Other Voices (Part 2)
Kyle Pope: Just over a century ago, from 1918-19, a strain of an H1N1 virus swept across the United States. ... As World War I was drawing to a close, returning soldiers were the first to be hit with Spanish influenza. Worldwide, 500 million people would eventually become infected, resulting in the deaths of 50 million people and 675,000 people in the United States.
The first cases arose in military camps in the spring of 1918. By September, it was spreading throughout the country at alarming rates, and the federal government advised state and local officials to limit public gatherings, including schools and churches.
By mid-November, most restrictions were lifted, but during the fall of 1918, just as now, churches of Christ confronted the challenging questions of how to obey the laws of both man and God, and how best to show love and care for the physical and spiritual well-being of others. While Scripture and not history must stand as our authority, there is great comfort in knowing that our brothers and sisters in Christ 102 years ago faced and ultimately overcame the same issues that confront us today.
Quoting J.C. McQuiddy in the Gospel Advocate, October 1918:
“The reports from all parts of the country concerning the inroads of this disease are really fearful to contemplate. The number of deaths in our army camps is truly frightful. This common danger behooves us all to exercise special vigilance in protecting our own health and that of our families.
“... It will be well for the brethren and people everywhere to observe strictly all the regulations urged by our state boards of health and cooperate in every way to help combat and drive out this unwelcome scourge. ... On account of such rapid spread of influenza as to endanger the lives of many people of our country, the national government at Washington has advised the different state governments to issue a proclamation closing all churches so long as this great danger to the health and lives of the people exists.”
“That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc.. 1:9). Brethren have wrestled with challenges to our service to God from the establishment of the church. These brethren a century ago faced circumstances hauntingly similar to our present situation, yet they did so in a time of war, without the advantages and comforts of modern technology.
May God bring this present trial to an end quickly, and may we draw comfort from the knowledge that we will make it through it as our brothers and sisters did in the years that have gone before us.
Gardner Hall: We see an example of God's wisdom in the current pandemic in the simple fact that he has authorized his congregations to be autonomous (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:2). ... If there were some national or international organization giving orders like “Do not meet as a church” or “You must meet as a church,” the result would be chaos because circumstances vary greatly in different places. However, according to the wisdom of God, each congregation decides how to proceed based on biblical principles and its own particular situation.
Unfortunately, many who speak forcefully about autonomy do not practice it. They direct strong criticism towards others in areas where the situation may be completely different from theirs. I have seen this error on the part of brethren on “both sides” of this issue.
A friend who preaches where there have been thousands of deaths due to the virus and where there are a number of brethren in critical condition was posting on Facebook about the plans of the brethren to meet in an alternative way. A Christian from a more rural location wrote him a hot letter condemning him for violating Heb. 10:25 and for not being willing to die for the Lord. When the brother tried to defend the congregation, his critic answered him even more harshly and then immediately unfriended him.
I have also seen disciples who have decided to not continue meeting harshly criticize those who do for “not obeying the government,” “not loving their brethren,” etc. Those who criticize severely either way often claim to believe strongly in autonomy. However, they don’t respect it.
It’s essential to follow biblical principles that support the autonomy of congregations not only in word but also in practice. Situations in congregations in other parts of the world are not necessarily the same as ours. Let’s not forget mercy. “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).