NWC Webinar – Theological and Ethical Considerations in the COVID-19 Pandemic

How can pandemic advice from 500 years ago inform how we’re leading today? In this fascinating webinar, the Rev. Jonathan Wilson and the Rev. Mark Stromberg explore how the writings of Martin Luther help us build a solid ethical and theological foundation for the practical decisions we’re having to make every day as church leaders in a pandemic.

This conversation was based, in part, on Wilson’s recent work, “Luther’s Theology and Ethics, and the Adapted Ministries of the Church, in the COVID Spring, 2020.”

Full Webinar


Why start with Luther? A summary of Jonathan’s paper on Luther.


“… If you are coaching your communities regarding social distance and putting interests of your neighbor above your own … then you are on solid ground ethically, theologically, biblically. And you are right in line with history’s first evangelical.”

What do the ethics of being a good neighbor look like in a time of crisis?


“The Christian ethic … in a time of disease is governed by a love for one’s neighbor.”

“… I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence,” Martin Luther

How Luther’s principles apply to today’s pandemic.


“As medical knowledge advances, then you follow along with the preponderance of opinion. Not the outliers, but the preponderance of the medical knowledge.”

How should we be thinking about communion?


“Looking back, Luther was devising this as part of pastoral ministry for the first generation of Protestants that they understood from the Catholic traditions that there was a time when communion was not taken in the main sanctuary in community with everyone else. That is a time when it’s appropriate to have communion in a private home or at a bedside.”

“Looking at Luke 24:30-35 when the disciples said that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, what was the context? The context was Jesus and two disciples in a private home.”

What are the obligations of church leaders to law, authority and government?


“All of us need to step back and really realize that yes, we are in a different socio-political environment than Martin Luther. With that, let’s understand that the President of the United States always and ever will be for the last 200 plus years, a partisan political figure. 2020 is an election year. Partisan political figures will appeal to their base, whatever they think that might look like. There is a difference and a distinction we need to make between posture and policy.  And when you look at the federal guidelines for how churches are to reopen, in fact, from coming out of the CDC you find all kinds of measures about social distancing, wearing face masks, suggestions about not singing, and those kinds of things. Luther would have someone squarely in the camp of “you follow the policy,” Because the policy that is the law. It is not the posture that’s the law.”

How do I lead a congregation that’s divided?


“If you read Covenant documents relative to freedom in Christ, it speaks about the fact that our freedom is not something that we take for ourselves. It’s something that’s bestowed on others. And there’s a responsibility with freedom. This may be an opportunity coming out of crisis to acquaint some of our people in our church setting with what does it really mean when we say ‘freedom in Christ.’”