Somewhere along the way, the Church has gotten too comfortable. Whether it is because people in ministry have clung too tightly to their work and made their position of leadership more sacred than the work of the Kingdom, or because churchgoers have gotten too lazy and expect that the people behind the pulpit are the only ones who have responsibilities in ministry, I don't know. Most likely, it is both. And so here we are.
We're now firmly in a historical setting where we can test that old cliche: You can be a good Christian without going to church.
The thing is, churches around the world have been dealing with this question from the start. There are places in the world where, even before the Covid19 pandemic, regular church services like many of us imagine, have simply not been an option. In some places it's because they don't have the resources for it. In others it is because their lives are literally on the line. But you'll find that in those places, people tend to take their faith way more seriously than in places with religious freedom. And who wouldn't take any belief seriously when it is so perilous and difficult to live out?
Church wasn't always what we have made it. In fact, in the very beginning, Christians didn't do the whole Sunday morning thing as we understand it. Church was not a place you went; church was who you were. The early church didn't have the same identity that we do. They met in Jewish synagogues the Temple until their belief in a crucified and risen Messiah became too much for their Jewish kin to tolerate. They left, and afterwards met in homes and devoted themselves to the teachings of Jesus, the study of Scripture and to caring for others, even those not within their ranks.
There are recorded historical events that testify to this. Once, a plague broke out, and while anyone who had the means to leave the area to safety did so, it was the Christians who stayed and tended to the sick, often dying of the plague themselves. When it settled down and life went back to normal, people were astonished. Why would anyone risk their lives to care for those who were going to die anyway?
“Because of this man Jesus,” they answered.
And so here we are. In a lot of places in the United States, congregations have put off meeting for the rest of the year. To some, it's a relief; others stand aghast. There are probably reasonable and selfish reasons at work behind both reactions. I have learned that the truth, while constant and unchanging, is often buried in the nuances between all of our varied opinions. But, here we are.
Can we be good Christians without "going to church?" If that is to be the case, then we have to first and finally let go of the idea that church is a place we go. It isn’t, and it never has been. And I'm not entirely sure that Jesus even wanted that. He certainly didn't say anything like it, best as I understand. Instead, he took the good news of salvation and God’s Kingdom on Earth out into the streets and the countryside. He didn’t set up shop and wait for people to come. He went and took it to them.
The apostle Paul would later write that the community of faith surrounding Jesus was more akin to a body, with each member playing a different but equally vital role in its survival. Somewhere down the line, we lost sight of that.
If you're a person in the camp that is relieved that your church leaders have put aside meeting for the time being, great. But don't let that trick you into thinking that you have nothing to do with it until you meet again. Likewise, if you're angry that your congregation isn't meeting because you can't "go to church," fine. Don't let that trick you into thinking you can't continue to be the church where you are.
Listen. Church isn't a building where you go. It isn't a worship service. It isn't a program. It's the people who claim the name of Christ pursuing his teachings of devotion to God, community with others, and care for those in need. That is it, and that is all.
You can't meet on Sunday? Then get up on Sunday morning anyway and read your Scripture and pray. You can't go to small group? Then pick up the phone and check in on the people in your community that you care about. Find new ways to care for people.
Historically, the church has survived and even flourished through tougher things than this. And it always will. You just have to decide to be a part of it's continued flourishing. You can't meet with your congregation? So what. Take it upon yourself to be a good Christian anyway.
Pastors. If you have made a decision to postpone meeting with your congregation, then let me encourage and challenge you to rise to this occasion. Don't cling too tightly to your pulpit or your stage. Give your congregation back to itself and empower them in whatever ways you can to take their faith into their own hands and let Christ do what he does with it.
Members of the body of Christ. If your congregation is on hiatus from worship, do not let that stand in the way of your relationship with the risen Jesus. Take the time to dig into your faith. Read more. Pray more. Make connections with one another in whatever way you can. Do not let circumstance fool you into believing that the church is dormant. You are the church.
And so here we are. It's a strange moment, but it is a moment where we have a chance to prove ourselves to ourselves. Let's dig in and show the world that we can indeed be good Christians, even without going to church.