Christians should be the best citizens. We should vote, pay our taxes, and do all we can to live lawfully. Countries that do not oppress their citizenry should find the Christians among them to be the very best examples of compliance and involvement.
So how should churches respond as some government officials have called upon congregations to consider cancelling services and activities? This is a question each individual church must wrestle with, but there is an encouragement from the book of Titus for moments like these.
Paul left Titus on the island of Crete to oversee all the churches and ensure they had good leaders and were good to their community leaders. He writes in Titus 3:1, “Remind [believers] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”
Submissive and obedient
Paul’s first two commands tie together, literally calling churches to be ready to respond and responsive when the moment comes that rulers and authorities call for reasonable action. As I decided what we should do in our single-staff church, I got ready by discussing possibilities with deacons, ministry leaders, and fellow pastors. I concluded if we were asked by our government to cancel, we would, but if not, we would reduce our ministry footprint.
Kentucky’s governor earlier in the week had urged churches to close temporarily. Some churches saw this as a time of oppression in which they needed to stand for the gospel. Baptist Press quoted the media coordinator of one Kentucky church who said her church would continue forward on Sunday, noting that when it comes to the people and their faith in Kentucky, “you do not mess with the church.” This feels like an unhelpful way to respond to a governor who seems genuinely concerned with stopping a sickness, not religious expression
I waited to see Governor Pritzker’s directives. If he had asked churches to close, we would have done so because nothing in such a directive is dismissive to the gospel. If we were asked to cancel due to the state’s disagreement with a doctrinal belief, we would not comply, but even then doing so as respectfully as possible by quoting the apostles in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Based on the information we had, we ultimately decided to have one worship service, no small groups, and no nursery area while encouraging our senior members, those who may be dealing with health issues, and anyone else with uncertainty to simply stay home.
When the NBA cancelled its season, along with all other major sporting events, I admit my initial reaction was fear we were overreacting. The amount of both information and misinformation in our world today on the coronavirus is challenging to sort through, though the reality is unless you’re a medical professional, you’re fairly unqualified to make definitive statements on the situation. Reading two Facebook posts does not an expert make.
I am choosing as a pastor and Christian citizen to be submissive and obedient during this call for limiting social contact. Better to find solidarity with our society in a time of emergency than to appear dismissive and miss an opportunity to connect and care as Paul also commands in Titus 3:1.
Be ready for every good work
Every good work is an opportunity for the Good News. Paul writes earlier in Titus 1:16 that unbelievers are “unfit for any good work.” This is not an indication of worthlessness, but meaning they are unfit to work in a way that ultimately serves the gospel. It’s not just the missionary, but the medical professional, the athlete, and the machinist who can operate from a place of belief that gives the greatest value to any good work as an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel in our efforts.
2020 has been a whirlwind already. War with Iran felt imminent. The death of a young NBA legend caused many to fear their own mortality. Now the coronavirus has brought a level of fear that I’m hard-pressed to compare to any other time in my life. Each of these moments is an opportunity for Christians to operate from a place of faith over fear. As Isaiah 26:3 reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Let us as Christians be compassionate towards those who fear. Arguing over mortality rates of the coronavirus in comparison to the flu does nothing to share the gospel and win souls. Even if death rates remain low, fear remains high. Let us be the light in the darkness. Let us be the example of good citizenship. Let us invite others into the citizenship of Heaven through Jesus Christ. In a time of sickness, let us speak to the greatest sickness of sin suffered by every human, and the great Savior Jesus who can heal without fail.
Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.