Historically and globally, church has never been safe.
Historically and globally, church has never been convenient.
I don’t want to downplay the difficulty of navigating our current situation. We want to walk faithfully as we fumble through our various challenges and frustrations and fears. Yet, perhaps this pandemic is revealing something about us. Perhaps our Christianity has become too preoccupied with the American idols of convenience and safety.
If we don’t value the local church the way God does, we are going to put personal preferences above faithful obedience.
Many of us are unhappy with the precautions our churches are making—masks or no masks, outside or inside, full capacity or not—so we won’t go until it meets our standards. It’s not that those decisions are unimportant, but we should consider whether they are dislodging what (should be) a deeper commitment to the church.
Currently, my church is meeting outside. Honestly, sitting under the beating sun in ninety degree weather is not my favorite. The heat is distracting. My kids are distracting. I miss how things used to be. Every week, I am tempted to complain.
So I keep reminding myself…
Around the world, there are Christians who walk miles to meet.
There are entire families who trek under that glaring sun (or trudge through snowy weather) because they so value gathering with God’s people on the Sabbath. For them, church isn’t merely a 1-2 hour service interrupting their Sunday. It’s an all day commitment. They do it because they know how essential it is for discipleship—they know life in Christ is intrinsically connected to life in His Body. When I read examples of Christians who go to such lengths, I’m so convicted. Who am I to complain about meeting in hot weather (especially when I have the luxury of driving home in an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned house)?
Around the world, there are Christians who meet without buildings or childcare.
Having to manage our kids during sermons might be unique to us, but it’s not actually unique. There are countless churches where children squirm, struggle to listen, babble, and have meltdowns during the church service. We frown upon the disciples who tried to prevent the children from seeing Jesus, but how often do we adopt a similar attitude by considering children in our congregation a hindrance? We have a profound opportunity right now to express Christ’s own heart in the way we welcome and love the rambunctious children around us.
Around the world, Christians meet despite the risk of persecution.
We have so much to learn from courageous Christians throughout history and across the globe who have denied comfort and safety because of the deeper call of life together. They keep meeting when their governments and neighbors and relatives threaten them. They keep meeting when their churches and houses are burnt down. They keep meeting when their pastors and members are imprisoned, beaten, and even killed.
Now, I know that a pandemic and persecution are two very different challenges. My point is to consider the weight of our priorities. Health and safety is a blessing worth protecting, but it was never supposed to be the Christian’s ultimate concern. When our persecuted brothers and sisters are facing frequent and severe threats in order to meet, should we really wait for the absence of a virus before we do? A concern for safety should certainly influence the precautions that we take, but let us make every effort to continue gathering as a church! Yes, there is risk. But isn’t that always true of following Jesus?
If God has called us to build and display his Kingdom together, we must actually be together.
It is good to consider how we can love our neighbors by slowing the spread of this nasty virus. We should joyfully lay aside our preferences to serve (I don’t like wearing masks, but that’s not a hill worth dying on! It’s a way to care for others). We should show particular care for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, manifesting our corporate commitment to anyone physically unable to meet. And certainly, we should do what we can to nurture the health of our own bodies.
But we must also care for the health of the Body. We are not just saved as individuals, we are saved as a people—we are collectively the Bride of Christ. Ever since the Church was established in the New Testament, this corporate identity is primarily expressed through local churches. Our gatherings aren’t just meetings. When we worship together, hear God’s Word preached, stir one another up to love and good works, and remind each other of the Great Commission and coming Kingdom, we are being who God has made us to be.
May we love the Church as Christ does, and joyfully sacrifice our comfort, convenience, preferences, and yes, even safety, for its flourishing.
“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.” Hebrews 10:23-25