On that cold wintry morning, a friend of mine stood with me across the street from the burning church building. The reporter, with his camera and microphone, was ready to be the first to break the morning news about the fire. The reporter asked the lay leader in front of us, “What will happen to the church now that the building is gone?”
Without missing a beat, this lay church leader responded by giving the reporter a little lesson in biblical theology: “This building is not the church. We meet here for worship and for ministry but the church is the people of God telling the world that God loves us and sent His Son Jesus who is the only way for people to experience God’s love. We can build a building for the church to use but the building is not the church.”
The church is the people of God who love one another, worship, teach the word of God, share the gospel, and give our resources for God’s purposes here and around the world. The church is not a building. The church is not defined by its address. The church is not confined by a geographic location. If all the churches in America were ordered to close their doors, it would not diminish the Bride of Christ but cause the church to flourish in the context of its biblical priorities.
A few years later, I walked up a hill with a friend in his hometown of Lusaka, Zambia. He reached out to hold my hand. I did grow up in northeast Texas and such a gesture was, to say the least, disconcerting, but in that culture men hold hands as a greeting or act of friendship. He said, “We go, Bambo Yeats.”
“We go to church?” I responded.
“No. The church is there and there and there and there. We go to worship,” said this godly pastor, who reminded me about who we are … We are the church, people of God on mission with God for His purposes.
He was right on target.
The New Testament is very clear that repentance from our own ways and faith in Christ are the central keys for initiating a redemptive relationship with God. Then the whole of the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the epistles of Paul, Peter, Jude, James, and John map out a believer’s response to life as a result of that gospel decision.
You would have to deny large chunks of Scripture to not understand that being a follower of Christ involves being identified with Him in baptism, being part of a local New Testament church, and living on mission with our personal lives and resources. You also would have to understand that from a biblical perspective, we are to have a priority of expressing our generosity through our local church.
God’s Word urges us to worship together, and not to forsake our assembling together. We crave fellowship, and we rightly bristle at any restrictions concerning our worship – especially when they come from government. Even so, our nation’s leaders are asking us to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and this is not a conspiracy of some sort. The pandemic is real, and how we respond to Covid-19 has real consequences. As one friend posted about the week of March 8-13, “Remember last week? We thought we were going to have a bad week because of the time change, full moon and Friday the 13th. We didn’t have a clue.”
I heard our International Mission Board president Paul Chitwood pray this week, and he described this global event as a “humbling.” With all our systems and science, we arrogantly think we are in charge of our lives and our world. Yet a little invisible microbe has brought great nations, systems, and economies to a halt.
This gives the people of God a renewed incentive to pray and seek the face of God.
It also gives us the opportunity to be creative in worship and to love our neighbors.
Many of our churches are conducting worship online, or through Facebook Live. Others are encouraging worship in homes in groups of 10 people or less. Some are using video monitors and radio frequencies … Skype, Facetime, Zoom calls, and other tools. Some suggested using old drive-in movie theaters as a way to worship while engaging in “social distancing.”
C-19 reminds us of the high value the Lord places on His church, and we have an opportunity through this pandemic to reclaim His perspective.
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B.T. Clemons posted a note that he copied from an unknown source that I thought summed things up for many pastors:
“Your pastor never pastored a church through a pandemic before.
• When he opens people are going to say he should have closed. When he closes, people are going to say he should have opened.
• When he does not shake hands people are going to say he needs faith. When he shakes hands people are going to say he is foolish.
• He’s going to make some difficult decisions to protect the flock considering everything from your spiritual growth to legal liabilities that you aren’t even thinking about.
• Every pastor believes that they pastor the most amazing group of people.
Remember this: no one wants things to go well as much as your pastor(s). Your pastor needs your prayers and support right now.”
Pray for the man of God so that he may lead the people of God to live on mission with God through these challenging days.