Yesterday I looked out over a sparsely populated sanctuary with joy and sadness; joyful at the endurance of the church, sad at the impact of this pandemic on shared worship. How are you doing with the ‘social distance’ mandates? A friend posted, “I’ll be honest. Not seeing some of you for 3 months has been an absolute delight.” Funny? Yes. We are learning ‘new’ normal that will be around, I think, for a long time.
Some changes forced on us are probably overdue. Working from home, at least some of the time, is probably a trend that will stay with us. Renewing family ties is happening. Family dinners have returned to the schedule since there are less activities competing for time. Many have rediscovered the simpler pleasures of life. These are good things, I believe.
I hope that people will not decide that being part of a church is an option for their Christian life. The Church has taken a heavy hit in this era of COVID. Webcasting is fine, but no real substitute for gathering. Zoom meetings for youth groups – ugh! Few opportunities, if any, exist for teaching and training our children in church settings. Don’t misunderstand me. WE can practice our faith when ‘going to church’ is not possible. Christians have done that in times of war, pandemic, and political oppression many times in the past.
However, the ‘normal’ Christian life includes regular gatherings for worship, a shared experience of God’s presence and the gifts of the Spirit. My fear is that some will conclude, “I really don’t need church,” a choice which will have long-lasting consequence for their spiritual health and the vitality of Christ’s Body. Let me hasten to add – this is NOT a corrective word for those who are choosing not to be in the church building at this time. I really do understand that there are many levels of concern and that remaining away is not a signal of indifference about spiritual matters. Yes, I am concerned that for some this distance and disconnection will become ‘normal’ and acceptable in the long haul.
Here is what I know from the Word and a life-time experience: Christians who live the authentic lives of faith, who are doing best in service, are invariably part of a church. They may attend a little fellowship in the neighborhood or a large church. They might worship with choirs that sing anthems or sings songs of praise accompanied by keyboards and guitars. The pastor may wear a robe or a polo shirts. But, there is one common thread of the saints who pass the faith along – they are involved, organically connected as the Body of Christ.
A personal spirituality that does not include meaningful engagement with the Church ignores the command of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. God called Israel into being, in order that they would become His holy people. They had a priesthood, a calendar of feasts and festivals, and commandments that directed their daily lives. Judaism was not a private experience, rather a holy nation. God revealed Himself in the context of ‘the people’ who were His.
With Jesus’ coming, a new Body was born, the Church. No longer was it a matter of the right DNA. Becoming part of God’s people, in the New Covenant, is about being born of the Spirit. And, those who share the Spirit are together – “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NIV) A timely word, indeed.
Within the Church, God’s Spirit equips Christians in different and complementary ways. Why? So that we will be a symphony, not a solo. The rich tapestry of faith is woven from the different threads we are each to bring, making something of beauty that exalts Christ. A healthy church, filled with Spiritual gifts and loving unity, is both wonderful and effective; the work she does beyond human endeavor. I am not blind, nor will I attempt to deny the ugly side of ‘church.’ As an institution of fallible human beings, she has endured her share of awful – corruption, greed, apathy, racism, and institutionalism to name a few of the ills that sicken the Body of Christ.
But, if we abandon the church for a private, personal spirituality, we turn our back on what Christ Himself loves. The Word says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing a her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25) The purpose for the church is far beyond sociological. God’s plan is that we will show “ the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:8)
Please, let’s keep this era of COVID and the distance it has brought to us from becoming acceptable or normal. Pray for the renewal of the Church. While you wait (appropriately) for the time you believe to be right to return to building, stay in touch with the Body. Use the blessings of communication to share encouragement, to pray for one another, to do the work of Christ in your home, your neighborhood. Remember, we are always the Church even when we are not ‘in church.’
Here is a word from the Word. Pray that God will make it the vision of His glorious Church that she will make Jesus known to all. “We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, … He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. … Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:4-5, 11-13, 16, NLT)
A prayer for the Church!
Build Your Kingdom Here
(Listen and sing along at this link)
Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your pow’r in us
We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captives’ hearts released
The hurt the sick the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for heaven’s cause
We are Your church
We pray revive this earth
Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here we pray
Unleash Your kingdom’s pow’r
Reaching the near and far
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
We are the hope on earth
Chris Llewellyn | Gareth Gilkeson © 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055