Response to Government COVID restrictions
Dear saints of Providence Baptist Church,
Col 3:1-3 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and you life is hidden with Christ in God.”
November 20, 2020
It is with a heavy heart that we are sharing this important message on behalf of the elders. Yesterday, the BC government introduced new restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Among the new restrictions, the provincial medical officer has ordered that all indoor and outdoor gatherings be suspended, including all in-person faith services. Dr. Henry stated that this will be until December 7th. The elders have been in much prayer, study, and discussion to decide how we as a church should respond to these restrictions.
As in all of life, our response must be in submission to the Word of God, which is sufficient to equip God’s people for every good work, including responding to this situation (2 Tim. 3:16-17). As you are aware, our response to Lord, our church, our community and the government, in the midst of COVID-19 has been especially influenced by passages such as 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” God, who is the supreme authority, has established every authority in all spheres of life. Civil authorities are appointed by God, and Scripture commands us to honor them in submission to God.
But what shall we do in a situation when the governing authorities seem to be commanding us to disobey God? God’s Word commands us in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the fellowship of other believers (cf. Acts 2:46; Hebrews 3:13). We also know that God’s Word commands us to submit to the governing authorities unless they require us to sin by either requiring us to do something that God forbids or forbidding us from doing something that God commands (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17 et.al). We know that our relationship with God must always come first. So, how do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory commands?
First, we can take comfort in the fact that God’s providence never places us in a situation where keeping one command of God requires us to break another. God has given us the light of Scripture—the ultimate authority—as well as the helpful witness of faithful saints throughout church history.
Guided by our study of Scripture and informed by our study of Church history, we have considered the command of Romans 13:1-7 in light of the fact that God is the One Who has instituted these civil authorities and is sovereign over their decrees (Proverbs 21:1). We also believe that God’s mandate for governing authorities includes the enforcement of the second table of the law, in this case specifically the sixth commandment, the command not to kill. Under this commandment is the positive duty to protect life. Civil magistrates are given authority from God with this charge, and they are to discharge their authority with the goal of protecting life, which includes preventing harm or undue risk of harm from disease.
Historically, there have been several times when the civil authorities have required that churches not gather for corporate worship for a set period in order to protect life. This has taken place during plagues, fires, and war. While COVID-19 certainly does not represent a plague anywhere to the proportion that our Reformed, Puritan, and Particular Baptist brothers and sisters faced 400 years ago, we believe the BC government is acting on their God-given authority to protect life. We also believe that past failures or inconsistencies on the part of the government do not nullify God’s command that we are to submit to their God-given authority to protect life.
So in this case, we believe it is appropriate, for a limited time, not to assemble together for corporate worship in the usual manner. We see obedience to the governing authorities in this manner as fulfilling God’s moral law, which—for a limited time—may take precedence over the positive commandment to assemble.
We believe that so limiting ourselves for a limited time is not subordinating the church to the state or obeying man instead of God. The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter said in his Christian Directory, “It is one thing to forbid [Church assemblies] for a time, upon some special cause (as infection by pestilence, fire, war, etc.) and another thing to forbid them statedly or profanely. It is one thing to omit them for a time, and another to do it ordinarily… If the Magistrate for a greater good, (as the common safety) forbid Church Assemblies in a time of pestilence, assault of enemies, or fire, or the like necessity, it is a duty to obey him. Because positive duties give place to those great natural duties which are their end.”
In other words, it is right for Christians to co-ordinate with the civil magistrate in fulfilling the greater duty of protecting life by limiting our assembling for a limited period. Nonetheless, we believe this must be a temporary limitation for a specific reason and must not continue indefinitely.
So what is this going to look like for Providence Baptist Church?
We have decided to suspend corporate worship assemblies out of honour to the civil authorities until December 7th. This will mean that all corporate gatherings of the church, including Lord’s Day services, Bible studies and prayer meetings will take place via electronic means. We acknowledge that a live-streamed Lord’s Day service is not a corporate church assembly as properly understood. Nonetheless, we urge you not to diminish your worship on the Lord’s day, but to amplify it. We urge you, dear brothers and sisters, make the next three Lord’s days solemn days of prayer and fasting. Use the live-streamed service as an aid for family worship. Pray. Cry out to the Lord, “…for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:12) Pray for our church and our governing authorities. Pray that we will be able to freely gather once again, and quickly, as a local church body (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Pray that the Lord will preserve love and unity in our body. Pray for the leaders in this church and other faithful churches, that God may help us to honor Him in our leading. Pray that this may become an occasion for greater worship to spring up in our hearts unto the Lord, who is worthy of all worship, glory, honor, and power.
In the meanwhile, we are also seeking meetings with our representatives in Parliament and the Legislative Assembly. If you feel so inclined, consider sending respectful letters to your government representatives, emphasizing the necessity of Christian assembly as a source of good in the society. We will continue to talk and pray among ourselves and to seek wise counsel from other pastors.
We know that this is very hard to hear. It is very hard to say. Please consider how you can, by God’s grace, not just obey the governing authorities, but actually honour them with a humble and prayerful heart in reverence and honor to Christ the King.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions, concerns and prayer needs.