Preachers argue that we shouldn’t gather on Sunday to worship as a congregation because of the coronavirus. But the bug that keeps coming back to bite them is the flu. If you replace “coronavirus” in their arguments with the word flu you will quickly see how weak and inconsistent this view is. Almost every argument being used to justify cancelling church gatherings on Sunday because of the risk of this novel virus can be used to suspend those services because of the flu.
The flu is contagious. It kills people. The CDC estimates that it killed between 24,000-62,000 people in the United States from October 1, 2019 through April 4, 2020. Worldwide it is estimated to take the lives of roughly 200,000 to over 600,000 each year. That means the flu is a deadly disease.
Elders and ministers tell us that church assemblies show a lack of love for others in the midst of a pandemic. After all, someone might get sick and even die. Didn’t Jesus give us the Golden Rule and tell us to love each other? This sounds reasonable until you ask why they aren’t applying this standard to the flu which is spread in their church assemblies.
These preachers lay a heavy burden of guilt on Christians who gather for worship on Sunday during this crisis but they will not move it with one of their fingers. They encourage people to attend worship gatherings during flu season. People come and unintentionally but inevitably infect others with the flu. Then these people carry the disease to others. As the contagion spreads people get sick. People end up in the hospital. People die. Preachers and elders know this happens. They can’t claim ignorance. Have they practiced the Golden Rule all these years while hundreds of thousands died from the flu which was partly spread at their worship assemblies? Is this loving your neighbor?
The situation according to their reasoning gets far worse at brotherhood events like lectureships and youth gatherings. Many of these are scheduled during flu season! What happens at these gatherings? People spread germs. People get sick. They carry away the flu and other illnesses to different parts of the country and eventually the contamination trail ends in death. They do so innocently but it happens nevertheless. And these gatherings sometimes number in the thousands! Is this loving your fellow man? Is it reckless and irresponsible?
I am not predicting what churches might do in the future in practice. I suspect that some churches will follow suit and cancel services during the peak of flu season because the pattern is now in place, but this is not my point.
I am not addressing whether churches or governments have the authority to suspend gathering for worship on Sunday because of fear of the coronavirus. I have written that we are obligated to meet for worship on Sunday (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:17-34; 14:23, 26; Heb. 10:25). I have stated that people who are sick and unable to come to church are excused. I have stated what these elders know—that there is a clear difference between being sick and being afraid that one might get sick. Where is the verse that authorizes a church to forbid even healthy Christians to gather “in one place” as a congregation to worship on the basis that someone might have a virus that might be spread to someone who in rare cases might die? If the coronavirus countermands the duty to assemble for worship then so does the flu. But if the flu does not biblically override the duty to assemble to worship on Sunday then neither does the coronavirus. And how can church leaders assure themselves that this course of action is legitimate because of what the media reports—the same media that has politicized this disease from the beginning and has used inflated and conflicting data to turn a pandemic into pandemonium? I have been shocked at how easily the media manipulated so many brethren and how quickly lower levels of government acting contrary to the law of God and even the First Amendment intimidated so many church leaders. But again the same question remains: If churches have the right to cancel worship assemblies on Sunday because of this virus, then why don’t they have the same right to cancel services because of the flu? But my point is not about whether churches have this authority.
Here is my point. According to this argument about love and mercy, churches must as a matter of religious duty suspend all church gatherings to prevent the spread of this new virus. To be logically and biblically consistent they will have to cancel all worship assemblies during flu season (and actually indefinitely since some get the flu in its off-season). If they don’t then according to their interpretation of the biblical law of love they are complicit in the deaths of thousands from the flu every year in America!
Offering faulty and absurd analogies shows how desperate their case is. Getting out of the way of a tornado and staying out of the path of a shooter in a church building are not parallel to the coronavirus. The flu is.
Of course, there is another way to deal with what has been done: admit that church assemblies on Sunday should never have been cancelled to begin with. More and more Americans are beginning to see through the hysteria. It is time for brethren to do the same.
-Kerry Duke