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The Romans 14 Posture as a Guide to Reopening

Our nation is locked in a philosophical civil war over COVID-19. People take strong positions on both sides. And there is one big reality as we release this post: over 1,700,000 Americans are infected with the virus and more 100,000 have died from it to date.

That last number alone is very upsetting and disturbing.

What are churches saying about these things? What would Jesus say to us? What should the leaders of your church say?

At my local church, we have tried to consistently say two things from the beginning:

  1. We must trust God (and not be overly fearful).
  2. We must act in the way of love to protect the vulnerable.

Recently, we have come to see how there are lots of newly vulnerable people, beyond those who may be infected with the COVID-19 virus–such as those losing their jobs, those deferring important medical care, those falling into addictions, those losing their way spiritually, etc. So, in our state, government leaders are encouraging us to slowly open things up. We agree–and we are opening up as a church with careful social distancing practices in place for Sundays.

For us, most importantly, our discipling groups which have 80% of our people meeting online are now beginning to meet face to face, with an eye on social distancing practices. We will continue to offer Sunday services and discipling groups that are completely online, especially for those who are medically vulnerable.

We are getting two opposite responses from the people in our church, which reflect the larger philosophical civil war in the country on this topic. Consider the two opposite camps:

On the one hand, there are those who say…

  • We flattened the curve and I don’t believe that the virus poses any meaningful risk.
  • By changing any of our practices (spreading out chairs, wearing masks, not hugging/shaking hands), we are increasing fear (and a lack of faith).
  • Fearing the virus is against the biblical command to “Fear not.” Let’s trust God to take care of us!
  • The government should have no say or influence on how we come together as a church.
  • Our rights are under attack, and if we do not stand up, the government will change the way we worship God. Handing the government such control will lead to many bad results.

On the other hand, there are those who say…

  • We want to go out of our way to protect the vulnerable and as many lives as possible.
  • We really don’t know the contagiousness of the virus and we must maximize all precautions.
  • Even if I’m not personally concerned about myself, we shouldn’t put others at risk.
  • The church should be the example of love to the world. Opening up may spread the virus to others. In the meantime, we can still do everything as a church online.
  • I’m not living in fear; I’m just being responsible to love others and not put them at risk.
Please note this reality well: many people and churches have divided over this kind of thing, never to be united again. Church division is a historical reality; it is a significant concern.

In light of these realities, our church is pursuing a path that is taught in Scripture.

It is a path based upon the principles of Christ-like love and godly respect for what we call “third-level” or personal issues. These are the matters of personal opinion described in Romans 14:1-15:8. (For example, verse 13 says, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”) So, we’ll call our church’s position “The Romans 14 Posture.”

The Romans 14 Posture

Following the principles of pursuing unity set forth in Romans 14, this is where we have decided to position ourselves as a church:

  • We can understand where people are coming from on both sides of COVID-19.
  • Neither approach has the authority of Scripture to say, “Everyone should do it my way.”
  • We believe this is not an issue worthy of dividing God’s church.
  • We think godly people are commanded to show respect to those on the opposite side.
  • We think godly people should hold their convictions without imposing them on people who have different convictions.
  • We are doing our best to provide reasonable options to those on both sides.
  • We think it’s good for people to stay home and watch online if that is what they believe is best.
  • We think it is good to join church services and relationships to the largest extent possible with one’s personal health concerns in mind, while modeling reasonable social distancing boundaries.
The Romans 14 Posture will naturally appear weak to both sides.

But we believe it is the way of love that Jesus taught us.

We are going to communicate the precautions being taken to keep people safe and make them comfortable. Many in our congregation will feel comfortable with the precautions we are taking, but some won’t. We ask that everyone respect the decisions and convictions of those with whom they disagree and that we love each other well.

Again, please think of these positions on COVID-19 as you read through Romans 14:1-15:8. Ask yourself: How can I follow the principles taught in these passages in regard to COVID-19 concerns? What is God showing us about the Romans 14 Posture? 

To learn more about how to pursue unity even in the midst of disagreement, we recommend resource Conviction and Civility.

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