When restrictions ease

Dear BPCWAians, In my last pastoral, I gave our worshippers a glimpse of church life behind the livestreams that you have been seeing every week. Western Australia has been one of the first few states to ease gathering restrictions from 2 to 10. Such moves must fill our hearts with thanksgiving to God that the government is cautiously easing some COVID-19 restrictions. How will we respond? How should we respond?

In times of restrictions – Conflicting responses arise. In unprecedented circumstances, this pandemic has seen worldwide media coverage unlike any other world event. As would be expected in such cases, opinions vary – between government leaders and medical experts, and even between medical experts. Ultimately, with the best advice one can get, governments have to make a decision based on the best call  of judgement, for the good of the nation as a whole. This decision then became law in a State of Emergency. And as been seen in recent months, such laws affect our church life, our social life, and how we interact with one another too. And as with any decision, some may experience benefits, some may experience negative impacts. This will mean that some will be happy about these changes and will support them, while others will be unhappy and think that they’re too stringent or too loose, too early or too late. Some who disagreed with it just blatantly ignored the rules – and so were slapped with fines. Now that restrictions are easing, we will probably be faced with the same dilemma, as we restart our social life – with social distancing. Some will ask – is it safe to go back out? Others may feel – why bother with social distancing? Whatever your viewpoint, many of these guidelines of the “new normalcy” will be more than suggestions from the government – some have and will be made law, as seen in fines and jail terms recently.

When restrictions ease – Have a Christian viewpoint. It is easy to want to go beyond what the Government allows and think we know better. But God reminds us in Rom 13:1-4, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to executewrath upon him that doeth evil”. The Bible is very clear about the Christian’s attitude to authorities He has placed over us as long as the particular thing that they want us to do is not unbiblical. 1) They are put in place by God “for his own glory and the public good” (Westminster Confession of Faith WCF 23:I). In this respect thus far, from what we have seen and read, the Australian government has acted responsibly and wisely in the measures they have adopted in handling this pandemic. They have not stopped Christians from worshipping by encouraging livestreaming. The decisions made have been done with the intent of ensuring the general good of Australians and the nation so that it can return to some normality in time. 2) Therefore, when the government is striving to do what is wise, Christians have the responsibility “to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake” (WCF 23:IV). What they have instituted as law concerning social distancing has been needful to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the disease. With the likelihood of asymptomatic spread, these measures are not just about you, but also about the protection of your neighbour, those around you. So we should continue to submit to new regulations in this light when measures are eased.

When restrictions ease – Demonstrate Christian character. Knowing these, it is now time for us to exercise ourselves to godliness – ie, to practice what we have learned at our Bible studies and fellowships. There have been many occasions of people flouting the law, whether at Bondi Beach, or at private home parties. It is not just about whether you get “caught” or “found out”. News videos captured a man who, as police approached to close off the beach, dashed and plunged into the sea for the “last soak” before they had to go out into the water to escort him out of the beach. As Christians, let us not be one of those that the arms of the law have to chase after to ensure compliance. The required social distancing is not sinful nor against God’s laws, and so as Christians, we should obey. I am glad to hear of a family who, when desiring to show hospitality to those staying alone during the 2 person gathering rule, would only have 1 person over to their house. Even when the rules were relaxed to 10 persons and desiring to host more, they decided against it when they received confirmation that giving a lift in the car to those from different households would also require a 1.5m social distancing in the car. It can indeed be very tempting to say and think that “our  home is in a quiet neighbourhood, no one will see us or know what is going on in our house”. But remember it is not about the police or your neighbours seeing, but about your God who sees. Ecc 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. Parents, let us be good examples for our children that whether in public or in private, we will be obedient law-abiding citizens. Remember, do not develop a habit of disobeying authorities ordained by God regardless of whether they see you or not see you doing so. Your child will learn from you.

As Christians, it is not just about obeying the externals of the law, but the spirit of the intent. We are to provide for  honest things, not only  in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men (2Cor 8:21). Rules and limits are put in place not arbitrarily, but often very purposefully.

A parking meter that says “free for first 10 minutes” means that if you intend to park for an hour, you slot coins into the machine to pay for parking for a longer period of time. A software that offers free usage up to a certain time limit or for certain number of users is intended to be used within those limitations. Should you need to have longer sessions or to include more participants, you should then upgrade to the paid version of the software, not work around “loopholes”.

When restrictions ease – Do return to church. I must be clear that we are not discouraging gatherings. However, we must keep the measures implemented. The church will implement measures that our government expects when we can return. We are doing our best to anticipate and plan ahead in preparation for such a time. So, do not avoid returning to church by giving any excuses! It will be disobedience to God because we are reminded in Heb 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,  as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and   so much the more, as ye see the day approaching”. While we exercise human responsibility, we also live by faith. Learn to trust in God to take care of you and your family. If the Government allows us to, we should do so. How long can you avoid church? Just like you view certain things in life as necessary, eg you will not avoid school, avoid going to work, or avoid going to the supermarket, we should see obeying God’s commands regarding assembling of ourselves together as a necessity too. This is not just about worshipping online, but about assembling of ourselves together. We can keep the social distance measures in doing so. We will know the blessings of obedience.

Yours in our Lord’s service,