Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague [Part 1]
An abridged version of Martin Luther's pamphlet addressed to the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ, adapted for the Corona Virus of 2020 and any subsequent biological terrors released upon the earth henceforth, by Mark Whitten April 21, 2020. Unless indicated by quotation marks, the text is primarily paraphrased and/or adapted.
Grace and Peace to you dear reader in these unprecedented times. I understand that you have many questions regarding the Christian response to this viral threat that has been thrust upon the world. I should have written earlier so that the church could have been more prepared to deal with this threat as well as unified in her response, however, things out of my control have prevented me from doing so until now.
However, you too have the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Scriptures and the wisdom of God so that you should not be dependent upon my response. But in your humility, you have sought the wisdom and counsel of others who have also deeply considered this trial that we face, and so I will no longer deprive you of our opinion and counsel in these matters so that we can continue to strive to be of one mind and one accord as the apostle Paul exhorts us to do (1 Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 13:11 and Philippians 2:2).
In light of this, we also submit and suggest that each of you come to his or her own decisions and conclusions regarding these matters. Because of the popular desire for devout Christians to receive Godly counsel in this crisis, we have decided to publish the instructions we have given our local congregants, to the wider body of Christ in the event that others may wish to make use of them.
To begin with, some people are of the strong belief that we Christians should not quarantine ourselves and/or our family members. They site that the virus is God's judgement to punish us for our nation's sins and therefore we must submit to this divine chastisement and patiently await His purgation. To them, taking measures to quarantine or practice social distancing or even removing one's self to an isolated, rural setting (if possible) is simply wrong and demonstrates a lack of belief in God.
While some hold that it is absolutely acceptable to take these precautions, especially if one does not hold a public office, serve in pastoral ministry or is considered a critical worker or first responder.
To be honest, I cannot fault either opinion. In the case of the former, they make a good point (one that many modern-day, western Christians will find hard ot digest) and these deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. "It takes more than milk faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and are still in dread." Which begs the question: do most believers embrace the true liberties found in Christ, namely that which removes the fear of death? "O Death where is thy sting, O hades, where is your victory?" "For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord." "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Who would not honor these sincere people to whom death is a little thing? These people are willing to accept God's providence whether it manifest in punishment, provision or protection, and do so without brash, arrogant displays of so-called faith that actually tempts God to save them out of their own stupidity (more on these folks later).
Unfortunately, there are few believers who possess this fearless faith in the face of death. Most believers are weak in their faith regarding their own mortal lives and are moved to preserve their own lives at whatever cost to their souls or their neighbors. Because of this prevailing weakness in the
western church, we cannot prescribe the same advice for everyone, nor lay a burden of having supernatural faith on those who have yet to attain such liberties that strong faith affords. "We must, as Paul instructs, "Receive one who is weak in the faith without debating and disputing their opinion."
A person who is strong in faith can drink deadly poison and suffer no harm (Mark 16:18) whereas a person weak in faith who drinks the same poison would be drinking unto death. Likewise, when Peter was strong in faith, he walked upon the water, but when his eyes focused on the wind and waves around him, his faith weakened and he nearly drowned.
If a fit person decides to make a long journey on foot with a child, an elderly citizen or someone who is physically challenged, it is incumbent upon the fit person to restrain his or her pace so that it does not adversely affect the weaker companion, so that the two can complete the journey. "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves." (Romans 15:1) Christ never abandons the weak, rather he makes provision for them as should we as members of His mystical body.
To be clear, avoiding the plague may happen in one of two ways. First, it may happen in disobedience to God's word and command. For example, the person who denies Christ and/or refuses to be associated with Him and/or His people in order to escape death. If we find ourselves in this situation, whether from political persecution, terrorism, or the like, Christ's command not to flee but rather to suffer death could not be more clear: "Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in Heaven" and "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matthew 10:28, 33).
Those who are engaged in spiritual ministry like pastors, missionaries, chaplains, evangelists, intercessors, teachers, prophets, helps, administration, etc. should remain steadfast in the face of death, and should not neglect their post or their calling. Again, ministers have a clear word from Christ on this, "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees." (John 10:11). "For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death."
However, where enough ministers are available in a particular congregation or locality, and they agree to encourage other staff members to take precautionary measures such as quarantining, vacating populous areas and/or social distancing in order to avoid needless dangers, I do not consider such conduct sinful as long as the spiritual services can be conducted in their absence and that such persons were ready and willing to stay and participate if necessary.
For there are numerous Biblical examples of Godly men fleeing potential danger when the situation for doing so seemed appropriate, especially for the perpetuation of the ministry and the spread of the gospel.