5 Principles for Navigating Church in COVID-19

These five principles were developed prior to our church writing the reopening plan. I sought to develop these principles for the major teachings of the Scriptures. As such, these principles span our church’s plan to reopen and can apply to a variety of issues dealing with COVID-19 and beyond. I pray that they will be a blessing to you.

 

As we eagerly anticipate reopening, we realize this is a complicated situation. There are many reasons it is complicated. For one, there are a variety of opinions. Some feel that we should open immediately. Others, however, feel like we should remain outdoors until a vaccine is made. And there are many within these views.

It is further complicated by the variety of materials available to the public. Organizations such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Whitehouse, and even local governmental organizations (such as the Department of Health and Environmental Control for South Carolina) have kept information flowing. However, as everyone will readily admit, this information is conflicting at times. At one point, masks seemed to be the hero of this pandemic. While at other times, masks were seen as completely pointless.

A third complication we face is the issue of personal liberty. As citizens of the United States, we enjoy incredible freedoms. And, as followers of Christ, we enjoy liberties as well (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-9). We have freedoms in Christ, and these freedoms sometimes overlap others’ consciences.

As a pastor, I want to shepherd the flock of God as faithfully and lovingly as I can (1 Peter 5:1-3). I can tell you that the deacons want to do this as well. We have sought the Scriptures in prayer to do just that. I realize that our plan will not satisfy everyone. While I am saddened by this, I also know that our church is filled with believers who love the Lord and each other. As such, I am sure that your charity will make up for my own mistakes and shortcomings, that they will fill in the gaps of my plan, and that it will ultimately glorify our glorious Father.

I wanted to provide you with the guidelines that we used to determine our plan. I am providing this, first, so that you will have time to examine our hearts as based on God’s Word. I will comment on them briefly to elaborate on them to avoid any confusion.

  • Our plan to reopen has God’s glory for its ultimate aim (1 Cor. 10:31)

The very foundation of our plan, and our church, and of our lives individually, is to glorify God. We are put on this earth for that fact, and if any aspect of our lives is not lived with this purpose in mind, then we must immediately confess this as sin and seek restoration to our Father.

  • Our plan seeks to lead our congregation in the most helpful way, including spiritually, physically, and mentally (Heb. 13:8; Isa. 40:11; 42:3, cf. Matt. 12:20)

The second guiding principle is our desire to lead you in the most helpful way. I mention three parts of this: spiritual, physical, and mental. We want to lead you spiritually because as spiritual beings our souls are eternal. Jesus sees the importance of the spiritual when He tells Satan that man must not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from God (see Matthew 4:4). We also are concerned about your physical health. While the media has presented the facts of COVID-19 in an unfair light, people are indeed dying. We want our congregation to remain as healthy as possible. Further, the mental stress of COVID-19 and its byproducts are high. We want to alleviate these difficulties as much as humanly possible. Our plan seeks to balance these three aspects of our congregation while leading.

  • Our plan desires to observe, as much as possible without disobeying God, the recommendations and regulations as set forth by local and federal government (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; cf. Acts 5:29)

As Christians, we are given the command by God to submit to the government. Paul and Peter both place governmental authorities under the sovereignty of God. As Christians individually, and as a church corporately, we want to follow their lead as much as biblically possible. Thus, if the government requires us to follow an order, and if that order does not violate a clear command of Scripture, we are biblically obligated to follow that order. Our plan was developed with this in mind and will be updated as further aids are provided.

  • Our plan desires to display the preeminent characteristic of a disciple of Christ, charity, in all we do (1 Cor. 13:4-7, 13; John 13:35)

Love is the distinguishing mark of the believer (or, at least it should be!). As such, love has guided our reopening plan. We want to love our congregation the way that Christ loves His church. When you read a part of the plan or have a question about the validity of something, remember we are attempting to love you. We will also see your questions, concerns, and suggestions from a place of love.

  • Our plan desires to accommodate individuals with different liberties, always seeking “for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:1-23, cf. 19)

This one is perhaps the most difficult guidelines through which to navigate. We understand the liberties we have, both as citizens of the US and as Christians. Our reopening plan seeks to work through these nuances of liberty. One example would be facemasks. As of the time of this publication, there are no requirements in the State of South Carolina requiring the wearing of masks. There are several ramifications of this that I think will prove helpful to discuss.

There are those in our congregation who are completely against wearing masks. How should those who desire to wear masks navigate this? They should love their brothers and sisters in Christ. In loving humility, they should not mock them nor should they speak about them behind their backs. Likewise, these individuals who are against wearing masks should not look down upon those who chose to wear them.

There are those in our congregation who never leave their homes without their masks. How should those who do not wear masks navigate this? They should love their brothers and sisters in Christ. In loving humility, they should not mock them nor should they speak about them behind their backs. Likewise, these individuals who wear masks should not look down upon those who chose not to wear them.

Regardless of your preference, you should always, always seek to build each other up in love. Do you see the wonders of following Jesus Christ? It shows us that, even amid significant disagreements, we can show deference and love, and even build each other up.

These are our guiding principles for reopening our church. Would you prayerfully read through these? Would you consider praying for each other with these in mind? Would you seek to incorporate these into your daily life?

May God enable us to grow closer to Him and one another through this pandemic,

Bobby

Aesthetic Theology: A Brief Look

*This post is from a school assignment*

An Overview of Aesthetic Theology

Aesthetic theology, an approach to interpreting Scripture exclusively by its literary aspects, produces great harm in biblical interpretation. As one article describes this method, “Like philosophical aesthetics, theological aesthetics is a study of mak­ing and meaning. In both disciplines, the event of making is considered a combination of human skills and production, with the ungraspable moments of talent, inspiration and intuition, be they divine or not. As a study of meaning, each discipline explores subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality.”[1]

The Dangers of Aesthetic Theology

One can readily note many difficulties with this approach to interpretation. First, there is a failure to consider the historical setting of the Scriptures. As Kostenberger and Patterson remark, “Biblical scholarship was reduced to narrative criticism or various other forms of literary criticism, and while interesting literary insights were gained, Scripture’s historical dimension was unduly neglected, resulting in an imbalanced interpretation once again.”[2] This refusal to interact with the historical setting, which refuses to interact with the inspired text as given. Duvall and Hays counter this dangerous ejection, “Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations…we should take the ancient historical-cultural situation seriously. The bottom line is that we cannot simply ignore ‘those people living back then’ and then jump directly to what God wants to say to us.”[3]

 

Duvall and Hays’ last comment provides insight to another danger of the aesthetic approach to biblical interpretation: it is subjective. In a review article, Kostenberger acknowledges this subjective theme, writing, “Once isolated from its historical grounding and its authoritative position, a text yields a limitless number of meaning possibilities. Radical pluralism and relativity in interpretation are the results, and authoritative biblical preaching degenerates into mere storytelling.”[4] Because aesthetic theology divorces itself from the anchor of history, it frees the interpreter to determine what he or she desires. Noting this, the anonymous reviewers of The Art of Theology conclude, “The result is a view on the human ability to be a creator in one’s own right as a given possibility to respond to the Creator. To actualise [sic] this possibility means becoming a co-creator who mediates the truth of creation.”[5] This danger allows for a variety of misinterpretations, up to and even including the creation of cults.[6]

 

A third danger with aesthetical theology is the reliance on the human interpreter. The anonymous authors state, “For in Chris­tian theology, the subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality are not only regarded as generating meaning, but also as participating in the meaning of divine creation.”[7] One immediately acknowledges the human interpreter as the essential need for interpretation. Biblically speaking, the individual human being is dependent upon: 1) the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 2:10-16), and 2) the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit (see 1 John 2:27). With aesthetic theology, however, one only needs to be able to understand literary genres, sentence structures, and grammar.[8]

The Antidote to Aesthetic Theology 

The primary difficulty with aesthetic theology is not that is utilizes narrative, nor is it because it incorporates literary studies in its interpretation. The primary issue is that it uses the tool of literature alone. The cure for such imbalance is the conduct the necessary historical research into the original setting.[9]

As Kostenberger and Patterson rightly observe, “In order for the interpretation of Scripture to be properly grounded, it is vital to explore the historical setting of a scriptural passage, including any cultural background features.”[10] By conducting the necessary research, the interpreter is able to grasp the context in which the original authors wrote. This prevents subjective interpretation, which is not biblically ethical.[11] It prevents aesthetic theology from overemphasizing the literary aspects of the text, working within a balanced framework from which to interpret the Scriptures properly.[12]

Additionally, after conducting the necessary background research of the historical context, interpreters must also be mindful of the theological ramifications. That is, interpretations are not divulged in a theological vacuum. There is a need to observe the theological cohesiveness of the canon of Scripture, and the means to operate within this spectrum are found within biblical theology as it relates to the interpretation of Scripture. “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible,” says Vos. Within this framework, the interpreter is protected from teachings foreign to the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the best interpreters of Scripture.[14]

Without divorcing the sacred text of its literary composition, biblical hermeneutics, aimed at “teaching the message of truth accurately,” investigates the original context in which the Scriptures were given, while observing their movement in the greater narrative of the Bible.[15]

_____________

[1] WorldTrade.Com, “Review of The Art of Theology Theological: Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics and the Foundations of Faith,” Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technological Books in the Humanities & Sciences, https://www.wordtrade.com/religion/christianity/balthasar1R.htm, accessed 22 May 2020.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2011), 77.

[3] J Scott Duvall and J. Daniels Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 116-117.

[4] Andreas Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse? An Assessment of Narrative Theology,” Faith and Mission, vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 28.

[5] WorldTrade.Com.

[6] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 61-62.

[7] WorldTrade.Com.

[8] See Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology,” 30; see also Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth 3rd Edition  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 27-28.

[9] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 116; Fee and Stuart, How to Read, 26-27.

[10] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 93.

[11] See Kostenberger and Patterson’s warnings, Invitation, 58.

[12] Kostenberger and Patterson refer to this as “the hermeneutical triad,” Invitation, 66-68; Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 2015), 5.

[14] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 74; see also London Baptist Confession of Faith, I:9.

[15] 2 Timothy 2:15, New English Translation; see Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019) for an excellent treatment of this hermeneutical approach.