Friday, March 27, 2020

CRBC Pastoral Letter (3.27.20)

Image: Screen shot of a CRBC Bible Study of Ephesians via Zoom this week. Serious faces during sharing prayer concerns, but many smiles and laughter were shared too.

Dear CRBC members and friends,

When I served as a missionary in Hungary one of my supervisors suggested that we had to be “flexible” to the point of liquidity. In these circumstances we are learning again about flexibility.

As you know, over the last two Lord’s Days our church been able to maintain, at the least, our 10:30 am morning worship service, for those who were able to attend.

On Tuesday of this week (3.24.20), however, the governor of Virginia issued Executive Order Number 53 stating, “all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited.” This is a temporary order extending to Thursday, April 23, 2020 due to the current virus outbreak. An FAQ document related to this order, anticipates the question, “What about religious services?” and offers the following response:

Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship. Places of worship that do conduct in person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.

This week we have been a bit torn over what to do. On one hand, we want to obey those in civil authority. It is our duty as believers to be “subject unto the higher powers” (Rom 13:1-7) and to submit ourselves “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:13-14). On the other hand, as Peter put it, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). God’s word says that we are to remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exod 20:8), to proclaim “hold convocations” (Lev 23:2) and not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25). What is more, Scripture teaches that God is often pleased to bless corporate prayer even above private prayer (cf. Matt 18:19-20; Acts 4:31).

Aside from these matters of scriptural obedience, there are other facets of this that bring one pause.

First, by allowing the state to dictate the manner of our meetings do we open the door for other types of restrictions in the future? Can we not use our own best judgment and discretion (as we have been doing) in deciding how to meet and who should attend, rather than relying on the state to dictate this to us?

Second, does this send the message that public worship is a “non-essential” aspect of life? Can we keep the grocery stores and hospitals open but close down the churches? Didn’t Jesus say that man shall not live by bread alone (Matt 4:4)? And, what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul (Mark 8:36)?

I was also helped this week by reading Dr. Joseph Pipa of Greenville Presbyterian Seminary’s reflection on the spiritual meaning of this virus (read the full article here). One of the things he suggested is that this virus might just be a chastening of the church:

Corporately, God is refining His church. As Christians, we have repeatedly and rebelliously profaned God’s Holy Day with work and recreation (which God connects with idolatry, Ezek. 20:13-16); because of the virus, many are prohibited from working or playing every day of the week.

Increasingly, the church has substituted entertainment for holy Worship. God has closed the doors of our churches. God’s people have grown satisfied with having one service on His day; God has removed all services. We have taken lightly the privileges of corporate worship; we are unable to worship corporately.

This is an angle not being suggested on the nightly news. Has God taken away all ordinary patterns of our week and closed the doors of our churches to chasten us? Have we made excuse after excuse as to why we could not come to God’s house? Have two services on Sunday seemed like a burden? We are traveling, we have family needs, we have the sniffles, we have tasks to do about the house, we have school-work to complete, we are tired, etc. Well, it seems God has taken all, in the way we ordinarily experience it, away from us for at least a season. I’d encourage us all to ponder these questions, as well as others rightly raised by Dr. Pipa.

In the end, Elder Clark and I consulted and decided that we should both be submitted to the governor’s order and conduct our 10:30 am Sunday morning worship service, with at most ten persons present (including the pastor, deacon, instrumentalist, and media recorder). Sadly, this means we cannot invite everyone to be present. We plan to livestream the service again this Sunday, as we did last Sunday. Last Sunday's service was on Facebook and this Sunday (3.29.20) will also be on our church's Facebook page. We hope to switch over to by the first Sunday of April for greater ease of accessibility to viewers. Ethan McGonigal is working on this for us. We will send out a link by email to our members and friends and also post the link to our church website before Sunday.
Given these new circumstances, let me share a couple of exhortations:
First, I’d encourage everyone who is a member of CRBC to participate in our services. Yes, there are lots of resources on the web and lots of churches and ministries doing livestreams these days. There are lots of ways to be “fed.” We have made a covenant commitment, however, to support and sustain the Lord’s Day worship of our church. This should be our first priority.
Second, I’d encourage the following while we are doing the livestream:

Watch the service as it is done live (rather than watching the recording later).

For families and couples, watch on the same screen, rather than separately (parents will need to take the leadership on this).

Participate in the service, as you are able: sing psalms and hymns (they are listed in the Vision); join in silent prayer during prayer times; follow along Scripture readings and the sermon with an open Bible.

Furthermore, make the Lord’s Day special. Give the day to the public and private exercises of the worship of God. Outside of service times, use the day for good spiritual ends. Take a walk and admire creation. Spend time in prayer, reflection, or spiritual writing. Take time to read and meditate on the Bible. Read a good Christian book. Engage in spiritual conversations.

Let me add one more possibility we are considering. Elder Clark has an FM radio transmitter and it is possible, if this meeting prohibition continues, that we might on some future Sundays offer the option of a “drive in” service where you can park at the church while we conduct the service out of doors and you can listen while remaining in your car. We’ll let you know if we decide to try this.

Finally, last week we offered our first “virtual” midweek Bible Study on Zoom. We plan to continue to offer this each Wednesday from 6:30-7:30 pm going forward. We are going through the book of Ephesians, looking at one chapter each week. If you have a computer and internet service, this is great opportunity for learning and fellowship during this time when the church has to be physically apart. We will send out another meeting invitation to members and friends on Tuesday. Just click the link and you will be instructed how to download Zoom for free and join the meeting. If you have technical problems, let us know and we will try to help.

These are unusual times and, again, we are being asked to be flexible. Still, we can say with David that “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6).

May the Lord continue to bless and keep us all by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Pastor Jeff Riddle


Lyndon said...

HI Pastor Jeff. Thanks for your message. I also read the article from Dr Pipa. Very interesting ! That may indeed be the case. May we all seek to respond appropriately to God and to others as we negotiate our way through these difficult days. May Gods way be our way ! Blessings, Lyndon ( ex-pat Kiwi in Vancouver B.C )

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Lyndon, thanks for your comment. Yes, I thought Dr. Pipa's article was excellent. Very convicting. My family visited Vancouver a couple of years ago when I had a preaching engagement in Seattle. Beautiful city.

Blessings, JTR