Of the 39 states that have implemented stay-at-home orders, 12 make exceptions for religious gatherings as “essential activities,” because practicing one’s faith is protected under the first amendment of the Constitution.
I believe this raises an important question: “What is essential to practicing the Christian faith?”
Jesus seems to have stated what he believed was essential when he said:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:34-35).
The Apostle Paul agreed that love is the most essential activity as he wrote: “All of the commandments are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
And just in case some people did not understand what love means, he added: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:8-10).
So, it should be obvious during this pandemic that if attending a worship service can make our neighbors sick, and possibly kill them, then attending a service at this time should be something we need to avoid. In fact, according to Jesus and Paul, it is essential to our faith that we do not gather during this time.
I am praying that we will continue to reevaluate what is essential to practice our faith long after this world crisis is over.
Because I do not believe Jesus ever said: “If you want everyone to know you are my disciples, it is essential to build a building and gather inside of that building at least once a week and worship me.” And as far as I know, Jesus never said, “To practice one’s faith, it is essential to sit in a Sunday School classroom and study me.”
However, Jesus did say: “No one can be my disciple unless they carry a cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).
In other words, Jesus said that to be his disciples, to practice the Christian faith, it is essential that we sacrificially do the things he did to love his neighbors as himself: be willing to sacrifice it all; embrace humility; fight for the vulnerable; empower the underprivileged; feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; heal the sick; free the oppressed; welcome the outsider; forgiver the sinner; defend the marginalized; speak truth to power.
Selfless service to our neighbors is what is essential to practicing the Christian faith. Attending a service with our neighbors is certainly not now, nor has it ever been, essential.