Free Baptist Church Reopening

It is our intent, Lord willing, to return to a “regular” Sunday service at the church hall tomorrow.  This post gives some preliminary information about this reopening, for those attending.

Coronavirus is Serious

I want to emphasise that we are treating this seriously.  Government responses may have been (at best) capricious, but the virus is still a serious problem.  This article tells of an outbreak in one church — something we certainly don’t want.

There is no Need for Fear

The Biblical teachings on this subject are quite clear, I’ve mentioned them before, and so I’ll just give one verse.

I John 4:18

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

People around us may fear, but if we do, it’s because we’ve forgotten God’s love.  That’s a very bad idea for many reasons.  Don’t do it.

A Spiritual Perspective

We want to meet to worship the Lord “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).  That means putting others first:

Galatians 6:2

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Some precautions are inconvenient.  Some, perhaps all, might be unnecessary.  But you do not want to give the virus to others, some of whom may not have the health to withstand it.

We should come with this attitude:  if symptoms start Sunday evening, and it is the virus, will I be able to look back with a clear conscience towards my actions at church that morning?  Will I be able to say I acted lovingly towards my brothers and sisters?  Let’s act so that we can have that clear conscience.

If You Have Symptoms

Don’t come.  Get a test, find out if you have the virus, and act accordingly.  Don’t come to church before it’s been checked out.

It is a very bad year for hay fever.  I’ve had hay fever for years.  I know why I’ve had the sniffles every morning for weeks.  Nothing has changed.  You don’t have to stay home from church if you have hay fever and you know that’s what it is.

If you started sneezing yesterday and you think it might be hay fever but you aren’t sure, please get it checked.  Don’t risk infecting your brothers and sisters because you thought it might be hay fever and didn’t bother to check.  The virus might not be worse than hay fever for you, but for some it is much worse.  Be wise and careful.

If You are “Shielding”

From the government guidance:

Faith leaders may wish to discourage this group from attending places of worship during this time, or set aside specific time for them to attend for individual prayer or contemplation.

At this point in time, we intend to continue to stream our service.  I believe that joining by Internet for those who are “shielding”, at this time, fulfills the Scriptural commands about worshiping together.

Each individual is responsible before the Lord to decide, taking into account their own condition, their view of the risks, and their family.  We will support whatever decision those in this group make.  Please contact me directly if you have questions.

Visitors

Everyone in our church knows this, but if anyone wondered, visitors are more than welcome.  We are a church, not a private club.

Precautions — Distancing

Chairs within the church hall will not be set up in rows, but in groups 2 metres apart.  Each household or “extended household” should sit in a separate group.  For questions about “extended households” please see government guidance or contact me directly.

Precautions — Hand Cleaner / Masks / Shields

There will be hand cleaner inside the church hall after the entry way.  There will also be hand cleaner in the toilets.

Government guidance says in enclosed spaces “you should wear a face covering.”  Although the government damaged its credibility with its earlier advice on face coverings, I believe current advice is sound and encourage the use of face coverings.

I intend to use a face shield during the service.  If you find masks to be difficult for health or other reasons, we will have some additional shields available if you wish to try one and see how it goes.

Distancing Other than Seating

The church kitchen is small and we will not be using it for now.

The entryway is small and we ask that people not stop in the entrance, but just move on into the church hall when entering, use hand cleaner, and on to a seat.  When leaving, we ask that you move on to the exit without stopping in the entryway.  If you stop in the entryway, people cannot easily maintain distancing in passing you.

We ask that there only be one person in the men’s toilet at a time, and one in the ladies’ toilet.

Singing and Communion

We will not be singing in the church hall, for the time being.  Indoors singing would be very high risk if anyone present had the virus.

We expect to observe communion before long, but not yet.

Children

Children should stay with their parents / guardians before, during, and after the service.  They should be told in advance that none of the usual toys will be available.  As of now, we intend to keep the back room closed during the service.

Hymnbooks and Bibles

We will use recorded hymns.  Though we will not sing with the recording, the words will be projected on the screen.  All Scriptures used will be projected on the screen.  We will not have shared hymnbooks or Bibles, but of course, anyone can bring their own Bible or hymnbook.

Collection

The principle of anonymous giving, for those who wish it, is an important one.  We will continue to use a box, as we always have.  We will use appropriate precautions in handling the cash.

Contact Information

We are required to collect the names and contact information of any who are in attendance, so that if anyone present should come down with the virus, all present can be contacted.  Contact details will only be kept as long as mandated by law, and we will not use them.  If you wish us to retain your details, and contact you to let you know of church news or events, please let us know.

Before and After “The Service”

Unlike normal, we will not be having tea / coffee / biscuits.  However, we believe that a church is a family, and that “the service” does not really end when I stop preaching.  As I have said many times, time together before the service “starts” and after it “ends” is often more important than anything I say in the sermon.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is reasonably promising.  For those who are physically able to stand outside, conversations before and after the formal part of “the service” are best done outside.

Concluding Thoughts

I expect this to be a developing situation.  These things can and will be changed in future weeks.

You are more likely to be injured in a car accident on your way to church than you are to have coronavirus.  But I want to again emphasise that as believers, we have a responsibility to do our best not to harm one another, or those living around us.  These changes that we are making for the time being should help prevent you passing it on to anyone, in the unlikely event that you should bring it to church with you tomorrow.

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Christians and the Coronavirus Conspiracies

It has been intriguing to me, and also somewhat disappointing, to see how many Christians have reacted to the current situation with Covid-19.  It brings to mind this passage in Isaiah.

Continue reading

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Coronavirus Lockdown — No Longer About Safety (part two)

II Samuel 23:3

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

It is just for the Scottish Government to protect the safety of people who live here, and the Government claims the rules (including restricting outside gatherings to eight people) are about safety.  But what then of these pictures from 7 June and yesterday?

If coronavirus transmissions from this result in deaths, will these people be charged with culpable homicide?

Is it really about “safety”?  The Government is very clear about their political agreement with these people, and permits them to meet, but restricts Christians from meeting to worship (even with social distancing and face masks).  Is that just?

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Coronavirus Lockdown — No Longer About Safety

II Samuel 23:3

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

It is the proper remit of government to provide for the safety of citizens.  I have tried to give the Scottish Government the benefit of the doubt, but recent events show clearly that the lockdown has moved beyond “safety”.

If it is safe for a divorced grandmother to have her grandchildren over to her home and give them a hug, why is it unsafe for a still-married grandmother to do so?  If it is safe for single parents to take their children to their grandparents’ homes and for those grandparents to give them a hug, why is it unsafe for married parents to do so?

This is one of many inconsistencies that show just how far this has gone astray.  The government has now decided that divorced people, and those who never bothered with marriage, have more rights than those who have remained faithful in their marriage.  This is obviously an injustice.

In general, Christians are to obey the law, not only in letter but in spirit.  When the spirit of the law has become capricious, and it includes restrictions on things that God has specifically commanded us to do, Peter’s statement that “We ought to obey God rather than man,” comes into focus.

The Scottish Government is putting Christians in a very difficult position.

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Lockdown and Churches in Scotland

The Bible makes it clear that Christians are to be law-abiding citizens.  But as Christians, we are supposed to obey the Bible as well.

We also believe that there are realms where the civic authority is appropriately using its power, and areas where the government should not intrude.  For Christians, as Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon continue their coronavirus lock-downs, this is becoming more and more problematic.

As we have now apparently entered “Phase One” of the Scottish government’s plan, here are some of the questions that really should be answered, if the government wishes to retain the respect of Christians.

“PHASE ONE” QUESTIONS

I.a) Is it legal to sunbathe or have a picnic in the town park and maintain social distancing?

I.b) Is it then legal to have a picnic on church grounds and maintain SD?

I.c) Is it then legal for multiple families to have picnics on church grounds and maintain SD?

I.d) Would legal picnics become illegal if someone sang a hymn, or read Scripture, or prayed, or preached?

I.e) Does the government think sunbathing is more important than worship?

*****

II.a) If it is safe to drive to a takeaway, why is it unsafe to drive to a church building?

II.b) Is it safer to take food prepared by someone else through your car window, or to take a sermon through it?

II.c) Are not drive-in services where all stay in their car safer than many things now permitted?

II.d) Does the government think fish suppers are more important than worship?

*****

III.a) Is it safer to go inside a garden centre to pay, or to attend an outdoor (or drive-in) church service?

III.b) Flowers are good, but does the government think flowers are more important than worship?

*****

IV.a) Is public transport safer than an outdoor or drive-in church service?

IV.b) Are people allowed to decide whether or not the risks of public transport are more important than the benefits?

IV.c) Why are people not allowed to decide whether the risks of an outdoor worship service are more important than the benefits?

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V. What gives the government any moral right to make those value judgments for everyone as to what is more important?

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VI. Is there anyone for whom worship is important included among the scientists or politicians advising the government?

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VII. a) Does the ECHR guarantee freedom of religion?

VII. b) Is there any evidence that it is “necessary for public health” to prohibit outdoor or drive-in services?

VII. c) How many people around the world have caught Covid-19 at an outdoor or drive-in church service?

VII. d) Does the Scottish government really have sufficient evidence to blow away ECHR Article 9?

*****

VIII. Does it at all bother anyone in government that Russia currently has more religious freedom than Scotland?

“PHASE TWO” QUESTIONS

I. If it will be safe to enter betting shops with social distancing, why no church services with SD?

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II. If pubs can reopen with outdoor seating, can churches have outdoor services?

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III. If professional sport (some involving close physical contact) can resume, why not church services with distancing?

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IV.a) Does the government think gambling, alcohol, and professional sport are more important than worship?

IV. What gives the government any moral right to make those value judgments for everyone?

“PHASE THREE” QUESTIONS

I.a) What if we never get to Phase Three and the virus is never “suppressed”?  Will the worship ban be permanent?

I.b) Can the government guarantee a vaccine or an effective cure is coming?

I.c) If there is no guarantee of virus suppression, why are freedoms (religious and otherwise) being taken away until it arrives?

*****

II.a) Does the “test and protect” program mean anyone identified as a “contact” by a new Covid-19 victim must self-isolate?

II.b) How can churches guard against malicious attacks by falsely identifying ministers as “contacts”?

II.c) Does the government really believe no one would falsely name ministers of religion as “contacts”?

II.d) Will church ministers have the right to know who has named them so they can confirm or deny contact?

*****

III.a) If we never get to Phase Four (virus no longer “a significant issue”), how intrusive do you intend to be in church life?

III.b) Is smoking “a significant issue” for health in Scotland?  Alcohol and drug abuse?  Obesity?

III.c) Why remove religious freedom over Covid-19 when government takes no drastic action over other “significant issues”?

“PHASE FOUR” QUESTIONS

I.a) If we do get to this point, will Phase Four ever end?

I.b) Is the government asserting a permanent right to dictate church practices?

I. c) How is any restriction at all, in Phase Four, consistent with ECHR Article 9?

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Coronavirus Testing for Christians – The Seventh Test

This is seventh in my series of other “coronavirus tests” – for Christians.  I’d intended to blog a “test” a day.  I missed out a couple days but here’s the next one:

Romans 12

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

II Corinthians 8

21 Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.

This seventh test comes because the highly contagious nature of coronavirus means people are, more than ever, aware of the behaviour of others.

Though the second passage is focused on handling financial matters properly, the principle is stated generally in Romans, and applies to making sure that our behaviour is not only appropriate, but visibly so.  We should not engage in actions which give the appearance that we are doing wrong.

It doesn’t matter if you are sure you have not been exposed to the virus, or if you are sure that what you are doing poses no risk to anyone.  We still need to do all we can to avoid any actions, risky or not, that can appear to others to be risky.

There certainly are people who take unnecessary risks, and do things that spread disease.  In doing so, they may be responsible for severe illness and even the death of others.  We as Christians should not be doing things that give the perception that we are among those, that we are behaving in such a way, whether we are sure that what we are doing is safe or not.

It is obvious that it is not loving our neighbours, whether near or far, to spread a disease.  But it is also not loving them to put them in fear that we are spreading it, even if we know we are not.  That is especially true when we realise that many around us have a fear of death that Christians don’t need to have.

If we are doing that, we are failing in the second great commandment, and thus also in this test.  We are displeasing our Lord, and if those who see us behaving in an apparently-risky way know that we are Christians, we may even be tempting them to blaspheme Him.

Let’s not fail this test.  Be careful that your behaviour is not only appropriate in God’s eyes but also in the eyes of those around us.

The First Test
The Second Test
The Third Test
The Fourth Test
The Fifth Test
The Sixth Test

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Coronavirus Testing for Christians – The Sixth Test

This is sixth in my series of other “coronavirus tests” – for Christians.

I Peter 2

12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

The sixth test arises because there are new laws in many places which are highly restrictive.  God tells His people to obey “every ordinance of man,” not because we like or approve of the laws, or because we think the people instituting them are necessarily moral or honourable people, but for the Lord’s sake.

If you are like me, some of the restrictions seem a little over-the-top.  I fail to see why it helps to fight the disease if I take one longer walk in the morning rather than two a day, but the rules say only exercise once, so once it is!

I do not have confidence that the authorities are taking the best course in fighting the coronavirus.  They’ve already changed their plans here in the UK at least once.  The story on whether it is good to wear masks appears to be changing.  It appears to me that the Lord has allowed something to come which is showing all the self-confident rulers the limits of their own self-confidence.  They are up against something which they’ve not faced before and for which there are no perfect answers.  So it’s very possible that some of the rules they’ve established are counterproductive.

Nor is there any confidence that those who are setting the rules are acting with integrity.  Not only are there sad cases like Scotland’s erstwhile Chief Medical Officer, who flouted the very rules she advised for everyone else, but there are no doubt government officials in various places around the world who are looking to use the current situation to increase their power.

It’s a good thing we aren’t told to obey every ordinance of man for the ruler’s sake, isn’t it?  We’d have to try to figure out which rulers are frauds, which are just trying to grab power, and which ones are idiots!  Those diagnostics might be easy sometimes, but they wouldn’t always be.  However, that’s not the test — the Bible tells us to obey for the Lord’s sake.

The passage above tells us this is an important part of what the world sees of us, and of our faith.  The way we live our lives before an unbelieving world matters immensely, and their view of our behaviour reflects on our God, resulting in His being glorified.

And so the test comes, and it’s a hard one when the rules are stringent and may seem over-the-top or downright ridiculous.  The test:  does our behaviour within these rules show that we are more concerned with our rights and our freedoms, and with not being told what to do, or more concerned with glorifying God?  Are we going to respond to verse 13 above by inserting a “coronavirus lockdown exception” clause, or will we respond to it by saying, “This may seem excessive to me, but I want to glorify God”?

The answer to this test says a lot about what kind of Christian we are — and it will say a lot to those around us, who watch our behaviour, about what kind of God we follow and what kind of faith we practice.

That’s the test for today!  If you’ve been failing it, we’re late in the day but you can do better tomorrow.  There’s another test coming!

The First Test
The Second Test
The Third Test
The Fourth Test
The Fifth Test

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