I am writing this on Easter Day in 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ravaging the entire world. Scientists have not yet had time to create a treatment, a vaccine, or a cure for it, but they are working in unprecedented cooperation, and drug approval agencies are fast-tracking safety and effectiveness testing. As I write this, over 20,600 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States alone.
COVID-19 is easily transmissible by air, so government officials have issued stay-at-home orders, calling on us to remain home, avoid large gatherings, and telling us that if we must go outside to walk the dog or buy necessities, we must stay six feet (two meters) away from other people. The purpose is to slow down the spread of the disease to a point where our public health services can handle it while we wait for the scientists. In many places, such as my state, it is a crime to violate the stay-at-home order, punishable by jail time or a fine or both.
In the early stages of COVID-19, people don’t have symptoms but they are contagious anyway. The virus survives a frustratingly long time on surfaces, even on paper and cardboard. A person who is in the asymptomatic early stages of COVID-19 can spread the virus to an entire church just by handing out bulletins.
The consequence, of course, is in most places, going to church is actually dangerous or even illegal. Most churches have complied by offering services on line.
However, some religious groups in the United States object to the stay-at-home orders, citing the constitution, which guarantees us freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. Unlike other countries, there are no constitutional provisions or procedures for suspending freedoms in response to national disasters. For this reason, some states of the United States have made an exemption for religious gatherings, but in areas where churches are not exempt, a few churches, mainly independent and evangelical churches, are having large church services in defiance of the law.
Many churches find a mandate in Scripture for corporate worship, but they don’t require sick people to attend.
The churches who believe they are exempt from the law because of their religious freedom and immune to the pandemic because of their religious beliefs are, in effect, double-daring God to protect them from the disease and to exempt them from the law and making a spectacle of themselves to prove it to the public.
Double-Daring God Is Not Scriptural
The devil tempted Jesus to fling himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, and even quoted Scripture to prove that God would not allow him to be injured. The public spectacle would have backed up Jesus’ claims and may have won Him many followers. Jesus did not say,
I am covered in the blood of Me, and fling himself down.
Jesus answered him,It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
—Luke 4:12, NRSV
Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. The Hebrews in the wilderness had double-dared God to prove His presence by giving them water. It did not work out well for the people who tested God:
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said,They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.Therefore in my anger I swore,They shall not enter my rest.
—Psalm 95:8-11, NRSV
God is not a trampoline, a trick horse, or a trained monkey. We know from Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees that God is not pleased with religious exhibitionists. If you throw yourself down from a high place to prove that God will protect you, He will teach you humility when you reach the bottom.
Defiance of Civil Law Is Not Scriptural
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
—Romans 13:1–2, NRSV
Even if stay-at-home orders are unconstitutional, they are very wise. They protect public health, prevent a strain on our medical resources, and save lives. Christians have a law that is higher than the constitution, among others, this passage in Scripture. Those who disobey civil authority and compound it by tempting God have committed grave offenses, and as we read nearly everywhere in Scripture, God does not protect willfully disobedient people from the consequences of their disobedience.