1. Does the LCMS plan to stop Sunday services? If so, for how long?
The national headquarters of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, located in St. Louis, represents some 6,000 congregations across the country. Many of them have schools. Our polity does not give the national headquarters authority to tell churches to stop services. We are encouraging our pastors and people to follow civil authorities according to the Fourth Commandment (i.e., honoring parents and other authorities), and they are doing so according to St. Paul’s direction in Romans 13.
2. Does the LCMS plan to limit attendance to 50 people?
Face-to-face distribution and reception of Christ’s free forgiveness in preaching (Romans 10:17) and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28) are essential for us and at the heart of why we exist. Some of our churches are putting a plan in place to have multiple services during the week, with no more than 50 attending.* Others, based upon their circumstances, have made other arrangements. We trust our great clergy and laypeople to act appropriately. We have well-trained clergy, and they are consulting their local lay leadership.
3. Does the LCMS believe that a governmental entity has the right to limit a church service?
We don’t view this as a matter of restriction of the First Amendment’s “free exercise” rights. That would be a different matter. We do not believe that the government is trying to limit religion in such an instance. Instead, we view this limitation of church services more as a duty and opportunity to act for the benefit of our fellow citizens, especially those most vulnerable (“love your neighbor as yourself,” Mark 12:31). We respect government authority as it acts for the physical well-being of our great nation and the world. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:3–4). The good citizen leaders of this nation are trying to limit harm, and we support them.
Government limits might be tested, particularly if more stringent directives come. Our government has generally been limited from restricting the right of assembly and the free exercise of religion, and we are thankful for that, as all Americans are. But we also know that government has a responsibility to protect its citizenry.
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
*At the time of this interview, the government recommended limiting gatherings to 50 people.