What an Empty Building Can Teach Us About Truly Being the Church
reflections by Troy B. Cady
|Photo by Debby Hudson via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.|
Earlier today, a friend of mine from high school posted an article about churches who refuse to cancel in-person services, despite CDC advice to the contrary.
I’ve heard some Christians objecting to the fact that church services have been deemed “non-essential.” They seem to be taking it as some kind of personal affront, more evidence to buttress a narrative running in their head that Christianity is constantly under attack in America and Christians need to rise up to defend our rights before they are taken from us. So, they will continue to meet, regardless of the consequences.
As a pastor, I must say that, while I am dismayed by such a viewpoint, I am not surprised (and that gives me even greater cause for dismay). I commented to my friend that, sadly, this kind of thing serves as a potent commentary as to just how bankrupt some forms of Christianity in America have become.
A deficient understanding of worship
For starters, this highlights to me a complete misunderstanding as to the true nature of worship. It runs contrary to the Spirit of God when Christians insist on worshipping God in such selfish ways while disregarding the harm they are doing to their fellow human beings by such an act of so-called worship. In the Old Testament, the prophets denounced such worship as false, another form of idolatry—and Jesus added his voice to such denunciations. To truly worship the living God is to perform acts of mercy and compassion for one’s fellow human. It is impossible to worship God and harm another at the same time. Yet, that is what these so-called churches are doing.
The highest acts of worship do not take place gathered on a Sunday morning in a well-appointed sanctuary. The highest acts of worship occur as acts of service to one’s fellow human beings and in one’s faithful stewardship of creation.
A deficient understanding of faith
Secondly, to those Christians who view the continuation of services as an exercise in faith, I say it is an act of pride in the form of presumption. Faith unaccompanied by humility is not genuine faith.
What’s more, faith divorced from reason is little more than mere superstition. One of the greatest philosophers of all time was Thomas Aquinas—now there was a man of faith! Aquinas knew that to love God with one’s mind was in keeping with loving God with one’s heart. God gave us reason to inform our faith and we should use it.
There have been many great people of faith throughout history who have also been great scientists and doctors—and the same is true today. There is no conflict for a doctor to say we should avoid meetings of this nature for scientific reasons while also asserting we should do so for theological reasons. The latter may be motivated by the great command to love one’s neighbor while the former provides the scientific evidence to back up such a humble act of faith.
A deficient understanding of church
Third, I am grieved by how this insistence on meeting for worship services indicates to me a desperately impoverished view of what it means to be the church. It is as if we think the church ceases to exist if we cannot meet in a certain place at a certain time each week. But the church is not a place. The church is a people, a people for all times and all peoples.
I am truly astonished how even those Christians who are abiding by the guidelines not to meet still have yet to stop and think what this crisis can teach us about what it really means to be the church, what the core essence of the church is. It is as if most Christians are just concerned with how to get through this crisis via some kind of survival mode, just counting the days until we can go back to church as we’ve always known it.
But this crisis can be a great teacher, if we will just stop, take a step back and listen to what this difficulty can show us about what is enduring about the church, whether life’s circumstances are good or bad. Instead, we are content to erect our temporary measures until we can go back to consuming our comfortable little product that suits our own thoughtless, petty desires.
I challenge Christian leaders during this time to consider how this crisis can change us not only for the time being, but also when life returns to “normal.” What are we learning about the nature of the church now that can transform how we minister in all circumstances?
The church is to be a light. We are to be about the mission of mercy and care. We are to be healers, shielding the vulnerable from harm. We are to be the first to give up our rights in service to others. We are to lead the way in giving generously of our time, talents and treasures. Now is not a time to be selfish. Now we have the opportunity to imitate the one we say is our Lord: Jesus the Christ, the one who gave himself for all in self-giving love.
May it be so.
Troy Cady is President of PlayFull, a non-profit ministry whose mission is “to help people and organizations play from the inside out.” PlayFull offers coaching and consulting services to Christian leaders and churches, along with courses and seminars that approach learning in holistic ways. To learn more visit us at www.playfull.org or email Troy at email@example.com