CHURCH VICTORIOUS AND CORONA VIRUS:
BIBLICAL AND PRACTICAL GUIDELINES FOR PCEC CHURCHES
IN DEALING WITH THE COVID-19 SITUATION
The outbreak of corona virus since January this year has elicited responses from various groups. This shows that the contagion has over-reaching effects. Today in the Philippines, people’s social involvements, economic decisions, educational endeavors, and emotional states are largely influenced by this week’s sudden increase of COVID 19 patients.
The spread of the virus, needless to say, has also brought challenging questions related to the religious life of Filipinos. Should we cancel communal gatherings aimed to worship God? Should we postpone events meant to reach out to unbelievers? These are only surface-level questions, because beneath these are deeper and far-reaching questions such as: Is our Christian testimony damaged when we postpone worship gatherings? Is the integrity of Christian gatherings compromised when we cancel them? Is cancelling services an evidence of a pastor’s lack of faith? Is choosing to avoid Christian gatherings an evidence of a Christian’s low commitment level?
Here are some biblical principles that we might need to consider as we draw our responses to the questions above.
First, we must consider the Hebraic understanding of the holistic human self. Careful readers of the Old Testament, particularly the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-26, will notice that God is concerned with humanity’s holistic well-being. The laws reveal that the physical, social, economic, and religious are closely intertwined. Hygienic laws have spiritual bearings. Social laws have spiritual import. For instance, the prohibition to touch dead bodies (Num 19:11) is a religious law, but it is actually more hygienic in nature. In short, hygienic decisions are religious decisions. Lepers are asked to live outside the camp (Lev 13:26) not because they are spiritually unclean; God simply wanted to prevent the spread of leprosy among the Israelites. The presence of lepers in the community threatens their shalom, so they are asked to limit their social presence and involvement.
Second, Christians need to consider the wider community in decision-making. Paul told the Corinthian believers: “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12). What one might consider as harmless to the self might be detrimental to others. By insisting our individual preferences, we may fail to act in love (Rom 14:15). We must make sure that our decisions and actions consider the well-being of the community we belong to. We must be willing to refrain from doing things that endanger the life and well-being of others, even if they may be harmless or even good to us personally.
Third, zeal and knowledge must go together (Prov 19:2). Passionate affirmations unguided by knowledge of facts is not prudent. In short, the exercise of faith must be accompanied by practical knowledge. To make decisions using faith as the sole criteria, even in the face of overwhelming information available for us, is like building a castle on sand while observing big waves coming. We must consider facts as God’s signposts to guide us in making faith-based decisions. Faith and facts are not opposites; they are complementary.
Fourth, we must choose which battles to fight. Having faith in God does not always translate to victory. Faith is not a magic term that dispels sickness or prevents defeat. In Exodus 13:17-18, we read God commanding the Israelites to take a detour going to the Promise Land, instead of going through the Philistine country, though it was shorter. God knew that the Israelites would engage the Philistines in battle, and even though He was guiding them, it was not a war God wanted them to have. Not all enemies must be faced head-on; there are some battles that are better to avoid. There are moments when retreat is the godly option to take.
Finally, we must maintain the balance between divine fiat and human responsibility. We must not excuse ourselves from carelessness because of our faith in an all-powerful God who can answer our prayers. God gives us freedom to make choices, and He does not always intervene to prevent us from failing. True to our experience, we face the consequences of our own actions. God does not reverse time just for our sakes to undo the damages we have brought upon ourselves and to others. This is why we must be prudent in making decisions. We must remember that because God is God, He can choose whether or not to intervene. Either way, He still remains God.
In the light of the biblical principles above, we as Christians are called to prudence. So how do we become faithful stewards of our faith, of our bodies, our communities, and our country in these difficult times?
First, we must make every effort to take care of our bodies and the health of others. We can do this by following the guidelines set by the World Health Organization on regularly washing our hands with soap and water, disinfecting our hands with alcohol, not touching our own faces, and abstaining from physical contact with others (including formal handshakes and friendly beso-besos.
Second, as recommended by the government and by WHO, we must avoid organizing large gatherings and going to large crowds. This might mean temporarily cancelling our worship gatherings, camps and retreats, regular fellowships, and outreach ministries. We at PCEC recommend, upon the discretion of our church leaders, cancelling Sunday worship services for as long as one month.
This is not an evidence of lack of faith or commitment, but it is prudence in the face of facts. We must remember that viral contamination has massive effects both personally and communally. There are other avenues of meeting, counseling, fellowshipping, and being edified apart from being physically present together, and these alternatives must be explored and utilized in the interim.
Third, the church must become a part of the solution, and not be another problem. Our government, with its minimal human, infrastructural, and financial resources, is already hard-pressed in preventing the further spread of COVID 19. The church must participate in this noble effort. By not intentionally gathering people, we will help minimize or stop the spread of the virus. Instead of insisting on what God can do for us, we must think how God can use us for our country and for others.
In these trying times, let us all remember God’s words through the Apostle Paul:
“6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
FOR THE PHILIPINE COUNCIL OF EVANGELICAL CHURCHES:
Bishop Noel A. Pantoja
Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches –
Philippine Relief and Development Services, Inc.