Friday, May 29, 2020

Church, State, and COVID-19: Seven Biblical Principles for Guiding Your Church through the Crisis

Recently, Mark Forrest, Senior Pastor of the church where I serve as Teaching Pastor, asked me to write about the principles we have been following to help us determine when to reopen for worship. He shared these today with our congregation. They are shared here with other church leaders in the hope they may help your church, too.

In light of the Coronavirus epidemic, when should the church re-open? And how should it do so? Does the state have authority to decide what churches may do? The questions your church leadership faces have few parallels in modern American history. In response to this unique crisis, we are seeking to obey the Word of God and honor the wisdom of human beings.

Here are seven biblical principles which are guiding our church:
  • First, the Lord commands believers to gather regularly for worship (Heb 10:25; 1 Cor 11:25).
  • Second, God also commands us to honor the governments He constituted (Rom 13:1-17; 1 Pet 2:13-17). 
  • Third, Christ remains the sole ruler of his church (Matt 28:18-20; Col 1:18). 
  • Fourth, if a government instructs the church to stop preaching, we must, with utmost respect, obey Christ (Acts 4:13-21). 
  • Fifth, God’s people must pursue the welfare of the broader community (Jer 29:7). 
  • Sixth, we must receive wise counsel (Prov 11:14, 12:13, 19:20, 24:6). 
  • Finally, we must seek God’s help in prayer (Phil 4:6).
Because of our respect for God-given government, and in order to pursue the welfare of our entire community, we rightly submit to health instructions at the national, state, and local level. We believe Lakeside Baptist Church has been blessed, because God granted us responsible governments, who seek the best social counsel possible while respecting our fundamental right of religious liberty. (However, even if worrisome signs appear, we must remember to honor the government God has given yet also preserve religious liberty.)

In conclusion, we are seeking God’s will, which is always the best way. Would you join in praying that God will make clearly evident to everyone the right way forward for the worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and for the welfare of others? Let us trust He will!

          

Lakeside Baptist Church of Granbury, Texas is borrowing a 3,000-seat outdoor venue this Sunday to re-start our formal physical gathering.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

A Free Church Form for a Virtual Lord's Supper

Senior Pastor: Welcome to our Lord’s Supper celebration at Lakeside Baptist Church. We invite our members to gather physically with any members who reside in your home. We invite you to gather virtually with your whole church while using the elements physically distributed or available to you.
Would you bow your heads and pray? Ask the Lord to forgive you any unconfessed sin. And confess your faith in his Son’s death for your sins and his resurrection for your life.
(Pause.)

Teaching Pastor: Then and Now: Consider ancient Israel then. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God called them to live forward into freedom. However, He first confined the entire nation to single households so as to protect them from the tenth plague, which would devastate the Egyptians.
Consider the New Testament church now. Called into existence by the grace of God the Trinity, the early church practiced “breaking bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Likewise, Paul believed he could be “absent in body” yet commune together with the church “in spirit” (Col 2:5; 1 Cor 3:5; cf. 1 Thess 2:17). Exigencies may bring the body of Christ together in a different way.

Senior Pastor: The Israelites were ordered to sacrifice a flawless animal and spread its blood with a hyssop branch at the entrance to their homes (Ex 12:22). Hyssop was later used to purify the people (Lev 14). The Lord promised to protect the firstborn of Israel’s families due to their faith (Ex 12:13). This was the first Passover meal.

Teaching Pastor: Note the similarities between the Jewish Passover and the Lord’s Supper commanded by Christ for the church’s continual celebration. The Gospels tell us that during the Passover Jesus instituted the Supper (Mark 14:12-26). John says they used a hyssop branch to offer Jesus sour wine as he finished his sacrificial work upon the Cross (John 19:28-30).

Senior Pastor: Before his betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus used the bread and the cup prepared for the Passover to create a new memorial. The bread and the cup deepen the meaning of the Passover’s matzah and wine.

 I.     The Bread

Teaching Pastor: As the Israelites were commanded to use unleavened bread (Ex 12:14-20), so Jesus took unleavened bread (Matt 26:17). Paul writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7; cf. Mark 8:15).

Senior Pastor: The matzah bread is a picture of Yeshua and what he did for us. Look at how it is striped. It is written, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5).
(Senior Pastor lifts and unwraps the bread.)

Teaching Pastor: Look at how the matzah is pierced. It is written, “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10b). 
(Senior Pastor breaks the bread and distributes it to both while Teaching Pastor continues to read.)

The middle matzah from the Unity was broken, just as Jesus was broken with suffering and death. It is wrapped in white cloth, just as his body was wrapped in linen. His body was confined for a short time in the grave, but he was freed on the third day from the grip of death. 

Senior Pastor: At the last supper, Jesus said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). 
Let us now eat the bread, remembering the broken body of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 
(Both eat the bread, signaling the congregation to join.)

 II.     The Cup

Teaching Pastor: Just as Moses instituted the old covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Ex 24:8), so Jesus instituted the new covenant with his own “blood,” which was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).

Senior Pastor: The four Passover cups rehearsed the four promises of God to Israel. With the third cup, it was said, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” (Ex 6:6-7a). 
(Senior Pastor fills the cups and distributes to both while Teaching Pastor is reading.)

Teaching Pastor: Just as the sons of Egypt suffered for the sins of Egypt (Ex 11:5), so the only begotten Son of God suffered for the sins of his people (Matt 27:54). 
Hebrews says, “By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them” (Heb 11:28). 
Just as the blood of the Passover lamb provided national salvation for the old covenant people of God in Egypt, so the blood of Jesus Christ provides eternal salvation for all who enter the new covenant by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Jesus said, “this is my blood of the covenant” (Matt 26:27b-28a).

Senior Pastor: This is the cup of redemption. It stands for the blood of the Passover lamb. After the supper, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20).
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. 
Let us drink with thankful hearts, remembering the Messiah’s sacrifice for us.
(Both lift the cups and drink, signaling the congregation to join.)

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NOTE: This Form for the Lord's Supper was crafted for use in exigency by Lakeside Baptist Church of Granbury, Texas, and was first used on the evening of Easter Sunday during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. Elements were made available beforehand by safe distribution.

For theological and pastoral reflections on the use of the Lord's Supper in a virtual format, please consult the contributions of the following Baptist theologians:

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Prayer for People Facing the Coronavirus Pandemic (Psalm 46)

Our Lord God, we beg you to grant us soundness in mind, health in body, and vigor in spiritual witness during this worldwide epidemic of the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019. 

Father God, we have watched and prayed as our human brothers and sisters in Asia have suffered the initial spread of this disease, bringing disruption, sickness, even death.
Lord Jesus Christ, we are concerned for our own nation as we watch this disease take a devastating toll among the elderly and the infirm in Europe.
Holy Spirit, we now appeal to you to make your presence felt here as the President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, has halted flights from infected nations and continents, declared a National Emergency, and called us to a National Day of Prayer.

With the Choirmaster, we pray, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

Lord, we pray for the protection of humanity from the spread and severity of this disease. May you lead our people to act wisely for the health of others as well as for themselves. May you provide us with social unity, communal harmony, and economic welfare in this time of crisis. We know you are our only “refuge and strength.”

With the Sons of Korah, we sing, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Lord, we pray also for the progress of the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, through the voices of your people accompanied by the sweet sacrifices of their own hearts and hands. According to the request of the President of our Southern Baptist Convention, J. D. Greear, and the Presidents of our seminaries and entities, we pray that you stop this pandemic, lead our government leaders to lead us, help us witness to our neighbors, and protect our missionaries.

With the Musical Instruments, we proclaim, “Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

With true faith we pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Teaching Pastor
Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury, Texas
Sunday, March 15, 2020