This transcript was taken from the Stand in the Gap Radio program originally aired on 5/8/20. To listen to the program, please click HERE.
Keith Wiebe: Thank you so much for tuning in today to Stand in the Gap Today. I am your host, Keith Wiebe, and as I was working through this broadcast and thinking about it, several words came to mind, unprecedented, unexpected, universal, sudden. I capped all of that off with a, “Wow.” I’m talking about the last several weeks in our nation. I have spent over 50 years in pastoral ministry, preaching, teaching, speaking. Except during a hurricane in Florida or a snowstorm, never had to cancel Sunday service, but all at once in these last eight weeks, churches have been unable to gather because of the coronavirus. All of this has affected our churches. Out of consideration for the safety and well-being of our people, in consideration of our testimony and our communities, we’ve paused meeting publicly.
Keith Wiebe: Now, I want to make it clear, and we’re going to emphasize this point right at the outset of the broadcast. That was by choice. We don’t claim to do that because of government requirement. Such a requirement, we believe, would be unconstitutional according to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and religion gets special care in our Constitution. It’s not on the same level as interest in sports or politics or the arts. In fact, it’s listed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, so any government guidance in this kind of thing should be temporary, necessary, and very importantly, equally applied across all of the culture.
Keith Wiebe: Now, this COVID-19 curve in most places has peaked. Businesses, restaurants are starting to open back up again. I was glad to finally find a barbershop open. I was afraid I was going to have to braid my hair. Couldn’t get it cut. Finally got it cut. As churches, we are eager to… I’m not going to use the word “reopen.” Sam has been using the word “regather” to describe this and I like that. Now, Sam Rohrer is with me as cohost of the program today, but Sam, could I put you for just a moment in the guest’s chair and ask you why you have described the church not as reopening but as regathering? Tell us why.
Sam Rohrer: Keith, absolutely, and I think you’ve touched on it there, but even as we did on the Zoom conference call with a lot of pastors just the other day on this matter of regathering, we had Mat Staver from Liberty Council and we talked about this. Fundamentally, we have to understand that the governors of the states, the President, whoever that may be, the Executive Branch, has no Constitutional authority to tell churches how they worship, their mode of worship, their form of worship, or any of that. That’s a first part, and the other part I’m saying is because of that, that governors cannot Constitutionally and before our God tell a church they cannot meet.
Sam Rohrer: The regathering part of is that, as you say, churches, pastors saying, “All right, we have an issue here we don’t fully understand, this virus. We don’t want to put our people in harm’s way. We will voluntarily on request by recommendation, we are going to voluntarily do that. We are not doing so. We are not closing our doors. We are not ceasing to worship because we have told to.” That’s a very, very, very important part, Keith. Even as we talk now with our guest today and Gary relative to decisions by churches and pastors across the country to, again, regather in the midst of confusing directives coming out of many of our states and our governors.
Keith Wiebe: Well, it is very pertinent and important, Sam. Thank you. You said that very well, but church in reality is people. It’s not the building where we met, and so in reality as I’ve thought of a word to describe what the church has done, the church in reality has simply disassembled, no longer meeting. Now, don’t mix my words up. It’s not dissembled. That’s a whole different animal. We have disassembled. We have stopped meeting voluntarily.
Keith Wiebe: We approached this from a Biblical worldview, a secular world view only sees what it calls a novel coronavirus, looking for global responses. That’s got its own danger moving forward, but we see this virus as just the result of the curse of sin under which all of humanity rest. Actually, the disassembling of a church for something like this is not novel. It’s happened before in the Spanish Flu era, 1917, ’18, and ’19. The churches did the same thing and they made it clear that it was voluntary on their part.
Keith Wiebe: Now, I want to welcome to our program today two very special guests., Dr. Gary Dull, he’s no stranger to this program, often on it as either a host or a cohost. He’s the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and our guest here today, and also, Dr. Mike Frazier. He actually is the Pastor of most of my wife’s family in Canton, Ohio, there at the Canton Baptist Temple. Sam and I are going to ask them several questions and just get their perspective. We’ll ask both of them to respond to most of these and direct some of them individually.
Keith Wiebe: First of all, I’d like to ask you two men what these past eight weeks have been like for you as a pastor. What’s been different? I know you both have maintained a very active ministry and your congregations. Among other things, I’m wondering what it’s been like to preach to a bunch of empty pews every week. Mike, I have about 30 seconds for you to give me a quick answer to that one, and I’m going to come right back to you after we take a break. What’s it like to preach to empty pews?
Mike Frazier: I don’t like it. I think we’re all anxious to get our people back into the doors of our facility. I miss the interaction. I miss the facial expression. I miss the Amens. I miss the laughs whenever I might tell a joke from the pulpit. I just miss all of that and I think there’s a growing feeling of that even across all of America with God’s people. They’re anxious to regather as Sam has mentioned. I think that’s a key word.
Keith Wiebe: I appreciate that and I think you’re right. A pastor, a preacher, anyone that is speaking is really keying off of the audience that is in front of him and you get feedback. Somebody in the third row went to sleep and you’re wondering, “What in the world did I say or do? Why didn’t they just laugh at that last joke? It really was funny.” It’s church life. It’s the life of a service. It’s that special spiritual camaraderie that comes when God’s people gather together.
Keith Wiebe: Welcome back. We’re delighted to have you listening to Stand in the Gap Today. I’m Keith Wiebe, joined by cohost, also the Founder and President of The American Pastors Network, Sam Rohrer, and by two key Pastors, Gary Dull, Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Mike Frazier, Pastor in the Canton Baptist Temple in Canton, Ohio. Just before the break, I was asking Mike and Gary what has been different for them as a pastor during these last eight weeks. How has it been? We had time for Mike to answer and I’d like Gary to respond to that from his perspective. Gary, what’s it been like when you haven’t been able to meet with your whole church body? What have the last eight weeks been like for you?
Gary Dull: Well, I tell you, I, like Mike, I miss the congregation. You miss seeing their facial expressions and so forth. I just simply miss their fellowship and I’m really looking forward to when we can open up again. One of the things that we do, and I know Mike does it as well, is use social media. One of the things that we have observed over these past eight weeks, Keith, is that from what we can count on our social media, we’ve seen an increase of about 500%. I’m certain that that will probably go down once people start going to church, but it’s a strange time and I’m looking forward to being able to look at people eye to eye and even shake their hands if they’ll allow us to do that.
Keith Wiebe: Well, your feedback from the social media probably indicates you’re reaching some people that you would not have otherwise have reached, and that would be great if we can start gathering back together again but still keep some of those folks out there. I want to ask the two of you, what about your people? What kind of, if I can say it this way, vibes do you get from them? I had a lady in a text last week said to me, “I can’t wait to gather again with my church family.” Mike, what do you hear from your folks about their response to this whole new way of doing church?
Mike Frazier: Well, you know, we’ve got a couple of responses. We’ve got some that are excited and anxious about the regathering of the church and getting back to our facility here and worshiping together and studying the Word of God together. Then, you have some that are still very concerned, and mainly that has been driven by the media and what they have heard. There’s a fear that has overcome them and they are hesitant to come back to church. Many of them are older.
Mike Frazier: Some of them with underlying health conditions and they’re a little bit more reluctant to just say, “Yeah, when you open up, we’re going to be there.” There’s a little bit of what I’d call a mixed bag response, but I think with time, we will see a good response to folks regathering back to the church.
Sam Rohrer: Gary, what about you? What have you sensed from your folks out there?
Gary Dull: Well, I would say the very same thing that Mike did, and I’ve had letters, emails, phone calls, people asking when we are going to open up again, and there are many who are looking forward to it, but again, just like Mike has emphasized, there are many who are a little bit hesitant and skeptical. I have what I call an FMS that is from my study and it goes out on a regular basis normally, but while we have been involved with COVID-19, it’s been going out daily. The one that I sent out this morning basically said that when we do open up, if you feel uncomfortable in coming back, please feel free to stay home. Certainly, we don’t want to make anyone come back against their will, obviously, but again, it’s a mixed response. Some can’t wait, others are hesitant.
Gary Dull: You know, Sam, my Dad is a member of my congregation and he came to me a couple of weeks ago. He says, “I never thought that I’d find a time when my pastor, and particularly my son, told me to stay home from church.” I told him I’m going to invite him back one of these days soon.
Keith Wiebe: You know, Gary, my son told me the same thing and he’s also my pastor. He told me to stay home from church. I thought, “Boy, that’s different. That is really different.” Talk to us just a little bit, if I can back up a bit in our agenda, about for the two of you how your church has responded to all of this. How have you responded to the guidance that’s come from government? What kind of response do you have within your state from that? Mike, why don’t you start with that and just give us your reactions to how your church has responded to this whole thing?
Mike Frazier: Well, we have tried to honor the request of our Governor with the stay-at-home order and we have been eight weeks now online and we have offered online worship services for our people. As Brother Gary had mentioned, I really believe that we’ve been able to minister possibly to more people during this time through our online worship maybe than we would have done if they were gathered right here in our facility. We’ve been able to reach out to our people through daily devotional videos that I produce. We produce videos online for the children so that they can continue to be spiritually fed. We make hospital phone calls. We make calls to shut-ins. All of our adult Bible fellowships, the teachers, the care group leaders are functioning in that role of making phone calls.
Mike Frazier: I think our people have been very patient. I think they have appreciated what we have done in seeking to interact and connect and minister to them, but at the same time, everybody’s ready to somewhat get back to whatever the new normal is.
Sam Rohrer: Mike, I think that was great, and Gary, you’ve got a lot to say there. I want to shift a little bit to this concept. We’re talking about the regathering. Churches have been doing the online… what you’re talking about. All of the communication has had to be virtual, very little, as you were saying, of the handshaking. All of that kind of think has, temporarily anyways, hopefully temporarily, gone out the window. Gary, let me go to you on this one, and that is on the matter of the regathering.
Sam Rohrer: Now, people are saying anxious to get back and so forth, but from a Biblical perspective, from a church, God-directed perspective, why is it so important that virtual gatherings cannot replace the physical gathering aspect of worship? What’s going through your mind as you think that through?
Gary Dull: Well, Sam, I think that that’s a very, very important question, and it goes back to the whole concept of the Biblical worldview. Sure, people are able to join us through media ministries and so forth, but we need each other. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.” Obviously, we see there that the local assembly is not to be forsaken and we could build that out more. That means more than just missing a church service.
Gary Dull: There’s much more to that particular phrase than that, but the real point that I want to highlight is the fact that we are to get together so that we can exhort, comfort, encourage, strengthen, disciple each other, motivate each other to go on and to live the Christian life and do the work of The Lord. We are to do that more and more as we get closer to the return of The Lord Jesus Christ. When we are separated from each other, that exhorting cannot go on. The local church is a body and if you were to take your liver out or your lungs out of your physical body, you know that you’d have some difficulty living, obviously.
Gary Dull: Well, when the church is separated like it is right now, the whole concept of edification is weakened, and so it’s important that we get back together so that we might be able to build each other up in the faith as the Word of God would have us to do.
Keith Wiebe: Mike, what’s your response to that same question? It’s such an important question. I read an internet note where somebody said, “Well, why do you even need to get back together? After all, you can be electronic, digital all of the time, potentially reach more people. In Canton, Ohio, Mike, why is it important to regather as a church?
Mike Frazier: Well, I would agree with all that Brother Gary has mentioned, and you know, it’s impossible to accomplish what I would call the one another statements all throughout The New Testament that we read about, whether that be edify one another or to comfort one another or to bear one another’s burdens, and on and on the list goes. Those things are virtually impossible to accomplish when everything is online. We need to be able to interact and to connect and to encourage and to edify one another.
Mike Frazier: We truly believe that we are living in the church age, and by church we mean the local church. The local church is so important when we think about the spiritual growth of a believer. Can you imagine, I mean, on all of us here today, all four of us on this program, where would you be today without the local church? The local church has certainly had a major role in our spiritual development, and by church, I’m not talking about the building, I’m talking about the leadership and the membership and the lay leadership of the church. We are somewhat who we are today because of the local church. It’s vitally important for the growth of a Christian.
Keith Wiebe: Mike, you mentioned the one anothers of The New Testament. I believe there are actually more than 50 of those and those can only be worked out person to person. It requires the gathering together of the church. We need each other, we need that congeniality that comes. We need that collective sense of worship. There is really nothing like being in a congregation and lifting voices together in song and giving God praise for all that He has done.
Keith Wiebe: Now, we’re talking about regathering the disassembled church. We’re talking about regathering, as Sam told us at the beginning of the program, not because we closed the church. The church is the people. We don’t close that. In fact, Jesus said the gates of Hell can’t even prevail against it. We are getting ready to regather that church now, and I want to talk with our guests, Gary Dull and Mike Frazier, about how your churches are preparing for this regathering. Is it like just flipping a light switch and it comes on or right back to normal? Mike, I’ll throw this question to you. How is Canton Baptist Temple preparing for the regathering?
Mike Frazier: Well, we are beginning to set a date. As a matter of fact, May the 31st our day to regather as Canton Baptist Temple here in Canton, Ohio. Obviously, ministry will look different for a while. We are actually going to have four different phases. Preliminary phase would last for about a month, throughout the month of June, and that’s where we will have…. We’re looking into having two worship services, one for those who are older, the older members of the church, which would be an earlier service, and then having our normally scheduled service at 10:30.
Mike Frazier: Obviously, we’re going to have to have seating arrangements differently so that we can uphold the social distancing guidelines. Deep cleaning, sanitizing the facility, hand sanitizing stations, posting signs about not shaking hands and the importance of social distancing. We’re going to be producing a video where we communicate this with our church family and with others, but there’s a lot of preparation that goes into once again bringing the people back to our facility. It is not like just switching that switch off and everything goes back to normal. I don’t think things are going to be normal for a little while.
Sam Rohrer: Gary, you are doing things as well. You have met with a number of other pastors in your part of the state and as we talked about on our conference call with pastors across the country the other day, every state’s a little different. Some governors have been very restrictive, others have not. Here in Pennsylvania, the Governor has not shut any churches, yet we have different variances in counties, red, yellow, and all of that kind of thing which do complicate it. What have you and your group of pastors that you’re associated with in the southwestern part of the State of Pennsylvania, how are you approaching the regathering?
Gary Dull: Well, we’ve been meeting for about four weeks to discuss when we were going to regather and we have a date that we are not going to announce yet, but we have put a lot of time and effort into this by contacting various Christian legal groups to guide us. We’ve been in touch with the state, with the Governor and with the Secretary of Health here in Pennsylvania. I am thankful for the fact that the Governor did say that in Pennsylvania they were not going to close down churches because they recognized that churches are life-sustaining entities. I’m very, very thankful for that. Even though we have a very liberal government, we have the open-door opportunity to be able to involved with opening up our church just a little bit easier than some other states.
Gary Dull: You talked about the pastors that we have involved, there are nearly 20 of us who’ve been involved with this discussion and on the particular date that we have established, 14 out of those 20 will open. There are four others that possibly will join us at that day or the next week after that. I’m glad to see the unity that we have among the preachers and the churches in this particular area. I’d like to say in addition to what Brother Mike said, it takes a lot to reopen a church, and one of the things that we did was to establish a regathering committee, and that committee has actually developed a manual that has been put together to send out to our congregation to let them see all of the plans that have been gone through so far and the plans that we’ll be going through to open up our church.
Gary Dull: We’re going to start slow with one Sunday morning service, and then we will build beyond that. It’s been a learning experience. It’s been a bit interesting to see how The Lord has led, but He truly has led and I’m very thankful for that.
Keith Wiebe: Gary, I like very much the manual that you’re sending out to your people. I think often our people do not really completely understand all that it takes to make a church work anyway, and particularly in this kind of a circumstance where we are walking paths that we have never walked before, I was also struck with what you said about the unity of these churches that are involved. I think that’s a tremendous thing.
Keith Wiebe: Mike, I know that you are also involved with a multitude of churches beyond just your own borders. I actually had the privilege of sitting in on a conference call, a Zoom call, that you had the other day. I think there were about 50 or so pastors on that call from different parts of the country. What’s your sense of their overall perspective as they think about the regathering of their churches and the places where they live?
Mike Frazier: Yeah, one thing’s for sure is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. We had one gentleman who was pastoring in a small town, more of a rural area here in Ohio. I think they said they’ve had two cases of COVID-19 there in their county, He actually opened up church last week. They began to gather again last week. Then, there was another gentleman on the Zoom call, as you remember Brother Keith, that he’s out in St. Louis, Missouri. In his church alone, I believe he said that he’s had eight cases of COVID-19 and one who passed away with COVID-19. He is looking at more of a slower start there to his services.
Mike Frazier: Some of it I think depends on where you are, what’s been transpiring over the last two months where you’re located geographically, and assessing using wisdom, discernment, judgment, trying to follow the guidelines, and at the same time, trying to once again gather the church back corporately as a visible body of believers that does the work of God.
Sam Rohrer: Gary, one of the things that we had talked with the group of pastors that were on our call, and I’m sure probably came up in Mike’s call, is that on one hand, there is the duty of the pastor and a church leadership to say, “What does God say?” We must do what God says in regard to gathering again, and Mike made that clear. There are some things you can’t do, and frankly, touching each other is something that is important, giving people a hug. I mean, we know that with families and children, a parent who never holds their child will have a very odd relationship that develops. There’s this aspect of it that the virtual part can’t do, yet in this midst, we have this whole thing, There are cautions that you are considering. There are the duties and obligations that God has laid out that must drive us.
Sam Rohrer: Just out of curiosity, what are you and perhaps some of the others that you’ve talked with, what are the greater concerns or cautions that you have identified that you are trying to manage in going back into the regathering process?
Gary Dull: That’s a good question as well, and let me say this about all of these pastors coming together. I am thankful for the unified effort, but you know what else I’ve encouraged over that gives courage, Sam, is the fact that the Word of God teaches in The Book of Proverbs, at least three times it talks about the fact that in the multitude of counselors, there’s wisdom, there’s safety, purposes are established and so forth. When you get the 14, well, 15, 20, actually, almost 20 pastors together to talk about something and there’s this type of a unity, I see that God is working through them to give counsel that is going to bring safety that is in understanding and doing the Will of God.
Gary Dull: Now, certainly, in coming together, we are very concerned, I’m very concerned, about the physical safety of my congregation. Keep in mind that we did not close because the government told us to close, we closed down simply because of the fact that we wanted to protect our people from the possibility of getting COVID-19. We had our people in mind, and so in opening our doors to invite people back in, again, we have our people in mind. A part of that manual is to give some guidelines as to what we are going to encourage them to do when they come to maintain their safety. As a pastor, I certainly don’t want to find out that one of my congregates got COVID-19 because of coming to church. We’re very careful and we’re going to follow those procedures to provide that care.
Keith Wiebe: Thank you so much for joining us today for Stand in the Gap Radio. We’re talking about regathering the disassembled, the disassembled being church members who can no longer gather as the church in their building and we want to regather them. Church is never closed, it’s always opened because it’s the people, that know we want to regather them into public worship. This has been an unprecedented time. I remember the weekend about 25 years ago when the Governor of our state, because of a terrible blizzard snowstorm, made it illegal for anyone to be on the roads except for emergency vehicles. Now, he didn’t tell churches they couldn’t meet, he just told us all we couldn’t drive and we respected that.
Keith Wiebe: We’re in a different era now. Suddenly, we have some governors like the one in Pennsylvania who respected the religious liberty, Governor DeWine in Ohio who exempted churches from the order that they couldn’t gather, that things had to close, but then there was the sheriff in Mississippi who was gathering license plate numbers at the drive-in church. There was the Kansas City Mayor who banned church meetings. The Chicago Mayor who threatened to throw people in jail. The California official just a couple of days who said people who tested positive could be taken out of their home and put in someplace special. Now, he got such an uproar he had to walk that one back.
Keith Wiebe: Gary, all of this really illustrates for me that this has been a road that none of us have walked on before. Suddenly, we are being forced to grapple with religious liberty as it relates to gathering, as it relates to government edicts. You’re a Pastor, you’re also a skilled theologian in my book. Parse this out for us. What words of wisdom do you have? How do we navigate this path?
Gary Dull: It’s a very serious pathway that we are on right now, Keith, and I appreciate you bringing that up. I think that we may be facing a slippery slope if we are not already going down that slippery slope somewhat. We have freedoms here in the United States of America. Our first freedom, as is found there in the Bill of Rights, talks about the religious freedom that we have in the United States of American. I really do believe, Keith, that there are those who would like to take that away from us.
Gary Dull: I have said to some of the pastors that have been meeting together with me over the past couple of weeks that even though here in Pennsylvania we’ve got quite a bit of freedom as to what we can do in our churches during this COVID-19, yet there are other churches in other states and in other localities, just as you have mentioned, where they are really under some great oppression by their local or state authorities. I think that we need to keep these things in mind because even though right now, this very moment, may not be the time to fight these issues, there is going to come a time when we need to stand up for the rights that have been given to us by God Himself. That’s not going to be too far down the road, either.
Gary Dull: The Scripture teaches us in Romans 13 as well as 1 Peter 2 that we do have the responsibility to honor those who are in positions of authority, but those who are in positions of authority also have the responsibility to stand for that which is Biblically correct. That’s why God has established civil government. When they are not standing for that which is Biblically correct, including I believe the rights that we have given to us here in the United States of America, when they are not taking that stand on those issues, then we need to speak to them. In my understanding of Scripture, the church is one institution of God, the government is the other institution of God, and so the church has the responsibility as the pillar and the ground of the truth to speak to the institution of government to give Biblical direction.
Gary Dull: Right now, as I see it, to keep that slippery slope from being a greater concern, it’s time for pastors all across the country to speak to our government about Biblical truth, about the freedoms that we have in this nation, so that we might be able to continue in America maybe even stronger than we’ve ever been. We are at risk right now. We need to remember that, we need to focus on that, and we need to deal with it and deal with it clearly.
Sam Rohrer: Mike, why don’t I go to you? What Gary laid out there were some of those basic principles, but I’d like to know from your perspective and how you’ve dealt with it with your pastor staff and relayed to your people from the standpoint of while we all are in the midst of this, church leadership not struggling but trying to work through these decisions, business owners trying to work through, individuals trying to work through these changes, how are you approaching it and advising your people to perhaps learn what God would have us to learn? In every circumstance that comes, God doesn’t say, “Get Me out of it. How can you glorify Me in that circumstance?” How are you dealing with that?
Mike Frazier: Yeah, you know, my Dad whenever I was growing up used to often say, “Don’t waste time, so suffering. Learn those lessons in those times of suffering.” I hope that we as Christians have not wasted this time of COVID-19 crisis. There have been a lot of great spiritual lessons that we can learn, one being just Proverbs 21:1, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” We went from stability and growth to suddenly instability and economic concern that we’re dealing with right now. I have learned just on a personal level of the importance of trusting God. I’m in the middle of a $5 million building project and then to deal with this whole economic fallout of the COVID-19, we learned the importance of spending time with The Lord.
Mike Frazier: I know all of us, even as minister, sometimes even ministry can become our idol of worship and we’ve realized that it’s not so much always important what we do as much who we are in that time with The Lord. We always say, “I wish I had more time to read my Bible”, and not just for sermon prep but for our own spiritual growth. “I wish I had more time to pray”, all of these things. “I wish I had more time with my family.” Well, actually, God gave us that opportunity over the last two months to draw close to Him and to learn some very, very valuable lessons. I think it’s important for us to realize God is still in control and that’s not just a statement that we give to people. He really is in control, and so we have to trust Him and we have to learn the valuable lessons that He has taught us and not forget what He has taught us during this time of crisis.
Keith Wiebe: Those are wise words, Mike. I really appreciate that. Sam, I’m going to ask you in just a minute to lead us in prayer as we approach the conclusion of our broadcast. I was thinking through these last few minutes how thankful I am and I think we should be for the support that we have from the Trump Administration in this area of religious liberty, particularly the Justice Department, some statements from Attorney General Barr, from Vice President Mike Pence, from Secretary DeVos, Secretary of Education, and a number of others who have weighted in in defense of civil and religious liberty. I shutter to think the direction that we would be pushed right now if we had those in those places of leadership that were pushing in the other direction.
Keith Wiebe: Thank you so much for listening today. We trust God’s richest blessings upon you as you worship Him this Lord’s Day. It does depend on where we can still worship Him. Thank you so much.