Churchgoers, Let us Abide!

A Dose of Faith

By Richard G. Mendoza, MPH, PhD.

“Covid-19 can’t keep us from worshipping in our church”, “The Lord will protect us from this virus even if we congregate”, “It’s persecution time”, “This is violation of the separation of church and state”, “Our church-leaders showed lack of faith when they heeded to the government’s advise and closed our places of worship”, “I would rather die loyal to God than to any human authorities”, “We are safer inside the church, it is the house of God”.

These are some of the comments on social media that we hear and see. The faithful are discussing, arguing, even quarreling over the issue of whether to obey the government’s recent order for the public to observe social distancing, avoid group activities, which include religious meetings. Our Health Sec. Duque, in an interview even said, “attending Mass in church, which is usually crowded with faithful, is like a “petri dish” for COVID-19”. Many have sounded like fanatical and held positions as if they are more enlightened, felt as if they are holier than their fellow believers who think otherwise. They quoted Bible verses about “faith” interpreting that God would protect His people in these trying times. Some have even misconstrued the government’s implementation of “quarantine and lockdown” in many parts of the world as prelude to religious persecution. But, this is not about faith, this is about health and the good of everyone, let us cooperate!

You may know or have heard about the sin of commission and omission, but very few are aware of what can be called “Sin of Presumption”. Due to the present crisis caused by this coronavirus pandemic, we who desire to live by faith sometimes think that in order to “prove ourselves”, we should be willing to take chances or “walk out on a limb” for God’s holy cause, but we are advised:  “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” (Psalm 19:13, AKJV). The “great transgression” of this verse is disobedience in the name of the Lord. It is “The Sin of Presumption”, to act without authority or permission, supposing that God is somehow obligated to support you in your chosen venture. Our Lord does not want us to be presumptuous. He wants us to follow Him and to act within the boundaries He sets. (MCanizares, AMR)

The Webster’s Dictionary tells us that presumption is “marked by headstrong confidence; it is unreasonable adventurousness; it is venturing to undertake something without reasonable prospect of success, or against the usual probabilities of safety.”

The Bible disqualifies a self-willed person to be a church leader, “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;” (Titus 1:7, KJV). To be self-willed is to be presumptuous. It is presumptuous for anyone to think he can best serve God outside the confines of the government. “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” (Romans 13:1 ESV).

Though He allows leaders to rule, God reigns and is in control. Let us not dictate on Him nor test Him. God is God, He can choose whether or not to intervene. Either way, He still remains God. Jesus our example, submitted to the will of His Father, that is why he overcame the temptations of Satan, “ 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Matthew 4:5-7, AKJV). Did Jesus who fully trusts His Father, jump off the pinnacle? Though knowing he and the Father have power to summon angels to his aid, Christ did not presume or put God to test.

Quarantine was already practiced in the Old Testament times. Through Moses, God revealed His concern with humanity’s holistic well-being. Lepers are asked to live outside the camp (Lev 13:26) not because they are spiritually unclean; God simply wanted to prevent the spread of leprosy among the Israelites. The presence of lepers in the community threatens their shalom (peace), so they are asked to limit their social presence and involvement. Leprosy then has no cure yet, just like COVID-19.

This crisis is temporary, soon we shall be able to commune with God and fellowship with one another again in our places of worship. Meanwhile, let us make use of the Internet. We already did worship services and share the gospel online, it’s an amazing experience, and we were blessed! Study the Bible and worship at home. Wherever you are you can commune with God who said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 ASV).

To summarize my points, and that of my many fellow religious leaders’ position re cancelling of worship services inside churches, “This is not an evidence of lack of faith or commitment, but it is prudence in the face of facts. We must remember that viral contamination has massive effects both personally and communally. There are other avenues of meeting, counselling, fellowshipping, and being edified apart from being physically present together, and these alternatives must be explored and utilized in the interim. The church must become a part of the solution, and not be another problem. Our government, with its minimal human, infrastructural, and financial resources, is already hard-pressed in preventing the further spread of COVID 19. The church must participate in this noble effort. By not intentionally gathering people, we will help minimize or stop the spread of the virus. Instead of insisting on what God can do for us, we must think how God can use us for our country and for others.”(Official Statement: Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC).

Finally, times like these either makes us abandon God or cling to Him. Choose to rest in Jesus who assured us, ” I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16.33 ESV). Even more, our resilience could not be broken because we know whom we believe. This crisis could not shake us, nor fear can take over us. God is more powerful than any disease or virus that can be named! He is with us, He loves us, He watches over us  and He will provide for all our needs. The threat of this pandemic pressure is not even a pinch of the treat of heaven’s treasure. I believe, the world’s order to stay home is God’s way to remind us of going home… to Him. And if we take time to listen, follow as He commands, He surely will take us home safely! Let’s continue praying, take care, God bless.

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