Should Churches Meet And Defy Shelter In Place Orders?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Some churches are defying their state’s shelter in place or stay-at-home orders and still having worship services. What does the Bible say about this?

Defying Authorities

There are some churches today that are defying their state’s order to stay at home or shelter in place. Thousands of places which were deemed non-essential to society have been ordered closed. Places like restaurants, theatres, and concerts are no longer allowed due to the risk of infection or transmitting the Coronavirus (Covid-19), and millions of workers have been furloughed. Parks, vacations, traveling, weddings, funerals, etc.…the ripple effect goes far and wide, so why are some churches defying their own state’s orders and still come together for worship services anyway? Isn’t that putting others at risk for contracting the Coronavirus and for passing it on? One pastor who said this was a judgment from God later contracted the virus and became very sick, showing that we have no true authority to say this is from God or not. All things work for our good and God’s purposes, even the bad things in life (Gen 50:20; John 3:16; Rom 8:28), but aren’t these pastors and churches putting people’s lives in jeopardy? Truly pride comes before the fall, but many may not survive this fall! It’s almost as if they are tempting God as Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness, saying that God will protect them, no matter what.

The Body of Christ

The church is commanded to come together. Only through the church can we collectively feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, share Christ (Matt 25:35-36, 28:18-20), but also partake of the commanded sacraments; particularly, the Lord’s Supper or Communion. It is “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17), “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5). Paul’s rhetorical question is, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16)? Of course it is! Each of us who participate in communion is participating “in the body of Christ.” Imagine a body without a foot or without a hand. It wouldn’t function properly, and neither will the church function properly without all of its members attached. We are all part of the body of Christ, and individual body parts work best when attached to the body. Plus, each member has a specific and unique gift that positively contributes to the local body, thereby strengthening the body of Christ.

Commanded Assembly

The author of Hebrews stressed the importance of assembling together and admonished the church to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). Naturally this means we are not to be “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25). You can’t “strip up” those you never see, but unfortunately, there were already those who were not assembling with the body of Christ, and that’s sad because each member has a specific gift to help the church, to equip the church, and to help the church evangelize. We can always do more collectively than singularly. And the gifts of the Holy Spirit can’t be “stirred up” in isolation, but there are times in our world when circumstances may keep us from assembling. Some may have already found out that there are no solid churches where they live; only false ones. There may be weather or distance or illness that limits our attendance, but also, the state may deem it in our best interests to not meet for time as a church; and I believe when that happens, it’s in the best interests of the members and those in the world. That is an act of love to give up something we cherish (fellowship, corporate worship, preaching, etc.), for what’s best for others (and us).

Obeying Authorities

God’s Word commands “every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). Even if those in authority around us don’t realize that God has placed them in their position by His authority and good pleasure, He wants us to know that the authorities do “not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4). An angel of God always carried great power and often brought vast destruction, so this is a serious warning, but disobeying governmental and state authorities is like disobeying God. We should obey God over man, yes (Acts 5:29), but the context of that verse was not when there was a serious pandemic. It was about them sharing Christ publically. The state recommending churches close due to a pandemic is not persecution. It is obeying reasonable decisions made by health care authorities who are trying to save lives. We must respect that. Since the authorities around us are ordained by God, it’s best to remember that “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom 13:2). I don’t know anyone who wants “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on” them.


I believe it leaves a bad witness for the world when the unsaved see churches defying state or national laws and recommendations just because they are “the church.” It makes the lost think we’re more interested in worship than we are in others. There are far too many churches that are meeting in defiance of the local, state, and national guidelines for limiting the spread of the Coronavirus. Many people have lost jobs; businesses have closed; some permanently, and if these businesses are forced to close their doors, I don’t think it’s far for churches to defy a stay-at-home or shelter in place order. The world is watching us in this critical moment in history. Nothing will probably ever be the same, but will we stay calm and have peace in a world that’s in chaos? The psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10)! If you’ve never repented and trusted in Christ, you will never have any peace. If fail to trust in Christ today, it is “because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom 2:5).

Here is some related reading for you: Did the Book of Chronicles Predict the Coronavirus and Locust Outbreak?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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