Yes. Unequivocally, Yes.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.“ (Hebrews 10:24-25)
While this is not the only way to love your neighbor, it is a divinely prescribed way that seems to be universal to time, place, and culture.
When the Coronavirus hit the U.S. and quarantines and lockdowns were being established, churches were faced with a decision that most had never encountered in their lifetime. Something like this had not really occurred at such a level in over 100 years with the 1918 Spanish Flu. One of the main reasonings for suspending assemblies was based on the command/principle “Love thy neighbor…” (Mark 12:31). The reasoning from that being; how could someone who loves their neighbor knowingly and willfully put their neighbor in harm’s way via exposure to a virus that could possibly kill them?
Those who were choosing to assemble came under accusation of being “foolish” and “unloving” - in some instances those being code words for “Un-Christian-like”. While not everybody went to such lengths, there seemed to be a general consensus that formed amongst brethren. And so the question is, “Can we still assemble during COVID-19 and still love our neighbor?”
Yes. We can assemble physically at the building and/or virtually online and either be out of love for our neighbor.
1. Hebrews 10:24&25, as previously referenced, was not written in the absence of disease or persecution, but in the midst of it. Disease has been around from the beginning and will be here until the end. And yet, despite that fact, we still have the instruction to assemble. There are many whose conscience, based on their faith from study of the scriptures, instructs them to assemble on the first day of the week out of love for God and their neighbor. That is not to condemn those who choose to be cautious and virtually participate via technology.
2. Historically, Christians have been on the front lines of helping the diseased. Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36) Referencing not Himself literally, but metaphorically of the love we have for Him and how that is shown in visiting our brethren. Does that only apply to incommunicable diseases? James 5:14 - the elders were called to visit the sick. In Acts 28:8 (though I do recognize this is in the Apostolic dispensation w/ miracles) Paul was called upon to aid the sick and he went. Though we do not have miraculous protections today, by God’s grace we have been able to mature as a society to have the most advanced medical science and precautionary protections available in the history of the world. If wisely applied, then assembling together in love can still be “safe”.
3. I can’t speak for every church everywhere but here at O’Connor Road our assemblies are not done foolishly. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to make the assembling together as safe as possible. In fact, the governor of Texas released guidelines for churches to assemble just a few days ago and we were doing every single one of those things already AND MORE! Why? Because we have a love and care and concern for God AND our neighbor. That’s why.
4. The “unknown” has been the big driver of the lockdowns. In the beginning we needed the time to 1. Learn more about the virus and how it spreads 2. Slow the spread so that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. Following from that, if you love your neighbor, you won’t be in contact with them. However, it cannot be overlooked that every virus has an incubation period where a person is asymptomatic and contagious. This is a main reason all viruses spread the way they do. Since October to April is the main virus “season”, that would mean the only way to “love our neighbor” would be to suspend services every year for seven months! Would that be pleasing to God? Is it practical? Is it reasonable? The historical precedent is that those who are sick and/or high risk should stay home and quarantine. This is still encouraged, out of love, by the shepherds here as well.
What has transpired that is more unloving and more Un-Christian-like is the attitude that “brethren” have had towards one another. Both views, assembling or not assembling, showing vitriol and anger towards the other while simultaneously filling themselves up with pride and self-righteousness. It ought not to be this way. Rather, Romans 14:13 & 19 should be guiding all to compassion and peace to the conscience of one another. That would be true love for thy neighbor! May we all pursue that love.