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Is Church Essential?

Is Church essential?  Of course it is!  Many who say that though are only 50% right.  Why?  Because the question shouldn’t simply be whether church is essential.  First, it should be what is “church?  For example, here’s a recent headline:  ‘Church Is Essential’  The building they gathered in wasn’t essential.

Is Church Essential?Surprised?  Shocked?  Angry?  Confused?  Let’s take a look at what’s going on.  

There’s a Pastor who resigned his city council seat before announcing he would keep services going.

CDC guidelines followed, but tougher state and local regulation are ignored.  Following CDC guidelines does not put people in danger.

Pastors say church is essential and no one is put in danger.

Services maintained, but with social distancing.

Communion served but individually wrapped.

It’s up to the individual to determine what’s essential.

Church is more essential than anything.

Others are upset when they see services continue, especially in their neighborhood.

Pastor resigns from city council

There’s a pastor who resigned his city council seat before announcing he would keep services going.

I give him credit for resigning, although we don’t know why he was on the council in the first place.  If it was to push the agenda of his church or even Christianity, that may be questionable.  Please see Do Christians want power? for more on that thought.  The mix of religion and politics can be so problematic.

But at least this pastor realized there was a conflict between the two, so he resigned.  It seems like a good move.  But was it?  Was the church so essential that it was somehow time to step out of government and go 100% to his day job as pastor?

If church is essential, why follow some governmental rules and ignore others?

CDC guidelines followed, but tougher state and local regulation are ignored.  Following CDC guidelines does not put people in danger.

I’m working on another post, which I’ll try to remember to link to here when it’s done.  It looks at the conflicts between the first amendment and the Great Commission.  It’s related, but looks at the issue of churches remaining open from a different point of view.

In any case, this pastor decided to follow the CDC recommendations, but ignore the state and county orders. 

Is that appropriate?  Was the pastor somehow following a law / command from God that was appropriately applied and meant he had to ignore the state and county regulations?  

In other words – was the church so essential that these laws had to be broken?

Is the church essential?

Pastors say church is essential and no one is put in danger.

Let’s begin with: “I don’t want to put anyone in danger, never have. I am completely abiding by the CDC standards.”  I think we should all be able to honestly admit that he did put people in danger.  The CDC standards are guidelines to minimize the chances of being infected, which therefore minimize the chances of getting severely sick and possibly dying.  But hey – I’ve seen many people who don’t even know how to put on the mask.  It’s below their nose – on their chin – and the ever popular around the neck.  If people keep doing that, they run a real risk of getting sick  And dying.  Even medical people, with better equipment and lots of training are getting sick and some are dying.

Honestly, what chance does an ordinary person have of 100% for sure not being in danger of catching the virus?  Let’s face it.  Abiding by the CDC standards does not mean we will not get sick!  That’s why the tougher state, country, and city regulations exist.  And even with all that, people still get infected.

So what’s the deal here?  Follow some governmental laws and ignore others.  Does this pastor know something?  Does he think God’s going to prevent his Christians from getting sick?  Or is the church so essential that getting sick, and possibly dying, is worth it?

We’ll return to the statement that the church is essential in a moment.

Social distancing in church

Services maintained, but with social distancing.

This is better than nothing, to be sure.  But it still begs the question of why some guidelines and regulations are ignored and not others.

Is individually wrapped communion safe?

Communion served but individually wrapped.

Well, depending on how much you think about it, it might seem safe to have individually wrapped communion.  It’s certainly safer than a free for all, where everyone just takes a piece off the pile on a plate.  Maybe safer than having one person handing it to you.  But the unmentioned question is this:  who wrapped the communion?  It’s not self-wrapping.  Someone did that.  And that’s an element of risk.

I’ve heard of at least one church that although they did decide to meet, at least they asked each person to bring their own communion bread, cracker, wafer, Etc.

But still, the question hangs out there.  Is communion essential?  Rather than address it here, I’m going to do a separate post on that.  I’ll include a link for it as well.

Is church essential to the pastor – or is this passing the buck?

It’s up to the individual to determine what’s essential.

Wow.  It’s up to the individual.  Up to the individual to skip in-church services while the Pastor continues doing them.  Isn’t that kind of pressuring people to go?  Pressure from the Pastor, even if not intended that way?  And peer pressure, from those who choose to attend?

Note:  as of the time I’m writing this, the following notice is posted on at least one of these church’s websites:

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, [we] will not be holding services at our physical location. Instead, will be [streaming one service] until further notice.

Obviously, something changed.  It’s not up to the individual anymore.

All of this info continues to beg the question of what is it exactly that’s essential?  

Why were others upset?

Others are upset when they see services continue, especially in their neighborhood.

No surprise here.  People are not happy when the social distancing guidelines aren’t followed.  As I watch the news, there are areas where they’re frequently ignored.  But not here in Southern California.  Most people take them seriously.  I really believe that’s why we’re better off than other large cities / states like New York.  People wear the masks, social distance, driving is way, way down.  All that.  A poll I saw this morning said 95% of the people in L.A. support the tougher measures the city has.  And in two days, the entire county will follow them as well.

The church I go to did streaming immediately after the “no large groups” advice was out.  In fact, the very next day.  Not that we were ready.  It’s a small church.  We didn’t have the right equipment to do it, so it was done via an iPhone.  It wasn’t great – but it worked!

After some quick updates – faster network upload speed and a tie-in to the sound system – the next week was so much better.  The third week – it was great. Easter Sunday – they really had it down.  

The thing is, taking care of people, the flock in Christian-speak, it a big deal.  A very big deal.  And we took it seriously.  As should all churches.

So – is the church essential?

I wrote at the very beginning that the real question here should be what is the church?  I also said, Yes – church is essential.  However, I didn’t mean the building.  Or gathering in the building.  Not even gathering in one place.

As often happens, it’s hard to find a Christian definition of church without a whole lot of long Christian-ese terms.  But basically, here’s what church meant in Biblical times.

The derivation of the word is generally said to be from the Greek kuriakon (κυριακ́ον), “belonging to the Lord.” But the derivation has been too hastily assumed. It is probably connected with kirk, the Latin circus, circulus, the Greek kuklos (κ́υκλος), because the congregations were gathered in circles. 2. Ecclesia (ἐκκλησ́ια), the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate authority. It was in this last sense that the word was adopted and applied by the writers of the New Testament to the Christian congregation.  1)Smith, W. (1986). In Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

So it’s not a building.  Rather, church is a meeting of people.  And those people tended to be in circles in the early church.  That circle thing is important.  Think about your “church”.  How often do you meet in a circle for the Sunday service?  Never?

But when do you meet in a circle?  How about a small group?  Or a Bible Study?  In the ones I go to we don’t exactly meet in a circle.  It’s actually a rectangle.  We sit around a table.  In the study I lead, I don’t even sit at the head of the table.  It’s about two-way communication.  Discussion.  Questions and comments.  In a way – it’s kind of like how we should pray – two-way communication, but between us and God.

In these days of megachurches, that’s just not going to happen.  If you could even get everyone in a circle, people at any point in that circle could never hear the people opposite them.  

So we lose knowledge of how Christianity got started.  In small groups.  Yes, Jesus spoke to thousands on the side of a hill.  But the Apostles and those they taught were in much smaller groups.  In public squares, people’s houses.  Not in giant church buildings.

So what’s essential?  It’s not the buildings.  It’s the people.  Buildings don’t teach.  People teach.  And they don’t follow God.  People follow God.  Buildings don’t baptize.  People baptize.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t indwell a building.  He lives in Christian people.

You may remember the verse below:

Mt 18:20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.   

It doesn’t take thousands of people for Jesus to show up.  Not even hundreds.  Even something under the limit of 10 that we have where I live – Jesus will show up.

In fact – how about this passage:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep – Matthew

18:12-14 pp — Lk 15:4-7

Mt 18:10 “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

The NIV does not include verse 11.  Those translations that have it use something along the lines of the words below from the AMP.

Mt 18:11 For the Son of man came to save [ from the penalty of eternal death] that which was lost.

Mt 18:12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

For even one lost person, Jesus will show up.

To see why that’s important, let’s also consider the Great Commission.

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Great Commission is about disciples training others to be disciples.  It’s not just about getting someone baptized and then moving on to the next person.  It truly is about continually making disciples.  Why?  First of all, because there are always more people to be saved.  Second, there are future generations to consider.  In order for Christianity to continue, each generation must be taught to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you.

Even in large churches, it’s essential to have multiple teachers

Just from a pure math standpoint, the more people that can teach others to be disciples, the more people can be saved – both in  our generation and in succeeding ones.  Once a church gets to the point of having many hundreds or thousands of people, they’ll run into what we could call the Moses problem.

Remember in Exodus?  Moses spent his entire day doing nothing but deciding arguments between the people.  And then Jethro came along.  he noticed something.  Something that could be seen with fresh eyes, but that couldn’t be seen in the middle of actually performing the tasks.

Jethro Visits Moses

Ex 18:13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Ex 18:15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”

Ex 18:17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Ex 18:24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

Ex 18:27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

It’s just too much for one person to be able to develop a significant number of disciples in very large churches.  Yes, you can have all those people in a huge service.  Or on TV.  But, are true disciples being generated?  With many who are trained to teach – it’s possible.  Without that – it’s got to be a problem, not unlike the one Moses had.

It’s the people that are important.  Whether the building is large or small – it’s the training of true disciples that’s important for the life of the church.

So if the church building isn’t essential – what is?

As I said, it’s the building of disciples that’s important.  In this day and age, large churches presumably can also afford to be able to offer internet services.  No – the worship won’t sound quite like being there in person.  The Pastor also might not seem quite as charismatic, because they aren’t used to talking to an empty room.  And you can’t hug someone at a virtual internet service.

But then, if that’s why we go to church on Sunday, maybe we’re not even there for the right reason.  Even if it’s one person watching on an iPad and the Pastor sitting at home broadcasting from his cell phone – God is with them.  And God’s with every other person that joins in, whether it’s alone or with their family, who’s watching that Pastor.  And that’s the big deal.  God is with them.  That should be why we go to service.  God is with us.

God’s with every Christian, no matter where we are.  Today isn’t in the Old Testament.  God doesn’t live in the Temple.  Well, not exactly.  We – Christians – are the Temple.  And God lives in every one of us.

Whether it’s the church service, a small group, Bible study, whatever – it doesn’t have to be with all of us tucked into the same building!  The church I go to does internet services.  I’m part of a small group run out of the Pastor’s home.  Since I’m a senior, I have a “senior buddy” family doing FaceTime with me from their home at least once a week.  And I do a Bible study from my home.  In every case – God is with us.

Why is it so important to differentiate between the church as a building versus as a group of people?

I often hear about the Coronavirus “stay at home” programs as targeting and discriminating against churches.  That may be the intention in some places – I just don’t know what’s in the hearts of the people setting the rules. 

However, I don’t believe it is actually discriminating against churches.  Not in a way that can keep the church from doing what’s essential.  There are too many ways for us to meet without gathering in large groups in a single building.  I even saw a Catholic priest on the news last night that road around from one parishioner to the next on his bicycle.  Probably a small church in a relatively small town.  But it shows that even a poor small church doesn’t have to come to a stop.  If anything, the “service” is now more personal than ever.

We have people in our church talking to each other more now than they did before.  Even if it’s just a call to see how someone’s doing.  Does anyone need anything.  I’m working on setting up a Facebook group for people in our church that like to cook – or are now forced to cook since they can’t go out to eat.

All of those things are “church”.  None of them take place in the building we generally think of as “church”.

Conclusion – why is it so important to differentiate between the church as a building versus as a group of people?

Again – why is it so important to differentiate?  Because church is essential.  Not the building.  The people.  

Consider something Paul wrote to the Elders in the church in Ephesus.

Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders

Ac 20:25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Ac 20:32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

If you’re a Pastor, do you show the same concerns with your flock – your “church”?  If you go to a church, does your Pastor show that kind of concern for you?  Pastors, church leaders, group leaders, Etc. should keep watch over their flock – whether it be the entire church or those in their groups.

In a very real sense, the Coronavirus is one of those savage wolves.  And maybe, so are those in positions of leadership who put their flocks at risk unnecessarily.  Yes, there are troubles in this life.  And yes, there are times when we, as Christians, might have to put our lives at risk.  

But honestly – is this virus situation one of them?  When there are alternatives, and most pastors are finding them, why is it necessary to risk the flock?  Not only those to attend a church that continues to meet, but others that they come in contact with.  That’s one reason so many are upset! 

If it was only the people who went to the service who were at risk, and if for some reason unknown to me they see attending church services in person as worth risking their lives, that’s one thing.  But it’s not just them.  It’s extended family that maybe doesn’t go to church.  And friends who don’t attend that church.  Neighbors.  People they work with.  And for every person I just mentioned – each of them, if they get sick, puts more people at risk.  It’s a pyramid that just keeps growing.

Don’t believe it?  I just found out last night about someone who has the virus.  The father of a friend of a friend.  The father hasn’t left the house for weeks.  But he has a caregiver that comes in.  The caregiver had the virus.  Now the father’s in the hospital.  He’s in his eighties.  Odds are against him.  And who knows what happened with the other elderly people that care-giver was working with?  Can you even imagine how that person feels now – knowing he or she infected people under his or her care?  This is real life people!

Is it worth it?  Is going to a church building to watch the worship team or see the Pastor speak in person really worth it?  Isn’t it just as possible to be with God while watching on an internet connection?  The answer, in case you think of saying yes, it is worth going to the building – was given above.  The answer is no, it’s not worth it.  God will be with us – even if we watch alone.  Because we aren’t really watching alone.  The Holy Spirit is right there with us.  What else do we really need?

If we love our flocks, love each other, even love ourselves in the way Jesus said we should, we will stay home and watch via the internet.  

That serves one other purpose as well.  Remember all those people who are upset about churches continuing to meet?  Chances are, many of them aren’t Christian.  So when they see Christians insisting on meeting in person, they hate what we’re doing.  They don’t like it – or us.  How’s that going to help us to ever make disciples of them?  

There is a better approach.  Do the right thing.  Do the loving thing.  Watch from home.  And do something else Jesus taught us. 

Salt and Light

Mt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Mt 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

If you’re one of those who feels the need to attend a church building in person, please, I beg you, try attending “church”.  Be part of the Body of the Church, with the Holy Spirit, from home.  It’s the loving thing to do.  Your neighbors, friends, family, coworkers and everyone else you know – even people you don’t know – will love you for it.  

And all the while, you can be that light on the hill Jesus told us about.  

After all, isn’t Jesus the reason we “go to church”?

Image by analogicus from Pixabay

References   [ + ]

1. Smith, W. (1986). In Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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Is Church Essential?


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