You guys. Don’t do this.
Members and friends of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church,
Yesterday I wrote a communication about the coronavirus, and in it, I said that we will not be canceling worship. However, today Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has requested that Kentucky churches cancel their services for this week. In light of his recommendation, I think it is appropriate that I write a follow up communication with more details on why are choosing not to honor our Governor’s request.
Do you know which demographic is most likely to go to church? The elderly! Do you know which demographic has the highest fatality rate from COVID-19? The elderly!
First and foremost, I am very thankful for Governor Beshear and his obvious desire to prioritize the health of our Commonwealth. Civil obedience is an important ethic of the Christian faith (Romans 13), and our church is eager to honor the requests of our Governor in any way we can. We do not have any large gatherings scheduled at our church in the coming days, but if we did, we would cancel them as a way to honor his request.
Hang on. Church services aren’t large gatherings?
Likewise, TCPC wants both the local and state governments to know that we are here to serve in any way that would be of assistance. We understand that a crisis often requires the dual solution of church and state, and we are willing to partner in any way to protect and serve our community.
One way the state wants churches to help partner in this is by canceling church services. In other words, Robert Cunningham—the author of this letter—does not in fact mean what he writes when he claims the church is willing to serve “in any way that would be of assistance.”
That being said, this is simply one request we cannot honor.
I understand that those who don’t share our worldview might view this decision as a mistake in judgment at best, and perhaps unloving at worst.
Robert might spend some time thinking why people view his decision this way.
First, let me reiterate what I said in my original communication: we are not binding the conscience of our members. If you have concerns and choose to stay home, that is absolutely appropriate.
Robert says that those who are “showing symptoms of illness” should “stay home out of love for the greater community” and that seiners “and those with underlying medical conditions” can request to have a pastor come minister to them and serve them community in their home.
We are asking no one to be stubbornly foolish, and precaution is absolutely appropriate.
Let me also say that, depending on the severity of the situation, we may adjust our plans. For instance, during a snowstorm last year that caused many churches to cancel, we still held worship but chose to only hold one service. Likewise, in our current situation there are adjustments we can make including precautionary changes to worship itself.
But that being said, this Sunday, and every Sunday, the call to worship will still go forth for any who choose to answer it. Allow me to explain.
Maybe it’s just me, but point-blank refusing to cancel church even in an epidemic does indeed sound “stubbornly foolish.” Note that his illustration for his statement that they’ll adjust plans if needed includes a statement that “during a snowstorm last year that caused many churches to cancel” his church “still held worship but chose to only hold one service.”
This sounds like a pride issue to me. (See, I can still speak evangelical.)
Robert goes on:
Our vision statement at TCPC is that we exist “for the glory of Christ and the good of the Bluegrass.” For both these reasons—Christ’s glory and the Bluegrass’ good—we cannot cancel worship.
Does Robert know that people can worship in their homes? Does Robert know that his church can stream a worship service online? In fact, does Robert know that he could stream a sermon from his own home? Worship does not take place in only one place.
First, for the glory of Christ. Christians have an allegiance to Jesus as Lord above all else, and foundational to that allegiance is the weekly assembly of fellow believers to praise our Lord.
Somehow I think Jesus would tell them to cancel church already. After all, it was Jesus who said “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
We call our gatherings worship for a reason. The primary audience is God not us, and the primary purpose is God’s glory not our experience. Granted, we think worship is good for those who gather, but ultimately that’s not why we gather. Were it so, then I suppose cancelation would be more plausible, because one could argue that it isn’t good to be together in this time. But if worship is about God, and God is worthy of our praise on the Sundays of prosperity and panic, then those who are able audaciously gather, no matter the circumstances, because it is right to give him praise.
Does Robert really think worship and praise of God at church is so completely and qualitatively different from worship and praise of God at home that he should risk lives to maintain this offering to his God? This is almost akin to a blood sacrifice. He’s asking people to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones, because God demands it and he is God.
Secondly, for the good of the Bluegrass. I can understand why our Governor believes churches gathering is not good for the Bluegrass, but here we have a disagreement. We actually believe that in times of crises, it is uniquely important for churches to open their doors to those who can attend. We must bear in mind that there are other cultural issues to be addressed right now beyond the spread of this virus. Our souls are burdened, our hearts are anxious, our minds are questioning—where is our community to turn with these symptoms? This is the unique role churches play in the midst of cultural hardships. Therefore, we believe to ask Kentucky churches to close is akin to asking Kentucky hospitals to close. Of course it’s dangerous for hospitals and their staff to stay open and serve the sick, but the entire purpose of a hospital is to do just that. This is how we view the purpose of our church. We are a hospital to the souls of our community, souls that are suffering greatly right now, and we simply cannot shut our doors to the needy.
Sure, coming together with other people in times of hardship and crisis can be a very, very beneficial thing. If the very act of attending church has the potential to fan the crisis, spreading it and deepening it and making people literally die, maybe think about that for a moment?
There are other ways to build community. Maybe start a church facebook group, if there isn’t one already? What about talking to people on the phone? Maybe arrange specific phone date times, or even a google hangout? You can build community without risking people’s lives.
Therefore, for the glory of Christ and the good of the Bluegrass, we are compelled to continue to worship, while making the proper precautionary adjustments for the continued safety of our people.
The proper precautionary adjustment is closing church.
To our members and the greater community, you do not have to join us this Sunday. But, to quote the late James Boice, “To all who are weary and seek rest; to all who mourn and long for comfort; to all who struggle and desire victory; to all who sin and need a Savior; and to whoever will come…,” Tates Creek Presbyterian Church opens wide her doors and offers welcome in the name of Jesus Christ.
I call BS on Robert’s whole “you do not have to join us this Sunday” line. You can’t say that God commands his followers to come together every Sunday and worship him and that doing so separately at home does not count, and at the same time claim that people are completely welcome to stay home. Robert claims in another followup that he’s not “bind the conscience” of his members, but Robert made himself very clear: God wants his followers in church.
Confident in Christ,
Robert. Robert, Robert, Robert.
I’m not going to go over his full followup, but this bit is worth noting:
There is one feedback, in particular, that I do want to address. The accusation that we are being callous to the senior population among us is unfair. Today I tweeted this:
Something disturbing the #coronavirus is revealing is how little value we place on the life of our seniors. Ask yourself this, if this was killing our children rather than our elderly, what would be the nature/ethos of our response? Does pro-life mean pro-life or not?
— Robert Cunningham (@tcpcrobert) March 11, 2020
I am very passionate for the health and well-being of our seniors, but at the same time, I refuse to bind their conscience either way. If they choose not to join us, we have made accommodations for this by volunteering to bring the elements of worship to them. But if they desire to join us, I’m not going to bind their conscience by telling them they can’t. Truth be told, there are older saints of the Lord out there who are longing for worship on Sunday, and I’m not going to stop them.
Are you serious right now. Robert thinks the coronavirus has shown “how little value we place on the life of our seniors” but he simultaneously refuses to cancel church when the governor asks all pastors to do so, to save the lives of our seniors? What sort of doublespeak is this?
The person who doesn’t value the lives of our seniors is Robert.
This is Robert. Don’t be Robert.
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