Response to Government COVID restrictions
November 20, 2020
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.”
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.
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 (
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.
December 9, 2020
Thank you very much for your prayers, encouragement, and support during this time. We praise the Lord for you! As we have already communicated, we are seeking to operate in obedience to the Lord which includes love to the brothers and sisters, honour to our neighbours, as well as honour and submission to the governing authorities as per
1 Peter 2:13-17 et. al. It has been and continues to be a weighty responsibility and difficult challenge.
With Monday’s announcement of the extension of the government health orders until January 8th we are concerned that many in our church family are in need of encouragement and support. This need is greatly increased under the conditions in which we live, even more so when we are prohibited from gathering with family and friends in our homes. This need is felt that much more keenly during the holiday season. Fellowship is necessary at the best of times, so is the practice of the over 30 one another commands in the New Testament. Many of these commands simply cannot be practiced when in isolation from our church family, especially the command of
Hebrews 10:24-25, “24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” For these reasons, we believe it is essential that we implement a care group ministry where we each, especially the more vulnerable among us, can get the support that we need.
We will continue our zoom worship service on Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. Then we invite you to join us for care group meetings on Sunday afternoons. In order to comply with the government requirements, we will implementing a COVID-19 safety plan. In order to take extra care for the health and safety of our own church family and the wider community, and to go the extra mile under the government orders, we are going to limit the numbers in each group to ten. This will require more work for many and careful compliance to the government restrictions for all (for which we thank you in advance).
In order to keep to ten or less, we anticipate having to divide into eight care groups. The first set of four groups will meet from 3:30-4:30pm, the second group from 5:00-6:00pm. The groups will meet in the auditorium, the gym, the fireside room, and the nursery. Each group will have its own demarcated entrance, exit, and rest room. (Please try to minimize use of the rest room facilities as much as possible.) If you feel any COVID-like symptoms, please stay home. Please use the hand sanitizer be available at your designated entrance. As per the government orders, we are requiring that those in attendance wear a mask upon entrance to the building. Your mask can be removed once you have taken your seat. Please maintain a two-metre space between you and other family groups at all times. The group will spend time in discussion, sharing of spiritual, emotional and physical needs, prayer, and so on. Each group will have a facilitator who will lead discussion and take prayer requests. An elder will preside over the Table in each group. Each room will be ventilated and sanitized at the end of the care group meeting. Please refrain from socializing in the parking lot after the meeting.
Please inform us by replying to this email no later than tomorrow, Thursday December 10th, of your intention to attend or not to attend so that we can organize people into their specific care group. Please let us know in advance if you are unable to make it.
We understand that the requirements will be a challenge to some and will be labour intensive. Please continue to pray for us as we try to navigate this situation out of obedience and worship to Christ, the Head of the church. Please continue to pray for the physically vulnerable in our church family and the wider community. Please continue to pray for the health and safety of our health care workers and first responders. Please continue to pray for wisdom for our government authorities and for an end to COVID-19. Pray especially for our hearts as Christians, that we will have the Christ-exalting response to this trial. We’ll close with the words of
Colossians 3 that we began with in our previous letter:
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Yours with love in Christ,
March 24, 2021
Dear church family,
This has been such a difficult season. We have endured a lot as a church family over the past year as we have tried to honour God through the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and the provincial government’s response. While we don’t know when this trial will end, we do know that it will end, and it will prove to be for our good and God’s glory. So, be encouraged! The Lord will carry us through! We will persevere through God’s strength!
2 Thessalonians 3:13).
On March 23, the government issued a Variance to the current health order that allows for outdoor services. Beginning on March 28 and continuing until further notice, we will assemble for Lord’s Day worship in the south parking lot. We have tents set up in case of inclement weather. Because the Variance limits the maximum number to 50, we will be meeting in two groups. The two groups will meet at 10 am and 12 pm, respectively. We have assigned groups but there is room for visitors. If you would like to visit, please contact the church office by phone 250-860-2486 or email
email@example.com. In accordance with the Variance, we are asking that congregants maintain physical distancing and wear masks for the duration of the service.
In response to the details of the Variance, once again we believe
1 Peter 2:17 is particularly helpful, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” All are commands but, in order of priority:
Love the brotherhood
Honour the emperor
Fearing God means the Lord God, to Whom we will all give account, instructs us how to live and worship Him in His Word. Therefore, the elements of worship, as described in Scripture, are non-negotiable. However, the circumstances of worship may change according to varying situations. If the government commands us to do what God forbids or forbids us from doing what God commands, we must obey God rather than men. We seek to walk in ways that are wise and not take unnecessary risks. Nonetheless, we do not fear getting sick or dying but trust that our lives are in the Lord‘s sovereign hands.
Loving the brotherhood means, among other things, as
Titus 3:2 tells us “…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Be conscious of others’ conscience convictions. We can have different perspectives on the application of these things, but may we hold our opinions in a way that protects and promotes the unity of the Gospel. Please be aware and considerate of those who have pre-existing health conditions.
Honouring the emperor means honouring, submitting to, and obey the governing authorities that are put in place by God (
1 Peter 2:17). It also means “going the extra mile” as Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-42. While a Roman soldier could lawfully compel a Jew to carry his gear for one mile, Jesus tells His followers to go two. Of course, these things grate on our flesh, but they are for our sanctification as we follow the example of Christ. We will obey as far as we can until the government commands us to contradict Scripture.
Honouring everyone means seeking to be at peace with all men (
Romans 12:18). To this end, the elders will be informing the neighbours surrounding the church of our plans under the Variance. On Sundays, we will aim to be as respectful and peaceable as possible. If we must cause offence, it should only be over what is clearly a Gospel issue. It also means sharing the Gospel and showing compassion for those in the community who are genuinely afraid.
We know that an outdoor worship service is less than ideal. Please continue to pray for the church, her elders, and for the governing authorities. Pray that by God’s mercy we may soon be able to gather and worship together without restrictions.