When orders started coming out to avoid groups larger than 250, then 50, then 10, many organizations were affected. The NBA season ended almost immediately, NCAA’s March Madness tournament was canceled, Major League Baseball has yet to have opening day, concerts have been canceled, and theaters have sat empty for a month. Churches are also place where regular meetings of more than 10 people occur, and they were affected as well. And, while sport and concert tickets can be refunded, and movie release dates pushed back, very few churches have chosen to go completely idle during this time.
Some people may just accept it. Others, though, may wonder why, and some people may completely not understand. If you can rewatch your favorite series on Netflix, why not rewatch or relisten to your favorite sermon? Nearly everyone owns at least one Bible, and even if not, Bible Gateway is free! Just read the Bible for yourself! In this installment, we’ll look at the concept of “church during a pandemic” from the Christian worldview, and see why its practitioners feel it is essential.
Scripture Commands and Exemplefies It
The best-known verse cited as a reason to gather regularly is Hebrews 10:25, presented here in context with verse 24:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
We also see it in the example of the early church, meeting together every day!
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is far from exhaustive (remember the “bite-sized” nature of these posts), but from these origins, believers have regularly met together. And, while I’m not aware of a church that has the full Sunday morning treatment every day of the week, there are churches that have activities nearly every day. These activities help believers obey this command and follow the example of those who came before us.
An interesting companion study of Scripture is to study times where Christians did not meet together, or where they adjusted their techniques due to government persecution. That would push this way longer than I’ve planned to write, but there are examples of people separating themselves for sickness, and of abandoning the temple for smaller gatherings in homes. I know of no orthodox Christians who have continued their normal services during these times.
Christians Need It
Notice that, in the above two passages, there was more than just a command or an example - there was a recognized or promised benefit. In Hebrews, believers meet together to stir up each other towards love and good works, and in Acts, they had glad and generous hearts. Meeting together with other believers was commanded because God knew that we, as Christians, would need those benefits. In one of his earliest recorded letters, Paul is discussing various spiritual gifts, and this is what he says as he concludes that discussion:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Christians can get these benefits virtually, and many have been. Prior to this, we would have scoffed at Zoom Sunday School classes; now, we are grateful for the tools that allow us to stay connected. I can’t remember who I first heard say “the Internet is a terrible place to go to church” (and they were right), but in a pinch, it’s been a great way to continue in fellowship with other believers. (Once this all goes away, these go back to being true; in-person is still preferable. There are many benefits these tools don’t provide.)
We All Need Hope
This is a dark time for many people. They have lost jobs and have no idea where money is coming from next week. They have lost loved ones, and weren’t even able to see them for the last weeks of their lives. They are depressed, the normal routine of a life they enjoyed exchanged for a house that feels like a jail. These are not people who need to “suck it up” and get over it – these are people with real, genuine hurts, and the world offers them very little in the way of comfort or hope.
Jesus, though, offers hope to hurting people. He spent His entire earthly ministry “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We, as the church, carry on His ministry today; but how can we offer hope if all we have is a greatest hits playlist? Hurting people need acceptance, a listening ear, and kind words; these pre-recorded messages may have truth, but struggling people “don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Jesus offers salvation, which addresses the root of all of our problems, and He offers hope and peace between here and Heaven; we are the ambassadors He’s trusted to share that message.
Churches also need to meet to mobilze help where it may be needed. Most churches have several members who struggle to get out and get the things they need when nothing is wrong; under these conditions, they simply can’t do it. Most churches also have able-bodied, healthy members who can care for those who are struggling. We cannot build up the body (physically or spiritually) if we do not know the needs.
So, that is why you see churches live-streaming, driving CDs around, renting FM transmitters to let people park at the church and attend from their cars – it is that important. And, I’ll wrap up with a bit of afflicting the comfortable – shouldn’t our “salt and light” be so self-evident that no one wonders why we’re still meeting?
This is the last (or first, depending on how you’re reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”
Evil’s Class of 2011
2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that’s a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that’s looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)
Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda’s case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one’s heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.
While the Cain Train’s derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources (“What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!”), Cain’s analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you’ve got something that just might work.
I realize Cain’s analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you’d owe $900; if you make $100,000, you’d owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you’d owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.
I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don’t we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It’s not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there’s a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.
I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.
A Full Trip Through the Bible
Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren’t judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I’ll start digging in and digesting what’s there.
So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)
Christmas 2011 happens to fall on a Sunday. This has led to a number of churches moving their services to Saturday in lieu of Sunday, and a number of other churches loudly proclaiming that, of all days, worshiping Christ is something that should and will happen on schedule. One would think that this would be the end of it; however, some (not all) people on both sides seem to be invoking the “more spiritual” argument in defense of their schedules. This bothers me, and I believe both sides are causing harm with this argument, turning the focus from Christ (the reason for the season) to man’s actions.
Let’s take the rearrangers. The primary motivation I’ve heard for churches modifying their usual schedule is so that families can maintain their Christmas morning traditions. Having a church service requires “work” for more than just the Pastor; for a 10am service, people may need to be there as early as 8am to prepare the facilities, and may require people as as late as 12:30pm to close everything up once the hour-long service is over. Adjusting the schedule frees all these people from these obligations. God’s presence is not limited to the walls of a church building, and as the second-biggest celebration on the church calendar, moving a service is not contrary to Scripture. The meeting is still happening, so these people are not violating Hebrews 10:25, which says:
…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. Hebrews 10:25(ESV)
On the other side, we have the people who feel, of all days of the year, the celebration of the birth of the One we worship is the last day they would consider not meeting. They see it as an opportunity - Christmas only falls on Sunday once every 6 years (depending on how leap years fall), and this year is one of those lucky years. Worshiping on the Lord’s Day and Christmas at the same time? Awesome! They see the worship of God as preeminent, not subject to rearranging at the whim of man’s schedules.
Neither of these positions violates any Scripture I can find. And, let me be clear, I believe that “right with God” Christians can hold either of these views. It is not the views, it is the “holier than thou” arguments I’m hearing made in defense of these views. The thing is, we as mere humans cannot possibly know enough to make value judgments about either of these views. Motivation and heart are the key items here. Jesus made it clear that good works from a wrong heart are worthless.
On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” Matthew 7:22-23(ESV)
If those who are rearranging are doing it out of selfishness, they are wrong. If those who are keeping their schedule are doing it out of moral superiority, they are wrong. Those who are looking down on either of these groups is also wrong. The focus should be Christ, not man’s performance.
This weekend, worship Christ, the newborn King. Do it Saturday, do it Sunday, maybe even do it both days (that’s our family’s plan). Focus on Him, not on others. Then, after this weekend, continue. Worshiping Christ should be a daily occurrence in our lives.