2609 Larch Way Lynnwood, WA 98036 | Sunday Services at 10am

Navigating Tough Choices

July 20, 2020

Dear friends,

For the last several months, Refuge planned a VBS program as we looked at shifting “Phases” for our state, gathering guidelines, and more. Last week, revised guidelines led to impromptu elder meetings and discussions that culminated in the need to cancel for now: an indefinite postponement. (It’s certain the material and plan will happen eventually). As the volunteers were informed, we had some great questions that were asked. The answers provide a little peek “behind the curtain” at the meticulous and methodical process needed to lead a church, a combination of theological, philosophical and practical juggling as we chart the course for Refuge.

For those interested, I decided to share them here:

1. When the VBS committee came together months ago, the plan was always to create something that would work within governing guidelines, with a potential to abort the plan if our county didn’t make the phase or level appropriate to pull it off. 

2. Along those lines, we were optimistic (and pleased) that Phase 2’s change to accommodate churches allowed for more than 5 persons at “all worship services, religious study classes, religious ceremonies, religious holiday celebrations, weddings, and funerals.” 

3. To be fair, VBS is a mix of recreation, entertainment. and religious study classes… so while the first two of those three components could be considered under tighter restrictions, the religious class component (devotions) put it in a place where we decided we could engage in good conscience without needing to consider civil disobedience.

4. Last week’s latest announcement/rollback restricted ALL outdoor recreation, entertainment, etc. and gatherings back to the “5 or less” (but still gives special allowances to churches in Phase 2 and 3). However, those allowances were extended to “worship services, weddings and funerals.” Classes are omitted in this instance.

5. While some were already concerned we might be slightly stretching the rules (to my knowledge, no other church in our entire region is doing an on-site VBS this year) this created a more clear-cut restriction that, upon reflection, we decided to honor. 

6. We had no Spirit-discerned compulsion to an act of civil disobedience in this instance. Since the VBS team didn’t feel a “call from God to do it, no matter what” we weren’t in an Acts 5:29 situation. 

7. There may come a day where our church would be compelled to civil disobedience regarding a restriction that seems to impinge on biblical expectations to gather, teach, disciple, etc. but VBS is admittedly not a prescribed gathering. It is helpful and beneficial, but not essential. We are gathering our children on Sundays, instructing them in the Word, and instructing parents to raise them in accordance with Deuteronomy 6. VBS is a treasured blessing and extra spiritual fortification.

8. If a day comes we feel compelled to civil disobedience (the possibility exists) it probably won’t begin with a gathering largely of children (some of whom aren’t even members of our church). If we follow guidelines and someone gets sick, no one can accuse our church and/or leadership of wrongdoing. But if we used this as a fulcrum to make a point, civilly disobey, and something DID happen to those children (or spread to a parent, grandparent or relative) we feel we would be not only accountable to man, but to God’s judgment for that decision. So we won’t make that kind of move lightly.

That’s an “inside look” at how the decisions get made, with much thought and dialogue and seeking God’s Word. We are (again, to my knowledge) already leading the way in resuming services (at this point less than 50% have resumed, and much less in our state) so I feel we’re setting a good example of confidence-with-caution and strategy. As we walk through this together, we will always assess that tension between submission to authority and civil disobedience for the cause of Christ.

For anyone interested in deeper growth and study, here are a couple good starts:

John Piper on the issue (audio and transcript)

Got Questions outline on God and government

Grace and peace,

Pastor James Harleman