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Question and Answer

“Is it a sin to cancel worship?”

Question:

“Is it a sin to cancel worship?”

Answer:

I will have to refine your question a bit to respond to what I believe is your intent. You see, you cannot cancel worship. Worship is either given or withheld, which are actions of the individual first (and also to be performed in public as one of God’s people). And it is indeed a sin to withhold worship from the one true God.

I believe that “Is it a sin to cancel public worship?” is a better phrasing of your question. And to that, the answer is yes without proper cause. While the fourth Commandment requires us to worship God (as a part of keeping the Sabbath), the times and circumstances are left to the prudence of the session. Individual members are called upon to follow those decisions as far as possible, but not blindly. There are faithful Christians who cannot attend some of the services, and none of us are able always to attend them all. For example, I had knee surgery and did not attend the worship services two days later; it was virtually impossible for me to go and participate.

There are times when it is not proper to conduct pubic worship, particularly when doing so poses an inordinate danger to the attendees. During my pastorate in Iowa, there were normally two or three Lord’s Days each winter when the travel (even in town) was extremely hazardous. The Session would consider the situation and conclude that to insist on holding services would endanger the lives of those who traveled. We tried to judge wisely regarding the danger, and often continued with services even with ice and snow abounding. But at other times we believed that asking the members to come would have violated the sixth Commandment by endangering their lives. This did not “cancel worship,” but it did cancel the public services for worship that were scheduled.

And this, I believe, is the core of your question. Does the current situation (the coronavirus) make it dangerous for our members to gather? That is a judgment call of each Session, complicated somewhat by civil authorities banning such gatherings in some places. It would be foolish to declare that there is no danger, and improper to declare that every Session that cancelled services to protect their members had erred.

Let me conclude with a quote from Martin Luther regarding his conduct during the plague.

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God. (Luther’s Works, vol. 43, p. 132, the letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess)


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those people who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

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You will receive an answer by e-mail. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two (2) weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references or from some source may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

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