Letter from the Elders
August 4, 2021
To our beloved church family,
It is no secret that the last few years have been very difficult, divisive, and isolating for the world. In fact, in my 15+ years of pastoral ministry, I cannot recall a more tumultuous season of life. I’ve even met with pastors who have been in ministry longer than I’ve been alive and they agree with that assessment. Now notice, I didn’t say it is the most tumultuous time in the history of the world. It isn’t the worst time in history, but it is the most unsettled in recent U.S. history. Those before us have faced much more dire circumstances than we do now. But I can’t help to wonder if we have a gloomier perspective than they did.
Now in the midst of suffering--- in the midst of anxiety, depression, and fear we can’t afford to lose the right perspective on the current state of things and that is why we as an elder team think this present statement is warranted.
Now, I do not need to rehash all the details of our government and nation’s response to COVID-19 over the last year and a half. But with talks of the Delta strain continuing to gain momentum in the press and with particular mandates coming down, our elder team thought it best to speak to how we as a church will continue to operate in light of ever-changing circumstances.
Last year, our local church suspended gathering for approximately 6 weeks in an effort to curb what was projected to us to be imminent doom: millions of deaths in the U.S. through a virus called SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome or coronavirus 2). We were told that if we did not lock down our cities, our country would suffer catastrophic loss. Therefore, with the data we were given by our government and medical professionals, we prayerfully yet reluctantly suspended our gatherings.
After about 6 weeks of doing this, we soon realized that the data was wrong. And not only was the data wrong, but it was significantly wrong and over the last year and a half we have learned much about how this virus spreads, the recovery and survival rate, and what measured responses do and do not look like.
According to WebMD, the recovery rate for those who get COVID-19 is between 97% to 99.75%. The CDC breaks down the survival rate this way: 0-19 years old (99.997% chance of survival); 20-49 years old (99.98% chance of survival); 50-69 (99.5 percent chance of survival); 70+ (94.6%). And of those that died in 2020, the CDC is reporting that comorbidities (other conditions) were listed on 95% of the death certificates.
With statistics like these and as an elder team accountable to God for the spiritual well-being of our congregation, we find ourselves asking “are the government mandates measured?”. In other words, does our government’s response match the crisis in light of the evidence we now have?
This is not a small question because God has called us to regularly gather with his church (Hebrews 10:25) and many mandates if followed can impede that calling. The gathering of God’s church is essential work. It is in the gathering of God’s church that we are sanctified by His ordinary means of grace (Word, prayer, and sacrament). It is through regularly gathering that we can gain momentum in having a biblically optimistic view of God’s sovereignty. It is through regularly gathering that God pulls us out of depression and anxiety caused by worry and fear. Gathering with God’s people is a sort of detox from all the negative (and largely false and politicized) information we intake in unhealthy quantities.
We are a nation (and world) paralyzed by fear, yet we cannot be a church paralyzed by fear. Our public worship and witness must continue to happen even in a dysfunctional, fearful, and angry society. We see how many of our brothers and sisters before us continued in their public commitment to Christ despite how gloomy things were. Their lives really were at stake (imminently so), yet they continued in their public commitment to God.
They were able to persevere in that commitment because they had a biblically optimistic view of God’s sovereignty and His building of His kingdom through those ordinary means of grace. Furthermore, they saw the public gathering of God’s church as the starting point of their witness for Him in the culture. In other words, their private commitment to Christ and their public witness about Him flowed from regularly gathering with His people.
For us, this is not a politically charged issue. As one pastor put it, “the church hasn’t gotten more political, the government has gotten more religious”. We can see how parties on both sides of the political aisle have fumbled and continue to fumble on the issue of public health. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be studying medical journals as a pastor. I never thought we as an elder team would have to sift through political power grabs as it relates to public health. However, here we are seeking to discern truth from error and remain calm in a time of hysteria in our government, in journalism, and in our society. Yet as Christians we are to be stable and steadfast in Christ no matter the cultural climate.
In light of this our elder team thought it appropriate to make this statement available as our official position and counsel to the congregation of Deer Park Fellowship and our prayer is that this position will glorify God and bring unity and clarity for our church moving forward. See our five statements below:
1. As elders, we thank God and pray for those in governing positions, but we do not agree with any proposal to shut down, modify capacities, or prohibit admittance into our public gathering based on our charge from God as revealed in the Scriptures and based on the scientific evidence we have about COVID-19. Therefore, Deer Park Fellowship will continue to meet in person every Lord’s Day. All are welcome.
2. We reject the category of vaccinated vs unvaccinated. Our church is a blend of both vaccinated people and unvaccinated people, but that is not our identity. Our society is divided enough, and we will not feed into further division or scare tactics. We will model unity. All people are created in the image of God and our church is made up of those whom Christ died for. Vaccinations are an issue of Christian liberty not a test of fellowship.
3. We will re-open our mask required section for those who care for those who are immune-compromised and/or are more comfortable wearing a mask in the midst of the Delta strain.
4. If you have an underlying condition and you choose to stay home temporarily, we ask that you communicate this with the elder team so that we can put you on a mailing list and ensure that you are able to access the sermons online. We also would like to specifically pray for you and ask that you check in regularly with one of the elders.
5. For those who are able to gather but haven’t, yet we urge you to begin to gather again with God’s church. This is for your good and His glory.
We love you and we are so grateful to serve the Lord by serving you. Please pray for us as we seek to honor God in how we lead and know that we are praying for each of you.
Warmly in Christ,
Pastor Joey Tomlinson and the Elder Team:
WedMD Source: https://www.webmd.com/lung/covid-recovery-overview#1-2
CDC 1: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/covid-19.htm
CDC 2: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/mortality-overview.htm