Saturday, December 04, 2021

Traffic Lights

The NZ government has implemented a new Covid Protection Framework, also called a traffic light system. If vaccination certificates are required by event organisers, there are no limits on the number of people attending. If vaccinations certificates are not required, there are significant limits on the number of people who can attend a gathering (such as a wedding or service of worship), depending on the protection setting: Red 25; Orange 50; Green 100.

Some church leaders are worried about excluding people from their services if they don’t have vaccination certificates. However, if they don’t use vaccination certificates, the number of people able to attend their meetings will be strictly limited. Auckland is currently in red, with numbers limited to 25. If it goes into orange, the number will increase to only 50.

I am not sure if the government is doing the right thing, or if it will be effective, but that is not the point of this post. I am intrigued by the response of church leaders, who have focussed on their inability to have big meetings. Some see this as a breach of people’s right to freedom of worship.

This "right to worship" seems to be a truncated form of "freedom of religion", which includes the right to practice every aspect of one’s faith. The right to meet for a big worship service is a small part (and probably non-essential) of what followers of Jesus should be doing.

Limits on the size of church meetings are only a problem for pastors/churches that are committed to the large meeting model. Being unable to meet is a serious problem if Christians have been trained to need a weekly sermon to grow in their faith, or need a worship band to inspire to worship.

The truth is that Jesus has promised to be present by the Holy Spirit wherever two or three people gather together in his name. When it was not safe to go to Jerusalem, Jesus was content to focus on training twelve disciples. A church that claims Jesus promise and follows his example will be able to continue functioning effectively, even if the size of gatherings is limited to twenty-five. His followers can still disciple those in their care and gather in the presence of the Holy Spirit. They can still go out two by two to share the gospel.

The reality is that under the red traffic light, church leaders can do almost everything that Jesus did.

  • They can send their disciples out two by two in the same way that Jesus did (Luke 10:1-2).

  • They can meet with the twelve disciples that they are training just as Jesus did (Mark 3:13-14).

  • They can go into a quiet place to pray in the same way that Jesus did (Mark 1:33; 6:31; 6:46).

  • They could join together with the people they are discipling for a fellowship meal (Matt 26:19-20). They could even sing a Psalm or hymn together, as Jesus did (Matt 26:30).

  • If they heal some people in a public place, as Jesus did, and a massive crowd gathers, they might have a few problems with the authorities. But if all the people with Covid are being healed, then the authorities would not be able to complain too much (Matt 9:22;14:14; 14:34-36).

The Covid Protection framework is probably a timely wake-up call. The big meeting model of church is not viable in the modern world. In a hostile culture, the influences imbibed during the week will overwhelm whatever Christian influence is imparted in a couple of hours on Sunday. As the culture becomes more hostile, followers of Jesus will need to find more effective ways of nurturing faith in Jesus and protecting vulnerable people from being overwhelmed by the pressures of the world.

The church would be more effective if it gave up its big meeting model of pastoral care and shifted to a model based on small groups living in the same locality watched over by elders raised by the Spirit from within the group.

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