And just like that churches closed. Bible studies stopped meeting. The government mandated closures nationwide for health concerns. Youth groups ceased hanging out. Children’s programs shuttered. All in the name of public safety.
The church certainly didn’t cease to exist but it ceased to meet together. Public attendance was made socially illicit if not all-out illegal and private meetings were frowned upon. All in the name of public safety.
There was certainly cause. No one would argue that the measures taken were unnecessary (though privately some thought too extreme). Naysayers and alarmists were silenced- often by their peers. Because the safety of loved ones, friends, family, their own selves was at risk.
Because meeting together could mean a death sentence for someone. Meeting together could cause friction with authorities. Being found in a gathering could mean catching enormous backlash public and privately.
And just like that the church ceased meeting together. The dangers too great. The cost potentially too high. And an assured death sentence- physically yes… but also in reputation, socially, and economically.
I have been struggling mightily in the last few days with the state of Christianity in the United States. Tonight I cannot help but put words to paper and raise the alarm. Dear ones somewhere along the line- within the decades of blessing and favor that this nation has enjoyed-we’ve forgotten the crux of Christianity. Quite literally in the Latin ‘crux’ – we’ve lost the cross- the universal symbol of death. Let me be frank, at the risk of offending you- we’ve forgotten that being a follower of Christ IS a death sentence. All of this faith is permeated with death! So why are we running from it?
From the fall in the garden that handed down the first death sentence and damnation for humanity to Christ’s death on the cross which effectively wiped out that condemnation, this choice we’ve made to follow entails death. We’ve forgotten that everyday millions of believers make the choice to meet together under the potential threat of actual death, imprisonments, torture, starvation, and yes- even catching a disease from others.
Every. single. time. they choose to meet it is with the very real understanding that they may not come home. Every. single. time. they make that choice to bring their spouse, their children, their ailing mother- it is with the realization that it could be a death sentence for them. Every. single. time. they decide to meet together and attend church they do so at the risk of breaking laws, catching disease, or worse.
They go anyway. They go in secret. They go quietly. They certainly take precautions as they’re able to. But they go.
Because these brothers and sisters understand on a level we cannot fathom what the cost of being a Christian is. They know the cost and how high it can be to call themselves a part of the Body and then risk it all to be with the other parts of that Body.
Shame on us for forgetting that following Christ demands sacrifices such as these: Pain, ridicule, shaming, illness, torture, imprisonment, even death.
How could we possibly expect to not face such hardship eventually?
Why would we not welcome the opportunity to face fear with active faith?
This is what faith over fear looks like dear ones- not that we would somehow rise above the fray and walk on water over the plague. Rather that we would walk THROUGH it, perhaps effected BY it, perhaps even inadvertently spreading it, in order to further Christ’s message.
The Body of Christ was not created to be in isolation. We are not intended to do this incredibly hard and important battle in a vacuum. Online church doesn’t count. Books don’t count. Podcasts don’t count. Facebook Live doesn’t count. Because these have no flesh and blood behind them, they can’t wrap another up in a hug or lay hands on the sick. Church in internet-land cannot and should not replace the actual physical togetherness of Christ’s body. The Bible is chalkful of references, whether overt or inferred, of the MEETING of the saints. Together. We need each other. We need, as Paul beseeches the Hebrews, to continue to meet together, to take comfort in hardship and have perseverance through trials.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Hebrews 10:23-25, 32-39 ESV
There are those who are looking at the blessing in all this, that God has used it to take away distractions, that this gives us the opportunity to come back together as families and empower the dads and moms of this nation to do what is their God-ordained job to lead the family spiritually. I don’t disagree. But let’s not combine two separate Biblical ideals here… the Church and the Family. Yes, I absolutely think this is going to do great things for the families of the Nation. We have an opportunity to come back together and seek God as a family unit. However, the family and the church are symbiotic… meant to complement each other. One doesn’t equal the other in either direction. Church doesn’t replace the family and family doesn’t replace the church. Please don’t mix these up. What may be a revival of the family doesn’t mean the Church will not go into crisis. We must preserve and nurture both.
Others are celebrating that distractions have dissipated or disappeared altogether. That’s wonderful. Again I don’t disagree. But let us not allow the gathering of Believers for the purposes of seeking God and praising Him to be lumped in with all the worldly distractions that have been cancelled. The Body of Christ is not your neighborhood bowling league or NCAA March Madness. We are not the school musical or opening day of Nascar. We are the Bride of Christ. Church is not and has not ever been a “distraction”. It is indeed wonderful that we have so much free time now, schedules are cleared, hours upon hours of nothing to do… church should be filling these voids in time and attention, not taking part in causing them.
Don’t misread me here- I’m not saying the government is infringing on our rights to religious assembly… yet. But I do think it is right around the corner. It is only a matter of time, whether during this crisis or the next, that it will be illegal for us to meet- and we must decide how we will respond to this.
This virus is the beginning. It is a taste of what is yet to come. The Bible is clear that the labor pains of the earth will only increase. We cannot falter with such a initial trial. There will ALWAYS be an excuse, even a good and seemingly practical one to stop the corporate meeting of Christ’s body. Satan would never be so bold as to attack the Bride of Christ head-on. Around the side, insidiously, armed with facts and figures, science and logic, and an extra dose of seeming altruistic benevolence for our fellow man is much more effective. Add in fear and anxiety and you see how easy it was? How easy was it to close every single church door in this country without anyone raising the alarm?
And yet the real persecution, the actual persecution of the Church hasn’t even started!
I feel we’ve stumbled hugely on this one.
Because regardless of WHY this has happened, whatever spiritual entity has caused it, we’d better believe Satan will be taking advantage of it. He loves to isolate. He thrives separating the flock. He relishes attacking the Father’s sheep one by one. The natural spiritual accountability of meeting together has been taken away. Service to and from the Body has ceased. We are sitting ducks alone. The roaring lion will continue to seek, kill, and destroy. This situation is prime meat for him.
So let us be found meeting together- in defiance perhaps- wrecklessly perhaps. Let us start the practice of knowing the high cost of this thing we claim as salvation. As so many are quick to point out right now, the church has never been about a building. But it does involve regularly and actively meeting together in order to be Christ’s hands and feet. How can we do this if we refuse to even meet with our own family? Who would dare go visit that invalid next door if we won’t go that Bible study? Who would dare take meals to the homeless camp if we won’t attend a Sunday Service? Who would dare reach out to the co-worker and his family if we won’t break bread with our church sisters and brothers? The church cannot serve or ‘be’ the church while fractured physically from each other. We just can’t.
Who will be left to anoint the sick with oil? Who will be left to lay hands and pray over the grieving widow? Who will be left to offer assistance and help to the orphan?
We need not fear disease, we need not fear prison, or shame, or death. After all, are we not called to die to ourselves daily and take up our cross? Physical death or illness should be no deterrent for those who’s hope lies far past the reaches of any humiliation, disease, or government. We have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live- our death in body is of no account- yet Christ lives in us! The life we live in the body we live by faith in the son of God who loves us and gave Himself for us.
Church won’t look or feel the same for awhile. I’m not demanding we do nothing to mitigate this pandemic. We may need to start meeting with smaller groups of people in homes. We may all sit further apart and wear masks. Instead of one or two large services we may need to split into six or seven during the week to keep numbers down. We may ask those to use their best judgement to attend if they’re immunocompromised or sick. We certainly won’t make anyone attend, just as we’re asking for the freedom to decide for ourselves what’s best. Yes, ‘church‘ will look different, but we must keep meeting. We must get creative. We can work with authorities without shuttering the fellowship of Believers.
More is to come. Let this virus be our practice ground for the much harder battles to come. We cannot stand down. We cannot move aside. We must not fail in spreading the Holy Spirits redeeming work of Christ’s blood during this time. Let not Satan shutter the Church so easily.
This Sunday or any other days of meeting I’ll be found somewhere, somehow with the physical body of Christ. Be it our home church, another one, or if all else fails inviting believers into our home- we WILL meet together. I beseech you to do likewise!
Pray for your pastors and elders. I do not begrudge them the decisions put before them. Pray for our nation’s leaders as they have such a huge crisis to deal with. Let us be found working with authorities as we’re able, but let us not forget that life on this side of heaven is war. Just as any soldier who enlists knows they do so with their life on the line so also is our enlistment within the Body of Christ. It is most certainly a death sentence, in more ways than one… and our physical demise is the very least of these. Let us act like we understand this and endlessly defend the Cause to which we fight.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Acts 2:42-47 ESV
A note from Bethany:
This blog has been one several weeks in coming. I feel a bit like I birthed a large and unwieldy baby. I know this post will rub some readers the wrong way. I’m quite sure I will offend some and anger others. As a nurse and a mom of 5 kids, 3 of which are immunocompromised, I know better than most the risks I’m speaking to. But meeting together with a church family is worth the risks to us. There will be a lot of disagreement and that’s okay. I would be disobedient to not put this out there though. Thank you so much for reading my heart! ~B