FAQ on Covid-19 and our Christian response and call to action as the Lord’s pastors/elders of His flock at Grace Bible Fellowship
Q: Is Covid-19 a real disease and a real threat to life?
Yes. Covid-19 is not like the flu (it attaches to the ACE2 sites in certain cells including the lungs and gut and, being a novel virus our immune systems are naive, so in more serious cases the immune system massively overshoots, resulting in a catastrophic cytokine storm. In short, your own immune system maims and/or kills you in several ugly ways. Those that die, die very alone. It is an awful death, often of slow suffocation. It is not a fake or overblown disease. One need only talk to fellow pastors who have had church members die to realize this is a very different beast. They warn us, “don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
It is Covid’s longer incubation period, longer sickness duration higher mortality over flu and the R0 (infectivity rate) up to 10 times higher than flu that makes this the intimidating globe affecting disease it is.
While the virus is not as deadly on a per-case basis as initially anticipated, (thank God), it is more virulent, so it turns out to be quite formidable, and we have yet to have very good treatments or vaccine. Most people have mild or moderate symptoms, but a significant minority, especially older people, and those with various co-morbidities, become very ill, requiring hospitalization and even intensive care. The mortality rate turns out to be around 0.4-0.6% (originally thought to be around 2.5%), but the R0 (pronounced R-naught), is a staggering 2.2-6, depending on region! The R0 is the number of people each infected person is expected to then infect. The R0 of flu is a mere 1.2-1.3. And it has a vaccine. It is Covid’s longer, leading incubation period, longer sickness duration, higher mortality over flu and the R0 (infectivity rate) up to 10 times higher than flu that makes this the intimidating globe affecting disease it is.
We do not want it to get on a run in our county.
Q: Didn’t the experts overstate the number of cases and deaths in their models? Isn’t it just like a bad flu year instead?
Yes, they initially overshot based on some presuppositions that turned out wrong. And those are the epidemiologists that happened to get the president’s ear. There were some less inaccurate models from other epidemiologists. But no, it is incorrect to say the fatality and cases therefore aren’t that bad. They’re just not as bad as expected, thankfully. A usual flu year in the US kills around 45,000 over the winter season and abates in warm weather. It can also be vaccinated against. Covid is not expected to abate in the summer season, according to the most recent study. It has taken 81,000 US lives just since the middle of March, two months! By the start of August that number is expected to be 137,000. And on it marches after that.
California’s numbers have been less than expected, but are gradually rising, mostly in more urban, densely populated areas.
Q: Does the Governor of California have the legal/constitutional power and right to order shelter-in-place, quarantines, closure of business, sports arenas, churches, and so on?
Yes, under our United States 10th Amendment and Bill of Rights, and our CA state constitution and laws, the governor, in a declared emergency, has very broad powers during that emergency. How far do these powers reach? In the words of Pacific Legal Foundation, “The courts have been there, done that, and the answer is, ‘quite far.'” See their, Are Quarantine Orders Constitutional?
Q: Are the orders of the county health officer of Mendocino county authoritative?
Yes, under the prior authority and subject to the supervision of the state department of health. In emergency situations and disasters, the local health office becomes our authority for matters relating to health, the county Sheriff being the one who actually applies any criminal enforcement for violators of those orders in county jurisdiction. See, AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY OF LOCAL HEALTH OFFICERS IN EMERGENCIES AND DISASTERS
Q: Is the requirement by the county health officer to wear a mask in certain situations legally binding and constitutional?
Yes, and see above. Furthermore, this issue is not up for grabs, your rights are not infringed, as it was decided over 100 years ago during the 1918 Spanish Influenza. Masks were required, the law was valid, and masks were found to be helpful in ending the pandemic. And afterward they enjoyed the fuller expression of freedoms again. Our own grandparents lived through that period. Our grandmother, a young missionary in Fiji, was infected by contact with locals who had contact with sailors who came ashore without masks. She went into a coma and very nearly died.
Q: I really feel overwhelmingly strongly that my rights are being violated! I’m angry! Aren’t they being violated?!
The feeling of having one’s rights violated may be strong, almost overwhelming especially when others around you affirm it. But that’s not necessarily the same as them actually being constitutionally, legally violated. Sometimes it’s true (and legally actionable) and sometimes it’s not (we’re factually wrong) and we have to suck it up and obey, keeping at least the spirit of the law if not always perfectly.
Christians are not to judge or act primarily on our emotions (anger and resentment included) but on facts by faith. We are, by common confession with the apostles, truth tellers and truth believers. We are to subject our difficult emotions and sometimes deeply embedded, heartfelt, wrong traditions, to the actual constitutional facts about our rights. Civil rights have been legally vetted and perfected over time through legal cases before our courts. That’s how our constitutional republic works. That’s how the founders designed it. If that contradicts our feelings, then so be it. We will be glorious in heaven with the Lord. Amen.
Q: Is a Christian obliged to obey every law or command? Are there times or circumstances where a law or command can be disobeyed?
Christians are generally obliged to not only obey the laws and commands of the governing authorities, but they are to show honor to those magistrates who hold legitimate authority. Romans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. It should be remembered that Paul was writing to Rome under emperor Nero. And Acts 23:3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4 But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.’”
Look, the situation in America and in our state is downright lousy. Politicians at all levels are somewhat baffled. There are no great answers. Some things have been just dumb in implementation. But here, Hanlon’s Razor is appropriate for those that see conspiracy and malice in gov’t actions: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
There are obvious, narrow exceptions where Christians not only are allowed but are required by the Lord to disobey laws and commands. Such as when a law/command is manifestly unjust, immoral or unethical in its inception. Or when an otherwise just law is manifestly unjust in how it is applied.
An example of the first case is, during the Nurnberg trials after WWII, when the Nazi officials were put on trial for their evil deeds including genocide, their defense was, “we were just following orders.” The Allied judges rejected this defense, condemning them to death or prison. Why? Because the orders and the laws from which they rose were themselves grossly immoral and unjust, because their sole purpose was to eliminate whole races and classes of people. In other words, a policeman, commander, official should rather risk prison or death than fulfill such a grossly invalid command. But, a just law issued by that same authority, such as against running red lights or theft, remains a valid, binding law to be obeyed.
In the same way, if a present law or command was:
- Obviously and provably aimed at suppressing the preaching of the gospel generally.
- Forbidding all printing of the Bible.
- Requiring us as pastors to marry anybody, regardless of gender or faith that demanded it.
- Closing churches permanently (rather than temporary suspension of services for a plague), etc.
Then we would be obliged to not obey it. But even then, that usually would be after appealing to the authorities, lawsuits, etc, especially as our constitutional system provides for avenues of redress of grievances.
Q: Great! I think this or that law is unjust! I’m going to disobey it!
Whoa! Hold yer horses! Except for immediate unjust orders like, “Corporal: Shoot those low-life gypsies over there right now and seize their property”, most laws and commands can and must be be thought through over time to see if they are in fact unjust, and what one should do about it. The protestant faith (to which we adhere) historically and Biblically calls for Christians to come together to obtain wise counsel: legal, moral and spiritual. Such impactful decisions are recognized to be made with the help and input of, or by, Biblically and morally qualified, wise and spiritually experienced people. (Not just the lone Christian deciding on their own, or among friends that may, out of loyalty or immaturity, affirm what they already feel or desire to do. See Proverbs 27:6).
Acts 15 records the mother Jerusalem church, in conference of leadership, deciding and prescribing the dietary inclusions and exclusions and other personal behaviors of gentile believers across the known world. The council was authoritative and binding on the conscience and lives of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ, people that had never met most of the church leaders gathered in Jerusalem!
Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. And, Matthew 18:16b, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. Church elders, for example, are specifically and uniquely called on to make the decisions that affect the local body of Christ in this regard. Larger legal questions in society and the Christian response may require the assembly of a larger body or conference of elders to get to the bottom of giving a wise response to certain laws. Shooting from the hip, personally? Not so much.
Q: So if the county says we have to have small groups in the church for a while, and Shelter-In-Place when there are obviously fewer cases than larger counties, we just have to sit quietly and take it?
We just have to sit quietly and take it? No! NO! NO!
No! NO! NO! Just because we as a congregation heed the county’s orders in the short term does not mean that we can’t and shouldn’t vigorously advocate for a better and more godly or wise outcome. It is our duty and privilege, in that case in our republic, to legally push hard both as a church and as individual members. We can raise issues with our governor, our state and county officials and our assemblymen and senators to bring a more tempered and open situation in our county and its churches! In some cases a lawsuit is appropriate.
Along these lines, your elders have been deeply studying the behavior of the virus. And since it has not gotten a real foothold here, we have been pushing on various avenues, talking with other church leaders, consulting with national constitutional attorney firms (including the excellent Liberty Counsel), writing and putting great effort into every proper avenue available to us.
For instance, Tuesday, May 12th, we participated in a productive county-wide clergy meeting with the county health officers. Most all of us pastors are vocally and vigorously chomping at the bit and pushing our needs, concerns and helpful ideas and plans to the county. The county is very appreciative, understanding and helpful. They expressed repeatedly how they value what churches and pastors do for the “emotional, physical and spiritual needs” of each person and family. They are in a tough place between the state mandates and the reality of our needs. They are learning as they go. But they want info and research to pass on immediately to the state to plead the case for our county to have proper consideration especially as it touches churches. Vern and I proposed church meeting outdoors during these warmer months. This allows even greater social distancing between families than six feet. They immediately expressed interest and liked the idea as they said outdoors in the fresh air is safer than re-breathing air with others. They were passing the idea forward.
The county health officers expressed repeatedly how they value what churches and pastors do for the ’emotional, physical and spiritual’ needs of each person and family.
We’re already seeing good results in the county with reference to churches, and we’ll see more! We do all want to meet and praise the Lord together, and with all appropriate safeguards in place. At this moment a group of small counties including Mendocino is negotiating with the governor to be allowed to operate in a speedier, more independent way compared to metropolitan centers.
Your elders are walking in the very pattern and footsteps and example of the The Founding Fathers of our country, who pleaded and appealed reasonably and helpfully to king George and British Parliament for a very long time and in various ways, showing tremendous patience and amazing forbearance. Their patience lasted not weeks, not months, but years.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. –Declaration of Independence
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence -Declaration of Independence
Please, read the Declaration of Independence and ponder the long list of sustained, severe abuses and neglect, and consider the astounding Christianly patience of our Founders. They set a great example in this time of trial for each and every member of GBF after which to model our conduct, including the length and purity of their patience. Our county officers are not like stubborn, indifferent king George or the Parliament. They are doing the best they can in a very bad situation. Pray for them. Help them.
Q: So what should I be doing to help?
Great question. The best one yet! First, pray for your elders as they work hard on these issues. Pray for favor with county and state leaders. Pray for our soon regathering in the usual way.
Second, consider, before God how much time you’ve spent complaining about the situation, or heeding or posting about it on social media. Here are the walking orders from our Holy Spirit Himself: Phil. 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
And with regard to being inconvenienced in a less than ideal church service, such as if we can have 12 people in the service and the rest in cars outside, Phil 2:4, do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. And our Lord, Mark 9:35 Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Considering the magnificent grace of our Lord Jesus that each of us has received, we are confident that the members of GBF will be gracious and overtly deferential to one another in all these things.
Have you ever contacted the county board of supervisors, or our health officer, or Governor Newsom or your assemblymen or senators, on opening the county or the churches more based on local conditions? Do so. Push politely and firmly. Ask for their help. Beg for their assistance and attention to our need to regather. Offer to help them. They generally don’t bite. Do this! Do this repeatedly! Do this persistently!
Please consider that you can make a real difference in how soon church can resume gathering! Here are some good contacts.
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Senator Mike McGuire, Ukiah Office:
200 South School Street, Suite K
Ukiah, CA 95482
Assemblyman Jim Wood
Ukiah Valley Conference Center
200 S. School St. Suite D
Ukiah, CA 95482
Tel: (707) 463-5770
Fax: (707) 463-5773
Mendocino County Public Health Officer
Address:1120 South Dora Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Phone: (707) 472-2700
Fax: (707) 472-2773
Mendocino County Board of Supervisors
Office of Emergency Services
Q: What if this drags on interminably or the gov’t is completely unreasonable in putting off church gatherings?
First, we don’t expect this, things are changing rapidly, and the Christian virtues of charity, patience and long-suffering are certainly in focus by the Holy Spirit here. But should the elders determine, based on their best wisdom and understanding, that the gov’t’s position becomes stagnant, intractable, or persistently illogical, then we would undertake a different course of action.
Q: I see all sorts of social media and some conservative news sites saying that churches are under attack!
solid Bible thumping churches like ours, were helpful in this regard.
First, it’s helpful to know that during the 1918-1919 pandemic, churches were shut down for periods and almost universally pastors and congregants of all stripes, including solid Bible thumping churches like ours, were helpful in this regard. Everyone was a lot more conservative then compared to now. Newspapers took turns printing and distributing sermons, and people would mail in their questions and comments (it was an old fashioned kind of Zoom service). A few demanded to stay open, and people died, so the other churches helped the magistrates to get them to close. People stopped dying. No one saw a great conspiracy. But then, they didn’t have FaceBook or talking heads, did they?
Its also helpful to talk to and read actual constitutional attorneys and church legal firms as we do. Not the ones hyping disaster to get your money. The serious ones. The ones that argue and win before the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts. One of our relatives is with Alliance Defending Freedom. These are where the legal rubber meets the road. While some Democrat governor states and “liberal” counties and cities are, according to them, less attentive towards church rights in the midst of all this turmoil (not all), the church law specialist outfits are ready to and are generally successful at pushing right back with a letter or a lawsuit, pointing out the inequity. There are some overzealous officials here and there who want to zap every imaginable Covid risk. There’s no big plan to crush churches or Christianity in particular. We have other massive problems in the county right now but we can tell you that deliberately going after churches in particular is not one of them in any significant way.
Next, and this is vital: Social medial algorithms are very adept at detecting the kinds of person you are by what you look at and write and search for. The algorithms then feed you things tailored to interest and provoke you, especially based on your political and religious bent. For example, what one sees often is a trollish headline like, “Governor limits churches in this state” but when you dig behind it, it just happens to be that churches are in the same category as symphony halls, sports arenas, concerts and other places designed to gather people. It’s that general category that is limited. Yes, churches are limited but then, so are bars. It’s all perfectly legal and rather ironic.
Q: Doesn’t the Bible command us to meet, no matter what?
No. First of all, if there were requirement for us to meet no matter what in this health emergency, regardless of what the county and governor say,
A) Don’t you think your elders would know of that Biblical requirement?
B) Don’t you think we would instantly obey, and require and encourage you to do so, it if it were so?
There is nowhere in the Bible, including the epistles, that absolutely requires the usual pattern of weekly assembly of believers as the local church no matter what the circumstance. There are a great many exceptions, including scriptural principles that demonstrate gracious exceptions to general rules. (1 Samuel 21:1-6, Mark 2:23-28, for example). The apostle Paul spent some 4 1/2 years in prison away from church, and the last half was deliberately his own doing!
In fact, in pandemics/epidemics, historically Bible believing Christians have generally been the first to set the example of heeding the authorities,
In fact, in pandemics/epidemics, historically Bible believing Christians have generally been the first to set the example of heeding the authorities, and so fulfilling the command of loving their neighbors by not spreading infection. Thus, the pattern of meeting as set out in the NT can and ought to be interrupted during those brief seasons when a higher command requires it. In fact, our Puritan Christian fathers charged 5 shillings and even gave a whipping to believers breaking quarantine! In short, the church elders would make sure quarantine breakers were disciplined hard if they tried to go to church or anywhere else not absolutely necessary during a quarantine declared by the magistrate.
Q: Why don’t the elders just defy the county and state and open up the church full bore?
Several sound reasons. Please consider:
- That there is no Biblical reason to do so just now.
- Health orders and the county’s relationship to the state are changing rapidly.
- Finally, there are compelling moral/ethical, legal and fiduciary reasons not to. At least not yet.
Up until now the fact of a legal quarantine remains not manifestly unjust (we are carefully monitoring the progress the county is making on gradually lifting the limits on the church for this). So to break quarantine and meet would be against the law. And to do that when the law or its application are presently not manifestly unjust toward the church would involve the entire church in the sin of disobedience against God’s servants in the county and so God Himself!
Furthermore, since it would be illegal, and if anyone got Covid as a result of our meetings, and especially if they got seriously ill or died, even secondarily or tertiarily downstream from church attendees, the church could be successfully sued. The insurance, because it was an illegal gathering, would not cover the church, which would go bankrupt, and with possible loss of the property, and the 501c3 officers (Rick, Tim, Davey, Eric, Vern) could be personally sued, with each officer personally liable and potentially losing businesses, homes, retirements, wages garnished, etc. It is also conceivable in this present very weird world for the officers to be held criminally liable by the county for accessory to negligent manslaughter.
And lastly, non-profit corporate officers have a fiduciary duty to actively protect the purposes of the corporation including care, defense and propagation of its assets. If we opened the church while it was illegal we would be causing the officers to knowingly and willingly violate their duty. Since Scripture teaches regarding duties and obligations, Matthew 5:37, “…let your yes be yes, and your no be no,” the consciences of the officers are bound to those duties, and defying the county is to break their affirmations and so sin against themselves and God.
All to serve an incorrect understanding of ecclesiology: “we have to gather no matter what”, and/or incorrect view of constitutional law and supposed rights during a quarantine. Somehow this seems to fall short of the standard of humility, veracity and love our Lord desires for our conduct. Phil 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near!
Q: What about Hebrews 10:24-25?
Hebrews 10:24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
This lovely passage encourages believers to always be thinking of what is best for other believers, including the elders of course, and encouraging them on in faithfulness. The usual pattern of that is the regular assembling. But of course there are conditions when that is not possible despite the desire to do so. For example, in all church history, serious illness is seen as not only an excuse but a blessed encouragement to stay home so as not to infect others. That’s not what is spoken of here. “Not forsaking” denotes the idea of a deliberate, willfully turning away and abandonment of any intention or interest in church attendance. “habit” here is ethos, and speaks of a person whose life ethic is to avoid assembling for church. Clearly that describes exactly no one associated with GBF.
But there is a very relevant passage in Hebrews! Ch 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. To “obey”, peithō, in the middle voice, imperative here, is a divine command to the believers to diligently make sure that their minds are maintained in a state of suppleness, being ready and willing to be convinced by the leaders. They are to self-maintain a mindset of trust in the leaders. To do this helps the leaders lovingly keep watch of the souls in their care. And not to do this would be to discourage and wound them with a hard head and hurtful, suspicious attitude. This would grieve them and ultimately prove harmful to the flock.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Talk with your elders about it.
We warmly welcome your conversation, questions, struggles, thoughts, needs, ideas!
Remember that our Lord Jesus’ command for us is this: Let us together as one testudo be found faithful soldiers.