Editor’s Note: In the current upsetting and unsettled global environment, we face both common and unique challenges. The purpose of this piece is to encourage those who are healthy and have the option to return to their house of worship according to local government regulations and guidelines.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “You may worship God anywhere, at any time, but the chances are that you will not do so unless you have first learned to worship Him somewhere in some particular place, at some particular time.”
Today was the first time I attended church in over five months, almost half a year.
Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve ever vacated church for a while, but that was by choice. This time church doors throughout the land were closed, and suddenly, corporate worship wasn’t an option; it was relegated to individual worship in the privacy of one’s home week after week. Admittedly, at first, substituting my familiar pew for my even more familiar sofa was not only more cozy, it was also comfortably convenient.
Sunday morning battles over clothes and hair bows came to a halt, and not one of us showed up in public wearing our breakfast. Listening to an entire sermon without having to leave because of a screaming toddler was a treat. Afterwards, there were no lengthy discussions (or arguments) about lunch plans or further church obligations because everything had been canceled. Everything.
However, as weeks passed and staying at home became our new Sunday “norm,” I found myself on a spiritual slide. Instead of sitting still during live-streaming, I listened to sermons while cleaning. Instead of gathering the girls around for a Bible story, they played with their Barbies and watched Veggie Tales. Even as warmer weather approached and some orders for socialization were relaxed, fellowship and community became secondary to our personal comfort.
How wonderful to live in the digital age of virtual communication, live-stream and zoom! This technology serves as an amazing substitute for face-to-face interaction. But for believers, it should not become a permanent placeholder for congregating at one’s local church.
Everywhere we turn, we see the term “separate but together.” Although meant to encourage us, I fear this phrase actually contradicts Biblical teaching. God never intended the Christian life to be lived in isolation. On the contrary, according to Hebrews 10:24-25, we are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The Hebrew word for neglect is abandonment. We are not to neglect or abandon meeting together in person.
The Bible doesn’t present face-to-face communion with other Believers as a mere suggestion; it commands us to fellowship and commune with one another in the flesh. This encourages discipleship and accountability which produces a steadfast and confident faith. Seclusion puts us in danger of “falling away from the faith,” as Hebrews warns. Isolated is exactly how the enemy wants us. Satan hates when we come together to remember his defeat at Calvary everytime we partake in the Lord’s Supper and to collectively affirm our beliefs in prayer, scripture or creeds. He despises hearing us raise our voices in unison to praise and adore our Creator, Redeemer and Friend in song. Our enemy has one objective: to destroy the child of God (John 10:10). He knows that separation from sisters and brothers in Christ and absence from the preaching of God’s Word causes our faith to waver and our resolve to weaken, thus making it easier to succumb to sin.
One of Hebrews’ critical themes is to stand firm in the faith, encouraging one another to “hold fast and firmly.” The early Christians faced severe persecution; real fear for their lives dominated their everyday existence, and culturally, they were the minority. Sound familiar? Experiencing the physical, corporal presence of the church body reminded them, just as it reminds us today, that God’s children are not alone. The book of Hebrews is as relevant to the church today as it was to the very first New Testament congregants.
I love the NLT translation of verse 24, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Instead of ruminating on trouble and darkness all around us, God’s Word exhorts us to bring forth goodness and light. Let us be not just hearers of the Word, but doers by putting our faith in action (James 1:22-25), which is God’s intended purpose. Inner faith is to be lived outwardly in the lost world, even during the most trying times, especially during trying times. History reveals that the Chrisian church grew the most during periods when people witnessed the public, horrific persecution of those who believed in Christ, their only hope and consolation.
So how should this impact us now? We mustn’t live under the rule of doubt and fear. In lieu of giving up and giving in to the temptation of complacency and utter apathy, we must return to God’s House as soon as we are able to do so. And when we cannot, we must stay attuned to godly sources that aid us in our Christian walk. We must flesh out our confidence and trust in Christ through kindness, compassion and good deeds, no matter the circumstances.
This morning at church was different—we didn’t hug or shake hands; instead, we maintained the proper “social distance” with waves and fist bumps. Nonetheless, merely coming together under one roof with many of my church family was enough to restore my faith and subdue the doubt and fear I had silently harbored over the past few months.
As church doors reopen for the family of God to reconvene, go and resume your place on the pew, not the sofa. Of course, exercise proper caution and follow the new protocols for reassembling, but don’t use the “what-ifs” as an excuse to skip church. Unlike some Christians in other parts of the world, we have the freedom to gather and worship openly, but recent headlines could argue that such freedom could be taken away in the interest of public safety. Yes, even in the United States. So, as we eagerly await Christ’s return, let us “seize the day,” living victoriously in the Lord our Savior and trusting in His steadfast love.