Being physically together as a church body is a pillar of church life. Our faith is founded on the eyewitnesses of the Apostles who heard, seen, touched and felt the Lord himself (1 John 1:1-4). Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – an activity that is difficult to do over long distances. Also, prayer for others often involves touch – the pouring on of oil and laying on of hands, especially prayers for the sick.
But during this time it is prudent that we do not assemble together. The safety and well-being of our people depend on us temporarily distancing ourselves and not assembling together. One pastor said, “Despite the great value of the community celebration of the people of God, the understanding is that in a situation of a clear risk of contagion and death, our theology clearly instructs conscious and collaborative citizen participation.” (emphasis mine)
Christianity Today published an article on April 6 about the churches in Brazil. Their country’s leadership at the time deemed religious services as essential. Largely it was political as the growing protestant block helped elect the current leadership in the last election.
But churches chose to close anyways.
“The church’s mission is not limited to preparing man to live in heaven, but also to teach him how to behave on earth—what I call the horizontal gospel…Therefore, we must take advantage of this time to show our brothers and sister the need to be good citizens, using a faith that does not take away from common sense and reason. That’s why I believe the online services in this period of isolation have been both a revealing tool of our faith and spirituality and a revelation of our social responsibility,”
Fernando Firmino, bishop of New Life Church of Brazil in Araripina
These churches saw an opportunity to be an example of how one should live in this global crisis. We must come alongside the rest of society and suffer along with them. One pastor said, “They learned that suffering serves to make us like Christ, to desire the things of God more and to take our hearts out of the things of this world.”
Lisânias Moura, the pastor of the Baptist Church of Morumbi, São Paulo, gives us three reasons why services should be postponed during this crisis:
- Care for the flock (the people of God)
- We should not tempt God
- The Church is not limited to a building
Of all the reasons given, to care for the people of God should be the number one reason we should not assemble. For a pastor to choose to have service right now would be to purposely put themselves their own people in harm’s way.
In late March I posted on social media: ” ‘The coronavirus won’t stop me from going to church’ is the new ‘throw yourself off this temple for God will send his angels to catch you.’ ” God is not mocked, you cannot tempt him. Assembling together right now is akin to snake handlers testing their faith. In the comments of my post a pastor friend posted this regarding Martin Luther’s understanding of our situation, who himself lived through a pandemic: “Trust God and uphold your civic/Christian duty but don’t put God to the test by rejecting medicine or quarantine unless it’s for life-saving reasons.”
Thirdly, and finally, the church is not limited to a building. I believe much of the thrust from pastors wanting to have service is the fact churches have bills to pay, and a building is largely part of those bills. Buildings act as anchors to a congregation. They help solidify the group, bring unity and focus. However, that same anchor tends to keep the church in place. The Church becomes something people go to instead of something they are. In this time we can be the Church in ways that we have never been before. New ways of reaching out to people online are being discovered. Ways to help our neighbors with food and groceries are being implemented. Prayer has increased.
People are beginning to see the value and connection Church really is. And for that I am grateful. Let’s continue to self-quarantine and allow the longing to be together to grow so that when we do come together the celebration will be all the more glorious.