“Closed for Business”?
One of the biggest issues in the last year has been whether to close Churches or not. At the beginning of the Covid pandemic, we were told that it would be just for a few short weeks to curb the spike with infections. For that reason, we decided to do our part in our community to help with this effort. After a few weeks it became apparent that a short “closing” was not going to be a solution. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that the “supernatural” world would be at war with the advancement of the gospel (Ephesians 6:12). When you see the advancement of the gospel, you see local Churches at the center of this move that Christ commissioned (Matthew 28:18-20). Since the inception of Churches, they have experienced various attacks and constantly been scattered. It is a part of our history, and as a Baptist, a part of our history and our name!
Stepping away from a call
Recently, I read an article that pastors were stepping away from the ministry because of the frustration that they are experiencing from shut- downs. Many others are seeing counselors. There are many believers that are being affected as well. With this in mind, we must realize that a Church is a “called out group of people”. In other words, it is not the buildings that we see in every city and town. That is not to say that the buildings that these groups of people meet in are not an incredible blessing allowed by God. They do not take care of themselves, and if God allows a Church to have such a facility, it is important that we are good stewards of those resources! Also, it is an important consideration that all these people become a “local family” of sorts with these pastors having a charge from God to guide or “shepherd” them. It might seem that this family is being torn apart. Yes, the bible says that where two or more are gathered in His name that Jesus is there with them. This in context of this reference is alluding to the very beginnings of this Church that Jesus was introducing. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us as a Christian when we were born again, so God is always with us, and we have His Word to guide us as well. So, there is much more to consider when you see a local Church and its operation. Many do not seem to see a Church for more than just a little gathering occasionally! In the days of the internet, thousands of television options, etc., people are finding it quite easy to “stay away” from the Church that God has for each believer! I was speaking to one of the younger adults recently about this, and he shared with me that “most of his co-workers” that he associated with saw no real value for attending a Church. It is true that we are living in a time in America where most people are staying home, pandemic or not. It is becoming noticeably clear that many of the neighborhoods surrounding the Church buildings are full of individuals and families that have never even stepped foot in a Church. This seems to be surprising to some believers! In some of the latest research on local Churches, it has been discovered that a “faithful” member attends the assembling of their Church two out of every four weeks! Part of the misunderstanding on the need for Churches to assemble has a lot to do with the misunderstanding of what the purpose of a Church really is, versus the idea that most people have, including people who claim that they have a “living faith”.
Take some time off!
One of the biggest challenges that we have been facing is the fact there are Church family members that have never missed Church attendance in 20,30, 40, 50, 60 plus years that have now been missing over a year of attendance. This is unlike anything most of us in an American Church have ever seen. In most of these cases, it is understandable when we arrive at decisions with as much information that has been available to us. We are concerned for the well-being of each family member. I know that every Church is doing as much as possible to make our places of assembly a safe place according to the information that we have been afforded. This is where the crowd that claims that “we don’t care” has surfaced! They say that we can use resources such as zoom and other creative ideas and venues. We have heard many “success stories” to accompany these ideas. Some of the results have been surprising and exciting. There are also some difficulties that have accompanied these ideas. While it is true that each of us can pray anywhere, but it does not take the place of the time where we pray together. We see many times where Jesus asked others to join Him in prayer. As for the Church that I am the pastor of, we experienced some issues that I will now share. The numbers of people that watched our service while closed was around one third of what our pre-covid attendance was. We did have the opportunity to share with people that we have not met before, but in our case, not that many. Our on-line class attendance was 15 percent of our normal class attendance. I know that there are other churches that had larger technology budgets that have experienced far better figures, but our case is like many other smaller bodies. Believe me, I understand that there are groups such as a particular pastor in the Georgia area who would make the claim “that people will come to his location or service if the others can’t keep up with their capabilities”! OK, I get what this person is driving at, but there is the question of “do you even know who all of these people are”? That is much more of a serious question than it may appear on the surface! Think about the verses below considering that question.
Acts 20:28-30 (ESV)
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
This is only possible on a local level if you really take these ideas seriously. Are many believers of the opinion that this is meaningless? This alludes to a design that Jesus directed to be on a local level. With true respect to the many that truly have health questions, there are others in the times that we are living in that are discovering that staying in your pj’s, making some breakfast, with their favorite blend of coffee and watching a little church on the venue of choice is a great new plan. I must confess, from a comfort level, it was nice to be at any location I chose and to share an online message. But remember the figures I shared earlier for us. It seems that many just closed themselves off to God, and to their local Church body for convenience.
Is there really a need for a local assembly?
It has been something that has been lumped into our modern way of thinking concerning the concept of a Church: anywhere, by ourselves, or whatever. I want to contest that this has been the tool that the devil has been able to do major damage to believers. The pandemic has exacerbated this move. Consider the charge to each of us, especially as we live in what I believe are the “end times”.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
25 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.
I believe we are living in the times where there is a “call” on the life of true believers to get serious about our mission. It is true that the local Church is the vehicle for believers to be centered into, for the development needed to carry out its mission. 1 Corinthians 12:18 tells us that we are added to a local body by God himself! Yes, the Church at Corinth was a local Church! In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see 7 local Churches used as examples for a serious message from God. They are 7 different bodies which are being used for us to look in on for the lessons described. The interaction of the people and their purpose of assembly is obviously tantamount in those passages! As the local Church was being established, we see verses such as Acts 1:8 that speak of an empowerment to be the institutions that God meant for them to be. Chapter 2 and verses 38 and 41 tell us that people were saved, baptized and added to a local Church to carry out the mission that Jesus had for them. In the Church that I am at, we have a mission to be “Disciples Reaching Our World”. That would be the world that we live in and we have a vision to accomplish this through discipleship, evangelism, prayer, worship, prayer, and fellowship! This encapsulates the vision of a local Church and its operation. Discipleship is at its best when we can interact with another. It really is a one-on-one proposition! Individual prayer is essential but so is praying together! Worship is not just an event, but the way that we live. Worship that is lived is also viewed! Private worship is great, but the testimony of a life in worship to God is a powerful one! Evangelism can happen on a screen but is most powerful when it is interactive! Fellowship is as important as any of the others in the local Church vision. How is it possible remotely? We are not to be “lone-ranger” Christians.
Local Church vision.
Ephesians 3:10-11 (ESV)
10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Note: Paul was writing this to the Church at Ephesus. This is for our instruction using their example!
Ephesians 3:21 (ESV)
21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Look at Chapter 4:11-16.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Do you see the purpose of a local body? Do you see how serving one another is essential? Can this happen without the necessary interaction? We see that the maturing of a believer is tied into a local Church and its work. I know the critics do not want to believe this, and I know that there are those that do not think this process is necessary, but why is it prescribed? Why are we so scattered and why do so many not think Church is necessary? I think that there has been an overlooking of the facts in God’s Word, and how he designed it to occur. God’s Word shows that local Churches are a “together” work! One that requires participation. Local Churches are having to battle the courts in our society today and are fighting in the “courts of public opinion”. Perhaps a healthy examination of God’s Word and His opinion are long overdue!
Is it needful for us to continue to meet? The view from the “outside” does not see the need. But the Spirit-filled believer, guided by the revelation of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word would benefit by looking at what a local Church has to offer, especially as we see the days in which we live. It should be a given that the devil himself understands the importance of a local Church to Our Savior. He would love to destroy our understanding. He enjoys the closing of our Churches but let me remind you of a promise. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells us “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the work of local Churches. Does this mean that all Churches survive? We know better than that. It does mean that there will always be Churches that understand their purpose and work and will be faithful to their call. In other words, we need Him, and He will work where hearts are for His work! Each believer needs to see the value of the Church that Jesus has for them! If you are a person that feels that you cannot attend your Church, it is important that you remain in prayer, and in your support. For those that can go, it is time to be sure that you are where God wants you and that each of us take the vision of our local Church seriously, especially as we see the days in which we are living in. We simply cannot afford to quit now! (Philippians 1:6)