Over the next few days I plan to share a few thoughts on why churches need to be able to assemble.
Before I do, here are several preliminaries. First, I want to be clear that I do believe that there is a legitimate health concern with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. People have died and I expect that many more will. That means that churches may not be able to assemble in the same way that they previously did for a while. To use the phrase of the year – “social distancing” might be required for a bit. At the same rate, churches can find ways to safely assemble.
Second, my thoughts here are not about the question of constitutional rights. To be sure, there have been some actions that seem to be serious overreaches by some governing authorities. You can read about one such case here. These questions are not just about Christians. Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish communities, and so on should also be concerned. Quite frankly, citizens should be concerned! It is not a loving thing ever when a government oversteps its rightful bounds. Human beings, not just Christians, get hurt. In short, it is loving our neighbors when we insist that governing authorities stay within their rightful bounds.
However, for my purposes here, I want to appeal to you, the readers, as to why it necessary for churches to be open and why governing leaders need to allow them to be open.
Recently, I walked out of my office and my heart jumped. My office is in the front of the church in a room alongside the platform. I walked out and was startled to see a man sitting in one of the chairs in our auditorium. He was just as startled to see me! The building was locked. I had come through the back door where my office was located and I assumed nobody else was there. But there he was. His eyes were red and moist.
We have a lockbox with a key that a number of our members know how to access. Our building is in the middle of nowhere! We need to give people access at times. This is how that particular man came in. He said to me, “If I need to leave I can do it right now. I hope I am not bringing trouble.” I assured him that he was no trouble.
He then asked, somewhat sheepishly, “I bet you wonder why I am here?” Of course I did! Who wouldn’t wonder? He then said these words – “I come here to cry.” Truthfully, I had suspected this. It was not because he told me, but because I saw his face as I walked into the room. He was embarrassed to tell me that.
My response was, “You are not the only one.” There are actually several people who regularly come to my church during the week and pray and often cry. But it is not just during the week – it is nearly every Sunday as we gather as a church. I am up front for much of our worship services. I see the faces of people as they sing, as they receive the Lord’s Supper, and as they hear the word of God read and preached to them. Nearly every week, at least one person weeps.
I have found it interesting that it is not just one kind of person. It is young people, old people, and in-between people. It may surprise you that it is more often men than women.
They cry for different reasons. Sometimes it’s during the singing when they receive hope from the communion of the saints with their voices worshiping God. Sometimes it’s during the preaching when they are under conviction for their sins. Sometimes it’s during the preaching when they rejoice at what God and Jesus and the Spirit have promised them. Sometimes it’s over bitter sorrows that have not left them for years or decades. Sometimes it’s while they hold the bread or cup in their hand and ponder the awesome sacrifice of Jesus for their sins. In the assembling of Christians together, tears often flow. And this is needed.
From a purely secular point of view, those in the mental health community will tell you that this is needed! There are very few safe spaces in our society where our tears can flow among people who will not judge but will cry with you. Many, many, many Sunday nights I have wept myself as I recall the tears of the sheep in my congregation during that morning’s worship service. I have seen so many times a fellow church member grab someone after a service and say, “I saw you were crying. You don’t have to tell me anything. But I am praying for you. If you need help, I am here.” We as Christians weep with those who weep. From a secular point of view, nearly every social scientist would say, “we need more places like that!”
But from a Christian point of view, so much more is happening! The hope of glory is being enflamed in souls of people who have glory as their destination. Sins are being cast off. Hope is being instilled. Jesus is seen in a tangible way among the brethren.
No screen can ever replace these things. No Zoom meeting, Youtube channel, or Facebook community can replicate these things.
Churches need to be open.