Due to recent events, many states have asked churches to shut down all traditional gatherings and services done in buildings, to slow down the spread of infection. The vast majority have complied, moving to on-line services.
I find this move intriguing. After all, a number of years ago, a local pastor confronted me. He pointed out that he could not consider me a Christian because I did not regularly attend a traditional church. He pointed to passages in the New Testament that implied that Jesus commands us to do just that. By living my faith in an un-orthodox manner, I created my own set of rules, and my own Jesus. Many claim to follow Jesus, but have created a god in their own image. This pastor’s concern was that, like them, I followed a false Christ of my own choosing. As a pastor of a rather well-established denomination, I have to imagine that this gentleman was hardly alone in his line of thinking.
Yet, today, many churches scrambled to move their services to an on-line model amidst the societal pressures, and even new laws forbidding the traditional, weekly gathering. I cannot help but notice an inconsistency here, bordering on hypocrisy. If one assumes that Jesus commands weekly gathers of local Christians (in the form of the traditional ‘church’ gatherings found in America), then why are Christians allowing society and governments to push them to break the commands of Jesus? After all, the disciples all faced persecution and death to spread the gospel, as commanded, in the face of political pressure and power. Even today, our siblings in third world countries face the same penalties as they defy both majorities and government to meet together and talk about Jesus.
For years, the traditional form of ‘church expression’ (i.e. the weekly gatherings, the sermon, liturgy, etc) has faced attack and challenge from within and without. Well known pastors such as Frank Viola and Francis Chan have written books questioning these long standing practices, and more. I, myself, have written dozens of blog posts doing the same thing. Those defending the traditional model would immediately fall back on scripture to defend the vast majority of these elements. Again, if weekly, traditional church gatherings are required by God’s Word, why do we allow the direction of man to supersede what God has directed us to do?
Of course, I personally do not advocate for the traditional approach. Anyone who has read my blog over the years knows that I remain convinced that the New Testament is descriptive, and not prescriptive, in many ways. It does not give us a list of rules and guidelines of exactly how to do church, though it gives us glimpses of how the brethren conducted gatherings and addressed theological concerns. We can learn much by studying God’s Word with this in mind.
Jesus does tell us we need to gather, share our faith, our love and our needs with one another. “This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We can find the phrase ‘one another’ about 100 times in the New Testament. Clearly, Jesus meant for us to gather together and care for each other. However, I do not believe he legislated an exact way we have to meet.
I would suggest that in order to begin to fulfill the directions given in the New Testament, including Jesus command to ‘love one another,’ we just actually gather. How do we do that in light of the current crisis, and governmental orders? Ironically, we find a solution both in the Bible and in the countries I mentioned earlier: church in the home.
Many gatherings in the New Testament and in countries with persecution consist of smaller groups of people within homes. The long arm of the law has a hard time reaching inside someone’s house. Through home churches, Christianity has spread in countries such as North Korea and China, where large religious gatherings are often forbidden.
And home churches can be flexible. That’s key here. We certainly do not want to pa
ck 20 people into a home with the virus so easily passed. A couple of families or a few friends can meet together. With reasonable precautions (maximizing distancing, frequent washing, face masks where possible) they can dramatically reduce chances of spread while fulfilling the direction given in the Bible.
Of course, being a more non-traditional person myself, I often ‘meet’ with my brothers over the phone or chat on the internet. While not ideal, it works where physical gatherings are simply impossible (and I would definitely recommend it if you have a vulnerable person in your home.) This has one critical difference from the new ‘internet services’ currently used across the nation; it is two-way.
You see, in watching or attending ‘church services,’ there’s one person speaking and many listening. The gifts of the Spirit, freely given to every man and woman who believes, goes unused. Furthermore, we can not truly express or demonstrate love to one another in gatherings where we primarily ‘follow the leader’ and sit passively. However, when one gathers with a small group (either in a home or online), a back and forth dialogue takes place. Needs can be expressed, prayers can be offered, and true love among believers can be shared. We even share different perceptions on God’s Word, and we all learn from each other, even the younger among us.
At the end of the day, I would never say someone is not truly a Christian because they feel I am in error on this matter. Nor would I discount their faith simply because they support more traditional means of gathering, or even if they somehow think ‘on-line’ service truly meet the requirement Jesus lays out to ‘love one another.’ I believe such theology is horribly wrong, but does not disqualify one for salvation. Ultimately, what matters most is that one has truly put their faith completely in Christ and become born again. Have you, my friend, repented of your sins, and turned your heart to Him?
Note: I do plan to write more about the LDS handbook soon! Work keeps me extremely busy lately.