On the evening of March 15, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker banned gatherings over 25 people, which now applies to our church. President Donald Trump also issued a set of guidelines on March 16, 2020, which recommends avoiding social gatherings over 10 people. Knowing that our governing authorities are not unfairly restricting church gatherings as a form of discrimination, but that they are recommending these restrictions as a temporary, emergency measure for the health of our communities, we will comply with their requests, as we said we would do in our initial guidance on thinking about the pandemic (see below). Romans 13:1-3 urges us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
In order to comply with these restrictions on gathering:
- We will gather for Sunday Corporate Worship at our respective Community Groups with a common liturgy and songs for worship. If you are not already in a Community Group, please join the location nearest to you. Each location will tune-in for the sermon, which will be preached at Lechmere Community Group’s location, through video-conferencing on Zoom. Each location will be capped at 10 people. To ensure that no location gets overcrowded, we are asking those of you who plan to attend to RSVP at trinitycambridge.com/gather/.
- The entire Sunday service will also be available via Zoom for those who are staying home. After consulting a brother in China whose church was forced to worship together via video-conferencing for several months during the COVID-19 outbreak, we learned that this will produce a more participatory experience than live-streaming, which is spectatorial. The meeting host will mute and unmute participants in ways most suitable for the various parts of the service. (Communion will not be shared, since in most of our locations, there will be no ordained minister of the Word. Since sacraments are ordinances of the visible church, they cannot be administered rightly except under the governance of the visible church.*)
- We will hold Community Groups virtually through the church’s Zoom account. Your Community Group leader will communicate with you directly about the meeting details or in the event that the meeting is cancelled. This eases the burden on hosts, especially since we will be gathering for Sunday worship with our respective Community Groups.
- Mid-Week Prayer Services will take place at Bailey, June, and Mariah’s home at (123 Willow Street, Cambridge). The prayer service will be capped at 10 people. Please RSVP at trinitycambridge.com/gather/. You may also join via Zoom if you are staying home. Please consult this Prayer Guide on why and how we should pray during this pandemic.
At all of our gatherings, we will continue to observe our new sanitary and social-distancing guidelines published previously on this page.
The Gathering of the Church Is Essential
We continue to find ways to gather and worship as a church, because we believe the physical gathering of the church for worship is essential, as we explained in our first update (see below).
I read a New York Times Article recently, where the author laments how “for the broader country, canceled services were another symbol of a lost chance to be still, to breathe and to gather together in one of the oldest ways humans know, just when such things were needed most.” I am grateful that we still had a chance to gather for worship this past Sunday.
Andy Crouch, a former executive editor of Christianity Today, writes:
There is one huge difference between Christian leaders and the leaders of colleges, the NCAA, businesses, and others who have already made drastic decisions: Many of our groups need to continue meeting in some form. These groups are essential for people’s spiritual, emotional, and in the deepest sense bodily health.
This is true above all of worship. “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24–25). The author of these words, who lived in a world that knew the danger of plagues very well (though not the exact mechanism), who urged his congregation to meet even when they expected an imminent Day of Judgment, would hardly have said that we ought to stop meeting for worship under the conditions of an infectious disease.
Worship is essential for human flourishing. For one thing, we are all worshipping something all the time. The idolatries that fester, even in a well-disciplined Christian heart, when we are confronted with nonstop news of terror and rumors, can only really be put to rest when we gather with others to “set forth God’s praise, hear his Holy Word, and ask, for ourselves and others, those things that are necessary for our life and salvation” (The Book of Common Prayer).
“…Beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear…” (Jude 1:20-23).
*In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus gives to Peter, who is the leader and representative of the Twelve Apostles (cf. Acts 2; 8:14-25; 10:1-11:18; 157-11) who are the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14), the “keys of the kingdom.” This power of the keys gives the church authority so that “whatever [they] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:17-19). This authority is reflected in the church’s excommunication of unrepentant members through church discipline, and the church’s incorporation of repentant sinners through baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
A New Location
Cambridge Public Schools have closed and cancelled all rental permits through April 18th, effective immediately, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
For this reason, starting this Sunday (March 15th), we will gather for worship on Sunday morning at 10am, at Rent24 (618 Cambridge St, Cambridge). For the sake of social distancing, we are capping the number of people gathering at Rent24 to 35 adults to avoid crowding the space. There will be modified, joint children’s ministry for only toddlers and kindergartners. If you are a parent, please keep your infants and grade-school children with you during corporate worship.
We have also reserved the Community Room of Cambridge Police Station (125 6th St, Cambridge) as an overflow room, where the sermon will be live-streamed and the Lord’s Supper will be shared independently. The Community Room will be capped at 25 adults to avoid crowding the space.
Some of You Should Stay Home:
Especially in light of the limited space we have, and for the sake of your, and others’, health, we encourage you to stay home and watch the live-stream at trinitycambridge.com/live, if:
- You are experiencing fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath
- You are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions or age
- You have traveled recently to China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea or have any reason to believe you have come in contact with COVID-19.
- You are currently caring for loved ones who meet any of the above criteria
- You are a healthcare provider caring for patients affected with COVID-19
For those of you staying home, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12). Though we cannot visit you and talk with you face to face now, we look forward to when we will be able to do so again. Only then will our joy be complete!
Please do notify the elders that you are staying home, so that we can continue to care for you, minister the word to you, and pray for you as appropriate.
Protocol for Gathering During the Pandemic:
- Disinfect shared surfaces both before and after our gathering
- Ask everyone to wash their hands thoroughly with soap immediately upon arrival
- Put more spaces between chairs (1 meter or 3 feet)
- Serve all foods and drinks, if any, individually
- Maintain as much distance between members and their belongings as possible
- Have hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial hand wipes available on site
We have made the decision to continue to meet soberly and prayerfully, and we continue to seek your prayers for more wisdom.
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 1:2).
Shawn, on behalf of the Eldership and Leadership Teams
Some basic facts about COVID-19 to start: As of March 11th, there are 95 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. Based on the China Center for Disease Control paper released on February 17th, and the report of the World Health Organization-China Joint Mission published on February 28th, the vast majority of people in China who contracted COVID-19, 87%, were ages 30 to 79. People in their twenties and younger don’t seem to be contracting the disease at significant rates. Only 8.1% of all COVID-19 cases were in twenty-somethings, 1.2% in teens, and 0.9% in children 9-years-old or younger. There is an even greater disparity in terms of the fatality rate. According to the China Center for Disease Control, 2.3% of confirmed cases died overall, but, for people in their eighties, the fatality rate was 14.8%, for seventies 8%, and for sixties 3.6%, likely due to the presence of other, underlying diseases, a weaker immune system, or worse overall health. By contrast, the fatality rate was only 1.3% in fifty-somethings, 0.4% in forty-somethings, and 0.2% in people 10 to 39. There have been zero fatalities for children 0 to 9-years-old. So if you are less than sixty-years-old, the chance of you dying from COVID-19 is relatively slim. Last week, Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said, “I am reasonably confident 1% is the upper rate of mortality.” When the director general of the World Health Organization mentioned a 3.4% mortality rate, he was dividing the number of reported deaths by the number of reported cases. According to Whitty, “That isn’t the mortality rate … If you are missing all the mild cases, all the asymptomatic cases, you end up with an exaggerated view of what the mortality rate is.”
However, if you have other, underlying diseases, you are at much higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. According to China CDC’s analysis of 44,672 people affected with COVID-19, 10.5% of those with cardiovascular disease died, 7.3% of those with diabetes, 6.3% of people with chronic respiratory diseases, and 6% of people with hypertension, and 5.6% of those with cancer.
Only one small study has been conducted concerning pregnant women, and in this study, nine pregnant women infected with COVID-19 did not pass the virus on to their babies, all of whom scored at the top of the Apgar scale of newborn health. Surprisingly, COVID-19 also did not seem severely to affect pregnant women, none of the nine women developed severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
If you are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions or age, or if you are caring for loved ones who are, we encourage you to stay home instead of joining us in-person for our worship gatherings. We are live-streaming our services at trinitycambridge.com/live and sermon recordings and manuscripts are available online. The elders of the church can also visit you at home regularly to minister the word to you and pray with you.
CDC: Common Symptoms and Self-Quarantine
Some of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you are dealing with any of these symptoms, please call your healthcare providers and let them know, so you could receive instructions for testing and treatment. We also advise you, if you are experiencing these symptoms, or if you have traveled recently to China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea, to follow the guidelines posted on the Center for Disease Control website, which includes a self-quarantine of 14 days. During that time you should monitor your temperature a few times a day, work from home, avoid public transportation and other crowded spaces, and try to keep a distance of 6 feet or 2 meters from others. If you are under self-quarantine, or if you have been infected with COVID-19, or if you have chosen to stay away from church gatherings for the sake of social distancing, please notify the elders of the church so that we know that you are accounted for and can minister the word to you, pray for you, and dispatch the deacons to care for your temporal needs as deemed appropriate.
WHO: Hygiene Guidelines
All of us should observe some basic hygiene guidelines as well. World Health Organization recommends the following:
- Wash your hands with soap frequently, for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve (not with your hands), and wash your hands immediately after. Teach young children to cough into their elbow and to wash hands immediately after.
- Avoid sharing drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, dishes, towels or other items.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
- WHO says that a medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons.
In addition, just some common sense advice: get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
When I Am Afraid
Though we should act responsibly in these matters, we should not do so out of fear and anxiety. Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Our hope is not, ultimately, in hand sanitizers, vaccines, or the Center for Disease Control, but in God. We cannot be afraid when we trust in the sovereign God who reigns above all things! Instead of worrying, the Bible calls us to entrust all things, by prayer, to the God who cares for us (Matt 6:33-34; Phil. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:6-7). Job 14:5 says that “[man’s] days are determined, and the number of his months is with [God], and [God has] appointed his limits that he cannot pass,” and Psalm 68:20 assures us, “Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the LORD, belong deliverances from death.” God is able to deliver us from death, and no virus can arrest our lives from His sovereign will.
Moreover, we serve the Lord Jesus who has defeated death. So we are a people who defiantly proclaim, as in 1 Corinthians 15:54-56, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”! Whether we die of old age, a car accident, or the coronavirus, ultimate victory belongs, not to death, but to us through Jesus Christ! No matter how we die, we will be ushered into the eternal joy of God our Father.
An Urgent Reminder
COVID-19 is a reminder that the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … For the creation was subjected to futility,” and it has been “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now,” until the day of our full “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-25). Though presently we live in a fallen world full of disease and death, a day is coming when “[Christ] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
That promise, however, is only for those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. This is why COVID-19 is also an urgent reminder to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. In Luke 13:1-5, when Jesus’s disciples ask Him whether people who have died sudden, ignoble deaths were being judged for their egregious sins, He uses the opportunity to warn them, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Disasters and deaths are a reminder to us all of the eternal perishment that awaits those who refuse to repent. This is why the church’s ministry of the gospel is vital.
Why We Continue to Gather
This brings us to the reasons why we, as a church, continue to gather for our Sunday worship, Wednesday prayer services, and Community Groups:
- The Church Is the Family of God:
We are called to love one another, which involves caring for the sick among us. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the group of believers who gather together for worship “the household of God, which is the church of the living God.” The Greek word for “church” literally means a “gathering” or “congregation.” When we gather in the name of Jesus Christ for worship, we are God’s household or family. By virtue of sharing God as our heavenly Father, we are all Christian brothers and sisters. And 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (cf. John 12:12-13). Jesus said that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). In the book, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark, a sociologist from Baylor University, recounts the meteoric rise of Christianity from a fringe movement among Jews to the majority religion of the Roman Empire in merely a few centuries. One of the main factors that he attributes this growth to is the fact that during the small pox and measles epidemics of 165AD and 251AD, which wiped out a third of the entire Roman Empire each time—several millions of people—while many people left their friends and family and abandoned the cities in order to save themselves, Christians stayed in the cities to care for the sick among them. This led to the Christian population having less casualties than the general population, and this love made the church very attractive to unbelievers and led to many conversions. Dionysius, a believer at the time, remarked: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbonded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. … The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom” (Festival Letters, qtd. by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.22, 1965 edition, as qtd. in The Rise of Christianity, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1997, p. 82).
Some of our brothers and sisters in China have followed this pattern of Christ’s love in showing love to their church families. According to a WORLD Magazine article, when a woman from Wuhan came down with the coronavirus while visiting her son to celebrate Chinese New Year. The son’s church, instead of staying as far away as they can from him and his family, brought food to the family as they remained under quarantine, shared the gospel with the infected woman so that she came to faith in Jesus Christ, and played Christian hymns for her throughout the last 24 hours of her life before she passed away. The pastor preached from Psalm 80 at her funeral, saying that such calamity should not only make people cry out for deliverance from disease, but also for deliverance from sin and death, and the church filmed this memorial service for the woman’s family back home. As members of the household of God, we are to display such radical, counter-cultural, self-sacrificing love of Jesus.
- The Church Is the Body of Christ:
We need each other, just as various body parts must be coordinated in order for the body as a whole to function. We cannot persevere as faithful Christians without the encouragement and edification we receive from the gathered body of diversely-gifted members. Hebrews 10:23-25 exhorts us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” In order to “hold fast” to our confession of hope, in order to “stir up one another to love and good works,” we must “meet together” in order to “[encourage] one another.” We must “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). “As each has received a gift,” we must “use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10), “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). It is only “when each part is working properly,” that the body of Christ grows and builds itself up in love.
Moreover, Paul warns the Corinthian believers that when they “come together as a church,” those who “[eat] the bread or [drink] the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner,” “without discerning the body,” “will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:17-34). This is because there is a very real, spiritual presence of Christ as the gathered body of Christ eats the broken body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. We need this presence of Christ in our midst, especially now.
- The Church Is the Temple of the Spirit:
1 Peter 2:4-5 say that we are “chosen and precious … living stones … being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 4:9). When we gather in the name of Jesus Christ for worship, we are God’s eternal temple, indwelled by the ever-living God (cf. Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor 3:16–17, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:19–22). That’s why Ephesians 5:18-21 commands us to “be filled with the Spirit” by gathering together and worshipping together. When we are full of fear, when the idols of our hearts rear their ugly head, when panic distorts our God-given purposes and priorities, we need to be filled with the Spirit of God more than ever. Heaven meets earth in the seemingly ordinary gathering of Christians. Here, the Spirit of the living God inhabits men and women gathered in His name. Ephesians 3:8-11 tell us that “through the church” God displays His “manifold wisdom” to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” There is something of cosmic, spiritual significance happening in our gathering as a local church.
According to Ephesians 6:10-20, we are also engaged in an epic spiritual warfare, an intense, wrestling match, “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In this spiritual warfare, the gathered church is the beachhead, God’s initial foothold on earth. We are “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), those whom God uses to prop up and present His truth to the world. In such a time as this, it is imperative that we stand fast at the post that God our King has entrusted to us. When a pandemic sweeps through the globe, when the sick are dying and the healthy are afraid, when people are asking questions of life and death, it is an opportunity for us to “make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet. 3:14). We must not stop offering Christ’s rescue from the eternal peril of damnation (especially if some people are about to die due to the coronavirus!), so that we might avoid the temporal peril of infection (Matt 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). We must proclaim the excellencies of Christ at our gatherings, and we must stir one another up to be witnesses in our neighborhoods. When the world sees our faith, when they see our hope, when they see our love, they will see that there is a people who are aliens in this world, citizens of another Kingdom, that there is a people who live by a different code, who march to the orders of a different King.
Schools, sports games, conferences, and concerts may all be cancelled, but the gathering of the church is essential for people’s health, body and soul.
As we continue to gather, we have taken some preventive measures to reduce the risk of infection during our corporate worship services. Instead of cutting up the bread ahead of time and having our members grab the bread from the bowl during Communion, we now have three servers at the table, wearing gloves for sanitary reasons, and one of us break off a piece of the bread and drop it onto the palm of your hand.
Passing of the Peace
During Passing of the Peace, instead of handshakes and holy kisses, we are encouraging elbow bumps or holy air hugs. 🙂
Contingency Plans for Governmental Bans
In the event that Governor Charlie Baker bans gatherings the size of our church (average attendance ~85-90) as an emergency measure, knowing that this is a temporary arrangement, we will meet instead in smaller gatherings for worship at our respective Community Groups. We will continue to post updates on this page as the situation develops.
Bear With One Another
Some of us who have chosen to stay home on Sundays will be tempted to judge those who gather as reckless and irresponsible (perhaps even self-serving and unloving toward our neighbors); some of us who have chosen to gather on Sundays will be tempted to judge those who stay home as faithless and fearful (perhaps even self-serving and unloving toward the church). But let us, for the sake of our unity, cultivate humility and remember that “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Some of us are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others. Some of us have medical histories and family situations that not everyone is aware of. Instead of suspecting one another, let us believe the best about one another. Instead of despairing of one another, let us hope for one another. Let us bear all things and endure all things. If we persevere in love, we will, by God’s grace, make it through this pandemic—together.
Please pray for our church, please pray for the elders, that we might lead with godly wisdom. Please pray for the healthcare providers who are being overwhelmed. Please pray also for the leaders of our city, state, and nation. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 urges that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” The leaders of our society need our prayers, so that they might respond promptly and wisely to this pandemic, allowing us to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-7). We are “the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.” So when “the nations rage, the kingdoms totter,” let us stand! The LORD of hosts is with us!
After experimenting with Zoom for the last couple weeks, here are some practical tips:
- Get up early, and wash and dress for worship. Many people have emphasized the importance of maintaining a routine and sticking to regular work hours during this time of social distancing and working from home. Getting up at the same time, taking a shower, and getting dressed (even when you don’t have to), helps you get into a work mindset and feel prepared. Likewise, preparing for virtual worship as you do for corporate worship can help you get into the proper mindset.
- Turn on your camera. Following tip #1 will make you more likely to do this. We chose to use a video-conferencing app instead of a livestream because of its more participatory (as opposed to spectatorial) nature. Be a participant, not a lurker. We recommend “Active Speaker View” during the preaching, and “Gallery View” during the other parts of the service. You never know who will be encouraged by watching you worship. If you don’t want to show your living space, you may use a virtual background.
- Sing and read out loud. This goes with the above points about the participatory nature of worship. Scripture itself gives evidence of a call and response format in worship (e.g. Ps. 118). So sing out loud, and read out loud, even if no one else can hear you. Even though you cannot “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), you are still “let[ting] the word of Christ dwell in you richly” by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
- Avoid distractions. We are all familiar with the urge, even an anxiousness, to check a notification, to refresh the inbox, to scroll through the feed, etc. Put it away so that you could give undivided attention to the Lord and His people. Turn off your notifications. Put the device that you’re using for video-conferencing on a table away from you. Use a physical Bible instead of your phone.
- When should I stay home?
- If any of the following applies to you, we advise you to stay home:
- You are experiencing fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath
- You are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions or age
- You have traveled recently to countries affected with COVID-19 or have reason to believe that you may have come in contact with the virus.
- You are currently caring for loved ones who meet any of the above criteria
- You are a healthcare provider caring for patients affected with COVID-19
- If you disagree with our eldership’s decision to continue to gather for worship (albeit in a limited, smaller way), we welcome ongoing dialogue, but we do not want to bind your conscience (Rom. 14:1-12). “[E]ach of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). The question of whether or not to gather under these circumstances is not a matter of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3), and it is a judgment call. We can disagree on this issue and still preserve the unity of the church. Join us instead on Zoom, and let us pray that the pandemic will pass soon so that we can all gather together again for worship. As another pastor put it: “When I FaceTime my wife and kids on trips away, I am grateful for the pseudo connection. But what I want most is to get home, to hug and hold my loved ones in my actual arms. So it must be in this time of ecclesiological compromise.”
- And above all, let us continue to keep our membership covenant: “to love one another: to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to avoid gossip, backbiting and excessive anger; to be slow to take offense, but quick to seek reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay.”
- If any of the following applies to you, we advise you to stay home:
- Why are we gathering physically when it is possible to gather virtually?
- This is really a new question facing our digital age that requires much more theological reflection than has been done. We will venture an answer, starting with a few analogies:
- Why do families still get together for reunions in the age of Skype and Google Hangout?Physical reunions offer a more concentrated and less distracted time for families to connect. Physical reunions, complete with shared physical activities, create enduring shared memories and foster deeper relationships. Physical reunions preserve a sense of family heritage and history.
- Why do sick people go see their doctors in the age of WebMD?Real doctors can observe your symptoms personally rather than merely relying on your own observations. Real doctors (with good bedside manners) can care for you personally and provide no small degree of comfort, instead of merely prescribing a remedy.
- Why do we read printed books in the age of Kindle?Printed books are more easily shareable/displayable and promote socialization around reading. Printed books enable a more memorable and enjoyable sensory experience, with its aesthetically-pleasing covers, crisply turning pages, and a subtle, rusky scent. Printed books are more personalizable with marks-ups, highlights, and dog ears. Printed books set a clear example of reading, as opposed to reading from a screen, which is ambiguous at best. Printed books are more substantive, they are less forgettable, they are less ephemeral, they don’t disappear with the next device update or account change.
- Why do people go to live concerts in the age of Spotify? Live music forges a connection between you and the artist and creates a more vivid experience. You can feel the sound vibrations. You can see the sweat on the musicians’ brows. Live music helps you experience a sense of belonging with other fans and feel the energy and excitement of those who are gathered with you.
- Irreplaceability of the Sunday Gathering vis-à-vis the Inherent Limitations of the Virtual “Gathering”
- The church is at the heart of God’s ultimate plan for the cosmos, and the “church” is, by definition, a physical gathering. That is what the Greek word behind the English translation “church” means. The “church” literally means a congregation, not a video conference. So in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes to the Corinthian church about, “when you come together as a church” (v. 18) to eat the Lord’s Supper. To be a church means to “come together.” The Lord’s Supper cannot be shared together apart from a physical gathering. We need to keep this definition in mind as we canvass the Scripture’s references to the “church.”
- Gathering on Sundays for the preaching of the Word and the breaking of the Bread is something that the Church has done for two millennia through persecutions, wars, and epidemics. When we gather together in Christ’s name as a local assembly of believers, God is present in a way that He is not when we are on our own (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 2:22), and we are “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 4:18). When we gather together for worship, even the angels are present (1 Cor. 11:10), and God displays His “manifold wisdom” to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” “through the church” (Eph. 3:8-11). When we gather together to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper, “the body and blood of the Lord” is really, spiritually present (1 Cor. 11:17-34). When we gather together, there is a sense of shared heritage and history. When we gather together, we set an example for our children and for the world—people see us get dressed and drive/walk to a gathering of God’s people with a Bible in hand. When we gather together, we are focused on God and on one another, rather than intrigued and distracted by whatever else we can do on the computer screen that we use for a dozen other purposes. When we gather together, the entire body of Christ is released to “[build] itself up in love” by “speaking the truth in love” to one another (Eph. 4:15-16), rather than only a few, unmuted individuals speaking. When we gather together, many of the diversely-gifted members are released to use their gifts to “serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10), rather than just a select few. When we gather together and sing, we “[speak to] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 4:19), rather than talking (by singing) to ourselves at home. There is something about being in the presence of other human beings created in the image of God, who together confess “one body,” “one Spirit,” “one hope,” “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6) that edifies the church in ways that nothing else can.
- A live-stream or a video-conference call shifts the focus from the church, the gathered people, to the serviceor a “performance.” They are, by their very nature, more spectatorial and less participatory than a physical gathering. Moreover, a study published in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior, argues that “anonymity, invisibility, and lack of eye-contact” creates a “disinhibition” in human behavior that makes us more toxic toward one another. Live-streaming, and even video-conferencing, to a lesser degree, makes it more difficult for us to “bear with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2; cf. Col. 3:13).
- Finally, Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts us to “considerhow to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word “consider” here means to “pay attention” to something, to “think carefully” about something. But as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” Quite simply, we don’t pay as much attention to people we don’t see (even those whom we see virtually), so the means of paying attention to stirring one another up to love and good works are “not neglecting to meet together” and “encouraging one another.” It is only when we do this that we can “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Heb. 10:23).
- Yes, but aren’t these extenuating circumstances? What is our church doing to curb the spread of COVID-19?
- Yes, they are, and that is why we are not gathering as we normally do. On Sunday, March 15th, we gathered in two separate locations in smaller groups of 35 or less, which more than satisfied Governor Charlie Baker’s ban of gatherings with over 250 people at the time. Starting on Sunday, March 22nd, we plan to gather in four separate locations in smaller groups of 10 or less, to comply with President Donald Trump’s recommendation of avoiding gatherings with over 10 people. (A group of ten is a small gathering. One of the families in our church has nearly ten members in their household. Some of our church members grew up in families with more than ten members.) We are obeying our governing authorities, not out of a legalistic sense of “as long as we’re obeying the letter of the law we’re fine,” but out of respect for their authority and competence, assuming that they are providing the most sensible guidelines in light of many other social and economic costs of extreme social distancing that we are not aware of. We, as a church, must also consider the spiritual cost of extreme social distancing, and that is what we have sought to do with our response.
- Lyman Stone, the Chief Information Officer of Demographic Intelligence, a population consulting firm, lives in Hong Kong and serves as a missionary in the Lutheran Church-Hong Kong Synod. His expertise in statistics and demography has many overlaps with public health, and he is the author of this widely-shared tip sheetand article informing churches on how they should respond to the pandemic. When asked, “Should we cancel church if there is a COVID outbreak nearby?” He writes, “Not necessarily. Spiritual care is vital, especially in an epidemic, when people will be afraid and confused.” He lists nine precautionary measures that churches should take in order to gather wisely without irresponsibly spreading the infection. We have taken all nine of the precautionary measures. You may read about the measures we have taken in our previous updates posted on this page.
- Daniel Chin, a physician trained in pulmonary and critical care medicine and epidemiology, has 25 years of global public health experience. In 2003, he led the World Health Organization’s support to China in containing the SARS epidemic, and starting in 2015, he has led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s work to control tuberculosis in several countries. He writes that the best way to protect ourselves and others from being infected is to observe basic hygienic practices, such as washing our hands frequently, avoiding touching our faces, being friendly but not shaking hands, keeping away from sick people, and staying home when we are sick. He also writes that we do not need to be afraid of people coughing nearby, as long as they are not coughing within six feet and directly toward us. He says, “the viruses can’t get to you because they are in large respiratory droplets that fall to the ground. The virus does not float and circulate in the air” (emphasis mine). He uses a helpful, traffic light imagery to help churches assess their local risk of transmission and decide on a course of action:
- This is really a new question facing our digital age that requires much more theological reflection than has been done. We will venture an answer, starting with a few analogies:
- Here in Cambridge, we are in the red light zone. What epidemiologists call community transmission is already happening. For churches in such situations, Chin makes three policy recommendations, and our church has followed all three of them. One of those recommendations is that churches “temporarily discontinue more and more activities, including corporate worship, and move if possible to live streaming or to small group worship” (emphasis mine). This is what we have done. We have also encouraged all our members to limit all their non-essential social gatherings, especially with vulnerable members of the population. If the spread of COVID-19 becomes so rampant that our governing authorities discourage even such small groups and call for a “shelter in-place,” we will temporarily discontinue even our small group gatherings, out of deference to our governing authorities and out of love for our neighbors.
- Chin also provides a helpful spreadsheet for determining how to modify or substitute various church activities in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We have made all of the recommended modifications for risky activities, including suspending children’s ministry and in-person Community Groups:
- All this to say, we believe that we have made earnest and significant strides to reduce the risk of transmission. We believe that the current risk of transmission in our gatherings is far lower than what it would otherwise be, and that it carefully balances the physical and spiritual costs.
- Aren’t we being a bad witness to our neighbors by continuing to gather? Won’t they see this as selfish and reckless?
- 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 says, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” This passage teaches us to avoid putting up unnecessary stumbling blocks to people coming to Christ. The purpose for which we should “give no offense” to anyone is “that they may be saved.” So then, Paul is reiterating what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save ” Paul is not trying to please people for the sake of pleasing people, Paul is trying to please people for the sake of pleasing God! Pleasing people is not the goal, saving them is. That’s why in Galatians 1:10 Paul can say, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” We cannot make pleasing people our highest aim. There are things that we believe and do that necessarily cause offense, such as believing that Christianity is the one true religion, evangelizing, believing that marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman, or teaching that men are called to be leaders in their respective families and elders in the church family. But we do not have the freedom to change these doctrines for the sake of pleasing our neighbors. Likewise, gathering together as the church is not a matter of indifference in which we have the freedom to do whatever we wish. We believe that our neighbors who fairly examine the steps we have taken will not accuse us of being selfish and reckless, although they may not come to the same conclusions that we did (since they neither understand nor believe that there are spiritual costs of forgoing the church gathering). We believe that we are seeking to please our neighbors as much as we can, while making pleasing God our highest aim.
- But all the other churches are cancelling their gatherings!?
Well, not exactly. Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN (formerly pastored by John Piper), is holding online services, but “encourag[ing] smaller gatherings in individual homes to participate in worship together,” which is exactly what we are doing. This Gospel Coalition article counsels churches toward “gather[ing] in small groups … during the ‘live’ online worship gatherings.” Several First Things articles advocate for “churches [to] be kept open in a manner consistent with public health.” There are other churches within our denomination, for example, Sovereign Grace Church of Toronto, that are “hosting multiple, in-person house gatherings (no larger than twenty people each) in people’s homes,” in addition to using Zoom. Even Pope Francis reversed the Diocese of Rome’s decision to shutter churches in light of the spread of COVID-19.
I (Shawn) am a part of a monthly gathering of Boston-area pastors where we recently discussed our churches’ response to COVID-19, so I am not unaware of where other area churches stand. I have been a lone voice advocating for ongoing meetings (albeit in limited, smaller gatherings), and this has prompted much soul-searching and prayer on my end. These are pastors whom I hold in the highest regard, one of whom has been my personal mentor. I am under no illusion that I am a lone hero in an era of unprecedented compromise with the world. In fact, I even considered proposing to our eldership that we should simply follow what they are doing, in spite of my personal convictions, assuming that I must be wrong and that they must be right. But I would not be able to do so with conviction, and I was reminded, that I have to give an account to God for our church, not they (Heb. 13:17; cf. Rom. 14:12). Moreover, every local church situation is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all course of action. Some churches are significantly larger than we are, and some of them have many more elderly people than we do. We (our eldership and leadership teams) have chosen a course of action that has not been popular, and we have faced much pressure from without and within, but please understand that we are seeking to please the same Lord we serve, and that we have not done so unadvisedly.
16 … The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Unbelievers can treat disease, practice social distancing, and care for the needy (something that we all must do as those who are called to love our neighbors), but only Christians can fight the spiritual forces driving the fear, selfishness, and sinful pride that wreak havoc on our world. Prayer is a uniquely Christian task. “[O]ur struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12).” “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” God has given us the means by which to move the hands that move the world. So let us fill these turbulent days with prayer. Join us for our Corporate Prayer Service on Wednesday nights from 7-8:30pm at Rent24 (618 Cambridge St, Cambridge). Join us for daily, noon prayer through Zoom, organized by Jon So and Jen Cook (you may also dial in +1 929 205 6099; Meeting ID: 491 292 511). Pray with your families. Pray in your Community Groups. Pray on your own.
1 Kings 8:37-40
37 If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, 38 whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, 39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), 40 that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.
- Pray that this pandemic would lead to repentance. Though COVID-19 is not necessarilydivine judgment for all those who have been affected, it is a call for all to repent, knowing that eternal perishment awaits all those who die without repentance (cf. Luke 13:1-5).
- Pray for the salvation of our families, friends, and neighbors, and for opportunities to share the gospel with them during the pandemic.
- Pray for the healing of the sick and consolation and comfort of their families and friends.
- Pray for strength and protection for all healthcare providers who are working day and night to keep our societies healthy.
- Pray for strength and wisdom for all governing authorities (1 Tim. 2:1-2), that they might produce prompt and sensible policies to keep our societies functioning.
- Pray for strength, humility, love, courage, and wisdom for the pastors and pastoral residents of our church as they lead us.
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
- Pray that verses 1-2would be the profession of our faith during this pandemic, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” Pray that, even as we conduct ourselves circumspectly, our ultimate trust would be in God and not in hand sanitizers, face masks, vaccines, or the Center for Disease Control.
- Pray that we would “[hold] fast to [God] in love”( 14) and make that our primary preoccupation even during this pandemic.
- Pray that God’s people would be prepared for, and have peace about, death, knowing fully well that “[man’s] days are determined, and the number of his months is with [God], and [God has] appointed his limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5), and that we would believe in the sovereign power of God who says in 91:16, “With long I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”Pray that, as people who have eternal life (1 John 1:1-4), we would be able to stare death in the face without fear (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
- Verses 5-6say, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” The merism of “day and night” and “darkness and noonday” suggests that God watches over us and protects from all types of harm and at all times of the day. Pray that God’s people would fear neither terror nor pestilence.
- Verse 7says, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” In a field of battle where casualties are heavy, even where ten thousand people are falling at your side, you will not fall, if God is protecting you. In the middle of a pandemic as the death rate climbs, even where thousands succumb to disease, you will not fall sick and die, if God is protecting you. If God has ordained to preserve you in health, you are no more in danger in the middle of Hubei or Milan than in cities completely unaffected by COVID-19.
- Verse 13, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”Lions and venomous snakes were well-known and widely-feared in the Ancient Near East, and they represent dangers that lurk in hidden places that one might encounter on a journey (much like viruses that lie hidden in the air and on surfaces). Unsurprisingly, lion (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Tim. 4:17) and snake (Gen. 3; Rev. 12, 20) are sometimes used to represent Satan and his work. Jesus said to His disciples in Luke 10:19-20, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Serpents and scorpions represent the poisonous “power of the enemy.” Far more deadly than COVID-19 is the poison of sin and the power of the serpent, pray that God would protect us from the enemy’s plans to sow fear, selfishness, pride, sinful judgment, distraction, and disunity among God’s people and in society at large. Pray instead for faith, selflessness, humility, love, unity, and a focus on God and on the spiritual realities.