Saturday, April 25, 2020
The strangeness of it all. . .
Where is the reason behind the decision to make liquor stores, marijuana stores, abortion clinics, and the like essential business that may legally remain open while the Church is treated as a mere social gathering whose restriction is of little import? We might be able to agree that supermarkets should be open but if Christians can agree that we need food for our natural bodies, why would we not also need the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation to nurture us to eternal life? We can purchase all manner of foods and drink and drugs not especially healthful and some downright harmful but we cannot assemble in the Lord's House to receive the medicine of immortality?
For the Church, and here I am excluding those traditions without sacraments since without sacraments it is much harder to justify the gathering together on the Lord's Day, virtual sacraments do not suffice and videoed services are not the equivalent of being together around the Word and Table of the Lord. Baptismal water cannot bestow its promise through the screen. Absolution is more than difficult when it becomes at home over the impersonal of a virtual connection. We have no assurance that we are eating and drinking what the Lord promises when bread and wine at home are connected digitally to a pastor and a voice somewhere out there.
No one is saying that when one cannot receive that the Christian is without the comfort of the Word and no one is saying that the Word is not efficacious or insufficient to nurture our lives. The issue here is not whether the Sacrament of the Altar is absolutely necessary or just necessary to the Christian life. This is not a circumstance in which there are no churches or pastors but one in which the political arm has determined that they are non-essential and must be closed while other things are deemed essential and must be allowed to remain open. This is not a theological curiosity such as the inevitable desert island alone and what to do under exceptional circumstance but the very practical issue of the government refusing to give the Church the chance to act with prudence and caution to keep the doors open for those who desire to come.
The Church is not expecting to be treated differently (though some have made the case that the right of religious expression might allow this) but of the Church being treated the same as Home Depot and Kroger and Wal-Mart. No police watch to see if the numbers of folk entering these stores are limited to the rules or abiding by the social distance requirements or masked or hosed down with sanitizer and yet in too many places the police were charged with watching church buildings to make sure no one was there and, if there was somebody there, to take down the license plate number.
I am sure that there are some pastors (there always are) who are boasting about what they have done to flaunt the regulations in one way or another. I do not countenance such boasting and no one will get a merit badge at the end of the day because they were bold or stupid. This is not about me or anyone else not in a position of ecclesiastical supervision deciding who has been faithful and who has not. This is about an inequity of the grandest scale and of the way the Church and many Christians have acquiesced to it all. The Church must be non-essential and digital worship must be the equivalent of being there in person since so many churches have tacitly agreed to it -- if not in words then by silence and by shuttering their doors for the duration.
My point is to plead with us to reconsider this all and to be prepared the next time to do something more than pull out the dusty video camera when an epidemic comes along. The next threat we face will start out with the decision that the Church is not only not essential but the first group to be restricted and the last group to be released from those restrictions when the danger has passed. Remember that this happened under a somewhat libertarian Republican president. If the next pandemic comes during the term of a progressive occupant of the White House, it may bode even worse for us. In the end, what is needed are not necessarily heroes or martyrs but faithful pastors and priests who will simply do their duty faithfully, quietly, and prudently for the sake of the baptized in their charge and for the cause of a good witness before the world.
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Given that the First Amendment acknowledges and protects the right of the people to peaceably assemble for the free exercise of religion, such a right is, in the truest sense, an essential business. It is only for the individual congregations to decide on when and where to assemble for worship services. In this decision they may consider (or reject) any religiosity-wrapped political advice of their church body leadership.
If there is any responsibility given to church body leadership, especially with leadership that has a past history of co-signing open letters and appearing with leaders of other religious bodies in public panels and before a congressional committee to testify under oath concerning religiopolitical controversies, it should be to publicly defend the First Amendment, to strongly denounce any attempts by elected or appointed kakistocrats to weaken or override the First Amendment, and to work with other church leaders and legal organizations to file lawsuits seeking to have such First Amendment violations overturned.
Furthermore, when the Church is under attack by the political minions of Satan, Lutherans at home and in their worship services should consider Martin Luther's words:
“We should pray that our enemies be converted and become our friends, and if not, that their doing and designing be bound to fail and have no success and that their persons perish rather than the Gospel and the kingdom of Christ." (E. Plass, What Luther Says, St. Louis: Concordia, 1959, #3517, p. 1100)
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