May 28, 2020

Dear Church Family:
As most of you know, on Monday, May 25th, Governor Gavin Newsom issued new guidelines for opening houses of worship in California. While I was excited at the prospect of being together in some way as a family, I was also circumspect, knowing that the guidelines would probably be restrictive and vague. After finally reading the release, I was reminded again of two things: 1.) Our communities are beginning to open up slowly, and 2.) Life is not returning to “the way it was” any time soon.
I’m sure that if you read the guidelines or a summary of them, some of you were hopeful, and others were concerned (or perhaps you lacked an opinion) regarding gathering. Whatever your response may have been, all of us in different ways are learning to adapt to life as isolation is lifted. This adjustment includes our Cornerstone family.
After digesting current guidelines from state officials (Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies), the elders have decided it is best not to gather in the worship center under this guidance. The requirements and guidelines faith-based organizations are mandated to meet are neither sensible nor realistic for us (e.g., “limit attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower”). These restrictions would exclude a majority of our church family from participating in weekend fellowship, which we are not willing to do.
I know there will be questions regarding our decision, but I can’t answer each one you might pose in a letter like this. There were too many issues that had to be weighed to explain our decision. For us, no doubt, the government had a substantial impact on our decision-making process. We want to faithfully and biblically submit to our “governing authorities” over us (Rom. 13:1-7). Sure, we may, at times, agree or disagree with the decisions that are made. Submission is easy when we agree. Even those who don’t have the Holy Spirit can do that. But when we don’t agree, submission is supernatural. As long as the government avoids commanding what God forbids or forbidding what God commands, we intend to be joyful and helpful citizens in our community. Citizens of God’s kingdom who promote peace instead of unnecessary division. To do otherwise could bring dishonor on the name of King Jesus, which is NOT an option. To submit with a joyful heart could bring favor as we seek to serve King Jesus by serving the communities in which we live and not ourselves.
For just a moment, however, let me turn the conversation away from what we have lost. Instead, I want to share some questions which I have been asking myself about another unstoppable future. What if what appears to be losses for us are actually new doors of opportunity? What if we acted like the unstoppable church by investing our time, talent, and treasure into the new doors of opportunity God is opening and not the closed doors over which we have no control? What if we can’t see the new doors because we are too focused on prying open ones God has closed? What if the doors that God is allowing to close were obstacles that hindered the church? What if we acknowledged that the church, including Cornerstone, before the epidemic was losing ground? What if the younger generation left the church in droves, not because they were rejecting Jesus, but because they were rejecting churches that were more worried about themselves and their preferences than the honor and fame of Jesus and his passion for the world? What if the church needs to adapt to the world in which we live to reach the world in which we live with the unchangeable truths of God’s Word? What if we are on the cusp of something amazing, but we don’t see it because we are more concerned about what we may have lost than what God has in store for us?
Many of you have questions about how we might live as God’s people in the world in which we find ourselves now. I have questions, too. They never offered a class on shepherding your people through a global pandemic at my seminary. No doubt, God’s people must eventually assemble in person in some way (Acts 2:42; 4:31; 12:12; 20:7; 1 Cor. 5:4; 11:17-34; 14:23, 26; Heb. 10:25; Jam. 2:2). Yet the mode of gathering has looked differently at different times for centuries. From what we can tell, the first building designated solely for the church to worship didn’t exist until the middle of the third century. For almost two hundred years, the church would gather in houses. That isn’t an argument for house churches per se, but instead a reminder that the church is much more flexible and resilient than we give her credit. We aren’t fragile orchids, but robust dandelions. We grow where not much else can, and we don’t die easily. And while we don’t have all the answers right now, when God’s people aren’t sure what to do, we press into God, who is our Rock and Refuge, and we refocus on the mission (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Pet 2:9). That is what I have been trying to do for us the last couple of months. And one of the greatest gifts during this trial that God has given us is the opportunity to recalibrate. We get to find our North Star in Christ again and regain our sense of direction for this journey.
I believe that our church family is going to envision new and innovative ideas that will open doors that we have never seen before. It will undoubtedly involve ideas about how we might gather together under the government guidelines and still be the church God intends us to be. But it will also include exciting opportunities to speak and bring good news into the communities in which we live. This decision was difficult, but I truly believe God has so much more for us than a return to “normal.” We love you and miss you!


Todd Nighswonger

on behalf of the pastors and elders of Cornerstone