ESSENTIAL OR NON-ESSENTIAL?

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While driving my wife home from an “essential” doctor’s appointment, and traveling back into to Fostoria on Route 12, we passed the very packed Fostoria Country Club.

If you’ll regard the picture below, you’ll understand that I counted multiple golf carts; in fact, four parked bumper to bumper and lining the cart path parallel to Rt. 12. By my estimation, there were at least 20 golfers, many of whom were not applying “social distancing” or wearing masks to protect others.

Before all my golfing friends, begin to cry foul, I am not ratting on these folks, but asking, is the need to golf more essential, than the need for churches meeting together, albeit with appropriate precautions? The answer, PRACTICALLY, CONSTITUTIONALLY, and BIBLICALLY IS… NO! Golfing is not more “essential” than the Church gathering, for those who follow Christ.

Last week, the governor of the State of Ohio, upped the ante on a “Stay at home policy”, which by the way exempts church services; although not weddings and funerals, which carry the restriction of 10 or less people in attendance. In my estimation, liming the number of congregants together at a time is as common sensical as using Clorox wipes to clean and is even more conducive to the biblical pattern of fellowship.But last week, Ohio’s governor, who professes to be a Christian (I have not reason to doubt that profession), made statements that were not only in error, from a Christian perspective, but also potentially make being a faithful follower of Christ more difficult in the future (and I am not complaining of the difficulty of being a Christian).

Governor DeWine stated…

“any pastor who brings people together in close proximity, a large group of people, is making a huge mistake. “

“They’re endangering themselves, their family, and total strangers,”

Truth told, they may or may not be endangering themselves or others. His statements presupposed that one or more are infected with the virus. He simply does not have actionable intelligence concerning that. His statements are assumption.

DeWine further stated…

“It is not a Christian thing to do, it is not in the Judaeo-Christian tradition to hurt people, and I’m sure no one intends to do that. But by bringing people together you are risking their health, your health and total strangers’ health. This is just a huge mistake.”

His comments are of the straw man ilk.

1) Gathering together face to face is a Christian requirement; as well as Jewish requirement.

2) Any person regardless of the religious affiliation, who provides a service to the public, unless they are a sociopath, does not intend to hurt people. Consider a restaurant or grocer who receives produce tainted with E-coli bacterium, which leads to an outbreak. Have they intended to cause harm? E-coli outbreaks are frequent and nasty, should all restaurants shut down in an outbreak?

3) Look at the society we live in with mass shootings and violence everywhere. Being out in public is a risk for anyone, who goes out at any time.

Governor DeWine, in his sincerity to protect others (I am assuming), has turned to shaming churches, who have a mandate from God to continuing meeting together (and the internet is not God’s idea for that). This shaming despite a cornerstone constitutional foundation for them to meet as they believe necessary.

The First Amendment declares that a religion’s right to practice its faith, without government intrusion is inviolable. Mr. DeWine knows this, so rather than moxie up and declare martial law, suspending habeas corpus (which he can do legally), he chosen to judge thousands of Ohioans who hold Christ’s inviolable command to gather together, as not practicing Christianity correctly.

Why didn’t he just declare martial law? My hope is that it has nothing to do with the November elections. To be clear, I have appreciated much of what Governor DeWine has fought and stood for in his political career, but his words crossed a line last week. In an age and among a population that is post Christian, suggesting that Christians practicing their faith (by gathering) is harmful to others, is a recipe for disaster.

Sadly, many in the church in Ohio, before any order was given decided to cut fellowship. Many others have succumbed to fear, not of getting the virus or of death (for the most part), but of losing its image in the community.

Let me encourage you to get alone and search the scriptures… get alone and seek the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, for what is essential in His eyes.I am 100% for pragmatic and measured protocols for protection, but there does come a time where the church, in every age, must “obey God rather than man”. This is not done in belligerence, but humility.

When obeying Jesus Christ brings us into conflict with governing authorities, we do not fight back with weapons, but humility and love for our enemies as they take away the benefit of civil rights. This has been the pattern of the faithful since Pentecost and will be till He comes.

Remember Jesus words “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world the world would love its own, yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, the world hates you”. (John 15:18-19).

Remember dear saints, risk of health, livelihood, freedom and loss of life are part of the normal life of a sincere Christian (Philippians 1:29; II Timothy 3:12)

Let’s pray for Governor DeWine, that he will lead our state to seek God, in repentance for mercy from this pestilence, which has yet to happen. Pray for Him to truly have God’s heart and wisdom rather than data and opinions which change hour to hour if not minute by minute.

Pray for every Christian leader to stop listening to the wisdom of the world, with its echo chambers, fear and glad-handing, that they may ask Almighty God to lay hold of their hearts, to truly lead His redeemed children as we ought to.

And this Resurrection week, consider the importance Jesus placed on fellowship in those who are members of the body of Christ (I John 1:7-9). He suffered the shedding of His blood, filling the wounds of His passion, with our infirmities and sickness (Isaiah 53:4-5; I Thessalonians 5:23; I Peter 21-25).

Having considered His atoning sacrifice and victory over death, let Him lead you to celebrate His resurrection, with others. Be careful, proactive and guarded as you apply the common sense, rules applied to churches; but celebrate His resurrection as He desires… as the Church Triumphant, filled with faith, joy and power. This is what the lost world need understand concerning our faith in the Risen Christ.

About Michael J Erdel

Mike is a pastor with The Assembly of God Fellowship. He is the lead pastor at Encounter Church in Fostoria Ohio. His desire is to encourage the Church of Jesus Christ, and declare God's hope through His Son Jesus, to a world which is long on excuses and short on hope. Mike has experienced the truth that when we kneel before Christ, surrendering to Him as Savior and LORD, being led and empowered by His Spirit. To Jesus Christ be all glory and honor.
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