And the church just slips through the cracks again.
Every week, I wait eagerly for the email from our pastor telling us that doors are finally going to open – its almost July after all, if anyone is keeping track. Each week, we receive another message explaining why we still can’t gather… it’s either logistically impossible, or those county commissioners conveniently still haven’t gotten back to the churches regarding their variance request. On and on it goes, week after week, month after month, as we are told about new phases with new fancy phrases like “Protect our Neighbors” and “Safer Outdoors”. We are told that as soon as things are SAFE, we surely will be back together, worshiping and fellowshipping.
Meanwhile, we watch others gather en masse for causes deemed crucial, urgent and too important to ban. We literally see rules bent and suspended because the cause is just. You know who else has an urgent message? A gospel-loving, Jesus-following church. But we bide our time and wait.
Not valuable or essential enough just yet. Sure, some small churches in some places have recommenced meeting and kudos to them for either figuring out the logistics of it all or simply exercising their right to assemble. But for big churches like ours, our pastor would have to perform 20, 30 or 40 services to accommodate the ever-changing regulations on how many can meet at one time. Some big churches in our area have begun having several services nightly, and I applaud them. I can’t imagine how hard that must be, but it’s nice to see pastors taking meeting seriously.
We were told to give it a few weeks, follow the rules, and don’t be reckless. I don’t know a single person who went against that mandate. As time went by, we, like many others grew weary and missed fellowship. But as they say, God is not four walls and a building. He is everywhere. We worship, study and listen from home, from the car, wherever. What a blessing to have the technology to do so. We certainly aren’t sitting around waiting for a building to reopen before we have fellowship with one another. We are the church as they say.
But separate and isolate people long enough from that brick and mortar building and watch that “new normal” they speak about start to take effect. Tell them meeting with other believers isn’t that important after all. Tell them the sabbath isn’t really to be set apart from the other days. Quite possibly, the well-connected ones will be just fine, the seasoned church-goers who have a long list of folks to break bread with, hang out with, and rely on. But what about the ones we claim to want to reach out to with this Good News? What about the disconnected, the newbies, the ones barely making it? Church isn’t for the perfect people, it’s for the ones who know they aren’t all that, the ones who recognize we are called to something bigger than just our own survival. They (we) all need more than a perpetual virtual sanctuary. We are created for connection. But we are bombarded with messages like this:
You see, your beliefs aren’t in vogue at the moment. Please sit down.
Christians typically take joy in being the hands and feet of Christ on this earth, and whether at home, in someone’s backyard, or online, we will continue to be just that. But let’s stop pretending everything is ok. None of this is ok.
I heard someone say last week, well the curve is flat, and so is the church. I hope it isn’t true.
While everyone argues over stats and charts and numbers, I think we can all agree that this virus isn’t going to disappear anytime soon like we hoped it would. It will come in waves, numbers will continue to increase, but maybe not with the deadly effects we once feared. If the experts are frightened that singing in church will cause spread, I’m happy to wear a mask. I’ll distance from my neighbor. I’ll even follow the little arrows on the floor. But let us figure it out, because if you think for one second that the powers that be want or even remotely support anyone going back to these houses of worship, think again. In case you haven’t noticed, a new kind of religion is taking hold, and our culture is not neutral to any of it. We are being fed a poison, toxic, philosophy at breakneck speed and if the church can’t stand up and address it, who will? And by address it, I don’t mean jumping on a bandwagon of hashtags, I mean utilizing the one thing that cuts through all of it not with a destructive sledgehammer but with the precision of a surgeons knife… Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.
Overbearing regulations have kept well-intentioned pastors from opening up their doors. I get it, there are dangers to confront. I’m not a virus-denier. I will humbly submit that if we can figure out Costco, rallies, the grocery store, and the Home Depot where we are all touching the same pinpad and grocery carts, we can figure out church. I don’t have all the answers, but together, when faced with a challenge, folks are surprisingly intelligent and resourceful.
And lets not forget, big church buildings with tax-exempt status and bills to pay can’t afford to play loosy-goosy with any of this. If the local government says stay shut, you stay shut. My church doesn’t want to rock the boat in the community and I get that. But with each week that goes by, I do start to question the end game here. By singling out the church as especially dangerous compared to everywhere else, the fear permeates us all and makes even the most devoted church-goer sit down and wait it out. Don’t sing! Don’t touch the Bible! I can’t help but think of the passage in Luke where the disciples praise Jesus and the Pharisees told Him to shut it down. Jesus’ response? “Even if these should keep silent, the very rocks would cry out!” (V.40) We at least need to be open to the idea that there are those who want the church to be silent. But what they offer as a replacement (and there is always a replacement) is tragic on every level:
They routinely declare people guilty for the sins of others, elicit rote confessions, and refuse absolution. They have no place for forgiveness, no doctrine of atonement, and therefore no redemption, ever. Your kneeling won’t satisfy them.Phil Johnson
We are being shaped, and whether it’s into the image of Jesus or the image of this crazy world, is up to whom we follow. I have zero doubt that sooner than later we are all going to have to make some uncomfortable choices. Things probably won’t snap back to comfortable or normal. Will you be ok with not having church for another year? What’s the magic number here of when enough is enough?
While we pray for our pastors, our leaders, and our fellow churchgoers to make true and bold choices, we also need to immerse ourselves in the truth. The Truth. An exercise I’m afraid many are becoming lazy at due (in part) to the fact that we have been in a virtual, isolated limbo for months. It’s no excuse though, and I say this as much to myself as anyone. We must be people of the Word whether attending a big church or holding communion in our basement.
I’m willing to call the bluff of the church on this point. We think because we have Bibles and we say we love them that we have seen what the Word of God can do to a people – and guess what? It must not be much. As the church, we do not have the taste for the Word of God because we have been leaving it on our plates, or smearing it around with our forks. He serves us this banquet and we find it tiresome. He served us this life giving food but you know what? We sort of think it sounds more fun to sneak away from the table, gorge ourselves on worldly garbage and come back to the table too full and too sick to partake. So yeah. Reading your bible may feel like not such great contribution to the trials the world is facing. But you know what has undone oppressive civilizations before? Christians reading the Word. Do you know where the first changes will begin? In your own life, your own home, with your own children. And there’s the rub. We don’t want change that begins with us. Christianity is no soft religion. It has been found hard, not ineffective – and we are cowards.Rachel Jankovic
The Church is not on the same playing-field as a movie theater or an amusement park. It’s not meant to be a diversion or a feel-good Sunday activity before you go to your kids soccer game. Too many of us have capitulated to the idea that it is. The church has never been entirely ‘safe’ either, and thank God for that. It’s message is a dangerous one, a freeing one, but dangerous nonetheless. I’m afraid it’s becoming sanitized to the point of ineffectiveness through all this new normal jargon wrapped up to appear as something it isn’t.
But history tells us there’s nothing new under the sun, the church has thrived during wars, famines, revolutions and everything in between. It flourished though because believers were willing to take risks. Are we so arrogant and prideful to think no believers have ever faced these dilemmas before? Please. Take precautions, be smart, but stop allowing those that despise your very existence to tell you how and when you will worship, because mark my words, this is just the beginning.