Why the Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches is wrong to demand that Churches be considered essential

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Akilah Holder is an author and social commentator who resides in Trinidad and Tobago. She is a former journalist and a former adjunct lecturer of political science. She also has a blog which can be read at akilahholder.blogspot.com

By Akilah Holder

Therefore, the people of the world have no respect for the Church. When God’s people should be leading by example, they are not. The Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches is wrong to demand that the Church be recognized as an essential service, for the nature of Church gatherings requires that services be suspended until the pandemic is brought under control.

Large gatherings are breeding grounds for this disease; so, it follows that Churches must be shut down like other organizations that entertain large crowds to safeguard the population. The council’s call, therefore, shows impatience, a lack of wisdom, and recklessness. Ironically and as a result, the council’s call flouts biblical principles on several levels.

In calling for the premature opening of Churches in this ongoing pandemic, the council, as pointed out above, has displayed impatience, a quality the Lord admonishes against. Galatians 5:22 calls patience a characteristic of living a life controlled by God’s spirit. Moreover, James 5:10 exhorts believers to be patient in suffering; so, Christians ought not to be demanding the premature opening of churches whatever challenges this pandemic-inspired partial lockdown brings. God expects us to rest in him and trust him to give us the grace and strength to hold on until he removes the suffering.

Secondly, the council’s call lacks wisdom. Yes, the Bible does state in Hebrews 10:25, that Christians ought not to “forsake the gathering of the saints,” but this is not an ordinary time. Living in a pandemic requires sagacity. What happened in the USA after America’s ding bat of a president demanded that that Churches be allowed to reopen is a blatant example of the consequences of acting foolishly.

According to a July 20th New York Times article, Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now they are confronting coronavirus cases, “the virus has infiltrated Sunday services, Church meetings and youth camps. More than 650 cases have been linked to religious facilities during the pandemic.” The article continued: “The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri. It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.

“Pastors and their families have tested positive, as have church ushers, front-door greeters and hundreds of churchgoers. In Texas, about 50 people contracted the virus after a pastor told congregants they could once again hug one another. In Florida, a teenage girl died last month after attending a youth party at her church.”

So even though God is a miracle-working God, and perfectly capable of keeping his people safe, he expects us to use wisdom and not go stand in front of a bus. You see, God is, in fact, a miracle-working God and all that the Bible says he is, but the fact that he possesses supernatural power is not an excuse or reason to put yourself in harm’s way.

In effect, Matthew 4:5-7 cautions against that type of behavior. The verses in question recount the temptation of Jesus by the Devil in the wilderness when the Devil says to Jesus, “‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” The verse the Devil cited is found in Psalm 91, a Psalm that speaks about the protection found in God, how he rescues his children from trouble.

Jesus responded to the Devil by saying that it is also written that one “shall not” test the Lord. Thus, just because God can keep his people safe, does not mean his people should put themselves in unsafe situations, because the Lord just may let trouble come your way. And it would not be his fault because you knew the dangers and set yourself up for it. Behavior like that is therefore unwise and reckless.

Significantly, the council cited the fact that the government saw it fit to ask them to distribute food as food supplies as evidence of the church being essential; however, that request by the government is not an indicator of the church being essential, but simply an indicator that the Church is better positioned to distribute supplies because of their reputation as generous institutions.

Also, the council cited “financial decline” as a reason that the Church should be recognized as an essential institution. I am still trying to understand that one. So, because tithes and offerings are not coming in as regularly as pastors would like, and because some pastors are not getting their salaries, the Church should be deemed essential? Where is the logic in that? How did that make it into the press release? Really? Could the council get any more obvious as to the real motives behind the demand for the premature opening of Churches?

Bars took a financial hit, should they be deemed essential too? And gyms, they have been shut down as well, should they now be deemed essential because of the financial losses they have suffered?

God is fully capable of providing for his own. And I am sure the wealthier pastors can help the less wealthy ones. Moreover, cannot the pastors who are no longer being paid to seek government assistance like everyone else? This pandemic is a great opportunity to show God’s love one towards the other and a great opportunity to learn even more unto the everlasting arms of God.

Lastly, the council expressed concern that while digital platforms were available for worship for different denominations, the council said this was not a viable solution as many of their members were in need of human interaction from in-person activities. A phone call, video call and zoom can work for the hour. And furthermore, God can keep his people who want to be kept. As a pastor-controlled organization, the council should know that. Ultimately, what is essential, is a personal relationship with God.

Let me just say this in closing. It is very unfortunate, very unfortunate, that Christian leaders, people who ought to be versed in God’s word, who ought to be spiritually mature, behave like this. This behavior is understandable from congregants, many of whom are babes in the Lord, some for a bit too long; and who are not necessarily experts in the Bible.  But for pastors? It is unfortunate. Correct that.

In effect, instead of demanding that churches be reopened, take the opportunity to draw closer to God and walk more by his spirit.

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