by: Pastor Brooks
Dear Liberty Baptist Tabernacle Family,
As of this writing, “community spread” has arrived in four counties in South Dakota, and that number is expected to grow larger in the coming weeks and possibly months. In response to this, Governor Noem has signed an executive order which gives her expected baseline for how best to respond to the spread of COVID-19. Essentially, it is to follow the CDC recommendations for a pandemic, which we have been doing, and it ultimately means local authorities will have to decide which actions are best to take.
Before Governor Noem signed the executive order, our Rapid City Council met Sunday night and voted 7-2 to implement an ordinance which would require some businesses and places of recreation to close in order to fight the spread of COVID-19. Before the ordinance can take effect there needs to be a second reading, which will take place this Friday, March 27. It would seem it will pass easily since the first reading did so. The new rules would last until April 8, at which time the council will make a decision on whether or not to extend.
I contacted the Mayor’s office to get clarification for how this ordinance will affect church gatherings. I was informed religious organizations were not included in the closure section of the ordinance, and that it is not the intent of the City to regulate religious gatherings. I imagine they are rightly making the effort to not infringe upon our first amendment protections of the free exercise of religion – thank God for our Bill of Rights! It is their hope religious organizations will practice the recommendations of the CDC.
There are times when it can become difficult to balance our Biblical mandate to assemble as a church with what our government wishes. How do we maintain a good testimony within our community and still please our ultimate Authority? It is my opinion that so long as we can sensibly assemble then we must do so – God’s Word never changes! While it is true we would be well within our rights to continue assembling no matter what, I also believe we must be responsible citizens and love our neighbors.
Although community spread has reached South Dakota, Pennington County is still in the “none” category of community spread, which means we can continue assembling as we have been, and that is per the CDC guidelines. Given the population of our county, I would imagine community spread will eventually happen. Should that come to pass we will continue taking measures consistent with the CDC guidelines, as our local authorities are hoping. In some respects we have already implemented heightened measures. For example, having two Sunday morning services is allowing us to gather in smaller groups, I have been encouraging those at an increased risk to stay home, and we have been cleaning more frequently.
It is currently my intent to only limit gathering numbers if our county experiences community spread. The CDC’s guidance has changed in this area before, so we will have to wait and see what their recommendations are at that time, but it will likely mean going to live stream only. I understand some will say we should close our doors now before it gets to that point, but God has not given me peace to do so at this time.
I have decided to cancel our bus ministry and Sunday school hour until further notice. Instead of moving from the first service into the Sunday school hour, we will take that time to clean all high-touch surfaces of our facility before the second service. The other reason for this is because of how small our Sunday school rooms are. We will also have an usher to open the front door to help keep multiple people from having to touch the same surface. Likewise, the doors separating the foyer from the sanctuary will remain open at all times.
In addition, I need to reiterate if you have any symptoms of being sick (cough, fever, or shortness of breath), then stay home. If you have been around those who have exhibited these symptoms, then stay home. I think of the Old Testament laws surrounding those infected with leprosy. Due to their uncleanness they had to isolate themselves until they were pronounced clean. I am not comparing the two illnesses, but I am saying the principle to withdraw makes sense for any who have knowingly become infected with any contagious illness.
If you have preexisting health conditions which place you at a higher risk, then you should consider staying home. According to the CDC you are at a higher risk for severe illness if you are 65 years or older, have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, have a serious heart condition, have a compromised immune system, are undergoing cancer treatment, have diabetes, have a kidney disease, have a liver disease, or on medications which can weaken your immune system. Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, then you should take extra precautions as well.
I WILL NOT THINK DIFFERENTLY OF ANY WHO DECIDE TO STAY HOME.
This ordinance which will most likely pass on Friday will cause financial stress. Hours will be cut, and in some cases people will be laid off, which has already been taking place. Therefore, I expect giving will go down. But we still have missionaries depending on us, ministries to fund, recurring bills to pay, and a staff to pay. Please trust God and stay faithful in your giving. You can give securely online through our website, or you can send in a check through the mail.
We will continue to post audio recordings of our sermons on our website and podcast, and we will likely begin posting video recordings as well to Facebook. For those who cannot attend, please take the time to keep up with the messages.
In closing, I hope you hear my heart in what follows:
I understand that my decisions are causing a wide range of
emotions. It angers some and pleases others, but I also know it is impossible to
please all of the people all of the time – it is one of the “joys” of
leadership. I do not take this situation lightly! I do think it is a boondoggle out there and that there is an overreaction
taking place, but that does not mean I am not doing my due diligence. Please
understand that I will give an account to God for how I led this church body –
a body which Christ bled and died for – and I must do all I can to keep the
doors of our assembling place open for as long as possible regardless of man’s opinion.
I take Hebrews 13:7 very seriously, which states, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” I have asked myself through all of this – “Is my faith worth following?” I have tried to lead by example.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” I hope when all is said is done you will look back and realize every decision I have made has been with the day of account in view.
I listened to a message today where Pastor Gaddis said years ago, “Don’t take counsel from your fear. Because if you take counsel from your fear you will never do what God wants you to do!” Fear is banished when we live by faith. We can do that by knowing the Word of God and doing what God says. Remember that many of the great hymns of our faith were written in very difficult seasons. Times of greatest difficulty can lead to greatest growth.
Church, we will get through COVID-19! It is my prayer we will come through the other side with greater faith than we entered into it. Jesus only marveled twice – once because of great faith, and once because of unbelief. What kind of church do we want to be?
Finally, aren’t you glad Christ does not have to practice social distancing? He welcomes the diseased into His midst. We were all born with the disease of sin, but thank God, Christ’s blood can cleanse us every whit! This is another reason to stay open as long as possible – to welcome the sin-sick who are seeking for the cure.
I’m praying for you, and I love you. No matter your decision through this, I will “let brotherly love continue”. Being your Pastor has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Thank you for holding my arms up! Let’s keep edifying and exhorting one another.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.”
We have been very blessed to live where we do during this outbreak. Keep praying for God to intervene and keep praying for those who are infected and those who are being greatly affected. God is still on the throne and in complete control…
Let’s keep striving together for the faith of the Gospel,