April 29, 2021
By Paul Tautges, Pastor
Six weeks ago, we took a first step toward returning to normalcy by making the 10:30 a.m. service mask-optional. This has been very well-received; the transition has gone smoothly and has been a blessing to the church. So we are taking another step. All other ministry gatherings are now mask-optional, with the exception of the 9:00 a.m. service.
Many contributing factors have changed in and around the church, which encourage us to take this step. Above all, this will benefit our spiritual health and the vibrancy of our fellowship.
Let me assure you that none of the decisions the elders have made in the last thirteen months have been simple, quick, or easy, but all have been agonizing. They have been made with prayer and deliberation with consideration of the general welfare of the church as a whole. As an individual or a family, you have more liberty to make decisions and take risks, since they impact a smaller circle of people. But seven elders laboring together on behalf of 140 families must take more factors into consideration, knowing their decisions impact a much larger circle of people. All along, numerous factors have had to be weighed simultaneously. So let me try to clarify what has been a confusing time for some. We have tried to communicate along the way, but know we could’ve done better. Like you, this is our first pandemic, and we have been learning as we go along.
Continuing to Minister
God always calls His people to persevere through difficult times. Therefore, our first priority has always been to continue the ministry of our church, as God has called us to, within the community where He placed us. To do so wisely, we’ve had to monitor the status of the situation in our area. From the beginning, the governor defended our religious liberties. That is why local churches have been free to apply his orders as they deem best for their congregation.
On more than one occasion, I spoke to individuals in the governor’s office and the Cuyahoga County Department of Health. I was encouraged to be wise, was informed that churches would not be policed, and assured that each church is free to implement the practices that its leaders think are best for their congregation. On one occasion I spoke directly to the governor on a conference call with a handful of other pastors. I thanked him for preserving our freedoms and received the same basic message: Act wisely and do what is best for the spiritual wellbeing of your congregation.
I am firmly convinced this next step is what is best for our congregation at this time.
At the beginning of the pandemic we clarified that the governor’s order was not a mandate for churches, but a recommendation that the elders would continue to evaluate and apply according to the needs of the church. But I want clarify this again in case you are struggling with an inner conflict, or are anxious we are defying a government command which does not require us to sin. The governor himself, as well as the county board of health, have given churches freedom to apply the written order for public gatherings in ways each church believes is best for its spiritual health. According to Scripture we have honored our governing authorities in our hearts and with our words and actions, while also employing the religious freedoms preserved for us by them under God.
A Personal Bible Study Assignment
The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is this: Even though physical dangers will always be present in our lives, and we should be prudent not reckless, the need of our souls for spiritual food and fellowship is always far greater and more important than our physical health. As believers who are striving to live under the functional authority of God’s Word, we are not free to exalt one biblical principle to the neglect of others.
This week, let me encourage each of you to meditate on three chapters of Scripture, which have personally helped me to remain balanced and keep multiple commands in mind at the same time: Romans 12, 13, and 14. Remember that Romans 13, which speaks of our relationship to government, is sandwiched between Romans 12 and Romans 14. Romans 12 contains multiple one-another commands and exhortations about body life in the church, while Romans 14 exhorts us to not pass judgment on one another. You may also want to read chapter 15, which lifts up the example of Christ who never did anything to please himself.
Remember to be Gracious
I realize that for some of you this second step is overdue, while others may not feel quite ready for it. That’s ok. I understand that we are all at different places. Again, let’s remember how gracious God has been with us and, therefore, be gracious to one another.
As I said six weeks ago, the view of the elders is that the whole church should gather as one family as often as possible. Therefore, we see two services as less-than-ideal, and temporary, and are looking forward to when we can join together again in one service. Lord willing, this final step should take place sometime this summer. Please pray with us.
The past year has been long and arduous. I know we are all tired, but the Spirit has sustained us, and is sanctifying us for the greater service of Christ and the spread of his gospel. By his grace we are certain that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train. More and more days of refreshment are coming! God has been faithful to us all along, and He will continue to be. On behalf of the elders, let me thank you for hanging in there with us through thick and thin. We appreciate it more than you realize.
I also want to remind you to pray for other churches. No two churches are the same, but are made up of different people. Leadership teams in different churches have come to different conclusions and decisions, but each is accountable to God and their members. Some churches have opened up more than ours, while others remain under tighter restrictions, and still others are not yet meeting in person. Be careful about making comparisons or casting judgments. Above all, let us continue to pray for God’s mercy for ourselves and His church worldwide, and let us walk in wisdom. If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, please use common sense and stay at home. We believe in sharing, but there is a limit.
Throughout this long journey, Scripture has repeatedly called us to put on a heart of compassion filled with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another in love—and to abound in grace. The church is a family. We are not independent individuals, but inter-dependent and connected parts of one body. What each one of us does impacts the whole. Let us never forget that.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Col. 3:12-15)