Many of us may be staying home today over concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but truly, church is never canceled!
Every instance of the use of the word we translate “church” in the New Testament refers to God’s people and not a building or an event. The biblical emphasis is always on the people, and this fact is very instructive. The NCAA has canceled its basketball tournaments, and many professional sports organizations have canceled or delayed their playing seasons to cooperate with efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but these cancellations do not disband the NCAA or any of the others. The organizations remain intact, and they continue to function in many ways. So it is with the church—only more so.
The church is the “body of Christ” and. as such, is a living entity not restricted to times or places. And while the gathering together of God’s people for worship and building up is essential, it is not their defining attribute – Christ himself is. For this reason, the church of Jesus Christ has survived many things far worse than the coronavirus – and it will continue to do so. So even if our largest weekly gatherings have been set aside for a time, it is never truly correct to say that church has been canceled. In past times of great difficulty, the people of God have innovated and adapted to continue to serve one another’s needs.
I want to be clear: Gathering is not optional. Jesus makes clear that their love for one another will be the defining mark of His people (John 13:31-35). This biblical love always requires some form of contact because biblical love is manifested in actions. Biblical love is self-sacrifice for the needs of others, not just a warm feeling or distant affection. For this reason, human contact is required. As a pastor, I often have people argue with me that their Christianity does not require attending a church. Many maintain that their relationship with Jesus Christ does not depend on their membership in a local church. I do my best to share the gospel with them. Am I suggesting that they are not saved? That I cannot judge, but every instance of conversion in the New Testament is accompanied by at least an implication of a gathering together of believers. It’s not often explicitly stated because it is an underlying assumption of the whole of the Bible. There is no biblical example of a “lone-wolf” Christian. So yes, I share the gospel because I fear that those who hold this opinion are lost, painfully malnourished in their Christianity, or woefully disobedient to Jesus’ command to love one another. We cannot love those with whom we do not associate.
How then shall we proceed during this time when we have elected to distance ourselves for a time for practical reasons? Shall we boldly express our lack of fear of disease by gathering together against the recommendations of our governing authorities? Shall we just flaunt our liberty and faith with defiance? Of course not! A better way is to find how to best love one another in these circumstances.
Here are some practical ideas:
- Pray for one another. With the extra time not spent in worship services, invest it in prayer — which is also worship. Lift one another up in prayers. Pray for the things Jesus would (John 17) or the things Paul would (Romans, Ephesians, etc.). This can be done alone or. even better, with one or two more people. Make a list of those in your small group or mentally scan the place you normally gather compiling a list of those with whom you congregate. (Let’s face it — we always sit in the same place!)
- Contact one another. A real phone call is best. Video chat is good — at least if you’re better looking than me. Either is better than text, and text is better than nothing. Make it personal — social media posts do not count — including this article.
- Gather together responsibly. Prayerfully consider if you can gather safely in small groups of just 2 or 3 families. But be considerate of those who are at high risk. You may need to avoid even this if you must be in contact with people in high risk groups. Even in a very small group — even just your own family — you can read and study scriptures, listen to sermons, pray, and sing. What if all of our families took the coming weeks to begin this habit at home? With the television devoid of sporting events, this may be the perfect time.
- Equip yourself. Take advantage of books, videos, and other resources that are recommended by the leadership of your local congregation. Please don’t blindly consume just anything labeled Christian. Consult those charged with your care for recommendations. Imagine what would happen if many of God’s people began to replace entertainment with equipping!
The love of God is realized most profoundly in the context of the body of Christ, and truly nothing can separate us from that love (Romans 8:31-39). God always leads his people through difficulty, but not around it. In this way he perfects his people and reveals his perfect nature. Join him in his work this day.
May God richly bless you with the knowledge of His Son, the comfort of His Spirit, and the ministry of his saints.
See also: Heb. 10:24-25; Ephesians 4:1-16; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-8, 4:12-19; Romans 5:3-4, 8:18-25;