It’s been eight weeks since we’ve been able to congregate together and I’m sure that most, if not all of us are becoming restless and are looking forward to when we can assemble and worship together again. Every day we hear more and more voices and opinions are becoming stronger concerning when churches should reopen. Some churches are rebelling against governors over the issue of freedom of assembly, as found in the Constitution, claiming that they are being forced to disobey God. Bethel Church has not taken such a stand. We the Bethel elders cannot in good conscience open Bethel at this time for two reasons.
The first is obedience to God. His Word could not be clearer. Romans 13:1-2 reads, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Like it or not, it is God who instituted government. And He did so for our protection. Take away government and the rule of law and you get anarchy which is generally far worse than government. In times of war, government must step up in special ways to protect us, and we are currently at war with an invisible enemy that threatens us all. Governor Inslee has temporarily banned all social gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. He is exercising his duty as governor. He has not singled out churches. He is not persecuting Christians. We are not being told we can’t share the gospel. We are not being asked to renounce our faith in Jesus. This is the stuff of real persecution, but it’s not happening to churches in Washington. If the situation changes and churches are not allowed to open while sporting events and concerts resume, then we will reconsider. If we need to push back as Peter did in Acts 5:29 when the religious leaders tried to silence him and he said, “We must obey God rather than men”, we will do so.
The second reason is that in our judgment, which is based on the opinions of the best epidemiologists and modelers in the country, this virus spreads very easily, particularly when people gather together in crowded conditions and is both deadly and potentially very harmful long term to those who catch it but don’t die immediately. We look to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
at the University of Minnesota and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
at the University of Washington for reputable, non-government sources of information based on the history of other pandemics, growing scientific knowledge of the virus, and the latest data. Most are unaware of the ongoing discussions the Elders and staff leadership are having as we move through this. But above all, we seek the Lord’s wisdom as we do our best to objectively understand the data and determine the best path forward. We need to be smart about how we plan for the future. To this end, we are currently preparing a draft plan to proactively open safely before the proposed phase that will soon be sent to the governor’s office for approval. Our primary mission at Bethel is to make disciples and our primary means of doing so is small groups. Finding a way to allow small groups to safely meet together is our current goal. At the same time, we desire as much as you do to reassemble as an entire congregation, including getting our children’s program going again. But doing so at the present time is a health risk that would be foolish to take. As elders, we must stand before God to account for how we led the people under our charge. We have no intention of leading you into disobedience to God, or into a risky situation that could result in a loss of health and life.
Finally, we encourage everyone to thank God for what we do have by way of freedom to fellowship and worship with other believers, although not in person, to serve others and to share the hope that lies within us. As Peter instructs us in I Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
We urge you to trust God with your pain and frustration in this situation. He is able to take care of you. He has promised to meet your needs. As Paul tells us Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Know that we are here for you. There are a number of things we are doing as a church to care for our own, ranging from daily prayer with Dale to counseling services and mental health webinars to financial assistance and food gifts. And if you haven’t done so already, consider getting involved in what God is doing in the Tri-Cities through Bethel. Doing so will take your mind off your own troubles and pain as you serve others. Feel free to contact Angie Hufford at firstname.lastname@example.org
to learn how to do so, or to seek help yourself.
The Bethel Elders
Go here for additional information on Bethel's stance on reopening.