‘This brings me to one of the more controversial elements of historic Christian plague ethics: We don’t cancel church. The whole motivation of personal sacrifice to care for others, and other-regarding measures to reduce infection, presupposes the existence of a community in which we’re all stakeholders. Even as we take communion from separate plates and cups to minimize risk, forgo hand-shaking or hugging, and sit at a distance from each other, we still commune.
Some observers will view this as a kind of fanaticism: Christians are so obsessed with church-going that they’ll risk epidemic disease to show up.
But it’s not that at all. The coronavirus leaves over 95 percent of its victims still breathing. But it leaves virtually every member of society afraid, anxious, isolated, alone, and wondering if anyone would even notice if they’re gone. In an increasingly atomized society, the coronavirus could rapidly mutate into an epidemic of despair.’ Lyman Stone ‘Christianity has been handling epidemics for 200 years‘
Church interrupts the rhythm of a fallen world with the breath-taking, life-giving food of the gospel. Church is the only place where real life is found. Church is the closest place to heaven on earth. Church is where Jesus meets with people. Now more than ever the world needs church. And yet it seems in these uncertain times many churches are making the decision to close. But before we do that, we must ask – what do we gain?
For sure Coronavirus seems to be a serious thing? But surely, for the Christian, so is the Divine Worship of the one true God? So is the need to receive life and help from him at the table? Surely obedience to his word, and confidence in his care are also serious things not to be trifled with?
Undoubtedly there are some who should stay away from weekly gathered worship – the old and frail, those left vulnerable by pre-existing conditions and the already symptomatic. But what do we communicate when we close the doors, and retreat en masse? How serious, and necessary do we show the gospel to be?
At the moment churches are closing their doors just on the advice of the government – advice that simply says that we should avoid ‘unnecessary contact.’ And it begs the question – when was meeting together in person to receive the sacraments deemed to be unnecessary?
And if we close church services down purely on the recommendation of the government – how will we fare when they demand it? Serious questions for church leaders to consider.
I’m assuming that most Christians (as long as they are a-symptomatic) will continue to venture out to the supermarket to gather food for their family? “But thats absolutely necessary” I hear you cry! More necessary than feeding on Jesus? I’m just asking.
If you’re not in my church – I’m not your elder – you shouldn’t listen to me, listen to your elders. Pray for them whatever decision they make, and trust them. If you are a church leader – well, you’ve probably made up your mind – I trust you have done it with much prayer, and with a good conscience before Jesus.
My only desire is to elevate our view of church.
You may think that your community wants you to stop meeting. They may think they want you to stop meeting. But actually they need you to continue meeting wherever you can. They need you to show them that there is a greater power than Coronavirus. They need you to interrupt the rhythm of death and despair with the gospel. They need you to show them that you really believe that all the Life and Help in the universe is found in Jesus. And you need to know those things too.
Sure some of you will write this off as naive or reckless – thats ok – we disagree.
But Christianity is bodily. It is incarnational. It is physical. Church cannot happen online – we can communicate online, but as much as Zoom and Skype would like us to believe otherwise, we can’t ‘meet’ online. Not truly. We cannot commune online, we cannot eat bread (Jesus’ body) and drink wine (Jesus’ blood) online. Jesus is physical, and he is present with his church, where she gathers. Don’t give it up. We need it – the world needs it.
‘The Christian choice to defend the weekly gathering at church is not, then, a superstitious fancy. It’s a clear-eyed, rational choice to balance trade-offs: We forgo other activities and take great pains to be as clean as possible so that we can meaningfully gather to support each other.‘ Lyman Stone ‘Christianity has been handling epidemics for 200 years‘