To my Brothers in the Ministry in the Midst of Pestilence

I want to encourage you brothers. The sheep entrusted to our care and the communities in which we serve have enough people telling them what to be worried about, what precautions to take, and how to save themselves in the midst of this pestilence. Everyone is fully aware that we are in a crisis. They don’t need pastors to play CNN anchors with the latest breaking news. The world is obsessed with evil. You don’t have to be. If you don’t preach a heavy dose of Christ your sheep will leave more anxious than when they came. You do not need to increase their anxiety by daily reviewing hygiene practices or allowing members to think that the church is less essential than the grocery, voting booth, or preschool day care. If those assemblies are allowed and encouraged to stay open out of “necessity,” what do they think of the church?

You are called to demonstrate a little more than the “milk faith” Dr. Luther warned you about. If you don’t, who will? If you continue focusing on the wind and the waves how will the sheep see the God who commands them? Why are you looking so constantly and willing at the state? It knows nothing about faith in Christ. These men that you so loyally listen to as lap dogs, what sort of faith in Christ have they demonstrated in the past. Why would they advocate for Christians to continue to hear the Word of God when they know neither your God nor your confession. They are speaking in the interest of publicly safety, yes. And you can be sure that many of them will rarely speak in the interest of the church. Are you honestly going to lie down and roll over at their every command?

The saints of God don’t need to hear from your Facebook or pulpit what the governor said. They need to hear what God says. The church isn’t to be another mouthpiece of the CDC or the state. Let the world holler at the church. Let them blame us for everything. VDMA! Let them say you Christians caused this whole thing. Let them blame you Missouri Synod pastors and people for perpetuating this disease for the end of time because you were so determined to hear the Word of God in the midst of this so-called pandemic. Of course, your body can spread germs and you should wash your hands. Will you tell the world anything that it doesn’t already know? This is why Jesus promised us persecution and the hatred of the world.

Our steadfastness to hear the Word doesn’t conflict with the love for our neighbor. So why are so many of you saying otherwise? Why are we so ready to concede loving our neighbor means staying away from the Word with them? What sort of faith is that? Your milk faith is souring.

A troubled youth with a sinful past visited one of my congregations for the first time this past Sunday. He offered me his hand before church and after church. What did I do? “Oh, no, no, no. I can’t shake your hand young lad. Don’t you know there’s a deadly disease going around?” A visitor who simply follows social and even Biblical custom isn’t to be pointed back to the world, but to Christ. I shook his hand, and allowed his grandmother to remind him to wash his hands. But some of you act like your neighbor’s hands are the devil’s curse. Man-up and shake a hand. “But what if I kill him?” Then he goes out hearing Christ and being treated as a human being of His under-shepherd. Why do you despise the right hand of fellowship (1 Pet. 5:14)?

I heard tell of a Roman parish who is shutting their doors for the next few weeks so they paraded and adored the Sacrament in front of the people to remind them what they aren’t going to have during all this calamity. You should not suspend the Word and Sacrament from your people. It’s the only thing some of them have left. Video and audio technology can be great ways to get the Word out to those who in their own Christian freedom desire to stay home. They’re free to do that. You’re free to be pastor to those who want to brave the sunlight, fresh air, and the confines of the Lord’s house. What has the Lutheran church come to if it relegates itself, even for a short time, to a virtual church? You all quote the axiom, “We are to live in the world, not of the world.” Do all axiom’s take a backseat when the State states “state of emergency.” What’s the state of your faith? It is as if you think we must suspend all truth, everything we normally say about Christ, faith, and His church because Chicken Little is here to make exceptions. Our own Synod and her president bless the state to contextualize her own laws (e.g. the 1st Amendment doesn’t apply). The state does mean well. But they don’t know Christ, His angels, or your Heavenly Father’s mercy. You’re supposed to. Social media cannot suffice for the incarnate church. Are flesh and blood pastors and preaching really optional?

Why keep receiving the Sacrament during the calm if it isn’t necessary during the storm? Christ offers His own body and blood to eat and drink for our forgiveness and eternal comfort. It is not for viewing online. Baptism and the Supper, marks of the church, are lost to a mere social media service. Is a sacrament of our Lord only optional in tragedy? Is it not divinely instituted till Judgment Day, even if pagans think it matters less than groceries and toilet paper?

The gift and Gospel of the Lord’s Supper is not to be passively viewed, but participated in. Do not deprive sheep hungry for salvation of this most blessed food.  If you’re not man enough to keep the church doors open (i.e. broach a 6-foot distance with the sheep God placed under you) at least have an elder stand in your place who is.

Your job is to point people to Christ. As the gathered body of Christ, does it mean nothing that we pray the 4th petition shoulder to shoulder? After the sermon, does the Votum of Christ’s peace in our hearts and minds not also proceed to the incarnate peace we extend toward one another? After the Sacrament don’t you dismiss the saints saying, “The body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to live everlasting?” Do you believe it? Then why put down Thy rod and Thy staff. Guide your sheep to green pastures and quiet waters armed with Word and Sacrament though the beasts lie in waiting (1 Sam. 17:35).

Think of it this way. If you have 9 members who are already in church and you’ve set your cap at that state suggested number, are you honestly going to turn away #10 from the Word? No God-fearing preacher of the Word can in good conscience do that. Either, you have a sign-up with multiple services and offer enough services so that all are fed, or you figure out some other way to give regular Word and Sacrament ministry to all. Or you fear men rather than God. I can see the situation where the pastor himself has tested positive or is likely to have contracted the pestilence in which case he can only incarnately serve other lepers (1 Cor. 9:20-22). But why would you otherwise suspend the Sacrament from those who are so blatantly hungry and thirsty for it? If you willingly suspend the cup from your sheep, then you must also lead the discussion to suspend/decrease your wages. You are called to Word and Sacrament ministry, and all it entails.

There is more, dear Lutheran preacher, that you are giving up than you are securing by foregoing God’s Service. Psalm 91 was a promise of God before it was ever a temptation of the devil. Recall God’s promises. Luther would remind you to trust in God Himself more than all the doctors and medicine in the world. So, if given the choice would you go to church or to the doctor (Matt. 6:24)? This is no more a false dichotomy than the Wal-Mart worker who is mandated to work all Sunday mornings. I’m not talking to sheep; I’m talking to shepherds. You must do your duty. The devil is surely doing his. The devil broadcasts through the world there’s a germ that can kill us all. Do you not know that your Father’s angels have saved your lives thousands of times over?

Truth doesn’t argue, “Be a brute, you can survive anything and ignore everything.” Truth says: “Here is the Word and the Sacrament and here is the pastor who will give it to you during pestilence.” Your saints have all the law they need with the governor’s edicts. Who will give them gospel (SA, III, IV)?

You know God is in control. You preach it. Now practice it, Mr. Preacher. You can’t actually argue that God suspends His commands during pestilence (Matt. 28:19-20; Lk. 22:19; Jn. 20:23)? There are exceptions to preaching and hearing the Word of God no matter what (1 Sam. 21:6; Lk. 10:31-32). But this pestilence is in most circumstances not one of them. Preach to your saints not to fear His House, Word, Blood, and sinful neighbor in need of forgiveness. You have preached about the medicine of the Sacrament. Now’s the time to practice it! Feed His lambs (Jn. 21:15). Don’t make Christ have to say it three times.

Buck up.

Pastor Marcus Manley