The past year has been a roller coaster of dissenting opinions and changing recommendations. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how best to live during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. Most churches closed for in-person services last spring. Some reopened very quickly, some took much longer, and some are still closed. Those that have reopened may or may not allow the sanctuary to be full. And, unfortunately, differing opinions within congregations have caused rifts between members and between members and their pastor.
Throughout the past months, I have been pleased to hear many congregation members speak highly of the response of their pastor and congregational leaders. I have also been dismayed to hear others accuse their pastor or congregation of giving in to fear and staying closed too long or insisting on too many safeguards. Others feel their congregations opened too soon and did not care enough about the physical health of their members. And on all sides, some are so angry they have decided “I am not going back to church.”
As the virus seems to be slowing its spread, we can again begin to think ahead to a time, hopefully very soon, when our churches will be able to return to worship as we have in the past. Will you be there? God commands us, Remember the Sabbath day by setting it apart as holy (Exodus 20:8 EHV). Our catechism provides this explanation of the commandment: We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Personal anger toward other members or toward the pastor will only cause harm. It will harm you spiritually by keeping you away from the means of grace. It will harm others by weakening your congregation. Instead, we bring our sins before Jesus in repentance, asking for forgiveness and a change of heart. Jesus’ love for you led Him to the cross, where he died for your sins of anger and stubbornness. And it is at the foot of the cross that we must leave those sins and ask for strength to forgive others their sins. In Ephesians, we read, Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. Instead, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32 EHV).
As we have the opportunity to return to corporate worship, we must also have patience. There are members in our congregations who will not be able to attend immediately because of health concerns. Others may still be too fearful at first to come. In faith and out of compassion, we will Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2 EHV).
Rev. Paul Fries