Saturday, March 28, 2020

Dr. P on COVID, A Helpful Podcast Interview

On Friday, Dr. Joseph Pipa of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary did a Q&A on the recent virus outbreak. I've given it a listen. I thought it was helpful and have included some of my additional thoughts below:

As always, Dr. P makes many good points.

I think that the most important part of the entire discussion may have been the call for the church to repent, and for individual believers to repent, from 37:18–44:30, 51:18–52:30.

But, one thing that was missing in putting the points together was the proportion in which they relate. I think that it is clear from Scripture (and our standards, e.g. "except so much" in Larger Catechism 117) that the priority needs to be upon having public worship, and having it as safely as possible.

I wish I had heard more about emphasizing trying to meet while practicing spacing, having multiple smaller assemblies, rotating the portion of the congregation that will be "live," etc.

For instance, if you space family units at least 12ft apart, checkerboard style, I think we could put at least 5 units and probably 8 units in our worship room at hopewell. We could practice spacing coming in; not touch one another; and, observe (finally!) proper seriousness and quietness in preparation when we enter before worship, and again proper seriousness and quietness in reflection after worship (this is why the fellowship time is supposed to be in the Fellowship Hall, not the worship room).

A church could even choose to meet outside if necessary (which many faithful churches have had to do, under persecution). How many churches that have a large budget, a beautiful property, and the sound system to pull it off just went ahead and canceled without trying?

One of the biggest problems, as Dr. P pointed out, is that there are some who are very cavalier about the situation. They make themselves much more likely to be carriers and to harm others. So, a congregation that is humble and submissive to their elders, who should be taking the lead in carefulness in order to guard/sustain the public worship, would be very important for this to work.

It is highly inappropriate to cancel public worship altogether, if the practice of individual responsibility and carefulness could enable a substantial portion of the congregation to gather without endangering one another (even if it must be, for a time, in smaller groups over several services). We could eventually reach a point at which it were appropriate to cancel altogether, but this would be the decision of the Session.

And, I don't believe that we are there yet. Cancel everything else first. Take drastic precautionary measures first. Some people think that the technology is a blessing (which it is/can be). But I think the existence of non-assembling technology is also a test: how easily will we give up the gathering? What kind of effort would we put into gathering safely? Does the existence of the technology make us quicker to forsake the assembling of ourselves together?

Of course, if you are not at Hopewell, and your own elders have told you that in order to keep the 6th commandment, they are not permitting the public assembly, then you should submit to them. But what a dreadful thing for them to say. And this idea that the 5th commandment gives the state the right to cancel worship for public safety needs a little more careful casuistry. It is a temporal thing to say you must have fire extinguishers, or escape doors, or to observe spacing and not gather in close quarters, etc. But it is indeed the exercise of specifically spiritual authority to forbid the public worship altogether, and the church must never cede that authority to the state. Ever.

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