befall his creation and people? Is the crisis something beyond God’s power? Or, perhaps most frighteningly, is the catastrophe something that is being orchestrated by God?
These questions are common whenever we are confronted with suffering, and are elevated to prominence in times of widespread disaster, such as the moment we find ourselves with COVID-19.
Is the coronavirus God’s judgment for sin? The answer must be yes…