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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

As quarantine ends: when reopening opinions differ in the church.

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

As quarantine ends: when reopening opinions differ in the church.

It may be the understatement of the year to suggest that 2020 is plagued by unrest. It seems that the word itself could not contain the torrent of emotions, both in their quantity, variety, and variability present in and around us: anger, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and panic to name a few. Of concern, and producing many of the above emotions, for pastors and members of their congregations is how best to reopen our nation’s churches.

There are certainly differing opinions and sadly the differences have led to arguments and a lot of hurts. On one side, those who tend to be more cautious are viewed as lacking faith that God can protect them. Those who pursue a more liberal reopening are accused of putting others' lives at risk. Many of the conversations, it seems, are initiated with the things we differ on than what common goals we share.

Here are three truths we may pursue as we discuss reopening our churches. With this foundation, individual decisions can be framed and discussed from a place of unity.

We all desire to meet in person.

It is God’s design that we should congregate together. It is for this reason the writer of Hebrews says, “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” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). In meeting together we display, though now imperfectly, the destiny of all believers to live together with each other, united to Christ, for eternity. This must be the foundation of our conversations: a pursuit of meeting in person. I believe everyone has felt the strain of viewing from a distance our pastors, of listening to sermons online, and of seeing the seats where we once sat and fellowshipped together empty— longing for when we might be there together again.

We all desire to reopen in the safest way possible.

Behind every mask, hand sanitizing station, protocol, or procedure to prevent the spread of infection is (and if not should be) a proclamation of the value and worth of humans made in the image of God. Precautions are taken because they are an expression of a desire to keep each other safe and healthy. From the most conservative of individuals to those who feel we should have reopened long ago, no logical person I have been in discussion with wishes to be unsafe. Instead, differences come in what “safe” looks like and how high the risk may be. In conversations, we must believe the best of our brothers and sisters in Christ that they too desire to be safe and protect others because of their immense worth as image-bearers of God.

We all desire to minimize the intrusiveness of the measures necessary to be safe.

It isn’t surprising that the thought of embracing a brother or sister in Christ, even a handshake feels like a distant memory. How far we have come from Paul’s request to, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12). As we reopen, we can all agree that reducing as much as possible the intrusiveness of regulations and protocols should be a goal. Reducing intrusiveness also helps us focus on the purpose for being together to worship and glorify God. And when the masks catch your eye, or the distance feels uncomfortable, let it be a reminder to us that God's church remains, unmoved by time or trial.

When conversations begin here, from this place of unity, we are able to think the best of each other. We see our differences not as a lack of common goals but as different paths toward our common goals. The conversation can then turn to data, CDC and WHO guidance, government regulations and orders. Interpreting all this information is not easy, and recommendations differ, so let us exercise grace and patience with one another. As these conversations unfold let us work to make real in our lives and our churches the words from Philippians, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:1-2).

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