To My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am a Christian. I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I am also a physician and believe that God has given humans intellect and wisdom to understand the natural world. I believe that a Christian conviction in the knowability of God and His Law was a major foundation in the Scientific Revolution and thus the healing that has come through modern medicine. Through natural means, we can understand the causes, spread, and treatment of disease.
We are currently in the midst of a pandemic. In the first wave of this plague, there were many questions and much uncertainty. Now, we know more, and can make more reasoned and prayerful decisions. I am writing to exhort you, my dear brothers and sisters.
It has become clear that this disease is lethal. Initial reports of just how lethal were exaggerated, but the infection fatality rate seem to be around ~0.5-1%. In other words, for every 100 people who contract the virus, 1 person dies and many more are very seriously ill. This is far worse than the flu or other common infections. It seems to be able to spread in asymptomatic people, primarily by breathing (i.e. but in droplets that rarely travel >6 feet) and is spreading fast.
First, I exhort you to wear masks. I understand that this has been a badge of political identification, and that people who are on the political Left have advocated strongly for them. Often, this “advocacy” has been derogatory and rude.
Regardless of their sin, I must tell you that as far as I can tell, masks are effective at reducing the spread of the virus. There was some question at the beginning of the pandemic about whether or not they worked. I, too, was skeptical, but the weight of the science has strongly persuaded me that they are effective. All Truth is God’s Truth, even if delivered by an ass (Num 22:33) or an opposing political party.
God’s judgment sometimes falls on those who do or do not do a particular action. In Egypt, the destroying angel did not ask about doctrines or heritage; he looked for blood over the lintel (Exo 12:7). Later, healing came to those who looked to the bronze serpent (Num 21:9). Our current plague does not care whether a person is protesting with Black Lives Matter or going to church. Those who wear masks will have their physical lives spared more often than those that don’t.
It’s true that wearing a mask is more likely to prevent a person from spreading the virus to others than to protect themselves, but both things happen. There are many good ways to visualize it, but the virus spreads in droplets that you breathe out, the same droplets that you breathe out and can see on a cold night. A mask will catch some of this. Another great demonstration comes from Richard Davis, a microbiology lab director:
Second, I exhort you to forgo large, in-person services while the virus is still spreading.
It is clear from our best current scientific understanding as well as common-sense that an infected person will spread a virus to more people if he is around other people. The hypocrisy of Leftist politicians in excusing Black Lives Matter protests as not being risky does not change the underlying truth. Large gatherings are dangerous with a spreading virus regardless of the reason for the assembly. Some resist the straightforward response to this out of idolatry of church attendance and the church building.
Any good thing can become an idol. Gold is good but can be shaped into a golden calf (Exo 32:4). Sex is good but can we can also pervert it through fornication (1 Cor 6:9). A church building or even physical attendance at church can be mistaken for the Church itself. This, too, is idolatry. Biblically, of course, the ekklesia are people, not a building (e.g. Acts 5:11, Acts 15:3). The Church was able to thrive in the homes in the believers in Acts (1:13, 2:46), and were the groups that Paul was writing to in the Epistles (1 Cor 16:19, Rom 16:3,5, Phm 1:2). The Church in China is flourishing today in believers’ homes. It can flourish in homes in America. We are truly commanded against, “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25), but God does not specify the group size or day of the week. First century Christians truly met on Sundays (Acts 20:7), but this is descriptive and not prescriptive. I believe that the human tradition of large, in-person Sunday services is good, and I personally eagerly await a return to them.
We know and even preach that the Church is not a building. God does not dwell in temples made by hands (Acts 7:48), but in our hearts (Eph 3:17). This is the time to live that out. This is the moment to test that doctrine. If we really believe that the Church is not a building, let us show the World that we believe this. Otherwise, the World will watch when the warnings are ignored, and many of us are killed for our idolatry. This will not be a good testimony. As Christians in America, our numbers will be thinned significantly if we cannot live out this doctrine. But if the doctrine of Christ living in our hearts is true, then we can forgo meeting together in large groups for a brief (in the scale of eternity) season.
There may be some resistance to having what is preached available on the internet for fear of some sort of governmental reprisal or loss of non-profit status. Firstly, this would be a blessing if it happened (Mat 5:11). Second, this can be prevented through use of better technologies (we can learn from our brothers who work in technology about how, and those in China about the spiritual aspects). Third, this raises concerns about the alliance with the World that we have already made in accepting non-profit status.
Lastly, if we are insistent on large, in-person meetings, then have them outside. Turn church from an indoor activity into a camp meeting. This is a safer option because it allows for easier spacing, the possible killing of the virus by the sun, and the improved ventilation. It is foolishness indeed to risk death because one cannot be parted from indoor air-conditioning for an hour or two.
Telling the Truth
Third, I’m advocating that you tell the truth about what is happening in your church and in your family.
Sharing information is a separate job than the job of deciding what to do about it. Decisions about mask-wearing and meeting in public are separate from the obligation to share information. Some of us have the role of the watchman: telling others information about threats as soon as that information is available. There is a related prophetic role which involves warning people of sins or spiritual danger, but the analogy was drawn from a person whose job was literally warning others of physical danger:
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take [any] person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand. -Ezekiel 33:6
It is critically important that everyone know what is happening. The virus has a 1-2 week incubation time and the ability to spread prior to the development of symptoms. Knowing who was infected as soon as possible will help people avoid those exposed and quarantine themselves sooner, thus preventing further infection. In the hospital, if a person is infected, coworkers who have been in close contact are taken off the job and tested for the virus.
God commands: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” We are to speak truthfully when we speak, and also to speak the truth in season. Though Abraham told no lie in saying that Sarah was his sister (Genesis 20:2-8), he was a poor representative of the God of all Truth. We cannot fail to mention when a person becomes sick in our congregation, especially when that information may be life-saving for others, especially the vulnerable. We worship the Logos (John 1:1), the truth (John 8:32), the one called Faithful and True (Rev 19:11); we need not fear discussing any fact about reality.
It may be that we believe fears of the virus are overblown. It may be that we think that media outlets are politically motivated. But some of us have the job of blowing the trumpet regardless of what others decide to do about it.
God sometimes winks at sin and allows humans to go on sinning (Acts 17:30, 2 Pe 3:8,9), but then there is a time when we are called to repent or face the consequences. If a city or a king or a person repents, then God is gracious. But if a person is warned and does not repent, then judgment surely comes.
Some have claimed that God will protect them from the virus because of their obedience. He certainly has the power to do this. But foolishness is not obedience: “The wise in heart will receive commandments: but a prating fool shall fall” (Pro 10:8). Idolatry is not obedience. God has given us intelligence and wisdom and expects us to use it. If there were no alternatives, or if God had truly commanded us to not wear masks or to assemble weekly in large groups in person, then I would say we must obey, come what may. But these are traditions of men, and truly good traditions indeed. They are not commandments of God.
There are Christians in hospitals right now, struggling for air, who will die tonight because of their idolatry and carelessness, who would have otherwise lived lives of service to the Lord. God will not hold guiltless those who throw their lives away. God will especially not hold guiltless any preacher whose preaching or carelessness causes the deaths of those in his flock. A buried talent (Mat 25:26) or hidden mina draws judgement (Luk 19:22). A shepherd who is heedless of wolves, even if they are mere physical wolves threatening earthly life, will be held accountable.
If we have made an idol of the church building and of church attendance, then God may be preparing a judgement with this virus. Those who have humility to turn away from the traditions of their political group and can accept the truth about masks will be spared; those people or churches that are prideful and stubborn about their habits, God will humble. Those who can forgo large meetings and meet in small groups in homes, or who avail themselves of technologies God has allowed us to make, will have their lives spared. Those who do not do this will have their members culled like the children of Israel in the wilderness (1Co 10:5).
I am not a prophet, but I am a doctor. I don’t have a Word from the Lord about what He has planned or whether or not this virus is a judgment. But it seems very clear to me that if certain actions are not immediately, more people will die.
God is setting before you life and death (Deu 30:15). Choose life.
David Carreon, MD