An Appeal to Pastor Friends (and others) – guest post by Dr. Stan Fowler

Some of you have led your church to disobey governmental restrictions that suspend your public gatherings, and others of you are thinking about it. Some of you have suggested that those of us who accept the temporary restrictions just don’t understand the nature of the church. As a friend and brother in Christ, I appeal to you to dial back the rhetoric and reconsider your choice.

Dr. Stan Fowler is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Heritage College & Seminary. He is an elder at Grandview Baptist Church in Kitchener, and has been in pastoral ministry since 1972 and theological education since 1980. He is the husband of one wife, the father of four, and the grandfather of six. (Facebook/Twitter)

Below are Dr. Fowler’s thoughts on the current restrictions and a word of caution and encouragement to fellow pastors and church leaders.

Some of you have led your church to disobey governmental restrictions that suspend your public gatherings, and others of you are thinking about it. Some of you have suggested that those of us who accept the temporary restrictions just don’t understand the nature of the church. As a friend and brother in Christ, I appeal to you to dial back the rhetoric and reconsider your choice.

Many thoughtful people have argued that the lockdowns are not really the best way to balance all the legitimate interests during the pandemic, and that is a debate that needs to occur, but good people differ on that question. If you accept the idea of a declared emergency, then you should admit that whether the current governmental choices are right or not, it is not a case of tyranny. The governing officials have to decide which “experts” to listen to, and they may have picked the wrong group, but let’s admit that we don’t have a word from God that identifies the right “experts” on this complex question.

The temporary inability to gather is a frustration to all of us. We all understand the good reasons why Scripture instructs us to gather, but the normative practices can’t all happen in their normal way in abnormal times. We are the body of Christ in the world whether we are able to gather in the same room or not. My pastor’s sermon livestreamed to my computer is still his faithful word for this time and place, no matter how it is transmitted. Baptisms do not have to occur in the gathered church, and in fact, there is no such example in the NT. Individuals can be counselled and encouraged via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or telephone.

We all recognize that none of this is the norm or the ideal, but perhaps we can just be grateful that technology enables us to carry on with most of our ministries in unusual ways. I recognize that there is animosity toward traditional Christian values in various forms in our cultural setting. Various judicial and legislative actions have challenged our teaching of the truth as we understand it and our practice of our faith.

This is not the place to list all of the particulars, but I agree that there are current threats that may well lead us to civil disobedience. There are culture wars that are worth fighting, but temporary restrictions in the interest of public health are not persecution of the church. Giving up our right to gather as usual to serve the common good looks like one example of the good deeds that we should be known for as opposed to being known as rebels (1 Pet 2:13-16).

We may not make the same choices on this point, but you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and this is my small contribution to the family discussion.

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13 Replies to “An Appeal to Pastor Friends (and others) – guest post by Dr. Stan Fowler”

  1. Thank you for your respectful opinion. I do disagree. To not stand up to the government communicates to them the churches acknowledgment of not being essential and that we will allow them to rule what God never intended the government to rule. As I understand, we can expect more epidemics and pandemics in our near futures. When such threats occur, the church will be among the first to be ordered closed. We were closed for a time. A very reasonable solution (not perfect) to re-open was negotiated. That solution was very protective with regards to medical recommendations to reduce spread of the virus. That could have and should have continued. No logic can say that one can safely shop at Costco or Walmart but not go to church with 30% occupancy, seating 8 feet apart, different entrances than exits, cancelling of Sunday School and so on and so forth. Public Health will never take the side of the church so look out for more lockdowns in the future. Possibly people who refuse the vaccine not being allowed to attend church. As leadership we should be concerned about the flock and how not meeting is affecting them spiritually. How does one know if some are really watching an online sermon. How does one respond to the person with tears of sorrow or guilt in their eyes following a message. One cannot because one cannot know. However, even with the spaced chairs and different exits, I can still observe the tears of someone at church as they linger back or perhaps run out of the room sobbing from whatever pain or turmoil they are facing. I/we can respond to that at in-person gatherings because we see it. If that person is at home watching the online sermon, they may never reach out for comfort or counsel. The online message may not even cause the same response because of distractions in the home. In addition, from a mother who struggled to get her child to attend church, think of how many children or youth will never attend church again. Fear of being with others, children and youth becoming distant with their church peers. Alas, we as a Christian community have far more to lose from not challenging our government on the closure of churches. When future arguments that we need to challenge arise, the governments will know who they easily suppressed and will not give us the time of day. I pray for a change from the Christian community to not allow these closures to continue without speaking against them.

  2. I’m sad to read an appeal from a seasoned & respected leader followed by so many dismissive comments. The internet is not known as a sphere for honest dialogue, but I’d have hoped for better between brothers.

  3. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…,” Hebrews 10:24-25 (New Living Translation).

    Meeting together is NOT through Zoom, Live Stream or YouTube. It’s the gathering of God’s People together in one room with the Holy Spirit, and Christ in the midst. It’s time for the Church to declare itself an essential service and gather again…

    1. The ones that are in the habit of not gathering are not mature Christians. We can still encouraging one another and stir up believers, new believers and non believers. Technology was not available at that time. Matthew 18:20, 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

      There is lots we can do to meet virtual and encourage one another as we should. More even so, as we see the that day approaching.
      We will all stand on that day will will be judged.
      Be sure that you are in Christ or you will not stand in your own righteousness.

    2. I think we all need to be more empathetic towards each other, especially if I have to live with you all for eternity.

      Is this the first pandemic they closed down churches?
      No and probably not the last

      Is the church gathering together “essential”?
      Yes for us, but not for the “world”
      Never has been and never will be. We know it’s only going to get worse, it is written.

      If we believe God is bigger than covid then why shouldn’t we gather together?
      All I know is in a “regular” year when I’m sick I tend to stay home as to not pass it to someone else.
      If I tested positive for covid and was asymptomatic I’d probably stay home as well, both not out of fear but out of love.

  4. I understand we have never faced times like this. It takes much discernment from our church leaders. I understand it could cost you greatly, but I would encourage you to join those rising up. Let there be a great awakening in our sleeping churches and the world at large that God is not second place. He will not be mocked. I shutter as I picture believers week in and months out, sitting in their pjs with a coffee in hand, half heartedly watching a service. To me, in my opinion it is mocking the call of the church. It costs us nothing to do church like that. Never to my knowledge has church every been shut down this long for anything and we have no end in sight. I think it should bring us much alarm. How beautiful if all churches would rise together. Calling our nation to repent and put Christ back in his rightful place in our lives. God changes the heart. the heart changes the person, the person changes the world. Blessings as you discern the path you take.

  5. Temporary? Like say 2 weeks to flatten the curve? Why do otherwise intelligent people rationalize the easy road that ignores the massive destruction to our society? Should we be known for upholding bankrupt businesses and coming to the aid of the unemployed? Standing up to the unlawful and tyrannical “medical mandates” that victimize our neighbours? That would be loving. Ignoring that would not be loving our neighbour as we are commanded to do. What about the millions denied essential lifesaving medical diagnoses and care? Or the massive increase to suicide rates? 1/4 of our youth have contemplated suicide and yet we sanctimoniously make platitudes about kindness and how “we are the church” “we don’t need to gather”. The church is “called out” to “gather together”, not just coalesce to the blatant over step of government. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the authority over those who govern (they are not rulers) that protects the citizens from tyranny like this.

    The “temporary” restrictions on schools are robbing our youth (not mine) of essential education while they are bandied around like political pawns. Education, another abandoned mission field of the church along with health care and serving widows and orphans. Ministry to the poor…just ignore the repercussions around the world in developing countries. While it should be a serious wake up call to the faithful, it’s a series of apologists with the same dry platitudes excusing the broader response of the faith community and swallowing the lies that 10 months of a 2 week lockdown is temporary.

    Churches aren’t essential. They’ve been a social club for far too long that has specialized in marketing and sheep stealing. If your doors are closed, pull the hydro meter, put of the realtors sign and send the proceeds to the churches actually standing up for biblical morality in the culture. Far better stewardship and in the long run, easier on the conscience.

    I think if a communist wanted to placate the church militant, he would only need to summarize the aforementioned bold sentences and convince people that authoritarian rule by anti-Christian bureaucrats and dictators is the standard and not scripture. The tyranny is obvious and God gives us tyrants to judge us. The lies are obvious. The immorality is inexcusable. The response of the church is very disappointing. This is not a family discussion unless you’re excusing dad beating mom.

    1. Thank you for this!! This guest blog is so disappointing and only shows that I truly believe that the churches that believe this will not survive beyond this “pandemic”. It is the death of the church. They have simply rolled over but it is not surprising. It has been coming since before this began. You put it well with most churches becoming social clubs, etc. Those will not survive.

  6. I do hope that Christians who don’t agree with meeting can show at least the same amount of public support that they might lend to a Rabbi or an Imam if they were to be charged for acting on sincere religions convictions. The distance between Allah and Christ is much larger than the distance between opposing views on Romans 13.

  7. this would have been an excellent time for the church to fast and pray and to be at peace with thelselves, neighbors and the greater world around them. To be the witness we are called to be! Instead we became a fearful, angry, restless, antagonistic people striking out with a savergery that has astonished the world. we made it worse by claiming Caecars civil rights and powers, as if the power of our god no longer sufficed………….we have sinned…..

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