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Letter from RRC Elders | COVID-19 Update

COVID (1)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that this letter finds you trusting in the goodness of God’s purposes and hoping in the certainty of God’s promises.

It has been over a month since our last update concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since that time, various social restrictions have expanded, and stay-at-home orders have been extended multiple times.  In our first update following the initial shutdown, we expressed our great hope to resume gathering on Easter Sunday.  As you know, this did not come to pass.  In compliance with our government’s orders, we have chosen to gather virtually for the safety of ourselves and our community.  While we are thankful for the technology that makes connection possible, we all recognize the relational deficiencies of this medium. 

Understandably, ambiguity in the reasons for, and lifting of, restrictions has fostered a growing mistrust in some people toward the decision-makers in our community.  The initial stated purpose of the restrictions was to slow the rate of infection or “flatten the curve” in order to protect our health system from being overwhelmed.  Even though this goal has seemingly been accomplished, various experts recommended extending the orders.  Every time the goal has been moved or a restriction extended, it has been characterized as an effort to best “love our neighbor.”  Sadly, we are beginning to see that loving our neighbor this way is resulting in the unintentional forsaking of many other "neighbors”.  There may be a decreasing number of people suffering directly from COVID-19, but there is an increasing number of people suffering indirectly from it.  The impact of unintended consequences like depression, addiction, domestic violence, and poverty will last longer than a season, perhaps even a lifetime.

For this, and many other reasons, we are all eager to see our economy reopened, our community released, and our gatherings resumed.  Over the last several weeks, the elders have received an increasing number of inquiries and engaged in many more conversations with members asking if, or when, we might gather in person again.  Without doubt, all of us recognize the importance of gathering for worship and the role it plays in our spiritual and emotional health.  And though we neither fear the approval of men nor the infection by virus, we do fear God.  As elders, we are accountable to God for how we live and how we guide this flock.  At times, this requires us to shepherd our members by making judgments which are sometimes uncomfortable, often unpopular and, on rare occasion, unlawful.  Relative to the decision to gather, the elders are praying together, counseling with other pastors, and studying passages such as Romans 13.1-7 (see also 1 Peter 2:11-17) to help our decision-making:

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.

This passage, and others like it, remind us of the weight and cost of civil disobedience.  Such decisions not only impact our relationship with men, but also with God himself.  Because there are many instances in Scripture where believers opposed government, we know that the authority of God-ordained government is not unlimited, and that submission to these authorities is not intended to be without exception.  The elders do believe it is possible to “honor” the governor and civilly disobey.  We are prayerfully considering when it will be permissible and prudent to do so.

It must also be noted that we believe in Scripture alone, meaning, the Bible is our supreme authority.  But we do not believe in Scripture only.  We must, therefore, seriously consider issues of health and safety in so far as we can understand them with the information available.  Simply, even if a decision is biblically warranted, we must also consider whether it is wise in the spirit of 1Corinthians 10.23.  We are, therefore, regularly asking questions like:

  • What is right?  This is a question about our obedience.

  • What is safe?  This is a question about our safety.

  • What is wise?  This is a question about our witness.

We understand that the elders may be required to make a judgment that involves disobedience to our government’s order as written.  The elders do not feel compelled to make that decision at this time.  We understand that this is will be received as encouraging to some and disappointing to others. Please know that we take our responsibility very seriously.  We are reluctant, therefore, to unintentionally bind anyone’s conscience by making a hasty decision of this nature.  As the elders continue to wrestle through what the Bible teaches about our relationship to God and government, we encourage our members to engage in personal study, prayer, and counsel as you make decisions for you and your family.  

Regardless of your personal viewpoint, the elders desire everyone to be patient and gracious in their responses to the governing authorities as well as those people we disagree with.  That does not mean we must affirm every opinion held or decision made.  It does mean that we must be discerning about how, or even if, we share our disagreement.  When we disagree, and chose to express it in person or online, we want to encourage everyone to do so in a way that is honorable and loving, edifying and glorifying, both publicly and privately.  In addition to spending time studying Romans 13, we would all do well to consider what Romans 14 requires of us in terms of forbearance towards others.  

The elders believe, all conspiracy theories aside, that most of the governing authorities in the U.S. desire churches to be able to return to gathering.  As of today, we believe these are reasonable restrictions and that any delay in lifting them is driven primarily by a good desire to preserve life.  We believe we should defer as along as we can to these restrictions relative to our public gathering, in so far as they remain equitable and justifiable.  Even if we disagree with the timeline or with the strategy of our government, the elders believe it would be difficult to make a case that we are being forced to choose between obeying God or man at this time.  We recognize that a day for this kind of choice may come sooner than later.  But, as one elder recently said: When I picture myself standing before the judgment seat of God needing to explain why I did not submit myself to the governing authorities I do not want to stand on a weak or questionable argument.

In conclusion, practically speaking, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed his newest emergency order introducing a four-phase reopening plan of our economy.  We have found the plan to be detailed but somewhat inconsistent and ambiguous.  Even though church gatherings are not directly targeted for their faith, it’s possible that they are being unfairly treated by the phases of this plan.  We are reaching out to ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) and writing the Governor’s office for clarity and understanding.  As fellow citizens, if you share our confusion or frustration, we encourage you to engage in effecting change through democratic means until noncompliance becomes a necessary course of action.

As of May 5, we are in phase 1 and, reportedly, we can expect at least three weeks to pass between each phase.  There are no predetermined dates, but recent history has proved that these phases can be shortened or lengthened.  According to this three-week expectation, without any further modifications, we can reasonably expect to hold some size of gathering by the end of June. As each phase unfolds, however, the elders will prayerfully evaluate what is best next and, guided by God’s Spirit through His Word, make our judgments regarding if our when our family resumes gathering.   

Meanwhile, the elders encourage everyone to make their own decisions as we navigate a time none of us would have chosen to live through.  As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring: “I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”  

Decide to rejoice always.  Decide to pray without ceasing. Decide to give thanks in all circumstances.  Decide to set your mind on the things above knowing that the “same kinds of suffering” are being experienced by our brotherhood around the world.  Decide to believe that soon, the God of all grace, will himself restore us all. Grace.

The elders of Restoration Road Church