Josiah Burke, who fellowships in a church in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, has published a 60 page booklet called, Selling the Vineyard. In it he attacks the leaderships of churches who stopped indoor meetings or even just stopped singing or requested any who had symptoms to stay home.
The primary error that leads him to vilify his brethren is his understanding of what the command to assemble entails. He asserts it means meeting as a church, regardless of the circumstances. He says:
If there was a deadly virus, the testimony of the Church would be the protection and healing power of God as it continues to obey Him regardless of the circumstances.’ p46.
He claims as support Psalm 91:10 “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” He also says those with ‘symptoms of the virus' should be admitted to the assembly. p34.
Does the Scripture teach this? No! Infectious diseases were treated seriously in the Law – those showing signs of infection, even though they might turn out not to have been infected, had to be excluded from the camp. Only when the infection was seen to have gone would they be readmitted.
The NT does not give any laws dealing with contagion, except the command to love your neighbour as yourself. So we should ask ourselves what Paul or any of the apostles would have expected of an infected brother or sister, and of the assembly. Would they say to one infected with Smallpox to just come on in as normal? Would they have condemned a church who told them not to assemble with them until they were well ( but giving selfless care to them)?
I am certain the answer would be No. Love of neighbour does not entail infecting them. Neither does it entail putting God to the test, taking unnecessary chances and expecting Him to keep them safe. I don't know if Josiah or his church are into the Health & Wealth theology, but this is what we would expect from them. This indeed is what some of those American churches did, until many of the leaders and members went down with the virus.
The saddest part of this folly is his vilification of his brethren. He accuses them of ‘apostasy and rebellion' (p10); being ‘hirelings' and ‘unfaithful shepherds' (p11); ‘cowardly and unfaithful men’ (p13).
His condemnation is for all churches who stopped their indoor meetings or stopped congregational singing, but he singled out the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster for special vilification (p33-34; 37; 43-53; 57-58). He names some of its leaders: Rev. Gordon Dane (Moderator), John Armstrong (Deputy Moderator) and John Greer (Clerk) p43.
Amongst other accusations he says:
The leaders of the Free Presbyterian Church have voluntarily and defiantly shut the doors of the house of God in direct and indisputable contravention of the commands of the Word of God, attempting by doing so to preserve their respectability in the world. p50.
His conclusion, ‘God has departed from the Free Presbyterian Church' p57.
I am not a member nor adherent of the FPC, but I know and respect many of their members and leaders. They are the last church in NI one could accuse of apostasy, rebellion and cowardice, of being led by hirelings and unfaithful shepherds. This booklet is a sample of the theological folly out there that has sprung up in this pandemic crisis.
Josiah Burke is not an isolated case - I've heard other pulpits denounce their brethren in similar terms. Leaving aside the conspiracy nutters that see the pandemic as a scam to get us to take the mark of the beast, this theological case is more serious because, if it is true, those who take measures to protect public health must be gullible fools at least, or wilful traitors as is stated here.
Here's the importance of sound theology portrayed clearly: go wrong in our interpretation of Scripture and we may reach devastating conclusions. So if we reach devastating conclusions, our first response should be to go back and thoroughly check our interpretation. It may be right, but we need to make sure before we take up arms against our brethren. I can't see how anyone could reach the conclusion this man has, without being motivated by unbiblical ideas.
⏭Ian Major grew up a heathen Protestant, was converted at 17. He lives out his Evangelical faith as a Baptist.