In Romans 14, Paul lays out a principle for the church that perfectly fits our current circumstances. In that chapter, Paul is directing believers to be gracious to one another over matters on which they may have differing opinions. He mentions certain observances and dietary choices as examples. Over these kind of things, Paul says, "not to quarrel over opinions."
You may think of the Apostle Paul as that guy who was always impassioned about his opinions, but Romans 14 (as well as 1 Corinthians 8), show that Paul (under the inspiration of God) didn't lump every issue into the same level of concern.
If the matter at hand was a gospel issue, related to correct belief or Christian conduct, then the gloves were off! Paul would vigorously defend God's truth (see Galatians). However, on non-gospel matters he urged understanding, compassion, and grace. He posed the rhetorical question to the Romans, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls." In other words, in these secondary issues, each believer is accountable to God, the one he or she serves.
The Bible teaches us here that these secondary, non-gospel issues become matters of personal conscience. The mandate is not for uniformity among us, but for each of us to behave in such a way that maintains unity.
As the church reopens, within the parameters that each state's governor will issue, church-goers will personally weigh out their circumstances and comfort level. Some of us are comfortable with more risk. Some of us are not comfortable with much risk at all. Some of us are not in that higher risk category. Some of us are part of the more at risk crowd. Some of us feel we can take our kids out and properly protect them. Some of us feel we can do that best by keeping them home for now. With all of these variables in play, it's no surprise that people will have differing opinions about how and when to head back to church to physically gather with others.
As pastor, my commitment is to do all that I can to comply with my governor's reasonable restrictions to protect you and the public health as we reopen. Additionally, I want to encourage the whole congregation to posture themselves with humility and grace toward one another during the slow process of reopening.
First, don't judge one another over personal matters of conscience. We must all remember that our opinions are nothing more than our opinions. The more cautious among us should not accuse others of being careless. The more risk taking among us should not accuse others of being cowardly. To point fingers and say snarky, judgmental things creates disunity and causes stumbling. "Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hinderance in the way of a brother."
Second, we should make this a time of congregational unity, focused on mutual support of one another. We should love and respect one another, even if we don't agree about the speed or manner in which we all engage the church reopening. "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."
Summer is almost here, and many people enjoy the water during the summer heat. Some go to the swimming pool and run and jump in. Some approach the swimming pool by first sticking in a toe, then the foot, then sitting on the side with both feet in, and then slowing sliding in the rest of the body. Which approach is right? You probably think that question is absurd and improper. If so, then you get the point.
This current crisis, and the fear and precautions that goes with it, will eventually pass. At some point, we will all gather together again. In the meantime, whether you are the jump-right-in kind or the gradual-slide-in kind, please know I love you and respect the manner in which you will choose to engage reopening. Do this for one another.