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I'm a pastor. Why I'm opening church amid social distancing order

Josh Akin
(Courtesy of GraceBuilt Church)

Pastoring in the mountains of Central Virginia has all kinds of perks — great barbecue, warm hospitality, and for the last two months, close to zero coronavirus.  Life is different here.  On any given day you can see a thousand or more people in Walmart, hundreds at any box store, and zero at any churches. 

Of course, it is legal for me to pray with any number of others at any of the open stores, offices, buildings that are open.  But it is illegal for us to pray with ten others at our church.

For six weeks, my church has closed down our in-person worship services, and moved worship online because it just didn’t feel safe to gather.  But something has changed in our community.  The crowds that are out prove that many people do feel safe.  So why are we not worshipping in a Biblical manner? Because of an executive order from the Governor.

It not a matter of safety for many in my community.  Safety would be about limiting exposure.   But in my community a person works all day with scores of others, picks up lunch from a restaurant that will serve hundreds that same hour, with twenty workers crammed in the kitchen, then on the way home picks up something from any big box store of his choosing.  Yet another person who dutifully stays at home all week, cannot gather for prayer on Sunday. 

In my state, in my county, not being able to worship is not about limiting exposure, it’s about the governor’s pen.

In Daniel 6, the king had declared no one could pray to anyone but him for 30 days.  Daniel goes to his room, prays as he always had before, and is caught praying by the authorities.

Now, Daniel knew as well as you or I that he could pray after the 30 days.  God does not require us to pray with eyes closed.  Daniel could have prayed silently, or without kneeling or hands raised.  He did none of those things.  Daniel chose to pray according to Scriptures’ example, and according to his own life-long custom (Daniel 6:10).  He was willing to face the penalty of a lion’s den, because he would not let the government dictate his personal expression of worship.

The New Testament reveals the same thing.  In Acts 5, Peter preaches in the temple of all places!  Preaching in the temple – the center of those who just put Jesus on a cross – was a sure place to find trouble with the authorities.  And, God’s word certainly gives us license to teach anywhere and everywhere, not just the riskiest of all places.  But when Peter is arrested again, an angel frees him and tells him clearly “Go and preach in the temple.”  Why did God command such a thing? Because Peter’s choice showed what his words had been saying all along:  Jesus, not the authorities, is Lord of all.

So for me the choice is simple.  Starting this Sunday, in addition to providing online services, we will allow people to gather to pray and worship.  I am encouraging our flock to make the best choice for their families, based on their own personal living or health situation.

It’s has been an interesting week since I announced the change, full of varied responses.  Some ask, “Did the governor change his stance?” No, but if he doesn’t give me the right to pray and worship, Jesus did once and for all. 

Others ask, “Don’t you know the Bible says to obey authorities?”  You would think that I am selling drugs!  I just remind them that I am merely praying and singing to my God.

Of course, the most self-righteous responses I received have come from Christians.  No big surprise there I guess.  They usually ask, “Don’t you care about your community?” And, my answer is the same as all of ours – the best thing I can give my community is Jesus.

In America, and in Christianity, we do best when we let others worship as they see fit.   In home, or with others,  it is time we let others choose for themselves how and where they should worship our God.

Josh Akin is founding pastor of GraceBuilt Church in Waynesboro, Virginia. For information about the Reopen Church movement visit: https://bit.ly/3dqm6WH 

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