How Deep Our Faith

I was talking to a friend across the country Friday about California’s ban on gatherings of more than 250 people while they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus in our state. He said he know of a pastor who was already defying that order. He was going to have services as usual this Sunday morning claiming, “Church is the safest place for anyone to be!”

There is so much wrong with that statement. First, seeing the church as his building denies the power of the new covenant where each of us is a temple in which God dwells. Second, thinking that a gathering of Christians will be exempt from the potential to spread the virus is tragically absurd. Third, ignoring the opportunity to serve the health workers and the elderly in his community is uncaring and irresponsible. Finally, if he really thinks an institutional gathering of Christians is safe from harm, he’s never known the pain of betrayal, gossip, and judgment of religious people thrive in such environments.

The safest place to be right now is in Father’s hands, and that doesn’t mean some of his followers won’t be affected by this pandemic, but that he in them will keep them at peace and guide them through whatever challenges come. To equate that with a Sunday morning service that must go on against all wisdom not to is irresponsible.

I suspect there’s a dependency issue involved here. Someone’s either afraid that to cancel a service might expose the fact that people aren’t as dependent on it or him as he would like them to believe. People like him know the habit is critical to sustaining rituals. If services are canceled for a month or more, people might realize they are as dependent on it as they thought. Or perhaps he’s concerned that without a gathering they can’t take an offering and he is willing to put his whole congregation at risk to make sure he collects the money he needs. Oh, sure, people can phone in an offering, but we all know that what really puts it over the top are the “guilt dollars” given because people have an offering plate in front of their faces and knows others are watching. Of course, no pastor would ever admit either of those, even to himself. I didn’t when I was there. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that the people need the gathering or my sermon to cope with the current crisis.

If going to your congregation for the past twenty years hasn’t prepared you to spend some time at home in the quiet and know God is with you, then I’d question its value. If it hasn’t connected you to people you can call for encouragement and support when you need it, then it isn’t a family.

The changes in our culture over the last forty-eight hours would have been unthinkable a week ago. The amount of money being given up by sports teams, entertainment venues, the travel industry, and others as a way to protect the health of our nation is inspiring. This is a time to care for each other, not hoard a six-year supply of toilet paper, or keep meeting in ways that can spread the virus to greater numbers of people. This is a time to give up what makes me comfortable or happy to protect others.

I suspect the next few weeks will really test some people. What is life without sports on TV, a concert, little league, or a church service? If I’m using those places to hide from my own emptiness, it will be exposed now. Times of uncertainty and trouble are when we find out just how deep our faith runs. That’s a good use of times like this. If you find uncertainty upsets you, or that you have to fill every moment with activity to keep your fears at bay either from the virus or the financial ramifications of it, this will be a great time for you to get to know him better. What does it mean for you to rest in his presence and discover that Jesus is enough to hold your heart regardless of what is going on around you? He can navigate you through anything this world can throw at you.

Maybe this is where you find out that your faith is vested in the congregation you attend, or is vicariously lived through an author you admire. Those things will do you little good now. Take advantage of your social distancing from others, to draw near to him. And while you’re doing that, you can be aware of others and encourage them by phone or FaceTime. And, if you have extra resources, this is a time to be generous with people you know who will lose their income during this season.

On Friday, I also got a text from someone else out east: “I guess those who have celebrated body expressions in a more organic way outside the building type of gathering are lookin’ less goofy now, huh? 😉”

I don’t think he was gloating, but many of us have talked about how ineffective our big-box Christianity would be in a time of crisis or persecution. It’s why the earliest brothers and sisters met in homes and caves. For the first 300 years of its existence, Jesus’ church never thought of a building as a place to try to contain this living, breathing organism of the church. God was alive among them, and their close friendships of love and concern expressed his life among them powerfully enough.

If your relationship with Christ is defined by smoke-and-gold-dust worship experiences or corporate rituals in large groups of people, it may be time for you to discover that none of that is essential. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5, “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love.” Everything else is fluff.

Don’t let anyone convince you that meeting in a large building these days with other Christians is safer for you or your community than giving it up for a short time so we can flatten out the growth curve of the virus. But don’t that that needs to diminish your faith or your fellowship.

In times like this, faith can deepen, and love can grow in surprising ways.

2 thoughts on “How Deep Our Faith”

  1. Absolutely nailed it, bro. Wayne. As a matter of interest, here in South Africa, our wise President has just taken some rather drastic steps to help curb the spread of the virus, including not having gatherings of more than 100 people. I was discussing this very issue with my wife a few minutes ago – how are the bigger ‘churches’ going to cope with this, what about their reliance on ‘tithes and offerings,’ etc, etc? Will the real Church now stand up, all over the world, learn from church history in dealing with pandemics, and serve in relevant ways. Thanks for such a quick response to such a vital global issue. Btw, we ourselves gather in a small simple church group, and we are trying to be as responsible as we possibly can.

    1. Our governor in California today recommended meeting size below 50 people. Every day more desperate measures are asked for. I know some people, including our President, have treated this casually when they had professionals warning them to take more immediate action. Only God knows where this ends. Blessings to your group in SA and to others who want to act compassionately and responsively in the fae of this crisis.

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