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It’s unsafe to observe congregational worship now, religious leaders warn

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‘For Now, Let Us Endure Whatever We Are Passing Through’

Badejo


Even though the Federal Government has relaxed the lockdown occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic, the religious sector is not included. The ban prohibiting churches/mosques from reopening and undertaking congregational gatherings still stays. But even before now, some pastors and Imams were caught violating the lockdown order. And now that the lockdown has been relaxed, what can be done to ensure that overzealous religious leaders do not see it as a signal to return to business as usual? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.

‘It’s Premature, Dangerous For Churches To Reopen Now’
(His Eminence, Dr. Samson O. A. Ayokunle, President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
WORSHIPPING together in Christian fellowship is good, an injunction of the Bible (Hebrews 10: 25). All true believers enjoy fellowshipping with other children of God and we are eager to go back, but not now.

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The question to answer is: What led to public worship or large gatherings being suspended? The answer is COVID-19 pandemic, which has, today, infected about three million people globally and led to the death of thousands of people. The virus doesn’t respect race, height, education or size. It has even killed more people in technologically advanced countries than in developing countries. Presently, it has no known cure. Scientists are still busy trying to find a vaccine to contain the virus.

The best way to avoid being infected is by observing social distancing, washing and sanitising hands and avoiding large gatherings, such as church or mosque congregations. These steps would curb the spread of the virus. The coronavirus is highly contagious and deadly.

A wise person will not insist on going back to fellowship together in large gatherings now, because the rate of daily infection is now higher than the time government placed restrictions on large gatherings. So, what is the wisdom in rushing back to church or mosque for worship? Is it to go and get more people infected?

The Bible says in Isaiah 26: 20 thus: “Come, my people, enter your chambers, And shut your doors behind you; Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, Until the indignation is passed,” (Isaiah‬)

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‘To Protect Lives Is Given Supremacy In Islam, No Muslim Should Violate FG’s Order’
(Dr. Bashir Aliyu Umar, member, New Moon Sighting Committee appointed by Sultan of Sokoto)

WHATEVER is done to protect lives is given supremacy in Islam. Mosques are allowed to be closed when there is a difficulty for people to come to the mosque on account of bad weather. Now, bad weather is a lesser evil than a pandemic. In the situation of bad weather, the Prophet instructed that the one calling for prayer should say at the end of the call that people should stay and pray in their homes. That is done to relieve people of the hardship of coming to the mosque. To avoid coming to the mosque in order to protect human life during a pandemic is even more appropriate than for the relief from the hardship of bad weather. So, it is better to do that than allow people to be destroyed by a pandemic. Some Imams who are violating the Federal Government’s order on lockdown and ban on congregational prayer do not realise that they have been oblivious of the teachings of Islam.
  
In fact, under Islamic jurisprudence, when the leader or ruler says that people should not observe the Friday Jumaat prayer for any reason, anybody who does so is invalid. It is just that people do not adhere to Islamic jurisprudence. It is there in Islam, that anything that will protect lives is given supremacy because the protection of life is paramount in Islam. What such Imams are doing is done out of ignorance of the teachings of Islam. And for ordinary followers, it is understandable the sentiment that is attached to mosques, especially during Ramadan. This is something that has not been seen by a generation. But Ramadan will come and go. People are not going to the mosque for prayer or for collective breaking of the fast, among others.  These are very touchy to the mind. However, faithful should realise that anything they are prevented from doing, due to some circumstances, Allah will give them the reward, even without going to the mosque. You pray at home to protect your life. And your wish was that if the circumstance had permitted it, you would have gone to the mosque to pray. So, Allah will give you that reward of praying in the mosque during Ramadan. Faithful should not feel bad over what is happening since what they are looking for is acceptance from Allah. But He will still accept you by staying at home to pray on account of the circumstance that led you not to pray in the mosque.

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For instance, the hadith of the Prophet says, ‘if someone is ill or travels and as such, was unable to undertake certain acts of worship, Allah will give him/her the reward of that act of worship, just as though he/she were healthy and staying at home and not travelling. What we used to get during Ramadan, but on account of a valid excuse are not able to, Allah will still give us the same reward. This is my message to the faithful. They should be assured that their reward is going to be granted to them by God. So, no Muslim should violate the Federal Government’s order on lockdown/ban prohibiting congregational gathering.

‘If Members Die, Nobody Will Come To Church To Worship’
(His Eminence Dr. Samuel Uche, Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria)

WHAT is happening is temporary. I’m actually recording a message that will be relayed to our people through the social media and television stations. The people will listen to God’s Word through these means. We are obeying the government’s directive because it is for members’ wellbeing. If our members die, there will be nobody coming to church to worship.

I urge church leaders to adhere strictly to the lockdown rules. For now, let us endure whatever we are passing through because whatever is hot will eventually become cold. So, my message is that everybody should repent and go closer to God. There might not have been fanfare during Easter celebration, but that’s not the Easter. The fact that we were alive to see another Easter was enough for us to rejoice and thank the Lord. Our prayer is that God will make Coronavirus go away.

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‘Early Church Went Through What We Are Experiencing Now During Roman Persecutions’
(John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja)

THIS year, however, all elaborate celebrations have been suspended for the higher demand for saving lives, by avoiding large gatherings. This is only one of the many inconveniences that the virus has brought on us all. The Church leaders have taken the right, but the very unusual and regrettable decision to lockdown churches and asked the faithful to stay at home.

This occasion is a good reminder for us about the many cases, where Christians are unable to gather for worship and have to maintain spiritual fellowship wherever they find themselves. This was the case in the early Church during the Roman persecutions, and in other occasions of Christian persecution through the ages. Inability to gather for worship has never been seen as an obstacle to meeting God spiritually, as a worshipping community. This is a good lesson that the present predicament should teach us all.

The Church’s response at this time around is seen in different ways. First, we have to comply with measures put in place by the civil authorities for the common good of all. Then, depending on local circumstances and available means, the people are being exhorted to pray in their homes with their families, and especially to spiritually join in messages being transmitted through the electronic media, both the radio and television.

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As Christians, we should renew our faith in the love, mercy and power of God to help us get over all our problems, including also COVID-19. We should, therefore, avoid panic and despair. This is not the time to be listening to prophets of doom, who have no positive message to share. We should do our best to stay safe, help as many people as we can who are in distress. We must not forget the many lessons that God might have taught us in these truly extra-ordinary weeks.

‘Let’s Continue In Prayer To Him Who Can Change Our Worst To Our Best’
(Most Rev. Dr. Benebo Fubara Fubara-Manuel, President, Christian Council of Nigeria /Vice President, Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa)

IN the midst of COVID-19, and in its crossing, we know already that it has been defeated in Christ and will ultimately find manifestation in our experience. This is why all Christians should stay at home, as long as government and experts advise, keep all the rules of hygiene associated with being safe, observe social-distancing, and continue in prayer to the One Who can transform our worst into our best.  This is also why we should not engage in such prophetic freedom that trivialises this virus, or even project uninvestigated theories that relate this virus to still-emerging technological developments or to Biblical prophecies, whose meaning and timing are not given to us to conjecture. 

‘Spiritual Life Of Church Is Not Locked Down’
(Most Rev. Michael Olusina Fape, Diocesan Bishop of Remo, Anglican Communion, Ogun State)

WHILE it is true that Christians may not be able to worship together corporately in Church buildings, we are still able to worship God by making use of the social media, where members of different families gather together. Jesus Christ has promised, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew‬

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Indeed, Easter celebration this year afforded Christians the opportunity to proclaim God’s victory over the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the threat from the kingdom of darkness, we are more than conquerors through the victory of the Exalted and Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, Who by His death and resurrection has, “Wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it”

‘Wherever Two/Three Of God’s Children Are Gathered, Jesus Is Among Them’
(Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, Oyo Catholic Diocese)

THE restrictions and lockdown caused by the Coronavirus epidemic have brought much suffering and pain, compromising the last Easter celebration. So, the Church cannot but identify with the faithful, as everybody feels the impact of the lockdown. Although the Church may be closed to the normal gathering, Christianity is not closed down. Gathering together in large numbers is only one way for the Church to celebrate and worship God (Jn 4:21). Actually, the basic, domestic Church is every family. Wherever two or three of God’s children are gathered, Jesus is among them. So, the Church thrives and celebrates on the traditional media, print and electronic media, as well as on the social media and even in the songs and stories we tell.

More Christian denominations have been pushed to adopt these alternative means of evangelisation and worship, which is good. But more important is that Church members live holy lives of concrete action, worthy of emulation, caring for the poor and the needy, as Jesus taught. For this reason, the Catholic Church Dioceses and institutions have committed money to help families and feed the poor. Our hospitals have been offered to governments in many states as isolation, care and counselling centres for victims of the virus.

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