We all look forward to the time when life will “get back to normal.” The year 2020 has now passed, but serious problems persist. It was only about a year ago that many of us became aware of a dangerous virus in China that was growing into a more widespread threat. By February 2020, it was a worldwide concern, and by March, almost the entire world began shutting down. How quickly our lives changed!
The effects of the novel coronavirus upon national economies large and small and the psychological impact upon individuals around the world will no doubt continue through this year and well beyond. The virus alone was enough to depress most people, but throw in the lockdowns, the loss of businesses and jobs, locust plagues, droughts, fires, floods, hurricanes and cyclones, protests and riots, a contested U.S. election, Brexit, and—well, we all understand.
Yet the people of God should not be depressed, but should be confident in the fact that God exists and that He cares for us, His beloved children. That is no small thing. Once we come to understand that God is truly a loving Father who watches over us during good times and bad, we can have a peace of mind that the world does not have. As Paul admonishes us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
In addition, God truly is our Healer. I have personally heard of several very dramatic healings this past year, healings that cannot be explained any other way than as miracles. Regarding COVID-19, most members who have contracted it have experienced mild or few symptoms and have recovered. Some have had a rough time of it, and a few of our thousands of members have succumbed to the virus or complications arising from it. We must never forget that life is temporary and the end often comes sooner than we want it to. We will all die of something, and even Elisha, whom God used to perform spectacular miracles, died from an unspecified disease (2 Kings 13:14).
One ingredient that sustains us in times of trouble is found in Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Many professing Christians are aware of John 3:16, where we are assured of God’s love and that if we believe in Jesus, we will not perish but have eternal life. How many have living faith in this promise? Do you? Think about it.
Remember what Jesus told His disciples when they asked, in essence, What’s in it for us? Jesus answered, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Do we truly believe this promise?
We must not live carelessly. We must take proper precautions, whether crossing the street in heavy traffic or avoiding an unseen enemy—but we must also walk in faith, knowing that we have done our part and that God will take care of the rest. Even if we do get sick, we trust that God is our Father, that He deeply cares for our well-being, and that He is our Healer. And if we do succumb to any health trial, our next waking moment will be as a Spirit-born child of God at the resurrection. A hundred years could pass, but for us, it would seem less than a split second. How comforting that thought!
A few things have come up over the past few months that I wish to address. Some individuals have allowed the subject of wearing masks to distract them from being part of the Church that is doing the Work of God, and they have vainly tried to find scriptures to justify their rebellion to God’s clear instructions on how the Church is to deal with controversial issues (Deuteronomy 17:8–13; Acts 15). Everyone is aware that wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is controversial. However, while no decision on a controversial matter will ever make everyone happy, there are very good reasons for the decision we made.
Most medical experts believe that masks give some level of protection from the spread of disease, and that is why they are widely used in hospitals. We are far from alone in mandating wearing them in our services. In fact, we could not hold services in most locations if we did not mandate them. Masks make it possible to secure halls all over the world because they are required by many local governments and venues.
We want to meet in person on the Sabbath wherever possible, and we want the most vulnerable among us to feel safe in doing so. While masks have certainly become a political divide in the United States and some other Western nations, most nations around the world require them. But, more importantly, to be divisive by misrepresenting scriptures and questioning the faith of others is simply wrong.
Part of the problem with masks is that people often do not wear them properly. Wearing them with one’s nose exposed is more comfortable, but defeats much of the purpose for them. Constantly touching and adjusting a mask spreads whatever germs or viruses are on the mask to the fingers and then to everything they touch. Wearing the same mask for several days in a row is probably unwise. And mini-shields or half-shields are designed for food service—they provide almost no protection from the spread of this virus and should not be used in our services. Full shields are not as effective as cloth or disposable masks but may be good for those who genuinely have trouble breathing. There are rare cases where a mask or shield should not be worn, but that is something that should be discussed with one’s local pastor to work out other precautions, such as sitting behind a plexiglass shield or social distancing.
What About Vaccinations?
In the context of COVID-19, questions have now arisen over vaccination. The Living Church of God has not changed our stance on this, which goes back decades: Vaccinations, like other medical procedures, are a matter of personal choice. The Church does not give medical advice. There are risks and benefits with all medicines and medical procedures, and some decisions are matters of life and death. Our responsibility is not to criticize or judge, but to encourage faith and support members as they deal with these heavy decisions. Members should not debate and throw stones at one another, over social media or otherwise, for their choices.
The biggest issue for some is the potential for employer- or government-mandated vaccination. There is already discussion of travel cards. Then there is the problem of forced vaccination for children, and some countries requiring vaccination for the elderly and those otherwise vulnerable. Some countries, states, provinces, or territories allow for religious exemption, making it possible for members to opt out of vaccination for themselves or their children as a matter of personal faith. In countries where this is an option, the Church has for decades supported members with a letter affirming that an individual is a member in good standing and that we believe his or her faith is sincere. This usually takes care of the problem for members whose consciences dictate that they do not want vaccinations for themselves or their children. This continues to be the case, and your minister will provide such a letter upon your request if you are in a country where this can be done.
Some jurisdictions do not allow for religious exemption and some do not allow children to be homeschooled. As I have seen firsthand, if parents go against a doctor’s wishes, the child can be removed from the home and whatever medical procedure was refused by the parents will be done anyway. This is then followed up by a legal battle to get the child back in the home, which can take days or weeks.
Some of us recall that Mr. Herbert Armstrong submitted to vaccination in one or two situations where he could not otherwise enter a country to do the Work of God, and other faithful ministers have faced the same issue while working in parts of Africa or Asia.
There are, of course, several reasons why a member may not want a vaccination. Without going into them all, some vaccinations contain tissue derived from a fetus electively aborted back in the 1960s. However, there are vaccines that are not derived this way, and this is true of some COVID-19 vaccines. Each person who chooses to be vaccinated needs to do his or her own homework on this—which, frankly, is not too difficult with the Internet, as there are reputable sources that explain the differences and one’s healthcare provider will no doubt be able to help. But please note—none of this should be taken as endorsing or condemning vaccinations. There are many medical conditions and treatments, and it is not for the Church to exercise faith for you or make decisions on your behalf. Brethren, let us not judge one another!
As mentioned in my sermon that was broadcast live on December 26, we are no longer forbidding singing in services at a reasonable volume as long as a congregation is properly socially distanced, wearing masks in an appropriate manner, and within state and venue regulations. We all pray that this coronavirus will quickly disappear, but whether it does or not, we should show outgoing concern for one another—especially those most at risk, many of whom step out in faith to attend services each week. It is important not to become distracted.
God’s Church Remains the Same
Despite this coronavirus and the disruptions that come with it, nothing has truly changed about God’s Church. We have not changed any doctrine. We still believe in healing, and we still anoint the sick in person or by way of an anointed cloth where time and distance is a problem. We keep the Sabbath, the Holy Days, and the laws of clean and unclean meats. We preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world, and carry on as we did prior to COVID-19.
When this comes to an end—and it will—we will be the same Living Church of God that we were a year ago, though stronger for the trial. Yes, some have left us, but God is replacing them with new members. Tomorrow’s World magazine subscribers have increased by nearly 100,000 during the past year. God has blessed our income and we are able to hire additional employees that we could never afford prior to 2020. We have also expanded our efforts by adding new television stations and making significant strides with our Internet and social media presence. And now, in 2021, we are expanding from six to ten annual Tomorrow’s World magazine issues.
The fruits of this Work show that God is pleased with us. We are thrilled by the way He has blessed us over the last year, but we realize that we are, as Dr. Meredith sometimes referred to us, “half a peanut shell in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” While we continue to do our part, we look to Jesus Christ to do the Work through us. We simply cannot do it on our own. Let us never forget the big picture of why we are called, nor get hung up on twiggy matters that cause division and heartache. And let us not judge one another! Not one of us is so righteous that we are justified in throwing stones at others, on or off social media.
Keep this big picture in mind!