Should Churches Open or Remain Closed Despite State Orders?


I recently shared an article about Pastor John Macarthur’s decision to exercise civil disobedience in regards to California officials’ mandate to keep church buildings closed for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. He summarizes his justification stating “in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services…”. This seems to contradict his previous sentiment about the same issue where he rationalizes his decision to initially keep the church doors closed. In his first video he reasoned that we should obey our leaders except in the case of blatant Christian persecution (of which he admits this is not), and also for the protection and safety of church congregants.


I believe Macarthur’s apparent change in heart illustrates how many are working through this issue. It’s difficult to land decisively on a clear answer to the question – what is the church to do? Should we submit to our governing authorities as Romans 13 says? Or are we obligated to disobey our leaders in order to obey God as illustrated in Acts 5? Many find themselves oscillating between these two questions. At least that’s where I am right now – inconclusive. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought and prayed about it A LOT, though. There is much to consider. Below are my current thoughts on the question.


1) The Pandemic is real

COVID-19 is a real disease with real tragedy in its wake. We must respect the severity of the threat and realize it is not just an American issue – every country in the world is dealing with it. To say it’s all fake or just a conspiracy is equivalent to closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears, and saying “nah, nah, nah, nah” repeatedly.



2) I’m skeptical of the response

Though COVID is a real threat to consider, I’m not convinced that a global economic and societal shutdown is the appropriate response to a disease with a 97% to 99.75% recovery rate, and according to the CDC a very low hospitalization rate (for every 100,000 people who contract COVID 120 need to be hospitalized, and of those the vast majority are those who are already immune compromised).


Like all deaths, every COVID death is tragic. However, while we may be temporarily shielding immune compromised citizens from contracting COVID, the repercussions of the pandemic are shattering to our social and economic systems. With the increases in businesses shutting down, unemployment, homelessness, suicide, depression, anxiety, crime, domestic violence, alcoholism and substance abuse, and economic collapse (to name a few), I’m just not convinced that the aftermath of the response was thoughtfully considered. Is the solution we landed on worse than the problem we are trying to solve?



3) America is supposedly the land of the free.

As an American, we should (in my opinion) have the right to use common sense, or not. I believe our leaders (if they’re leading well) should make the severity of the problem known, as well as provide information, resources, and strong recommendations regarding how to avoid getting sick; then leave it to the people (including churches, private businesses and organizations) to make a choice on how they will navigate the situation. I believe prohibiting well people from leading normal, law-abiding lives is an encroachment of our God-given rights. However, as a Christian, I hold this thought most loosely. I am a Christian before I am an American and am willing to forfeit my rights for the sake of the Gospel if needed.



4) Obedience to scripture is my priority.

As a Christian, I will not take my cues from the government as to how I will worship and practice my faith. I will live by the scriptures, not by the whims of my governing authorities who have no context of what living the Christian life means to me. This does not mean I will be a troublemaker or a rebel. I wear my mask in public and try to stay 6 feet apart from others as best I can. I will obey and submit to my governing authorities at every point until and unless obedience to them means disobedience to God. So I am not waiting for the government to give me permission to worship the way God prescribes. If my convictions from the Bible lead me to actions that defy the law of the land, “I must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).



5) “Virtual church” is not koinonia.

Many object to the idea of churches gathering at all right now. “God is everywhere, so why can’t everyone pray at home and meet on zoom like the rest of us?” It’s a valid question. The short answer is it’s not about being able to connect with God personally. Of course, we pray and read the bible and learn about God individually at home. However, a major aspect of the Christian life is koinonia – true Christian fellowship and communion. This includes and assumes regular in-person meetings with your brothers and sisters in Christ.


Online services are a good short-term solution to make sure the Word of God is being preached and delivered to our people (praise God for technology); but it is not a replacement for koinonia, nor does it produce the same result in spiritual formation.



6) I will not fight for the religious status quo.

As a church leader and elder, I am not quick to fight for opening our building and “doing church” the way we used to for a couple reasons. For one – I believe large, indoor crowds is probably a bad idea and will unnecessarily put some people at risk. Though I believe we should have the right to choose this for ourselves (each church knows their people better than our governors and should have the freedom to use wisdom in how they will lead and protect their people).


Second – the way we used to “do church” isn’t even the most biblical method. Buildings and traditional western church services are foreign to the New Testament. The things they did in the early church are, for now, unenforceable (i.e. meeting in smaller groups in homes or outdoors).



7) The church should meet in smaller groups in homes.

All those who are complaining about our government not letting church buildings open have no right to say anything if they are not actively meeting up with their brothers and sisters in small groups for Christian fellowship. The battle for reopening church buildings is a distraction and not helpful to our cause.


All the trappings of the modern, western, American-church model are not bad, they’re just unbiblical. That doesn’t mean they’re antibiblical; it just means we can’t find them on any page in the bible (children’s ministry, worship band, youth group, fellowship hall, church sanctuary, etc.).


What happens if they burn up the buildings? Will we stop being the church? We have been saying for years “the building is not the church; we are the church.” The church is the people, not the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Now is our time to prove that, and we are failing. The early church seemed to only need the people of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, informed by the Word of God to proclaim the Kingdom of God – and they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).



Putting it all together

In wrestling through all these thoughts, the only conclusion I’ve come to is there’s not a monolithic answer. Every church is different. The geography, demographics, cultural distinctions, makeup of the congregation, etc. all need to be taken into consideration when navigating how to operate as a church. Therefore, church leaders would be wise in taking counsel, yet foolish to look for the model as a point of reference for what decision they should make for their unique congregation.



A few takeaways I hope you’d leave with

Think and pray deeply.

This post contains just 7 of the thoughts I’ve personally been wrestling with. I know there are other variables I haven’t even considered. It’s complex and every situation is unique. Don’t pretend to have the answer for how others should respond. You don’t. The wisdom of men doesn’t accomplish the will of God. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. These trying times should make us keenly aware of our complete dependence on God for His wisdom. Use sound judgement, reason, and common sense – then submit your thoughts to Christ. Think and pray deeply about how you ought to conduct yourself.



Withhold criticism

We are all in the same boat. Don’t be overly critical about how others are choosing to weather the storm. We are all personally accountable to God for how we choose to worship and maintain Christian fellowship. First, take the plank out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Share your thoughts if given the opportunity but withhold judgement if they don’t receive your personal conclusions as fact.



Pray for your leaders

“If we maintain social distancing, the deep physical and spiritual needs of the church are being neglected.”
“If we prematurely open and encourage people to gather we may put our congregation at risk.”
“What if people get sick and die?”
“Am I compromising the Gospel for the sake of peace with the world?”


Don’t think for a moment that the smile you see on the screen during virtual service means your pastor is oblivious to the challenges, or unconcerned for the wellbeing of the church. I’ve personally had conversations with several pastors who agonize over what to do. They hear the voices and opinions of everyone telling them what to do, as well as the critiques and criticism of those who think they’ve failed to lead well.


Think and pray deeply for how you should respond. Withhold criticism for those who have chosen to respond differently. Pray for your leaders that God would continue to guide and direct them during this time.

Faith in the Frenzy

It feels like it’s only been a few weeks since the initial news broke about a strange “new virus coming from China”. It turns out that coronavirus isn’t new, but this particular strain (COVID-19) is – and the medical community, as of now, is still unsure how to handle it. All we know is the virus has spread worldwide and people are freaking out. In all my years on Earth I’ve never seen such a globally panicked response to any threat. Businesses are shutting down, all major events are canceling, people are losing their jobs, grocery stores are being cleared out of the essentials (meat, water, non-perishables… and toilet paper?!).


Some professionals claim the panic, while real, is unfounded and only due to the media sensationalizing the issue. However, earlier today the Whitehouse issued an update asking all citizens to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more, and to avoid public places as much as possible. Consequently, many (if not most) churches are heeding this advice and canceling congregational services, opting for online streaming alternatives until things calm down (whenever that may be).


I, personally, am not sure which is worse – the threat of the virus, or the fallout of the pandemonium. I recognize the fact that we should all use common sense, take the situation seriously, and plan for what we may need to do differently in these uncertain times. However, my questions are less about what the world is saying and doing as a response, and more about what God is saying and doing right now. As I took time to pray and meditate on the Word of God tonight, I found myself asking Him the following questions.

  • Lord, what are you doing in all this?
  • Lord, what are you saying to us – your church?
  • Lord, what should our reaction be?


Almost instantly I found myself transition from questioning to declaring:

  • Lord, you’re not caught off guard by any of this – you’re not taken by surprise; for you know all things.
  • Lord, you’re not absent from this situation – you’re right here in the midst; for you are omnipresent.
  • Lord, you’re not silent in this – you have the answers we seek; for you are always speaking.


Many Christians are brushing the dust of their bibles to study the book of Revelation and see what kind of end-time prophesy must be playing out right now. Others are looking to ultra-charismatic “prophets” to see what “new thing” the Lord is speaking through all this. However, before we go there, why don’t we consider what God has already spoken to us in His word. Let these scriptures minister to you during these trying times:


“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16


“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Matthew 6:26-27


“Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:31-34


“And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Matthew 8:27


“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-30


“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27


“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8


“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28


“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.”

Romans 10:3


“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7


“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:11-13


“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

1 John 2:17


The severity of the current situation surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19), as of now, remains to be determined since we still don’t know all the facts. However, regardless of the situation or severity, the Christian has an underlying hope in Christ that supersedes any calamity. We do not stick our heads in the sand, ignore common sense, or pretend things are as good as ever. We do not deny reality. However, we do recognize a superior reality – one that this reality is governed by, and which gives us peace that surpasses understanding.


Know this, Christian: if your peace and joy is governed by (or rooted in) your situation or circumstances, then when your situation or circumstances turn for the worse you lose your peace and joy. When your peace and joy is governed by (or rooted in) Christ – the immutable God – then no matter what your situation or circumstances are you retain your peace and joy. This is called faith, and you need it in the frenzy.


“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1



Race, Church and the Gospel pt. 1 – JACOB RAYFORD

Race, Church and the Gospel

I’ve been wanting to do a series of videos called “Word on the Street” where I’ll discuss different topics surrounding the church, culture and the gospel with different ministry leaders from different perspectives. When it came to deciding what topics would be included on the list of things to discuss, the issue of racism and social justice was a very early addition. It seems as though every week I see something new in the news or social media regarding racism – whether it’s Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem or Lecrae leaving “white evangelicalism”.
Within the last few years I’ve been introduced to new terms and concepts I’ve never heard before, such as White Evangelicalism, Systematic Racism, New Jim Crow, White Privilege, etc… I have not been active in posting anything from my perspective about these issue because, to be honest, I don’t feel I would be adding much to the conversation. A lot of it doesn’t make sense, and I find myself asking more questions than giving answers. All of this is really new for me because I grew up thinking that racism was a thing of the past. I have a multi-cultural family (being the half-white son of a Filipino immigrant), I grew up going to a multi-cultural church, I’ve always had several friends from different ethnic backgrounds, etc.


Even though I don’t have any personal experience with racism, it’s blatantly obvious that I can’t (and shouldn’t) turn my head in apathy away from the conversation. So rather than ignoring it (or even worse – posting my irrelevant outside opinions on this subject), I felt it would be beneficial to ask questions and to learn from people who can give more insight from their unique perspectives and experiences. So I guess I’m inviting you to learn with me.


This first video was shot really on-the-fly. I was on the phone with my buddy, Pastor Jacob Rayford while I was at my office and mentioned that I wanted to do this video series and asked if he’d be open to do a video with me. He said “I’m actually free right now”, so he came over, we setup real quick and just had a conversation. In this video (and the entire series) I hope to demonstrate what Jacob mentions is the start of the solution to this topic – be humble, show love, and listen.