With all of the “shelter-in-place” orders around the country, it has been interesting to be quarantined at home and trying to minister from a distance.
Recently the President spoke to the news media about wanting all houses of worship to be allowed to open again. His reasoning and the reasoning his press secretary gave was so people could “worship and pray to their God.”
A lot has been said and responded to these words by folks of all manner of religious background–devout to atheist. Most of them have said that we don’t need a place to do those things.
“We can worship from home.”
“The church has never been closed.”
“Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered… (don’t get me started on this misuse of this passage).”
“We can pray at home.”
And I agree with those sentiments. I do not need a place to go to worship God. In fact, all aspects of my life, from the time I wake to the time I sleep are dedicated to God and are in service to worship Him.
Where I disagree (with both the President and the armchair responses online) is that these are not the only things we do when we “go to church.” Unfortunately, there are churches which have people who never want to gather ever again. They like staying at home (in their pajamas and coffee) for worship….but that is just not what we are called to.
What is the purpose of our weekly gathering? I have several things I would suggest. Let me share just a few of the reasons why we need our churches open during the week and why we need to gather together with them.
Our church bodies are filled with people of all manner of opinion and position in various areas of life. When we meet together, we are saying that ultimately we are unified in our worship of God and what He stands for. By coming together we drop the idea that we are our own. We are saying that I stand with these other people and have their back because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. We need to see that there are people unified with us in our cause.
As unpopular as it sounds, I’m going to say it. Many of our church members (I am speaking universally, not just my congregation) are virtual church shopping right now. They are using the staying at home as an excuse to listen to a wide variety of preachers and teachers online–from sound and healthy churches, to middle of the road, maybe slightly controversial, to heretical, false teachers. And they aren’t discerning what the teaching is to see if it is true…I know as I have seen them share these things online to social media. We need to get back to listening to our ministers again.
Accountability, Discipleship, and Discipline
With the previous, our people need to be held to a standard. By placing membership, our body has said they will be held accountable to the oversight of our eldership. And with that they need to listen to the leadership of their church and what they are teaching. And if they are rebelling, they need the discipline that comes with that. We are to make disciples…not individuals who can do whatever they want. We are called to a higher calling. We need to be discipled to be like Jesus and what He teaches and what His Word teaches. There is little accountability when one is at home alone. It is a shame that we have made faith a “personal”, inward thing instead of the Body of Christ.
Now more than ever we are witnessing that being sheltered at home is difficult, especially for those who need human contact. In fact, our suicide and depression rates have skyrocketed during this time. We need to gather and be encouraged. We need handshakes and hugs (sorry…I’ve already said to my friends and acquaintances they can come to me for hugs…I’m done distancing). Our mental state needs this kind of contact to be healthy.
The singing is also a way that encourages many. Music fills the souls of many and not having the uplifting congregational singing is painful. So here is where I agree and believe that we do need to gather and worship together to our God.
Prayer is also part of this. To hear the needs of people in person and to pray for them is important. It encourages. It lifts burdens from metaphorical shoulders. So gathering to pray is also important to our encouragement.
These encouraging things keep us going during the week. The weekly gathering is a “pump up” to be able to handle whatever difficulties might occur in our lives during the week when we are away from each other.
A lot of churches are losing their income to help keep their churches going. People who are at home are using this as an opportunity to not give. Some have online opportunities but many don’t. I know of several churches hurting financially because of the inability to give. This lack of weekly giving is hurting their ability to help people in need and their ministers are suffering the possibility of losing their jobs. And in the end, there are churches considering closing their doors forever because of this.
So, yes, while we want to come together to “worship and pray to our God,” there are other important things about gathering together and assembling that make “going to church” important. It is why we teach that it is important to gather together drawing from passages like Hebrews 10:24-25:
“…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.”
My prayer is that everyone will find a place to worship God with their brothers and sisters in Christ once the shelter in place order is lifted. Gather with them and help encourage them as you unify. Be willing to submit to the authority of the elders who have been selected for a reason. Listen to the teaching and preaching of those hired with the wisdom and knowledge in this field of study. Give of your time, money, and talents to this body so they may thrive and you may learn and be discipled.