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Churches are Essential
By Gary F. Zeolla
At the start of the Coronavirus (CV) pandemic and the resultant lockdowns, I supported the church closures ordered by the various governmental authorities in accordance with Romans 13:1-7 and 1Peter 2:17. But now it is time for churches to reopen, in defiance of the authorities if necessary, in accordance with Hebrews 10:23-24 and Acts 5:29.
More Bible Passages
That verse in Hebrews is being often repeated in this regard, as it very clearly is a call for Christians to assemble together in worship.
23Let us be holding fast the confession of the hope [or, confident expectation] without wavering, for the One having promised [is] faithful. 24And let us be considering one another for [the] stimulation of love and of good works, 25not abandoning [or, neglecting] the assembling together of ourselves, as [is the] habit of some, but encouraging [one another], and so much more as you* see the Day approaching.
However, this passage is by no means the only passage in the New Testament (NT) that enjoins communal worship upon believers. It is in fact taught throughout the NT that believers are to be gathering together, not just for worship but, as this Hebrew passage indicates, for the encouragement of each believer by other believers. It is also within the context of communal worship that believers can best exercises their God-given spiritual gifts, of which, every believer has been given.
This prescription of communal worship is seen in the model prayer Jesus gave us to pray:
Our Father, the [One] in the heavens, let Your name be regarded as holy.
10Let Your kingdom come.
Let Your will be done, as in heaven, [so] also on the earth.
11Give us today the bread sufficient for the day.
12And forgive us our debts [fig., sins], in the same way as we also forgive our debtors [fig., the ones having sinned against us].
13And do not lead us into temptation [or, testing; or, trials], but deliver us from the Wicked [One] [or, spare us from evil].
Because Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory into the ages! [fig., forever!] So be it! (Matt 6:9b-13).
Please note all of the first-person plural pronouns I have bolded. Those plural pronouns indicated this prayer was intended to be prayed in unison by a communal group of believers, not in private by a single believer.
Then Jesus’ teaching on discipline of wayward believers only makes sense within the context of an ongoing communal worship setting:
15“Now if your brother sins against you, be going, and show him his fault between you and him alone; if he hears you, you gained your brother. 16But if he does not hear [you], take along with you yet one or two, so that ‘by [the] mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.’ [Deut 19:15] 17But if he refuses to listen to them, tell [it] to the assembly [or, church]; but if he also refuses to listen to the assembly, he shall be to you just like the heathen and the tax collector (Matt 18:15-17).
Christian communion is vital for this encouragement to repentance and right Christian living. That is again seen in Paul’s epistles. But first, it must be noted how Paul addresses most of his epistles. Most all of them are directed to the “church” (or assembly) in a particular city or to believers (plural) in a particular area (Romans 1:7; 1Cor 1:2-3; 2Cor 1-2; Gal 3:1; Eph 1:1; Phil 1:2; Col 1:1; 1Thes 1:1; 2Thes 1:1). Then throughout these epistles, Paul consistently uses plural pronouns to refer to those he is addressing.
Only the letters to Philemon, Timothy, and Titus are addressed to individuals. But the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus are collectively called the “Pastoral Epistles” as they are Paul directing these two pastors as to how to pastor their churches. He most especially gives them directions for appointing elders and deacons in their churches (1Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). He also gives them directives to give to their congregants (1Tim 2:1-15; 2Tim 2:14; Titus 2:1-15).
Otherwise, in Paul’s epistles, he recognizes, as Jesus did, that it is only within the context of a communal setting that church discipline can be practiced, with the goal of repentance on the part of the one who has sinned (1Cor 5:1-8; 2Cor 2:1-11). But most of all, Paul recognizes that each believe has been given a spiritual gift and that gift needs to be exercised within the context of a communal setting:
4Now [there] are varieties of spiritual [gifts], but the same Spirit. 5And [there] are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6And [there] are varieties of divine workings [or, activities], but the same God is the One supernaturally working all such [things] in all. 7But to each [one] has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the advantage [of all] [or, for the common good]….
26What then is it, brothers [and sisters]? Whenever you* shall be coming together, each [one] of you* has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation [or, a translation]. Be letting all [things] be for building up [or, edification]. (1Cor 12:4-7; 14:26).
In-between these paragraphs is Paul’s lengthy discussion of the body of Christ and how we are each part of that body, each performing a specific function. But that body operates best within the context of a communal setting. Peter than agrees with this attitude of Paul:
10Just as each [believer] received a spiritual gift, [be] serving [with] it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold [or, widely varied] grace of God. 11When someone speaks, [let him speak] as [the] oracles [or, inspired utterances] of God. When someone serves, [let him serve] as from [the] strength [or, ability] as God supplies, so that in all [things] God shall be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the might [or, dominion] into the ages of the ages! [fig., forever and ever!] So be it! (1Peter 4:10-11).
Backing up a bit, in the Book of Acts, the Christian faith is carried throughout the then known world by the planting of churches in each community the Gospel is carried to. This is seen in the repeated references to “the congregation” or “the whole congregation” (4:32; 6:2,5; 15:30; 21:22).
Most powerfully, after Peter and John are beaten for preaching the Gospel, they return to their fellowship of believers to received comfort and encouragement. The congregation in turn praises God for His providence in the matter (Acts 4:23-30).
Then in The Revelation chapters 2-3, Jesus Himself directs letters to the “angel” (probably pastor) of seven different churches (or assemblies) in Asia-Minor. The directives are to the “angel” as the representative of that entire body of believers. Then throughout the rest of The Revelation, we see collective worship of God and of the Lamb (4-5; 7:9-11; 11:16-19; 15:3-4; 16:4-6; 19:1-8).
The point of all of these Bible passages is that the Christian faith was never intended to be carried out in isolation. It was intended from the start and throughout the history of the Christian faith to be a communal faith, not an individual faith.
We must each individually repent of our sins and trust in Christ for our forgiveness, but then we are to join a body of believers for instruction, for fellowship, for encouragement and growth in the LORD (Acts 2:37-47).
What all of this means is, watching a church service or sermon on TV or online or listening to such on the radio or via a podcast is not “attending church.” It can be helpful. In fact, and I would even encourage the reader to seek out such godly and Bible-based teachings. In this regard, I would recommend the Bott Radio App. It provides many teachings live or On Demand. I have not listened to all of the preachers, but the ones that I have listened to are very worthwhile and Bible-based.
However, that does not replace attending an in-person church service or home Bible study. And no, doing so via zoom does not replace being in-person at a church service or Bible study either. You simply cannot exercise your spiritual gift nor fellowship adequately via zoom or other remote means. True fellowship requires person to person interaction.
But Don’t Ignore the Pandemic
In writing all of this, I am NOT saying Christians should just ignore that a pandemic is ongoing. The CV is still with us and probably will be for some time, with or without a vaccine. But if people can congregate at sporting events, for protests, for political rallies, to go shopping at big box stores, to go to casinos, and for a myriad of other reasons, people can attend church and home Bible studies. Yes, precautions need to be taken and maybe some creativity utilized. Thus, for instance, consider the following I read on the website for my local newspaper as I was working on this article:
Two Leechburg area churches are offering outdoor worship opportunities in response to covid-19 restrictions.
The Revs. Gary and Lisa Lyon, co-pastors at Cross Roads Community Presbyterian Church in Leechburg, [PA] added a monthly outdoor service in June. The 40-minute service is open to anyone.
Those attending are asked to bring a mask, portable chair and follow social distancing guidelines.
And don’t worry about dressing in your Sunday best.
“It’s casual,” Gary Lyon said. “I wear shorts.”
Those in attendance can expect traditional worship components such as music and singing, but held on the banks of the Kiski River, located on the grounds of the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Department.
“Lisa and I have always felt a personal connection because outdoor worship can be so powerful,” Gary Lyon said (Trib).
Other churches are utilizing a drive-in style of congregating. That is not as good as full in-person services, but it is still better than just “doing church” online.
For those churches without such options and which need to hold indoor services, then precautions need to be taken via disinfecting common areas and surfaces between services, limiting attendance to say 50% of capacity, so social distancing can be practiced, requiring the wearing of masks, and alterations to communion services so as not to spread they virus via the communion elements. I provide more specific recommendations and examples of such creativity for holding church services in various articles and commentaries on the CV section of my politics website.
It should also be noted, all of these recommendations and creativity would also apply to home Bible studies. They also can and should resume, with appropriate steps taken to prevent the spread of the CV. But I will say that those who are at high risk of serious consequences from a CV infection probably should stay at home. But I would encourage all others to attend in-person church services and Bible studies in accordance with Biblical teaching, but with appropriate CV precautions.
I need to give a disclaimer in that I personally have not been able to attend church services or home Bible studies for many years due to my health situation (see Multiple Chemical Sensitivities). I have learned to keep up with my own spiritual state on my own via personal Bible study, prayer, and listening to sermons on the aforementioned Bott app, along with listening to Christian music. But still, I struggle spiritually and dearly miss attending church services and home Bible studies. And it breaks my heart that so many other Christians have been put into a similar situation as myself. But there is no reason for it to continue. Church services and Bible studies can and should resume, with the appropriate precautions.
All Scripture references are from: Analytical-Literal Translation of the Bible (ALT). Copyright © 1999-2020 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org). Bolding added for emphasis.
Trib Live. Bishop Zubik eases limits on Mass attendance in Pittsburgh diocese.
Trib Live. In a time of covid-19, 2 Leechburg area churches among those taking services outdoors.
Churches are Essential. Copyright © 2020 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
It was posted on this website September 7, 2020.
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