Imagine, if you will, the threat of a flood. In a situation like that, a boat to weather the storm would be needed most. Yet at the time when boats are most needed, their owner’s have been ordered to cease operations. What would we think of those who gave such an order? Or maybe the question we should ask is “would the operators of such needed vessels follow such orders given the life and death consequences that would result?”
Or consider a health crisis, say a pandemic threatening to kill many people, and out of the fear of that possible carnage, hospitals are ordered to protect themselves by closing their doors. After all, if they remain open, the staff and patients might also be at risk, and therefore it is determined that the safest course of action is to close the hospitals altogether. It is reasoned that this will protect both those within the hospital as well as society in general by limiting the virus’ potential to spread. What would we think of such orders? What would we think of a hospital that actually followed those orders? I can’t speak for you, but I would think those to be orders given by people who have not thought through the situation with much precision. Any reasonable person would conclude that a hospital closing its doors would not be doing so for concern of, and care for, the sick.
Imagine, if you will, a time of crisis. A time of uncertainty, of anxiety, and even panic. A season of unemployment for many people who become worried about how to provide for the basic needs of their families. Food banks no longer able to provide for all who face the shortages. Businesses which took years to build, and are more than just a job for their owners, all upended in short order, resulting in the loss of their very retirement plan. Unprecedented bankruptcies, both corporate and personal. Depression hitting all time highs. Many people lose hope and turn to substance abuse as a means of coping. Many of those people die of overdoses, some by accident, others as a means to escape all of it for good.
Imagine locking people down so as to minimize human interaction beyond that of one’s immediate household. Think of the tensions that would build in people’s lives as a result. Marital stress, tension between parents and children, and these leading to increased incidents of domestic and child abuse. Imagine that the situation becomes so concerning that suicide attempts rise to levels never seen before on a global scale.
Imagine a time when circumstances bring spiritual crisis for many, a time when unbelievers are seeking for hope, and a time which even challenges the faith of Christians as they evaluate the happenings around them and wonder, “does God really care?” We can understand those without Christ needing hope, but this time of spiritual distress effect even those in Christ as lack of focus on the truth of God’s word and overconcern for the events of the world take root. Faith for many waning, tossed to and fro by the circumstances they face. Imagine those who are supposed to point people to the hope we have in the Lord telling us instead that our best hope is in shutting down. They say that really our greatest concern is for longevity of life in this world, thus proving our hope is no more than that of the lost.
Imagine the confusion both God’s people as well as the lost are feeling during this hypothetical time. Then imagine the one place for spiritual health available, the hospital for the soul, imagine that the church is closed!
You see, the church is far more vital than the boat. The boat only sustains life, however, it does not help those in it know how to live. The church is far more important than the hospital. The hospital only provides healing for this life, but offers nothing for the reality of the life to come.
The church, however, provides for both the needs of this life and the life to come. The church points people to the eternal hope of Jesus Christ, which also helps us live through what we face today. The church provides council for marriage, for parenting, for healthy relationships, and every other facet of life. The church helps to meet needs of both its people and those around her. Galatians 6:9-10 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. The church is filled with people who care for the needs of others, be they spiritual needs or physical, and be they inside or outside the church. But if her doors are closed, where can one find the help needed? The church is a refuge for the depressed and for the anxious. The church provides relief to those considering ending it all because the church can point to a hope the world knows nothing of and cannot match. A hope that actually gives life! A real hope for whatever we face. The church helps secure that faith which is being tried, and offers a solution for those who’ve yet to believe.
Knowing how valuable the church is to those in need, especially in the midst of such a time, what would you think of authorities that order the closure of the church? Moreover, what would you think of the church that gives itself to compliance to such orders? We know how we would respond to the boat operators who could save lives but did not. We know how we would feel about hospital staff who closed the doors to the sick and dying if that were to happen. We might even think it absurd to consider such a thing happening. Who would ever do that! We would be outraged. Dereliction of duty we would call it.
I dare say, we should think in these same terms for those in authority who give such orders for the closure of the church. Also, for those local churches who have abandoned their post in such a time of spiritual need by continuing to remain closed in compliance. In fact, we should think much more critically of this, because of all the institutions of society, the church is far more important to remain open!
We don’t have to imagine, do we? We have been told that the church is to close in order to flatten the curve. (I know that some will object, “but here in Saskatchewan we’ve not been told to close, we are just limited to 30 people maximum.” That’s great if you are a church of under 30 people. But if your church exceeds 30, then you are effectively closed for many members seeking to attend, or outsiders simply seeking help.) Our Lord, whom we serve as ambassadors said “all who come I will never cast out”, and “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden”. We cannot adopt the terms of “we’ll minister to the first 30”. Rather, we follow the terms given, “all who come!”
But I ask, if the church is closed, who will be there to deal with the effects of curve flattening? If not us, the church, then who? No, the church must remain open! She has been called to just such a task. To go into all the lost and dying world and to bring the hope of Jesus Christ. He is the hope of the world, the only hope there is. Let us be really careful that we aren’t just pointing people to the same hopes of our world which are unable to give real relief. There is no lasting hope in lockdowns, masks, or vaccines.
Some will argue that the church can “gather online”, that we can do virtual church. Well, virtual church is an oxymoron. Church is the Ekklesia, the gathering of the called-out ones. You cannot gather without coming together. The only way that there could ever be a “virtual church” is if the only person you need to hear from is the pastor of the church. No, the church is the gathering of all the believers in a local congregation, “so that you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Cor 1:7). The pastor simply does not fill all the needed gifts of encouragement, discernment, mercy, compassion, peacemaking, patience, teaching, service, and all the rest. This requires the whole body. That is in fact why we are called a body. What is a head without lungs? What is a foot without a mouth or ear? All parts are required, and apart from this, it is not church!
No, the church deals with issues far more significant than do boats or hospitals. Not to mention the fact that to close would be to be in open rebellion to our God who has commanded that we gather (Hebrews 10:25). Therefore, the church must gather, the church must declare the one and only place hope can be found because the truth is, a vaccine can buy you a few days, or a few months, or a few years, but you are still going to have to stand before a Holy, Holy, Holy God and there is no safety for sinners but that of Jesus Christ! True hope is found in Christ, only in Christ. Let’s make sure we point only to Him!
This the church must do, lest she be unfaithful to the God who gave her this mission. Far too much depends on her! She must remain open, and she will!
Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
A final thought for the church and her people. If you’re not in the attendance of the fellowship of the saints at present, allow me to ask, why not? Are you fearing God (Proverbs 1:7), or is your fear in virus and/or man? If fear of virus, remember, God has numbered our days (Job 14:1-6, Psalm 39:4). You will not die one day early, nor live one day beyond the number of days determined by the Lord for your life. So, no need to fear, unless of course you don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Are you afraid of what men might do or say of you if you are seen in the company of the church? Is your fear your neighbors, your family, your employer or co-workers and what they may say or do? Those are real fears, and I don’t want to minimize them in the least, however, in the scope of things, maybe a reading of Romans 8:28-39 is in order.
Romans 8:28-39 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is nothing the world can bring against us that could ever separate us from the love of Christ. Is it the fear of being labeled “unloving”, actually the most loving thing the church can do is simply be the church! No, worldly thinkers won’t understand this, but we do, or at least we should.
And for the church who has closed the doors: have you no fear of God? Honoring Christ comes with the promise of great reward, while disobedience comes at a price. Opening your doors will likely bring persecution, this is true, yet the comfort of Christ is promised to us. 2 Corinthians 1:5-7 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
Church, open your doors and be the church you’ve been called to be! Yes there is threat of punishment, but church we’ve nothing to fear from government. In fact, government should fear us! Mary Queen of Scotts once spoke these words of the Scottish reformer John Knox. “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” She rightly feared a righteous man on his knees in prayer because she knew God heard his prayers, and as she opposed the church, so his prayers opposed her. If we are faithful, we too have a God who has promised to hear and respond to our prayers. So what have we to fear? Open your doors and warmly welcome all who would come without restriction!