Greetings ONMB Pastors & Leaders,
Submitted by: Jeff Jantzi, ONMB Board Chair
By now you have probably seen a letter circulating that asks Premier Doug Ford to allow Ontario churches to reopen by early June. If not, you can read it here:
While the letter is gracious in its tone and we sympathize with our brothers’ and sisters’ deep desire to worship together in-person again, this letter is NOT something that ONMB’s leadership endorses nor is it something that we recommend our churches sign. In fact, we urge you NOT to sign.
There are a number of reasons for this. Let me share three with you:
•Theologically speaking, we know that Church is not about attending large weekly gatherings in our buildings but about being the church in the communities in which we live (Eph 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:4-5, 1 Cor 12:29, 1 Cor 3:9). However, this letter states that “confessional Christian faith nor the Church institute can faithfully exist without a Lord’s Day gathering. This divine obligation and hard-won historic freedom is so important for Christians, that it supersedes all human legislation and regulation.” This is simply not the case. Yes, gathering together to worship God is important; but there are many ways for Christians to do that other than in large settings. The Christian church, after all, began in small house groups.
Furthermore, what should we say, then, to Christian brothers and sisters from other parts of the world who are fleeing persecution? And what about elderly Christians in nursing homes who are unable to gather for weekly worship? And what about Christians who are immunocompromised, or Christians with mobility challenges, or Christians whose children have significant disabilities and are unable to meet weekly for worship? Are they not faithful followers of Jesus?
Perhaps now is the time for us to reclaim the New Testament’s vision for the church – where we focus on being the church instead of simply attending a weekly church service (or, for that matter, fighting for our right to attend a weekly worship service).
We are praising God for the way He is working through our online services. The gospel is not being held back! We are hearing stories of this daily. So, let’s continue to find creative ways to meet online as churches, knowing that the Holy Spirit is not limited by our inability to meet together in-person.
•Practically speaking, while we are grateful that the worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us, we must remain vigilant to guard against the potential of a second wave. By rushing to meet for Sunday worship in our buildings again, we could potentially be contributing to the spread of the virus in our various cities. This could prove to be deadly. Also, there are dynamics to this virus that are still being discovered, including recent studies indicating that singing in a confined space together results in a significantly higher rate of transmission – regardless of appropriate physical distancing measures being taken.
For these reasons, we would recommend that we err on the side of caution (in addition to following Public Health Ontario’s baseline recommendations regarding large group gatherings). Why rush to reopen Sunday Services and risk human lives? Why not start (when Public Health declares it safe to do so) by reopening smaller gatherings, such as Small Group Ministries, and Alpha Programs, and Youth Ministries and other mid-week programs while waiting to reopen our Sunday Services until it is clearly safe to do so? This is a simple but practical way to love our neighbours well in this season.
•Evangelistically speaking, signing this letter could damage our public witness in the communities we are trying to reach and serve. What might our watching world see if they see our names in this letter? Will they see followers of Jesus who are loving our neighbours and working for the good of our communities by standing in solidarity with our public health workers and government in order to help protect people? Or might they see entitled Christians who are lobbying for special status so that we can hold our weekly services? Our province is being asked right now to continue to practise patience and perseverance in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. Should the church not be leading the way in this?
These are just a few reasons why we would ask you NOT to sign this letter. Also, if you have already submitted your church’s name, we would urge you to reconsider and to have the organizers remove your name from the list.
We hope this note helps in providing clarity, as we know some are looking for direction from ONMB Leadership. If you have any questions or concerns related to this, please feel free to reach out to me or anyone else on our board in the days ahead.
Blessings to you as you continue to lead in these uncertain times. I find great confidence in the words of Jesus when he said that “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18). Let’s cling to this promise in this season!
On behalf of the ONMB Board of Directors,
Chair of the Board