California Ends COVID Restrictions, but I’m not Happy!

Yesterday, California got nearly back to normal.

Vaccinated people (like me) don’t need to wear masks. Restaurants, bars, gyms, stadiums, and churches are able to operate at full capacity. After 15 months this is a real blessing.

But, I’m bummed by something I saw on TV. A television news show did a series on how the pandemic closures had affected businesses, etc. They also interviewed the pastor of a significant San Diego County church. Not the biggest in the county, but still significant. He bragged about defiance.

I’d watched him on YouTube for a few weeks and became enamored with his Bible teaching skills. He keeps it interesting, even for a much-too-critical former pastor like me. But one week he revealed his heart by bragging about why the church was defying the lockdown orders. What caused me to unsubscribe from his YouTube channel was his promotion of a petition to recall the governor—from the pulpit.

But the real bummer was his two minutes of fame on TV news, this week. He told the world that the churches, like his, which refused to stop meeting in their buildings are doing really well. And he added that those who complied with the law are the ones doing poorly.

So, here’s the moral in that. If you defy the law and the scripture which teaches us to comply with governing authorities, God will bless you. If you choose to obey the government and God’s word, you’re stuck. Something’s wrong with that logic!

Actually, there are a couple of things wrong. First, we are called to pray for those in authority and submit to them as messengers from the Lord. Second, if we think we can’t be blessed outside of holding meetings in expensive real estate, we misunderstand the nature of the Church. Try to find what we culturally call church in the book of Acts. I dare you. Look for people seated in rows while other people sing songs to God in front of them. You won’t find counseling centers or youth rooms with gaming devices, etc. You will find relational encounters between small groups of people supported by public, often outdoor, preaching and teaching. There’s a good deal of eating and praying together, too.

Church buildings are great tools and I’m thankful for them and all the other goodies we enjoy. However, If we can’t survive without a building there’s something wrong with us and that’s a scary thing because what would happen if we ever lost them for good?

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19 thoughts on “California Ends COVID Restrictions, but I’m not Happy!”

  1. Jack Hilligoss

    I would agree we should be careful to be respectful and avoid crowing over our resistance but your approach is more like an assertion of the doctrine of “The Divine Right of Kings” than a full-orbed, biblical, understanding of our responsibilities toward government. There are limitations to submission written right into the scripture and it doesn’t serve the conversation well to cherry pick. Along with that, the attack on “expensive” buildings” and “people sitting in rows while other people sing” is gratuitous and unfair. Once more, you fall into the trap of misusing the book of Acts as a “proof text”. Try to find one instance in the book of Acts of people writing blogs. Try to find one instance in the book of Acts of people refusing to assemble together in those relational encounters you so value because the King told them to avoid contact. The point of the Book of Acts is the dynamism of the Holy Spirit not the cultural wineskin it was delivered through…I may have many criticisms of current church culture, but when I attempt to ground them in scripture it requires a bit more thought than is displayed in this blog.

  2. Well said, Ralph. The Church (ekklesia) is the assembly of the saints (and originated at Mt. Sinai where the “ekklesia” is first mentioned) and they didn’t have any buildings–only tents and the Tabernacle. As you have experienced firsthand, the church or people of God can meet anywhere including a beach or bar. We need to get back to the basics of small groups in homes, restaurants or bars, and genuine fellowship with lots of meals together. Tough times are headed our way, and if we remain stuck in our “need” for big buildings-mentality, sadly, we’ll be ill-equipped to do the true work of the ministry, which is making disciples, building up the saints and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.

    1. Thanks Dale, it really does start with friendships centering on Jesus. Those that lead into making disciples who understand the Lordship of Christ are those which multiply.

  3. Bruce Webster

    Great thoughts, Ralph. Our church followed the local mandates and grew.
    I’ve learned that we will never accomplish what God wants if we depend on owned or rented large buildings for our church meetings. Where Christianity is growing rapidly most churches are small and meet in homes or other small spaces. Church buildings are often targeted by terrorists.

  4. Randall Kalama

    This👇🏼🤙🏼

    “Try to find what we culturally call church in the book of Acts. I dare you. Look for people seated in rows while other people sing songs to God in front of them. You won’t find counseling centers or youth rooms with gaming devices, etc. You will find relational encounters between small groups of people supported by public, often outdoor, preaching and teaching. There’s a good deal of eating and praying together, too.”

  5. Thank you for this article.

    I’m a pastor from Utah who has tried to bless our government and show care for my community by complying with our State Health Department requests (and we had some of the most relaxed standards in the U.S.). I just got out of another tense conversation with some of my church members about blessing and not cursing government. Through this Covid season, while trying to stress the importance of flexibility, change, and God’s pattern of working through unconventional means (in other words Sunday morning gatherings aren’t the most important part of church life), many in my congregation have fought back against these ideas—saying we should fight and defy government like the “Church in California.”

    This has been a painful season.

    Thank you for speaking out about this problem.

    We press on, anchored in Christ.

    1. Thank you Sarah!
      I have you on my prayer list for the unity which vanished in so many congregations during the pandemic. We need to come together around the essentials, and any “civil disobedience” should be limited to the loss of genuine liberty or of danger to human lives. In fact, the government was trying to protect lives while those screaming about it often plead for the right to endanger others.
      Ralph

  6. Thank you for your article about California reopening. Very wise and well said. We had no in-person meetings in our building on Long Island N.Y., for 7 months. We are still wearing masks although that may change soon.

    The core strength of our fellowship has been home fellowship meetings. The four activities in Acts 2:42 have been a foundation for us. Our church never suffered through not meeting at our building, our finances did not suffer and we continued to support all our missionaries and pastor. You are right. If we lose the right to own property will the church be over? I think not. Not if we are built on Acts 2:42 instead of properties!

    1. Thanks Frank,
      What you wrote is so well said. There is hope aside from all the blessings and trappings which we are privileged to enjoy. It’s our tendency to equate buildings and “services” to church that is alarming.
      Ralph

    2. What do you do with home fellowship meetings when it is illegal with stiff fines being issued by the police for anyone outside your household to be in your house and outdoor and indoor public gatherings are limited to 10 even for churches? That has been the situation in Ontario for much of the year.

    3. I’d like to respectfully offer another viewpoint. My husband and I are church planters in Prague. Small apartments and a history that has bred distrust among people do not make home fellowship meetings an option for most church fellowships. We need to have a public space for worship and church activities. We think of it as the common living room for the church–and a large percentage of the members have a key to the building. One of our church plants was finally able to buy a building several years ago and it has given the church fellowship a face and a voice in the community. Of course there are downsides to buildings, but it’s a little bit too dogmatic to say church buildings are bad.

      And on the issue of the pandemic, buildings are a place where at least small groups can meet when having anyone in your home who isn’t part of your household is illegal. Not to mention that there would be more space for distancing in a church building than in someone’s living room.

  7. Excellent article! About two months into the pandemic I met up (outside & masked) with a good friend who had been ushering in a local church for over thirty years-a wonderful friend. He lamented the shutdowns, argued defiance and believed that everything should be opened immediately with no masks or limitations because God will protect us. I reminded him of Matthew 4:11 in which the devil tempted Jesus to jump from the temple roof to showcase God’s protection & in his response, Jesus taught us to not tempt or mock God’s protection. I felt like I made some headway, but it’s been a difficult year in so many ways. We are stronger together in fellowship and I’m grateful to the numerous Churches that found safe and effective ways to keep us close one another and to God’s word.

    1. Thanks Grant,
      This seems to be a leadership issue.
      Buildings and public meetings are great–I led that way for five decades. However, a pandemic is a threat to human life. Those leaders who adapted spiritually, emotionally and publicly led congregations to prosper during the crisis. Those who couldn’t wait to get back in the box suffered. From what I’m hearing everyone struggles with reduced congregation size, but those churches that utilized technology to maintain intimacy developed new leaders and many had their best financial year, ever.

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