Downtown Cornerstone Blog
Nov 24

What Does Singing During a Once-a-Century Pandemic Sound Like?

Covid-19 | by Pastor Adam Sinnett

Pastoral Note

Downtown Cornerstone,

Jesus is providentially ruling over all things (Eph. 1:20-21). Yes, even in 2020. His rule is not bland, indifferent, or ineffective; it is purposeful. He is purposefully weaving this year together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28) so that we would be further fashioned into His image, individually and corporately, and left longing for the incomparable glory to come. We can’t see it yet, but it is coming. So, I hope this finds you resting deeply in his purposeful providence.

On Sunday, November 15th, the Governor rolled-out a new round of four-week restrictions in order to reduce the spike in Covid cases across our state. These restrictions were modifications to existing prohibitions to social gatherings, restaurants, bars, weddings, funerals, fitness facilities, theaters, museums, zoos, aquariums, long-term care facilities, travel, sports, and churches. Everyone is impacted in one way or another. The adjusted modification for churches is as follows: 

Religious Services: are limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Congregation members/attendees must wear facial coverings at all times and congregation singing is prohibited. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Vocal or instrumental soloists are permitted to perform, and vocal soloists may have a single accompanist.

We are already in alignment with the majority of health restrictions for churches, including gathering size, face masks, and distancing. Plus, we are meeting all CDC guidelines in terms of signage, no food or beverages, hand sanitizing stations, and temperature/wellness-checks for staff and volunteers. Further, if anyone has traveled who will be leading from the front, they must get a negative Covid test prior to Sunday. 

We are grateful to be gathering because churches are able to meet at greater numbers indoors than anyone else, from sports teams to theaters, concerts to conferences. So, we are doing everything we can to keep everyone as safe as possible. To my knowledge no one with Covid has attended on a Sunday, nor have we had a breakout of any kind.

But, that said, our city is seeing a rise of Covid, higher than we’ve seen yet. Washington is now in the most dangerous Covid red zone. We broke records for new daily cases for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, the primary spreaders are indoor activities because (1) Covid is airborne, (2) risks are higher inside, (3) with people outside your household, (4) over longer stretches of time. In a word, in gatherings precisely like ours.

This is why churches are now being asked to not sing for four weeks. Last Sunday was the first. 

However, we believe the spirit of the law is to lower the volume of our singing. After all, singing is basically loud talking. But, talking, laughing, or yelling are not outlawed. It’s the volume they are after. The more people you have belting it out, even with masks and distance, the greater the potential for spread. By God’s grace, we haven’t seen that as a church. The chances of spread in this way are small, but they are not non-existent, especially as cases climb. So, given the increase of Covid in our city, coupled with the privilege we have to gather, temporarily lowering the volume of singing doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Undesirable? Yes. Inconvenient? Yes. Against our preferences? Yes. A hindrance to full-bellied praise? Yes. But, think about it this way. Our city and state are asking, “Will you help us mitigate the spread of Covid in your city, and keep our hospitals from being over-run, by turning the volume down during the portion of your gathering that has the most risk of spread?” Given that it’s a once-a-century pandemic, with numbers going up, and the temporary nature of this restriction, this seems like a fair ask. 

To be clear, while the government does have jurisdiction in matters of public safety and health, it doesn’t have jurisdiction over how we use our voices in praising Jesus. There's no question there. However, this is not merely a matter of jurisdiction, but loving our neighbor and being good witnesses of the immeasurable worth of Jesus. Therefore, we are inclined to love our city in this way, without completely forsaking singing, and to re-evaluate at the end of this time. While the elders have personal doubts about whether these restrictions will be limited to four weeks, we will see. But, in the scope of our lives, let alone eternity, it is a very minuscule amount of time.

So, rather than full-throttled singing, we encourage you to significantly lower your volume over the next few weeks. (Unless, of course, you’re at home. In that case, belt it out!) We will still have music and songs, but if you join us live — which we highly encourage — please engage the song lyrics with your normal speaking volume (or quieter). Or, use the songs to pray or reflect. The main issue is volume, so please participate at a much lower volume out of love for those around you. In a sense, very little changes. We’re bringing our singing down twenty decibels for four weeks out of love for our city.

As you have likely discerned, this is not a black and white issue but falls in the realm of prudence. We understand that not everyone will agree, but these are challenging times calling for challenging decisions. Godly Christians may come to different conclusions about whether singing is a risk or whether the government can even ask us to “not sing.” Shepherding a church with such vastly different opinions, and consciences, on these matters is not easy.

But, in the end, we all want the same thing, don’t we? We want to gather. We want to worship. We want to honor Jesus. We want to love others. We want to be safe. We don’t want to be a bridge for Covid to take someone’s life, especially if they have not yet heard the gospel. Therefore, the elders believe this is the best path forward, at least temporarily so. Let’s continue to pray. We’re in this together and we’ll keep you posted as the situation develops.

Christ is all, 
Pastor Adam 


Q: What do the elders believe about Covid? 

There is a spectrum of beliefs in the public sphere regarding the dangers associated with Covid, and the appropriateness of varying responses. We, as elders, do not want to adjudicate or bind anyone’s consciences, with respect to these varying beliefs and personal choices. We, of course, have to make risk assessments when deciding if/when/how we will gather as a church. To do so, we are relying on what we perceive to be credible health authorities when assessing that risk. At the same time, we have to do our own risk analysis, since authorities, whether health or political, can see worship and fellowship as optional, while we see them as commanded by God for our spiritual well-being.

Q: How should we relate to one another amidst our differing Covid consciences? 

Covid puts us in a Romans 14 situation where we must learn to lovingly bear with one another amidst different opinions. For some, this means not passing judgment on those who believe they have more freedom. For others, it means being willing to sacrifice some freedom in order to display love, care, and concern. No matter how deeply we hold our beliefs about Covid, we must remember that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). We think it’s best to focus less on quarreling about Covid opinions (Rom. 14:1), and more on welcoming one another in love (Rom. 15:7). This applies to individuals and churches. 

Q: To what extent should we submit to the government? 

There are multiple passages in the New Testament that command us to submit to the governing authorities (e.g. Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-16). Such submission is not exhaustive but is bounded, as we must obey God rather than man when the two come into conflict (Acts 5:29). The general principle is that civil disobedience is permitted if the government mandates what God forbids or forbids what God mandates. As such, we believe the government does not have the authority to decide on the components of our corporate worship (e.g. singing). 

But, the decision-making matrix doesn’t end there. When the government oversteps its authority, we have a strategic decision to make: (1) Are there good reasons to comply even though we have “the right” not to (e.g. a pandemic)? (2) Or, do we resist the government’s authority, whether actively or passively (e.g. by filing a lawsuit or simply ignoring)? (3) Or, is there a middle way (e.g. fulfilling the spirit of the law, while dismissing the letter)? Different scenarios call for different responses.

Q: But, doesn’t God command us to sing? 

There is no doubt that singing is an important aspect in the worship of our God (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). However, we don’t believe that restricting our volume puts us in a place of disobedience. After all, singing is singing, no matter the volume. Ultimately singing emerges from our hearts (Eph. 5:19). But, temporarily lowering our volume enable us to (1) continue singing, (2) while mitigating the potential spread of Covid, and (3) preserving our witness from being unnecessarily tarnished by others who might see us as being “uncaring” should we ignore the Governor’s directives. We believe showing such flexibility is a way to display our love and care towards those in our community (members, visitors, neighbors, etc) who are very concerned about Covid-19. Thus, this is a matter of being flexible where we can out of love and for the sake of our testimony, rather than merely exercising our rights. 

Q: Did you speak with a lawyer in making this decision? 

Yes, we spoke with our lawyer. We have considered taking legal action but, at this point, we have been advised against it on practical grounds. At this moment, the courts are not entertaining such arguments, especially for temporary orders. Further, we have to make strategic decisions given the resources that are available to us. While we think maintaining religious freedom, for example, is very important, we don’t have the bandwidth to fight this battle at this moment, nor do we think that it the most strategic battle given all of the uncertainties of Covid.

Q: Did you speak with any medical professionals in making this decision? 

Yes, we recently surveyed over ten DCC members who are working in health-related fields, and their unanimous response was that the government’s assessment that “singing increases risk” is a reasonable one. That is not to say that (1) they agree with the Governor’s restriction(s) or (2) they think we should not sing, but that they think that the government is not acting in a completely arbitrary manner. 

Q: Why is the government limiting band sizes? 

Part of the government’s new order limits the size of our bands to a single vocalist and a single instrumentalist, which seems to be arbitrary and to have nothing to do with Covid risk. However, we decided to comply anyway for strategic reasons: the size of our band is ultimately a matter of indifference, and we don’t think it is worth picking a fight with the government amidst a pandemic, though we’d be within our rights to do so, especially when this order is temporary.

Q: How flexible are we willing to be? 

Many of you are (rightly) asking: How far are we willing to go in following governmental guidance that seems to infringe on our corporate worship and shared life together? We are not willing to disobey God under any circumstances, so we will disobey the government if it comes to that. But, we haven’t drawn clear lines in the sand as to how flexible we are willing to be yet. For example, we haven’t yet determined how long we are willing to sing at a low volume. That decision will probably depend on whether Covid seems to be spiking or the curve has been flattened. We are actively working on answering this exact question. 

But, to be clear, we would never consider showing this level of flexibility if it meant compromising on the gospel. Our history demonstrates that we do not shy away from topics that are abhorrent to many in the culture around us and even to many Christians (e.g. the sinfulness of humankind, the reality of judgment, abortion, homosexuality, the role of men and women, racism, predestination, etc). While we are ready to adjudicate on those, we are not ready to adjudicate on Covid-19 risk, nor do we think that choosing to lower our volume temporarily is a compromise of the gospel or God’s commands. We don’t mind if our city hates us for loving Jesus and taking him at his word (Mt. 10:22), but we don’t want our city to think we don’t care about their safety when, in fact, we do—temporarily and eternally so.

Oct 23

The Local Church as a City on a Hill Amidst Conflict

The Nature of the Local Church | by Pastor Adam Sinnett

The Local Church as a City on a Hill Amidst Conflict

Note: This post is the third in a series (1, 2) on the nature of the local church. The intent of this series is loving clarity, amidst cultural confusion. I write with gospel-forged hope, deep love for our church, co-mingled with genuine pastoral concern. This series is intended to give us a healthy set of shared understandings about the nature of the local church by which we carry out the many important conversations of this tumultuous season. We’re in this together.

Downtown Cornerstone,

As you know, 2020 is a year of conflict—partisan conflict, social conflict, racial/ethnic conflict, pandemic conflict, face mask conflict, and more. Not only do we see this on the news, but in our everyday relationships in ways big and small. While this might surprise us or cause concern, it shouldn’t. These realities are as old as the Church itself.

The New Testament shows us that Jesus’ local church is not immune to conflict. So, the question isn’t whether we will encounter relational conflict, in fact it would be odd if we didn’t, but how we will faithfully navigate it without being divided by it. How do we genuinely love amidst our genuine differences? How do we show the world the kind of relationships that the gospel forges between vastly different people without being divided by those differences?

Jesus calls us to be a people that show the world we belong to him by how we go about our shared lives together—not only when we agree but also when we disagree. We are a community of God’s redeemed people, a city set on a hill, who are to place love for one another over perfect alignment with one another.

So, how do we faithfully navigate this conflict-ridden cultural moment without being divided by it? That’s what this post is about. For us to love one another we need to work at defining our terms, assuming the best, listening well, asking for clarification, suspending judgment, and promoting genuine conversation amidst a cultural moment that militates against each of those.

Jesus’ Church Is Not Immune to Conflict

Jesus’ local church is not immune to conflict. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that the local church experienced conflict from the start. This is not new, but ancient. Recognizing this helps create realistic expectations so that (1) we’re not surprised when conflict arises and (2) we’re prepared to charitably pursue understanding with those we disagree with.

Here are some examples of issues that created conflict and division within the early church. This is a long list, but it is worth processing. It is striking how contemporary this reads:

Immaturity (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20)
Divisive loyalty to different leaders (1 Cor. 3:4-5)
Ethnic favoritism (Acts 6:1-2)
Pride (1 Cor. 4:8)
Sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13; Rev. 2:20-21)
Lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-11)
Differences in conscience (1 Cor. 8-9)
Idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7)
Differences in cultural practices (1 Cor. 11:2-16)
Selfishness (1 Cor. 11:21)
Mishandling of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
Overemphasis on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14)
Underemphasis on mutual love (1 Cor. 13)
Overemphasis on things other than Jesus (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Cor. 15:3)
Disorderly worship (1 Cor. 14:26-40)
False teaching and teachers (2 Cor. 11:4; 12:11; Gal. 1:6f; 1 Tim. 1:3)
Undermining of apostolic authority (2 Cor. 11:12-15)
Quarreling, jealousy, anger, slander, gossip (2 Cor. 12:20)
Living out of step with the gospel (even amongst apostles!) (Gal. 2:14; 5:7)
Grumbling and questioning (Phil. 2:14; Jas. 5:9)
Passing judgment on others on non-gospel issues (Col. 2:16f)
Idleness and busybodies (2 Thess. 3:6,11; 1 Tim. 5:13)
Devotion to speculations, vain discussion, misunderstandings (1 Tim. 1:4,7)
Self-indulgence (1 Tim. 5:6)
Unhealthy craving for controversy, envy, dissension, evil suspicions, friction (1 Tim. 6:4-5)
Falling into harmful desires and wandering away from the truth (1 Tim. 6:9)
Quarrels about words, irreverent babble, foolish controversies that breed quarrels (2 Tim. 2:14,16,23; Jas. 4:1f)
Accumulating teachers to suit our own passions (2 Tim. 4:3)
Wandering away from the truth and into myths (2 Tim. 4:4)
Sinful anger (Jas. 1:20-21)
Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14)
Hate (1 Jn. 1:9-11)
Love of the world, desires of the flesh, pride in possessions (1 Jn. 2:15-16)
Abandoning of Jesus as our first love (Rev. 2:4)
Religious formalism and lukewarmness (Rev. 3:1-2; 15-17)

Keep in mind that this is describing issues in the local church, not the unbelieving world. What do you think about this list? Are you surprised? If this level of conflict and division was present from the beginning of Jesus’ local church, should we expect any different? This was recorded so that we would take note and learn from those who have gone before us (1 Cor. 10:11). So, what is there for us to learn here?

Three Surprising Observations about Conflict

While there is much that could be said, I’ll make three simple observations.

First, Jesus’ church has always been messy. That’s obvious enough, but it is helpful to see, isn’t it? The local church has never been conflict-free because it has never been sin-free, so we should not be surprised when it appears. This also should remove any idyllic notion we may have of the local church, past or present or future. The hunt for the perfect, conflict-free church where everyone-agrees-with-me will lead to a dead end 100% of the time. Even one of Jesus’ closest, hand-chosen followers betrayed him.

Second, this internal conflict was taking place amidst tremendous external political turmoil, cultural volatility, and persecution. Things were hard on the inside and the outside, not unlike what we’re experiencing right now. While this cultural moment is unique in the details, it is not unique in its essence. This means history has a lot to teach us in times like these. As “unprecedented” as 2020 is in some ways, in the scope of human history it is quite tame and sadly business-as-usual in a world under the siege of sin.

Third—and you may misunderstand this so please bear with me—not once does an apostle recommend an individual Christian leave a church to go to another. Not once. Of course, this could be because there was only one church in most cities. But, I believe it has more to do with the nature and implications of the gospel itself which has reconciliation at its heart (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

For example, in the case of false teaching in the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:6-9), the apostle Paul doesn’t tell the early Christians to find another church. Instead he tells them to get rid of the false teachers so that the churches can move forward in gospel health(!) This meant believers in these small-ish early churches had to work through their differences, seek understanding, and walk-out repentance together. They couldn’t avoid one another by attending a different gathering, or transferring communities, or changing service schedules, or finding a church that aligned more with their personal convictions on tertiary issues.

Instead, the apostles called those in sin to repent (Rom. 2:4), for the mature to bear with the immature (Rom. 15:1), for individuals to not judge one another in areas of Christian freedom (Rom. 14:3-4), to have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 1:22), and for the stubbornly unrepentant to be removed from the church (1 Cor. 5:2; Mt. 18:17). But, amidst all of this, Jesus’ people are also called to:

“Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Rom. 14:19)
“Love one another with brotherly affection.” (Rom. 12:10)
“Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom. 12:10)
“Live in harmony with one another.” (Rom. 12:16)
“Not be haughty…[and] never be wise in your own sight.” (Rom. 12:16)
“Not repay evil for evil.” (Rom. 12:17)
“Do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Rom. 12:17)
“So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18)
“Never avenge ourselves.” (Rom. 12:19)
“Not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

Again, remember that these commands were not given to a like-minded community for whom such things were easy or came naturally or among those with the same Enneagram score. These people were the same people that experienced the conflict recounted in the section above. The Apostles called Jesus’ people to mutual love amidst their very real differences because that is the kind of community the gospel creates.

But, please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying there aren’t valid reasons for leaving a church in our day. Nor am I saying you are unfaithful if you do transition churches (Or already have! We love you). There are good, valid reasons for transitioning to another church. But, that’s for another post. My aim here is more simple: to show how the New Testament is simultaneously realistic about conflict within the church while calling Jesus’ people to a repentant loving unity amidst it. The gospel should cause us to lean-in, not out.

Where Does This Conflict Come From?

It might help to include some of the ways the New Testament describes the origin of this conflict. Division, discord, and disunity don’t appear out of nowhere. Conflict has a complicated cocktail of sources. What are they? Here are a handful:

Spiritual warfare: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual forces of evil.” (Eph. 6:12) The evil one is at work in conflict through lies and deception in order to cultivate conflict. He loves to sow bitterness, fear, unbelief, and suspicion in the human heart in order to reap a harvest of disunity.

Passions of the flesh: What causes quarrels and fights? James answers, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (Jas. 2:11) Another source of conflict are powerful internal, sinful desires that remain at work within Christians. These passions of the flesh lead us to be impatient, unloving, critical, self-righteous, arrogant, slanderous and dishonoring. When given vent, the passions of the flesh lead to conflict.

False philosophies and principles of the world: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Col. 2:8). The apostles regularly warn us about the role of ideas in our lives and their source. Ideas matter. Misleading ideas, or half-truths, often lead to conflict.

Conscience: “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). Paul’s point in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 is that Christian consciences are not all calibrated in the same way. Some are “strong” (mature) and some are “weak” (immature). There are areas of Christian freedom in which we are genuinely free, but in which others feel more bound. These differences in conscience can also lead to conflict.

Youthfulness: “Flee youthful passions…” (2 Tim. 2:22). In context, Paul is not speaking of sexual immorality, as is often thought, but the youthful passion of winning an argument. While this may be more common in those who are younger, even the old can give into “youthful passions.” These passions almost always lead to conflict, controversy and quarreling (2 Tim. 2:23) which is why Paul warns us of them.

Personal preferences: The church in Corinth experienced conflict due to personal preferences for particular teachers. Paul pointed out, “When one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” Of course, it is not wrong to have personal preferences, but it is wrong for those preferences to go on to cause division and disunity within the church.

This shows us that our beliefs, convictions, and preferences are not always pure. They are often complex in their origins, which should give us pause amidst conflict. While others may be in the wrong, or partially so, we must first begin with ourselves. It is fitting to ask: Are lies of the enemy at work here? Am I examining myself first? Is this issue more about my sinful passions than my love for others? Am I being mainly led by the Scripture or by worldly ideas? Is this a central issue or an area of Christian freedom? Do I suspect this is coming from my immaturity or personal preferences?

How Will the World Know We Belong to Jesus?

Only against this sobering backdrop of conflict-ridden churches do we see the truly shocking nature of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a familiar verse, but the radical counter-cultural nature of it is often missed.

Jesus said this fully knowing that his people wouldn’t always agree. So, this “love for one another” is not something that only happens in optimal environments, under perfect conditions, or with a particular set of like-minded people. This “love for one another” is to happen no matter the environment, conditions, or people.

In other words, and this is really important, Jesus places love for another over alignment with one another. Jesus didn’t say the world would know we are his by our shared convictions, shared political platform, or shared philosophy of social justice, or shared face-mask practices. Jesus said the world would know we are his by our love for one another amidst these differences.

Do you see how different this is? This kind of love is attention grabbing.

The Church as a City Set on Hill Amidst Conflict

Jesus used a memorable metaphor to describe his local church in his Sermon on the Mount. He called the church a “city set on a hill” (Mt. 5:14-16):

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Here Jesus gives us a picture of the church as an elevated city, late at night, whose light is seen for miles around in the dark. This is before electricity. The darkness is complete. If you got lost after sundown, you were really lost—until you round the bend and see the city on a hill. That well-lit city on a hill becomes a beacon of hope and help, even life. Jesus was saying that his local church should be like that.

How we go about our shared life together is meant to serve as a beacon of light in a dark world that communicates hope and life to the watching world. Every one of Jesus’ local churches is meant to be an imperfect model community of God, a picture of the new humanity that God is redeeming in Jesus, through our shared life together. That shared life, including how we handle disagreement, is meant to have an attractive quality that draws people in and brings glory to God.

Are we living as a city set on a hill amidst conflict?

Our unity in Christ does not mean uniformity in life. Our unity is not based on thinking the same, voting the same, or viewing social issues the same. Our unity is in Jesus amidst our beautiful God-given diversity. You can be a genuine, intelligent Christian with good intent yet not agree with others on every issue while still continuing to love them, respect them, and share the Lord’s supper with them. Do we believe that? That relational dynamic is only possible because we are united around Someone that transcends the divisions of the world.

So, let’s not be surprised when we discover differences among us, even conflict. Instead, let’s see it as an opportunity. As uncomfortable as tension, division, and discord can be—and as much as we want to avoid them—they give us an opportunity to show the world that we belong to Jesus together.

Let’s ask ourselves: Are we living and loving Godward (1 Cor. 10:31)? Do we have a radical posture of love towards each other, as Jesus has loved us  (1 Jn. 4:11)? Are we forgiving one another, as Jesus has forgiven us (Col. 3:13)? Are we assuming the best of those who are different than us (Eph. 4:2)? Are we helping carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)? Are we not only on guard for wrong, but charitable in our judgments of those who do it (Eph. 4:32)? Is there anyone you need to ask forgiveness of (Mt. 5:23f)? Do you need to reach out to someone for clarity (Phil. 2:14)?

Brothers and sisters, let’s make sure Seattle knows who we belong to in this season—not merely by our political affiliations, nor social statements, nor face-mask philosophies, nor social media posts—but by how we love one another as Jesus’ people amidst our differences. It takes humility. It takes work. It takes patience. It requires suspending judgment until all the facts are in. It takes pushing into areas that are uncomfortable. It takes grace. It takes genuine love. Most of all, it takes a heart captured by Jesus and all he is for us. Only Jesus could create a people like that—and that, my friends, is the point.

“To the King of kings and the Lord of lords…be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:3).

Christ is all,
Pastor Adam