With the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation and the world, all the American politics, campaigning, and election has taken a backseat to the virus. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it is that anything, and I mean anything, can be made political. And when things become political, it gets ugly. Fingers are pointed and the blame game begins.
In the midst of all the craziness, mayors and governors started calling for local churches to refrain from meeting for their weekly services. This was done in order to keep large gatherings down so there would be less chance of spreading this deadly virus. It makes perfect sense, as some local churches have hundreds of members at their services each week. Instead of meeting in person, many churches are having their services live-streamed and posted online for their congregants to watch at home. Assuming one has access to the internet, this works out fine for everyone. Sure, we miss the fellowship of our friends and our church family, but we are keeping safe and protecting ourselves and each other. This is only something temporary to help protect everyone.
But there are some people who this idea does not sit well with. There have been people in various states who straight out ignore these safety measures and decide to meet regardless. Some churches are continuing as if nothing happened. Some churches are allowing drive in style services where people stay in their cars in the parking lot but can still come in the church to use the bathroom. Either way, it’s risking the health and safety of people.
It is because of instances like these that police are having to crack down on meetings and fine people for attending these services in person. These actions by the police have drawn much media and political attention across the country. It has stirred people up. Cries of the government infringing on our constitutional rights, discriminating against Christians, and authoritarian dictatorship are among what is being said in response to these incidents. I will admit, in some cases the police and mayors have reached too far, but for the most part, it’s been fine.
So many people are acting like these safety regulations and not being able to physically attend their weekly church services are hindering their ability to live out their Christian faith. Is that true? Does it really impact their ability to live out their faith? Biblically speaking, no, it does not. And I want to take a few minutes to discuss why that is so.
The Church Building
According to Frank Viola & George Barna, “Christianity was the first non-temple-based religion ever to emerge. In the minds of the early Christians, the people —not the architecture—constituted a sacred space…[they] understood that they themselves—corporately—were the temple of God and the house of God”.
Not once in the New Testament is the word “church” (ekklesia) used to refer to a building or place. It is used in reference to the collective believers in Christ. Interestingly enough the first ever recorded usage of the word “church” as a meeting place was in 190 AD by Clement of Alexandria in his book “The Instructor”. A mere 160 years AFTER Jesus started His church.
Where did they meet then? The local groups of believers were known to meet in homes. We see biblical evidence of this in Philemon 1:2, Acts 2:46 & 5:42, Romans 16:5, and Colossians 4:15.
Furthermore, New Testament scholar Graydon F. Snyder says that “there is no literary evidence nor archaeological indication that any such home was converted into an extant church building. Nor is there any extant church that certainly was built prior to Constantine.” That’s almost 300 years after Christ established His church.
What does this mean? It means that the believers in the first 3 centuries of the church didn’t have actual church buildings where they went to worship and learn. They did it in groups within the comfort of their homes. And let’s not forget that it was these believers in the first couple of centuries that more or less had the biggest impact on spreading the gospel across the known world. They spread the good news of Christ from Asia, to Europe, and to Africa. If it weren’t for their efforts of living out the commands of their faith, then you and I would likely never have heard of Christ. They did all of this without “going to church”.
Fellowship with others
By far the biggest benefit we get from “going to church” in our day is fellowship with other believers. In our church buildings that we meet in, we grow close to our fellow believers and we inspire and encourage one another in our walk with Christ. We grow and learn together in our mutual love for Christ. The Greek word used in scripture for the word “fellowship,” is koinonia, which expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit. That idea is shown in Hebrews 10:24-35:
“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.” Proverb 27:17 conveys the same thing, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.
It is important for us to be together and not walk this journey alone. James 5:16 tells believers to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.” Galatians 6:2 tells us to “bear one another’s burdens”. Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:16 tell us to help each other out with material goods in times of need.
All of those things, and many more show of the importance of meeting together as a body of believers.
However, all of those things, as well as worshipping and learning about God are not restricted to church buildings. Most of those things can be done through apps like Zoom or FaceTime or even a phone call. That’s the beauty of this current age of technology. We are never more than one click away from being in contact with our fellow believers. That is something that has been realized on a full scale during this pandemic. Never during any pandemic throughout history have a people been so well connected.
While it is good and spirit-lifting to physically be around other believers, not being able to go to a church building and meet does not hinder us from living out our Christian lives and walking daily with Christ.
I really do miss going to my church building and seeing all of my local church family. They encourage me and inspire me. I learn from them and they learn from me. I long for the day that we can go back to our old routine of meeting weekly, but my interaction with them through Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook, and text messages is enough to suffice during the time being. My faith and my walk with God is not hindered by not being able to physically be with them or in a building. I care too much about the health and safety of those people to risk spreading a virus by physically being with them.
I live in the south, and there is literally a church on every corner. There are at least 4 churches that I can think of within a 5-mile radius of my apartment. Church is a big part of the culture down here. When you meet someone new, asking them where they go to church is like asking where they work or if they are married. It’s just part of life for most folks. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. One of the bad things about it is that often times traditions set in that are unhealthy. Recently a friend of mine was telling me about her upbringing in a traditional Southern Baptist church. She said that they were expected to be at church every Sunday, they weren’t supposed to dance, nor were they allowed to consume alcohol. Those are extremely legalistic ideas that have no basis in in scripture. But it is ingrained into many people’s minds as simply something Christians do or don’t do. My friend talked about how she felt like she was being judged or condemned by others if she happened to miss a Sunday.
It is that type of attitude that fuels many people’s anger about this whole issue of not being able to attend their weekly church service. Their idea and understanding of “church” and Christianity is wrapped around a weekly trip to their church building. For them, not being able to “go to church” means that they cannot do the thing they do to live out their faith. I don’t care who you are or what church building you go to, if your faith is dependent upon being able to go to a church building, you’re not following Jesus or his teaching.
One of my mentors said the following, (I’m paraphrasing):
“Many churches and people teach that you have to go to church every Sunday or walk down an aisle when an invitation is given in order to be saved. But you don’t. You don’t have to go to a church or walk an aisle to have everlasting life. And now through the Coronavirus we are not able to go to a church or walk a church aisle. During this time the gospel has been made clear. The simplicity of the gospel is seen. All you have to do is believe in Jesus Christ an you will have everlasting life.”
What to do
If we can’t go to our local church buildings for services, what then can we be doing during this temporary time of isolation?
- First and foremost, we should be spending more time in God’s Word. It is one of the biggest ways he communicates with us. I learn something new every time I open it up.
- We can devote time to prayer. Pray for this virus to be defeated or for a cure or vaccine fo be found. Pray for those affected by it.
- Pray for the families who have lost loved ones from it. Pray for our national and world leaders as they handle this whole issue. Pray for protection for medical workers and other people on the frontlines of this virus.
- If you are healthy enough to get out and go to the store, offer to run errands for those in your community who cannot do so.
- Contact your fellow believers and fellowship with them over the phone, Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook, or any other method.
- Tune in to you local church’s services online.
- Listen to Christian radio.
There are so many things we can be doing to both grow in our faith and live out our faith during these trying times. It is a time where we can really shine in this dark world. Let the love of Christ be seen in us and how we respond in this crisis. Instead of “going to church”, be the church.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:14-16
Thanks for this blog Nick, I found it very helpful. I wrote one earlier in the lockdown process. https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/spiritual-assurance-against-coronavirus/
God Bless you brother
I agree with the thrust of your post, however a few brief comments follow.
The first “church” can be considered to be the “Cenacle” – the Upper Room -where Jesus met with his disciples for the last supper and where he appeared to them after his resurrection, and where they continued to meet after his resurrection, in Acts 1 there were about one hundred and twenty people in attendance.
The reason why we have no evidence of churches in the first three centuries or so is that Christians were the subject of violent persecution, and were not allowed to own land in most places, so the church of the first few centuries was clandestine and operated largely underground. Secondly, any wooden buildings would not have survived, and even moderately well constructed stone buildings. It is only later that massive churches were constructed to give glory to God, and evidence of some of these have survived.
As to going to church every Sunday goes, we have the example of Jesus in Luke 4:16 “16 He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did.” If it was good for Jesus, it is good for us.
Also, Jesus himself went to the temple or the Synagogue – church “buildings” and so did his disciples, even after the resurrection. In fact God ordered the construction of the temple where he himself dwelt and was present to the people, and he is present in modern churches no less than he was in the Jewish temple, and we are called to go and meet him there. It is not as if he does not also dwell in our hearts, he does, but as always it is not a case of “either/or”, but “both/and”.
This idea of either a “church without walls” or the believer himself – and alone- being the church is a 16th century or later invention. the church has always been the Body of Christ, the Christian people, who meet together in one place, the church (building). the two are one, not one nor the other. It goes without saying that the church “building” without the people is not the “Church”.
“The Word Ekklesia in the new testament.
In the letters of Paul, the earliest New Testament writings, the word “church” (Gk. ekklesia) refers to small local communities of people who have come to believe that Jesus is the Christ. Paul uses various anthropological, agricultural, and architectural images and analogies to explain what the church is and how it should function. The word “church” appears only rarely in the Gospels (just three times in Matthew)! In later NT writings, “church” refers to all Christians throughout the world as a unified whole, the one “Body of Christ.” Other NT letters refer to the community of believers with several other titles, some adapted from images used in the Hebrew Bible for the people of Israel; for example: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet 2:9a).
Church – Like the German word “Kirche” or Dutch “Kerk,” the English word “church” etymologically derives from the Greek word κυριακόν (kyriakon), meaning “belonging to the Lord” (at first, “the Lord’s people” or “the Lord’s community”; only later “the Lord’s house”). The equivalent words in Latin (ecclesia), French (eglise), and Spanish (iglesia), and the related English adjective “ecclesial” all derive from the Greek noun ἐκκλησία (ekklesia = “assembly, congregation, gathering”; combining the preposition ἐκ/ek = “out of” and the verb καλέω/kaleo = “to call”). Thus, an “ecclesial” community is literally a group of people “called out” of their homes to “assemble” or “congregate” (gather together) so that they can live and pray and worship together as one community.
Originally, ekklesia was a secular term, referring to any gathering or “calling forth” of people to deal with political or juridical matters. In the NT, it designates the community of Christian disciples who gathered at least weekly for common liturgy and prayer. The word “church” is used 114 times in the NT, but only three times in the Gospels (once in Matt 16:18 and twice in Matt 18:17). In the letters attributed to Paul, the word “church” is used 62 times, most often to denote the local Christian community or clusters of communities (Rom 16:4; 1 Cor 1:2, 14:33; 2 Cor 8:18; Gal 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1), or occasionally to refer to the whole church (Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 12:28) in a universal, cosmic sense (Col 1:24; Eph 5:29).”
Sorry, but I no longer have the source reference for this.