Why the Church Still Gathers
I’ve been asked several times in the last few weeks why our church is still gathering. Honestly, I am baffled by this question and hardly know how to answer it. Why do we still gather? I think the question should be, why should we not gather?
I find it fascinating that this is the first and only time in 2000 years that Christ’s church has willingly refused to gather. When the Roman Emperors called for an open season on Christians, the church still gathered. When the Muslim hoard descended upon northern Africa and the Middle East, the church still gathered. When the black death covered Europe and killed 1 out of every 3 persons, the church still gathered. When the English crown and parliament banished every pastor who would not bow the knee to the Anglican church, their congregations still gathered. Regardless of war, invasion, plague, or pestilence the church of Jesus Christ always gathered…until now.
If I may be so bold, the burden of proof rests squarely upon the shoulders of those who suggest that we should cease and desist. If we are to stop our gathering, we must be told what has changed. What makes this day, this time, this “crisis” different than anything else the church has been through? The evidence brought forth follows two basic thoughts. First, that we are to cease gathering motivated from a love of neighbor. Second, that we are to cease our gathering in an effort to obey the authorities over us as prescribed in Romans 13.
I would strongly argue that if we set aside our feelings, fancies, and fears it would become abundantly obvious that these two arguments hold no water.
Love of Neighbor
For whatever reason, this seems to be the trump card of the redeemed and reprobate alike. The logic seems to go like this: If you love your neighbor, then you would never place the safety of your neighbor (i.e. the folks at church) risk. This argument appeals to the selfless act of abstaining from church because anyone could be an unwitting carrier of this illness and unintentionally kill the entire congregation with a single cough. This argument seems to have the largest sway of those claiming the name of Christ because, let’s face it, nobody wants to be that guy.
It would be much easier to take this argument seriously if anyone remained consistent with it. If something is true, then it is always true. In other words, if you refrain from assembling with God’s people because you love them, then what does that say about the people at the grocery store? I guess we are filled with hate and contempt for them because we care nothing for their safety.
You should also refrain from shopping for others or running errands for them. After all, the virus could be alive and active on your clothing, in your car, and upon the very groceries that you purchased. For all you know you personally delivered the deadly beast upon their doorstep. The most loving thing for you to do is to let your neighbor fend for themselves.
You should also refrain from sending anything in the mail (like your rent, mortgage, personal letters, notes of encouragement) because it is possible to infect not only the recipients but also the mail carriers. Your lack of love could kill the entire country simply because you wanted to mail in your rent check. How unloving of you.
Beloved, you have to understand that if something is good, true, righteous, and just then it will never cease to be so. Obedience to God is always good, true, righteous, and just, regardless of the situation or circumstance. If the disbanding of the church on the basis of close human proximity is equivalent to loving thy neighbor, then any close human contact is a violation of that love. You cannot make up the rules as you go along.
By keeping our doors open, we are loving our neighbor because we are preaching the only hope that they have, the hope of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We are demonstrating to a world crazed with fear that we have no fear of death. We are a public display of the power of Christ over the curse because we know that death has no victory and has no sting!
The other argument in favor of churches closing comes from Romans 13. In the first seven verses Paul commands the church in Rome to obey the governing authorities because “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Are these verses a blank check for the government to cash at the expense of Christians? I don’t think anyone actually believes that. We can all agree that there have been many times in history where the governing authorities made demands upon Christians that would have violated the revealed will of God. The question is: is this just such a time? Take a few things into consideration.
First, to refuse to meet on the basis of the government’s request (there is no such thing as an order. The first amendment still exists in spite of popular opinion) drips with hypocrisy. We encourage and applaud other Christians in other countries for gathering against the wishes of their governing authorities. If it is sin to gather against the government’s wishes in one context, then we have to remain consistent. It doesn’t matter a wit what the government’s intentions or motivations are. If we are in violation of Romans 13, then so is every Christian who gathers with the saints against their government’s expressed wishes.
Second, no government, ruler, or congress has authority over Christ’s church. No body of men can dictate how, when, why, where, or if Christians meet. The bride of Christ has but one Head and He is Christ Jesus. We take orders from Him and Him alone. Romans 13 makes zero reference to the church submitting to the government in such a way to make the government her head. Christians need no man’s permission to meet, worship, gather, pray, or preach. We have always done these things simply because we are commanded to regardless of what the governing authorities have to say on the matter. Do me a favor and read Romans 13:1-7 after you read chapter 12. The context begins with how the church is to function; from individual members to the body collected. In that light, individuals are to be good citizens, pay their taxes, and obey the law. That is a far cry from giving the government authority to call the tune to which the church must dance.
Third, either the church is commanded to gather, or she is not. If the church is commanded to gather, then the collective governors of these United States are asking their Christian citizens to sin against their King. If we are not commanded to gather, then this is a pointless discussion and I gladly yield the field. But if we are not commanded to gather, I need comprehensive corrective instruction on my understanding of Matthew 28:19-20, Titus chapter 2, all of Colossians 3, the entire book of 1 Timothy, and, of course, Hebrews 10:23-25. It is sufficient to say that if Christians are not commanded and expected to gather unless providentially hindered, I do not understand the vast majority of the New Testament and have no business being in the ministry.
Have you ever wondered why the church gathers on Sunday? Have you ever wondered why Jesus was ordained to rise from the dead on the first day of the week? Sunday is not the new sabbath (the 7th day of rest after God’s good creation), but the day marking a new creation. By gathering together, Christians declare and celebrate the first fruits of God’s renewed creation, the undoing and reversal of the curse! Are we really going to cease this weekly display of Christ’s victory?
It is difficult for me to imagine that God failed to foresee this “crisis” coming. It is impossible for me to conceive that Jesus is building His church to withstand the gates of hell and yet not secure enough to withstand a tiny implication of the curse. If no war, famine, plague, or tyrant has convinced the bride of Jesus Christ to close her doors, we will not be the first generation to break that faithful charge. To borrow the words of Martin Luther, “unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason … I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”