April 18, 2020
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.
– Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
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.
– Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)
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.
– 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)
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?
May 10, 2012
This is long, and it’s just part one; strap in.
Today, our president announced that, in a 180-degree turn from his previous statements, he now favors “gay marriage.” There are several things about this entire situation that boggle the mind about this, and most of them come back to the inescapable fact that few other religions would permit such bigotry against them. For the vast majority of opponents to same-sex marriage, their opposition is not rooted in hate, but in their religious beliefs. The insistence of these activists to literally re-define marriage is what makes this most distasteful. In future parts, I’ll also deal with the fact that they are not honest in their arguments; they cannot be, or they will have to cede what they feel are their strongest points. Finally, I have an opinion (bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?) of how I believe government can both respect religion and get the vast majority of what the “gay marriage” activists want; that will be part 3.
Imagine, if you will, that our founding fathers were Jews rather than Christians and Deists. They set up our government to honor Passover above any and all other days, requiring that employers give Jewish employees time off from sundown to sundown on Passover, provided they attend the special services at the temple. This worked well for over 200 years, as some people got a day off each year, and other’s didn’t. It didn’t occur to them to mind; this is just the way it’s always been. There’s a program out there for which they don’t qualify, but it didn’t bother them, the same way that it didn’t bother them that they weren’t eligible for food stamps because their income was too high.
Then, one day, the Protestant population started wondering why they didn’t have this same protection - “Why can’t I demand a free day off a year, just because I don’t hold to that ancient, antiquated religion?” They go to the government and say “Hey, this doesn’t seem fair - why can’t we get a free day off each year?” The government says, “Well, what do you have in mind?” The people reply “Passover should be for all! We want a Protestant Passover, except without that temple requirement; we just want a free day off like them!” The government promptly laughs them out of its offices.
These Protestants aren’t done yet, though. Prestigious universities have been teaching Protestantism as an equally valid alternative to Judaism for many years, and now these university-educated people are educating an increasing number of the nation’s children. They decide to lay the groundwork by starting to normalize Protestantism. They find some inspiring stories about Protestants throughout history; they speculate that others may have been &“closet” Protestants, even though they never really said for sure. Finally, they follow this up with people who were “unfairly” treated simply because they were Protestant. If it’s one thing kids understand, it’s “that’s not FAIR!”, and this plan has wildly-successful results. The reasons given tend to evolve as well; in the beginning, it’s fear; a few years later, it’s bigotry; a few years after that, it’s just hate.
Finally, this so-called Protestant Passover movement really starts to have some legs. Politicians are asked their view of this, even when the nation is facing far more pressing issues. The Jews are livid about the government defining a “Protestant Passover” that confers all the rights of the free-day-off Passover, but is celebrated by people who have no clue what it is they’re celebrating, and without the worship requirement (which was the original reason behind the law in the first place). They would base their complaints on the free exercise of religion, and they would be told to stop hating.
You see where I’m going with this. There is absolutely no way our fictional government would even consider something so ludicrous as Protestant Passover; but, with two generations of conditioning by partial parties, now it doesn’t seem ludicrous. I believe this is the point we have reached in our nation today; those who are for “gay marriage” cannot fathom any motivation other than hate in their opposition, no matter how little sense this makes. (“But wait,” you say, “wouldn’t the original Passover law constitute an establishment of religion?” One could make that argument; come back for part 3, my friend.)
The word “marriage” means something to the Christian faith. Through the several Scriptures that follow, we survey some of the verses that establish marriage as having special significance; this is my proof that the “gay marriage” push is offensive to Christianity. We’ll start with two verses that are central to this argument.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
These two verses establish the sufficiency and completeness of Scripture. Either it’s all true, or none of it is; I hold to the former view. What was written was written, and the omission of what was not written is also significant. We also see that the purpose of Scripture is to equip man through teaching (education), reproof (some versions translate this “rebuke”), correction (a change of course), and training (“here is how you do it”). This means that, although Jesus has come and fulfilled the law, reading the law still has value; it gives us insight into how God thinks. Studying how God dealt with people and nations can show us His patience, mercy, and judgment all at the same time.
I think that this is where many of the Christians who identify themselves on the “pro” side of this argument go astray. They focus on one verse or passage, to the exclusion of all others. They may give special emphasis to the words of Jesus - most Bibles do, by putting His words in red! However, these verses tell us that all Scriptures is profitable. If Jesus said something, Paul echoed it, and Peter explained it, Peter’s explanation is not “one of many interpretations” of Jesus’ words; it is the explanation that God has preserved in His Word!
With that being said, let’s take a look first at some pro-marriage verses. From the very beginning, God created male and female (yes, “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve”), and near the end of Genesis 2, we read
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Later, Solomon has this advice for his son:
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
(Am I the only one noticing that not only are they supposed to be husband and wife, but they’re supposed to keep the fire burning? Ever read the book Song of Solomon? Yowza!)
Now, sure, those are both Old Testament. But, when Jesus quotes these words (and not in the “It has been said…but I say” way)…
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?..”
…well, that would seem to make them doubly-important in my book. Paul, who was one of the last people to see Jesus, found himself in the position of educating new believers who came from a background of hedonism. We’ll deal with the "don’t"s here in a bit, but let’s look at how he summarizes his instructions on roles in marriage.
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Husband with masculine pronoun, wife with a feminine pronoun - it’s almost like there’s a secret message there. No, I kid; it’s no secret at all. Keep in mind this was written in Greek, when the Greek culture had just recently begun to fade. There was certainly plenty of homosexuality and pederasty in Greece; if there had been something positive to say about either of these things, Paul had the perfect opportunity. However, he had a different take.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
(Could that last part be talking about venereal disease or AIDS? Probably shouldn’t go there; this is already long enough as it is.)
Paul is not a lone wolf on this; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the prohibitions in the Levitical law on not only homosexuality, but also bestiality, incest, and adultery are consistent with this. Incidentally, these laws are given as a group, lending a certain “they’re all the same sin” feel to that list. Non-marital sexual activity was prohibited.
Marriage was the first institution established by God, followed closely by the family. The reason our government issues marriage licenses in the first place is a carry-over from the Church of England (more on that in part 3). It is significant in the Christian faith. The fact that it has been abused and devalued by Christians and non-Christians alike does not change that. In fact, let’s go ahead and get that red herring out of the way here. Remember above, where Jesus quoted the Old Testament? Let’s pull that passage over here in with a bit more context.
And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
He answered, “Have you not read that He Who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so….”
Here, Jesus not only recognizes the institution of marriage, He reinforces it, tearing down an “out” that Moses had permitted, and had been a part of their law ever since. Now, I personally believe that it’s a good thing that divorcees aren’t shunned; Jesus doesn’t indicate that divorce is better or worse than any other sin, but He does call it out as sin. If sin is forgiven and forsaken, my reading of Scripture tells me that’s good enough for God, and if it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me. However, the modern church has swung too far away from shunning to the point that divorce is common and accepted; it makes the argument for the sanctity of marriage weaker, especially in the eyes of the non-believing world. However, it does nothing to dilute the words of Jesus here.
Marriage is significant to the Christian faith. I believe I’ve demonstrated above that “gay marriage” is an oxymoron; how do you have “prohibited-activity sacred-institution”? Just as Muslims would fight a move to classify pulled pork as a halal dish, or Catholics would not want to receive a Big Mac as the Eucharist, Christians who oppose “;gay marriage” are simply defending their faith. Redefining a word that currently denotes the first institution ordained by God should be met with strong resistance by all Christians. Maybe this assault is what we need to recognize how far we’ve drifted from what the Word says should be the way. Forget about the sins of the past; we should determine what God says, then stand for it.
(This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
The other parts will be linked here as they are published. The other parts will remain in my head.)