Principle of loving

Concern, not state, says when to go back to church

Jun 1, 2020 by

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Typically, the time to go to church is “as soon as possible.” But these COVID-19 times are not typical times. As Anabaptists weigh which principles will guide them most, loving thy neighbor means easing back into sanctuaries cautiously rather than rushing to rub shoulders as a statement of faith and rebuke of state authorities.

Political opportunists have sown division upon the fertile fields of government suggestions or mandates limiting in-person religious gatherings. But as liberty-or-death protesters grab media attention, surveys show majorities of people remain wary of returning to “normal” too quickly.

Principles have long guided Anabaptists, defining them most when they have refused to compromise. But we are also a practical bunch, favoring worship without flourish and action over words. The principled-versus-pragmatic balancing act is at play as Christians decide when and how to gather on Sundays.

Our allegiance is devoted to a heavenly kingdom, yet we still engage our surroundings, working to make today better than yesterday.

Therefore, a return to in-person worship should weigh the needs of vulnerable people against the desire not to be ruled by government dictates. Living lives of service to others means staying home just a little bit longer to limit COVID-19’s spread.

Hand washing is an act of charity. Clean-water relief projects are acts of peacebuilding. Mask wearing in public is an act of love. Worshiping at a distance is caring for our community.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9).

While some recoil at political leaders suggesting religious activities be limited, it can be just as much a rejection of earthly authority to refuse returning to “normal” just because the state reopens that possibility.

By prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable in deciding when to return to in-person worship, we lift up the least, make the last first and prioritize the Sermon on the Mount. The desire to limit the spread of a deadly virus sounds like a pragmatic principle, the best of both worlds.

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