Home Gatherings during the Yellow Phase
In light of both the recommendations by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as those of the CDC, the EFCA, and other ministry resources, Riverstone Church offers the following guidelines and recommendations for ministry and gatherings.
Who can gather?
- We would encourage those who are comfortable meeting with others to consider doing so.
- Those who are not yet comfortable meeting with others are under no obligation to do so. In this situation we do not consider declining to gather with others a violation of Hebrews 10:24–25.)
- We are not encouraging those who are high-risk or have pre-existing conditions to meet with others.
- Everyone will have to make their own decisions for themselves and their families about whether they will choose to gather with others.
With whom should I gather?
- We would encourage you to meet with anyone from Riverstone Church for fellowship and worship.
- We would recommend that existing small groups consider meeting together with those who are willing and able.
- If you are not in an existing small group, we would encourage you to consider meeting with friends or other families from the church.
- As a reminder, the Commonwealth recommends gatherings during the Yellow Phase should not exceed 25 people.
Where can we gather?
- We suggest gathering at private residences or in outdoor public areas that are open to gatherings per Commonwealth guidelines.
- The campus of Riverstone Church is not open for gatherings of any kind at present.
- The CDC currently recommends that outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings. You may want to consider meeting outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, if possible.
When should we gather?
- Gatherings may take place at any time. Our existing small groups are welcome to meet, as members agree, on their normal schedule.
- We would especially recommend considering gathering with others on Sundays for the purpose of worshipping together on the Lord’s Day.
What should we do when we gather?
- We recommend that those who gather watch the weekly service together, pray together, and “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).
- Following 1 Corinthians 14:26, we would encourage you to consider coming to the gathering prepared to share something that the Lord has been teaching you through is Word for the purpose of building one another up in the faith.
Please note that while Riverstone Church is making these recommendations for our church family, every individual will need to use their own discretion as to what is wise for them and their families.
As a reminder, the CDC has offered the recommendations for gatherings of faith communities at this time, including:
- Maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet
- Wearing cloth face masks to prevent pre-symptomatic transmission to others
- Minimization of physical contact
- Considering pre-packaged food and avoiding buffet/family-style meals.
Please carefully consider what steps are appropriate for you to take in gathering with others from the church, both for your own safety and the safety of others.
A Pastoral Reflection
One of our great concerns is that the process of regathering after the COVID-19 pandemic may be, in the long run, more damaging to the church than our inability to gather during the pandemic because of the remarkable potential for disunity.
The issues related to how our federal, state, and local authorities have managed the current crisis, how they are going about reopening afterward, and how Riverstone Chruch is choosing to move forward are varied, and often volatile and politically charged. As with many other situations, there will be those in our church body with varied opinions on issues and how they will personally respond.
In light of this danger, we want to offer five brief reflections from Romans 14 on how we can move forward with grace, love, and unity as we consider beginning to reassemble in smaller gatherings as a part of our own phased reopening.
1. “Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)
Regardless of where a person lands on the issue of how we should respond corporately and individually to regathering after COVID-19, the most important thing is that each individual follows his or her conscience and makes a decision before the Lord. We should not seek to change one another’s minds on these issues as if it were a case of essential doctrine. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, from “winning” an argument with someone over opinions about the pandemic and our various responses. If a person has a conviction for themselves and their family that they have made before the Lord, it is not our duty to change their mind. It is our duty to respect that decision and not judge them for it, aloud or in the quiet of our hearts (see also Romans 14:1).
If someone chooses not to gather at this time, it does not say anything about their love for Christ, for his Church, or their commitment to walking in godliness and fellowship with other believers. If someone chooses to begin gathering with others at this time, it does not mean that they are trying to subvert the government, become a danger to public safety, or treat COVID-19 with flippancy.
Regardless with where you land, you must respect the decisions that others make. This means saying “Brother/sister, I love you and I respect the conviction you have come to before the Lord on this matter, and I will support you in it.” It does not mean “I respect your decision, but I still feel obligated to tell you I think you’re wrong, and I’m right, and here’s why…”
None of us are so wise as to have unhindered clarity about how this situation should have been handled or should be handled moving forward. We would be wise to speak on these matters with great restraint and humility.
2. “Why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat…Each of us will give an account of ourselves before God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
Note that here in Romans 14:12, the “account of ourselves before God” that we will give has to do not with the matters over which the church was disagreeing, but rather with the way in which they were interacting with our brothers and sisters over these matters of conscience.
In the end, our opinions on how and what we do in response to the pandemic are not moral issues. We will not be judged according to our opinion of the government’s or the church’s response to COVID-19. But we will give an account for how we respond to our brothers and sisters in the midst of it.
Before you make a statement or a decision, consider that it is possible that you may be right (and you may be wrong), but if you fail to love your brothers and sisters in the midst of your rightness, it doesn’t matter at all. “If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Getting your opinion on current events “right” is not essential. Loving your neighbor is.
3. “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14:13)
Resolve that you will not do anything that will unnecessarily offend a brother or sister or treat them in an unloving manner. Sometimes we are so concerned with proving ourselves and our opinions right that we unnecessarily offend and cause division and strife within the body of Christ.
You may not think that wearing a face mask is necessary when you gather with others, but someone might. Will you choose, for the sake of love of your brothers and sisters, to wear a mask even though you don’t think it’s necessary? Or will you judge the person who holds that position because you think they’re wrong?
Or if a person thinks that it is not necessary to wear a face mask when you gather, but you do, will you tell them how wrong you think they are? Or in love will you choose to respectfully decline to gather with them, while at the same time intentionally choosing not judge them as “dangerous” and “foolish”?
4. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Romans 14:19)
In everything we do: our decisions, our practices, our conversations, aim at peace and building one another up. The unity of the body of Christ in love is far more important and uniformity of opinion on current events (see also Ephesians 4:3).
Consider the conversations you will have when you gather. Will you spend time arguing about which side of the debate is correct, what we should have done, what we should be doing, and so forth? In what ways will such conversation lead to “peace and to mutual edification”?
Beware, it is very easy for the process of sharing your opinion to become grumbling, complaining, slander, and corrupting talk. This does not mean that we cannot have legitimate disagreements about different opinions we hold, but that these do not need to become points of contention within the body of Christ. Refuse to allow matters on which we hold different opinions, albeit passionately, take precedence over matters on which we share conviction.
Think about this: Are you as passionate about sharing the gospel and building others up in the faith as you are about evangelizing for your opinion about how we should respond to reopening the country? Which do you more naturally talk about with others right now? Which do you feel a pressing obligation to share? The answer might be telling.
5. “Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22)
It is not wrong to have opinions, even strongly held opinions, on “disputable matters.” What is wrong is when we choose to force-feed our opinions to others, resulting in unnecessary conflict and division. If someone expresses an opinion with which you disagree, you are under no obligation share your opinion in return. In fact, it might be wrong for you to do so.
If you know (or think that there’s a chance) that your opinion differs from others and that to share it would spark conflict, argument, and strife, it is wise to keep your opinion to yourself. No one is going to grow into greater godliness and joy because you’ve expressed your opinion about what constitutes an essential business, the benefits (or deficits) of wearing a facemask, or the necessity (or not) of herd immunity. You may hold opinions on these matters, but if sharing your opinion is going to lead to conflict and disunity with other believers, choose to keep your opinion between you and the Lord.
Remember Proverbs 18:2: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” This might be a good verse for all of us to memorize.
We long to be together once again, and truly “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6). Until we can, and as we begin to take steps towards that end, let us strive in all things to pursue love, peace, and joy together, keeping at the forefront of our minds the partnership we share in the gospel and the fellowship we share with one another because of our fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.