Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
One unexpected result of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the emergence of two distinct viewpoints on the subject of church amongst church people.
Many, including mega-church Pastor Andy Stanley feel there is little need for churches to meet corporately in light of the health issues our society is grappling with. They believe worship is more-or-less a private matter and online church is a perfectly adequate means for delivering a Sunday morning message. This group is convinced Romans 13:1 is the end-all-be-all in this situation. They believe STAYING HOME is the SAFEST and BEST way to honor God and be a credible witness to the culture at this point in history.
Others believe CHURCHES SHOULD BE OPEN NOW. Christians have a RIGHT to be in church and rights are meant to be exercised. Many of these same people feel it shows a lack of faith to wear masks in church or follow CDC COVID-19 guidelines.
Never has there been a greater need for wisdom.
If church attendance is a statement of your political values you are attending for the wrong reasons. Period. Furthermore, Christians should not abandon good sense when they meet together. It is not anti-faith to wash our hands and avoid close physical contact with people in the middle of a global pandemic. Seriously.
That being said.
Without private worship corporate worship devolves into a hollow exercise. Nevertheless, private worship is not a suitable substitute for in-person gatherings. Church attendance matters (Acts 5:12). When Christians meet together for the sole purpose of honoring God something sacred and beautiful takes place, therefore Christians should not be too quick to accept the online experience as the “new normal”. Christians should seek out some sort of corporate church experience (more on that later) for the following four reasons:
People do not grow in safe, comfortable environments-
It is human nature to seek out and create environments we feel completely comfortable in. Church at home is without a doubt the most comfortable church experience on the planet. However, people do not grow personally or spiritually when they stay in situations that are exactly to their liking for too long. God knows this. Therefore, He makes a practice of placing His people in situations that feel super uncomfortable and even unsafe. Joseph, Naomi, David, Daniel, Esther, Elijah, Peter and Paul all flourished spiritually when were thrown into situations they undoubtedly found personally challenging and even terrifying. The early church started as a near-perfect church experience (Acts 2:42-47). However, it did not take long for God to disperse His people into the unknown and uncomfortable.
Online church and other exclusively private forms of worship give sinful human beings far too much control over their experience-
In recent years Christians have had more choice about where they attend church and more access to spiritual resources than at any other point in history. Inexplicably, the end result of all this freedom has not been an overwhelming success. Christians are not exactly setting the world on fire. This is because people grow most when they are forced to do things and hear things they don’t want to do or hear. Internet church is fundamentally unhealthy because sitting in our living rooms alone does not require us to make a single concession to anyone else’s needs. It is also way too easy to give in to the temptation to fast-forward through music we dislike or the “boring” parts of the sermon. Corporate church is necessary because it forces us to sacrifice for others and challenges our thinking on critical spiritual issues (Proverbs 11:14).
The biblical model is primarily one of corporate worship and learning-
Corporate worship and study are the standard pattern in the Bible. This is true in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the future we are shown in the book of Revelation (Psalm 35:18, Hebrews 2:12, Revelation 7:8-9).
The Christian life will get harder and community is vital when life is hard-
Overnight it has become harder to be a Christian. It will not get any easier anytime soon. When life is hard relationship becomes essential. Online community is not wrong. I have formed some valued friendships online with people I will never meet this side of heaven. However, online communities have some distinct disadvantages over in-person community. Christians who live in communist countries will tell you that online community can be undone in a few brief minutes by a determined government authority. Neither does online community allow for the meeting of other’s physical needs. Furthermore, it is all-too easy to “love” online community members who never have an opportunity to rub you the wrong way.
Churches that refuse to take reasonable safety precautions do not love their neighbors (Matthew 7:12). They should be avoided. No one who is at high risk place themselves in a mega-church environment. That said, self-examination is key if you feel safe going to restaurants and malls you should stop making excuses, take some precautions and get your keister back in church.
Those who cannot attend a church service for legitimate health reasons should seek to create a small group of Christians outside their immediate family and watch the service with them. This should include participating in the worship portion of the service and there should be time set aside to pray for one another’s needs.
No one should be doing the Christian life solo right now. We must find a way to participate in authentic Church community.