Between Can and Should: Church Singing and COVID19

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

These words, first uttered as entertainment, contain a surprising amount of wisdom. We need to take time to think through the ethical implications before we act.

Should We Sing?

Governments are loosening restrictions so that churches can meet once again. There are so many new questions now that Christians must wrestle with. One of which is “should we sing?” Singing can transmit respiratory viruses such as tuberculosis, as I understand. COVID19 also is transmittable via singing, especially in churches where people stand within close quarters.

Some Answer Yes

Scott Aniol at Artistic Theologian answers definitely yes. In short, he argues that we don’t know how the virus is spread. We are all going to get it anyway. We know it is not dangerous to young healthy people. God commands us to gather together and sing (Heb 10:25; Col 3:16; Eph 5:19). Therefore, we should sing when we meet.

I reserve my doubts as to his assessment of the medical situation, because I have no ability or qualifications to critique him. I will say that most people who have credentials do not take the position, as far as I understand. I do appreciate that his argument is vastly superior to the position that brushes COVID19 off as a government “plan-demic” and decides to meet because “ITS OUR RIGHT!”

But Should We Though?

Should we sing? God does command it and it is apart of worship. Shouldn’t that be the deciding factor? Trust and obey, right? We know that God takes worship seriously and we should not violate it. Think of Nadab and Abihu or Uzzah.

If that were all God said on the matter, perhaps you might have a point. But that is not all God says. In fact, Jesus specifically points out that rules of worship should be suspended for sake of health (Mt 12:1-8):

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.
2 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

So here is the issue: the disciples were violating the Sabbath which was central to Jewish worship. Why? For hunger. Jesus could have made them wait till the next day by calling an impromptu fast. Instead, Jesus defends their actions.

3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions,
4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?
6 “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.
7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Jesus demands that we exercise compassion, not ridged adherence to some code of worship. It is not that worship is unimportant, but that people are more important that worship. People, including their physical hunger, deserve more weight than what we do on Sundays. And if physical hunger ranks so highly in Jesus’s thought, how much more the risk of an airborne pathogen such as COVID19?

Luke also weaves in another story on the same theme in the next few verses:

6 On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
7 The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.
8 But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward.
9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”
10 After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored.
11 But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Luke 6:6–11

Jesus could have waited for all we know. That man had been sick for a long time. One more day certainly would not have hurt. But Jesus intervened, working on the Sabbath, to heal this man. By his actions, he confirmed that doing good and saving lives on the Sabbath as lawful and necessary. In fact, obeying the Sabbatical rule would do harm and destroy life. If Jesus gave up the rules to heal a man, should we not also give up our rules to keep people healthy? In the case of COVID19, should we not give up singing in order to ensure the health of our people?

Conclusion

Yes, we can meet together and sing. But we shouldn’t meet together and sing. Health is important to God. It is more important than worship. Therefore, pastors and church ought to strongly consider giving up singing for the time being. Other activities should also be canceled or modified for the safety of people. This should be done until we have a reliable treatment and vaccine.

As a side, pastors have a very complex and tough situation to deal with. I understand the difficulties of working through this mess with your congregation. In all this, just remember that pastors don’t have the training to understand the implications of all the data that is being generated. The fact is, many scientists do not know a lot of things about this virus. If the people who literally spend their lives studying epidemiology don’t know, then a pastor with and MA or M.Div. should not assume that they know better. Please, follow the recommended guidelines for your state/area and take precautions. You don’t want to stand before the court of God or men because you thought you knew better, but you ended up being responsible for people’s death.

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