As our culture and livelihoods have been dramatically flipped on their heads over the last month, I’ve started to see what many Christians would consider a “modern-day martyrdom.” As society and governing authorities insist people stay home, maintain social distance, and refrain from large gatherings, some local churches are gathering for Sunday worship anyway. Some may have a legitimate reason, as some states label their services as essential, or that they are small and have no online options to offer. That’s one thing.
But there’s a whole other slew of churches who are gathering simply in defiance of what the law is asking of them.
“They will not take away our right to worship Jesus Christ our Lord!”, these churches exclaim.
“Any force preventing us from gathering to worship is the work of the Antichrist” (I literally read that in an article recently).
“The Lord our God commands us to gather, and we will continue to do just that no matter what.”
In other, “We will not bow to Caesar.”
Some would claim these to be bold, defiant acts reminiscent of the first two centuries of Christianity. The first 200 years were characterized by bloodshed, massive persecutions, gut-wrenching torture, and voluntarily laying one’s own life down for Christians to declare allegiance to Jesus Christ. They would not be silenced. The Roman Empire could not overcome their devotion to the Kingdom of God—even if they had to be killed. It was these Christians’ fearless martyrdom that eventually led to the conversion of Western civilization.
It’s one thing to defy governing authorities when their decrees tell Christians they can’t worship Jesus period. But what if governing authorities’ decrees actually have Christians’ best interests in mind?
Here’s the deal. The government isn’t commanding churches to stop gathering because they are claiming there is no God, or that Jesus isn’t Lord. It’s to keep us from ignorantly spreading a disease that could legitimately lead to accidentally killing each other (or, most likely, making life very unpleasant through miserable sickness, respiratory issues, and inability to taste the difference between water and vinegar).
Perhaps our modern-day martyrdom is really just disguised as religious patriotism. It’s not so much allegiance to Christ as Lord, but to our American Ideal as Lord. “You can’t tell us what to do. We know what’s truly best for ourselves. We’re going to worship, and we don’t care about the cost… even if it means spreading a potential life-threatening disease to our own members. WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED.”
Would even the God we worship want us to do that? The God we worship created life, values health, and commands us to protect the earth and the creatures who inhabit it. That includes our neighbors, even from 6-feet-apart.
Jesus died so we can have life, and spread his name across the earth. Devotion to Christ requires steadfast allegiance and unwavering commitment, even when all forces are against you. But it also requires Holy Spirit-driven wisdom and discernment on what is right. Christians already have a bad reputation of defying science as is, and we’re only fueling the flame of the secular world’s outlook on us if we continue to bask in ignorance and not take pleas for safety seriously. Will our ignorance of the world’s catastrophe and insistence on worshiping like nothing is different win more people to Christ? Or just communicate that we’re morons?
Yes, there are certainly things we do as Christians the world considers foolish that the Lord is pleased with. But there are also plenty of things we do as Christians that the Lord would also consider foolish. And perhaps not figuring out how to worship in a way that honors the health of the world and their own congregation is just… plain… foolish.
With that, I conclude with words from the Apostle Paul, to the church of Rome (whose Christians would eventually be crucified, speared, and burned at the stake by the same government of which he speaks):
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. – Romans 13:1-6 (emphasis my own)
And I think Paul would add for us today, “if 6-feet-apart, then 6-feet-apart” to that list.
For further reading: Staying Home Easter Sunday An “Act Of Faith” Showing Love For Others, Church Leaders Say (USA Today)