Not Meeting and Hebrews 10:25
In an email I was asked how our not meeting right now matches with Heb 10:25.
Hebrews 10:25 (NASB95) not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
It was a sincere question, and I think many of us have wondered this too. We’ve got the command to attend church (Heb 10:25), but we also have the command to obey government (Rom 13:1f).
Romans 13:1 (NASB95) Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Government is ordained by God; it’s not a human institution—we didn’t invent it. God planned it for the protection of good behavior and the punishment of evil people. We could summarize it as government is supposed to help human flourishing. And we also know that when government and God conflict, we go with God. That’s what Peter said in Acts 5:29.
Acts 5:29 (NASB95)But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
So if the government just targeted churches for closing down, and not other places like movie theaters where people gather in groups, we would have to disobey. This is what our brothers and sisters in Christ face in China during normal times. They meet on the sly. Before the Iron Curtain fell, believers all across Eastern Europe had to make the same choice. Many were imprisoned, but they had to obey God rather than man.
This situation grieves me—I don’t like not meeting, but it is a little different. There’s the very real possibility that meeting together could make our church a local center for spreading the virus as some other churches across the nation have become. That puts our neighbors at risk. I think this falls under the Second Great Command of loving our neighbor (Mt 22:37-40).
Matthew 22:37–40 (NASB95) And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Often loving our neighbor is something we do actively: we mow their lawn, or we bring them food, or—and most importantly—we bring them the gospel. But now we’re loving our neighbor passively by trying to prevent the spread of a virus that will kill some of them—especially if they are older and have an underlying health condition.
So while I don’t like not meeting, we’re not being targeted unfairly. In fact, pastors are considered essential workers, so Pastor Ben and I can still come to the office and shoot videos—a new “talent” we’re developing. If our governor said we weren’t essential, I would disagree with that and would still conduct my ministry as best I could believing pastors are essential workers.
So the summary is loving our neighbor means we temporarily obey government’s request that we don’t meet. If they extend this beyond what is necessary for safety’s sake, then we have a decision to make. Or if they threaten to shut us down permanently as one politician in New York City threatened, then we find redress in the courts for our constitutional rights. But now, it seems this is the best way to love our neighbors.
Of course this isn't the final or complete word on this. Other Christians have written on this too. For example, here.