Is the government violating religious freedom by restricting church services? A Holy Wednesday invitation to solitude

Church Services

This is the first Holy Week in Christian history to be observed primarily online.

From livestreamed services at the Vatican to video sermons recorded and shared on cell phones, Christians and Christian churches all over the world are meeting virtually these days. 

This is a controversial subject. Some claim that governmental restrictions on worship services are an infringement of religious liberty and a violation of the separation of church and state. Others disagree, noting that such prohibitions do not single out religious gatherings but include all events at which people could become infected with coronavirus. Still others claim that church services should be classified as “essential” functions and allowed to continue under social distancing guidelines. 

I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler and Kelly Shackelford’s statement in the Washington Post: “Asking houses of worship to briefly suspend large gatherings is neither hostile toward religion nor unreasonable in light of the threat. Rather, this is a time for all of us to exercise prudence over defiance. Love for God and neighbor demands nothing less.” 

This is a time for all of us to exercise prudence over defiance. Love for God and neighbor demands nothing less.
~ Albert Mohler and Kelly Shackelford

However, my purpose today is not to litigate this issue. Rather, it is to encourage us to reframe social distancing in a way that aligns with this day in Holy Week. 

You might respond by noting that the Gospels do not record any activities of our Lord on the Wednesday before he died. I agree. 

“God goes where he’s wanted”

Jesus spent the first four nights of Holy Week in Bethany, a suburb east of Jerusalem, at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (cf. Matthew 21:17). 

Making the homes of others his own was customary for our Lord. He stayed with Peter and his family when in Capernaum (cf. Matthew 8:14Mark 1:29). He once said, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). 

But as Philip Yancey noted, “God goes where he’s wanted.” 

When Samaritans, an ethnic group hated by the Jews, “believed in Jesus” and “asked him to stay with them,” our Lord “stayed there two days” (John 4:39–40). As a result, “many more believed because of his word” (v. 41). 

When Paul led Lydia to Christ, she “prevailed” upon Paul and his team to “come to my house and stay” (Acts 16:15). It’s hard to imagine that Saul the Pharisee would have stayed at the home of this Gentile woman, but as Paul noted, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). 

God goes where He’s wanted.
~ Philip Yancey