WHEN THE SAINTS AREN’T COMMUNING
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
-- Hebrews 10:25
One of the advantages of any “crisis,” (real or manufactured, grave or embellished) is that we get to observe how it is handled by various people and institutions. As Covid Craziness continues to engulf our society while our fearless leaders attack it one press conference at a time, Christians should examine how the Church is responding.
We know the difference between a suggestion and a commandment. The Church, that body of Christ consisting of the adopted sons and daughters who become joint-heirs with Christ in the kingdom of God, is also defined as “the communion of saints.” It is an article of our faith that plays an important element in our lives and the life and vitality of the Church. It describes not only our relationship with Christ, but our relationship with each other. That communion is commanded by Scripture, and I keep looking through the text for exceptions. I cannot find any.
So, how are we doing?
As this thing drags on and on, is the Sabbath day, the day the Lord commanded us to set aside to be Holy, the time we were told to not neglect assembling ourselves together, becoming just another day?
Due to government lockdowns across the United States, various churches have resorted to telecasts. Many of these are pre-recorded. How’s that for personal? Is that sufficient for "assembling ourselves together"? Preachers preaching in an empty room to a camera. Choirs singing to an empty sanctuary (and standing fifteen apart, of course!) I'm supposed to be inspired, but it actually depresses me. Maybe it's me.
Pastors have defiantly told us for years things like, "If the government tells me to quit preaching, I'm just going to keep standing up here and preaching." Now, some of those same pastors have been told by the government to stop preaching, and…they're not standing up there and preaching. They're waiting for permission. The seats are empty. The building echoes. The flock is home watching Netflix.
Look, I'm not saying we should cram in somewhere and do chest bumps, swap spit, breathe all over each other, or even hold hands. But surely we can "assemble ourselves together" in some kind of manner that is pleasing to God and in obedience to His commandment. We could adapt to something ("drive-in services," small groups, neighborhood meetings, etc.) that still edifies and exhorts each other, considering all the public places most of us are still going anyway. (And, to their credit, some are. But…many aren’t.)
Even if we are all at home in our pajamas watching the pre-recorded “service,” does that qualify as true holy fellowship? How are we to observe the Lord’s Supper in such a fashion (another commandment, by the way)? How are the baptisms supposed to take place? Is the Lord okay with postponing those?
No matter what side one falls on the issue of the pandemic, I feel I can safely say I do not know anyone who actually desires to catch the virus (or any virus, for that matter). No one wants to bring it home to his family, or even unintentionally pass it on to a fellow church member (or anyone else). But surely there is a middle road through this between the two extremes of hundreds of us gathering shoulder-to-shoulder inside a cramped sanctuary and sitting at home watching an electronic screen.
Some will tell us we should be leading family devotions at home. We should, and, actually, we should have been doing that all along. But what about the single men and women? Are they supposed to be filling their own cup? It should be evident that not all members of the laity are qualified to be leading a devotion. Is that sufficient for communion?
The relationship we have with our fellow brothers and sisters is based on our mutual inclusion in the body of Christ. How are we to encourage each other in this kind of situation? By text? How do we participate in each others’ sufferings? Facebook messenger?
Brothers and sisters, we must continually consider the subtlety of the serpent. In all our past ponderings, did we ever consider that one method he may use to divide us, to drive us out of our church buildings and property, to lead us to neglect the assembling of ourselves together, to lead us out of the habit and custom of meaningful worship may be via a threatening virus?
An assessment in our local communities is in order. Here in Alabama, we were told by our governor at a press conference on the late afternoon of the first Friday in April (red flag: announcements from politicians at a late-Friday afternoon press conference) that the State would be on lockdown status. Small businesses were closed. Large businesses, overall, were not. We could go through drive-thrus for food, but not the lobby. Government employees were sent home (but still paid for not providing services, their full salary and benefits still being appropriated from the good old taxpayers). Churches were told to close their doors (“drive-in” services were permitted, with certain conditions).
One particular example from my State should qualify as a prime issue of consideration. The State controls and regulates the sale and handling of hard liquor throughout Alabama.The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores were deemed “essential.” The argument has been made that alcoholics were dependent on their supply, and the inability to obtain it would lead to a new crisis whereby detox patients would be taking up much-needed hospital beds and medical resources.
Let us put aside the sadness of that potential reality. Here is the rub: In their infinite wisdom, our State leaders decided to close the vast majority of ABC stores, presumably to reduce the amount of employees and customers assembling together (“flattening the curve,” you know). In my home county, all ABC stores closed except one.
What did this accomplish? In order to be seen as “doing something” about the pandemic, the State took the counterproductive step of massing all liquor consumers in the county to one location, as opposed to dispersing them at the various ones like they already were. The line to go in stretches to the road. Brilliant, huh? And, just to be sure that the government was doing all it could to combat the crisis, it reduced the ABC stores’ hours of operation from eight hours a day to seven hours a day. By golly, we simpletons could never have come up with that logic. I know I am just not intellectually endowed with the ability to discern such science. Thank goodness they are there to take care of us!
I don't claim to have all the answers, but I think asking questions is imperative. I'm no expert on this (or any other) virus. But I have drawn the conclusion that, while we should definitely make adjustments and be more careful, the government (surprise, surprise) may not necessarily always have our best interests at heart.
Where are the saints?