Martin Luther once wrote, “Do not make what is free into a must.” Here, he was talking about the practice of matters not directly forbidden in Scripture (monastic vows, etc.). While Luther strongly and bullishly at times pushed for what Scripture said we must do, he had a place for the conscience, for Christian freedom in matters that Scripture has no direct prohibition.
We live in a scientific age in which every jot and tittle finds its definition. But real life often does not work that way. And I suspect that we bring this scientific expectation into our Christian practice when in fact Christian freedom allows us much more leeway than we might expect. Legalism is always a danger; freedom is always ready to be lost. As Paul tells us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).
During this pandemic, we have at times made what is free into must. Churches exist along a spectrum from advocating civil disobedience to remaining closed even when it is legally possible to stay open. Here, I continue to think that Christians have to balance Scriptural mandates to submit to authority with the definition of the church: the spiritual and regularly-gathering body of Christ who together worships the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If your church decides to gather with more persons than the limit (say 15% in Alberta or ten people in Ontario) because of your Scriptural convictions, I get it. If you cannot meet with ten people but have decided not to do multiple services during the week until you can gather in larger groups, I get it.
“Do not make what is free into a must.” You are free. We are Christians. For freedom we have been set free.
My plea: “Strive for peace with everyone” (Heb 12:14). In other words, it is the same plea I made in December 2020. Strive for peace. Disagree well. Be okay if we never agree on this issue. Disagreement on this issue should not issue in long-term separation. We might remain, during the next few months, quite different in practice. We will not approve of each other’s actions.
That is okay. The Gospel of Jesus Christ by faith unites us to him and each other in one Spiritual body. Disagreement cannot destroy that Spiritual unity: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Gal 2:20).