We’ve heard the clichés for years. “The church is not a building!” “The church is not the steeple, it’s the people.” Cute. But the clichés are correct. The church is not brick and mortar, the church is a collection of people.
So, it’s a bit ironic that when the church is presented with one of the greatest opportunities in history to minister outside the walls, many of them are fighting to stay inside the walls! This fast-moving coronavirus crisis has already pushed us into a new normal. But some of the chaos in our communities has been overshadowed by the chaos in some of our churches.
Because there is an ongoing argument about whether their churches should follow the government’s “social distancing” mandates and cancel worship services.
- “How can the government shut down my church?!”
- “We should obey God rather than man!”
- “The government is out of line.”
- “They are removing our religious liberty.”
Not so much. It’s true that our highest allegiance is to God. But God has described an appropriate role for the government.
In Romans 13:1-7, the government is described as “established by God” to keep order and provide protection. The protection of public health during this pandemic is clearly an appropriate role for the government.
Can they go too far? Of course, they can. That’s why no matter how desperate the situation, government is still bound by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that forces them to have a “compelling interest” when restricting church activities. And even then, if they have a compelling interest in limiting the freedom of a church, they must use the “least restrictive means.” I think they’ve met that standard so far.
At some point in our prophetic future, the government can and will seize our religious liberties and freedom. I’m not a prophet, but my sense is that this isn’t it. This virus is probably preparation for much larger challenges to come.
And frankly, it’s not the church that has been suspended, it’s the public worship of the church. I would never minimize public worship. I think we were created to worship God. And public worship is central to our growth as disciples. But worship is not just what we do, it’s who we are. We are not bound by bricks!
I love worship. I teach Christian Worship and Black Liturgy. But my fear is that the mission and identity of some of our local churches are almost totally tied to their worship services. That’s not good.
How are we caring for our members? How are we reaching out to the community? The question of the hour is not where your church is worshipping this weekend, but where your church is ministering this week?
I’ll pick this up in Part 2. Your thoughts?