Beginning in March 2020, Americans have been forced to adjust to a “new normal.” Work, school, personal lives and even church have been disrupted for millions. The church issue is especially troubling, since religious belief and practice was the very first thing protected in our U.S. Constitution (the Bill of Rights):
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (The First Amendment).
Executive orders from governors across the nation have prohibited Christians from meeting in the same way they are used to, and from practicing their religion in the way to which they are accustomed. There is much that can be said about the legal ramifications of all of this, but I would like to focus on some “positive” angles from which we can consider this tragic turn of events.
Church is Not the Building
We have become conditioned to think of church as a place we go once or twice a week. We call ourselves “church-goers,” and tell our children to get ready to “go to church.” While we know the church is the people, not the four walls, the Covid-19 situation has forced us to take a fresh look at that reality. Suddenly, we have needed to find new and creative ways to connect.
Most Churches Are not Like American Churches
In many parts of our world, Christians do not have the luxury of going to an air-conditioned building, sitting on padded seats, and watching slick Power Point videos to go along with their high-tech worship and 20-minute sermons. Often Christians walk miles on foot, sit on hard floors, and listen to sermons for many hours. Often they do this because of financial poverty that permeates their area, or, in some cases, even fear for their lives.
We should remember that the religious liberty we enjoy in our country is unprecedented in nearly 2,000 years of church history. In most eras, and in most geographical locations, Christians have been a suppressed minority group (especially those who embrace doctrinal confessions like those held by American Evangelicals). Millions of Christ-followers around the world do not even own a Bible, while most of us have at least three or four in our homes (which in many cases are seldom even read). In countries like China and North Korea, being caught in secret church meetings can mean years of imprisonment and hard labor.
Churches today are finding new, innovative ways to both communicate and meet. Since the Coronavirus mandates, I have heard from my local church via text, Facebook streaming, YouTube Live, emails, and posts in a special Facebook discussion group. But it hasn’t all been online communication. We have also received hand-written notes, phone calls, and personal visits from church members and church leaders to ensure we are doing okay.
During the lockdown, our church has, of course, conducted live-streamed videos, but we have also developed local neighborhood church meetings in backyards and homes, and outdoor events with larger gatherings. In many ways, these smaller home-based and outdoor gatherings are closer to what the rest of the world often does for their church assemblies.
While I understand the desire many of us have to simply return to normal church meetings in our buildings, perhaps we are being awakened to the need to explore new ways to connect as the church than just regular Sunday services.
If, Heaven forbid, religious persecution hits American churches, it would be wise to consider ways to decentralize and have options for people to continue to meet and be the church in smaller and more flexible settings.
Church at Home
As families have met at home, sometimes by themselves, I’m sure many parents have wondered how they can get their children more engaged. When children are used to being in a special class for children their own age, sometimes it is hard to get them to focus and pay attention to sermons or longer meetings geared for adults.
My wife and I have ten children and we’ve always wanted to help them to learn to sit during regular church services. We have a daily Bible time together each day. It usually lasts about 15-30 minutes. We read the Bible together, sing a song or two, and pray. It’s a simple process, but we have learned that having some kind of sit-still time every day, from the time our children are born, has produced the effect that our children are able to sit through an entire church service, with the adults, from the time they are three years old.
Ultimately, it is up to us as parents to take responsibility for the spiritual development of our own children. We are thankful for the assistance and support of others in our local church, but God gave our children to us. We need to ensure they learn God’s word and hide it in their heart. Perhaps the benefits of fathers working from home more often can help us begin a new trend of taking time each day to center our family around the Bible and prayer.
While the impact of many executive orders has had a negative outcome on so many fronts, where there is a challenge there is also an opportunity. Let’s be praying that we can discern how to use this time to make important shifts, both at home and corporately, that could end up making us all stronger on the other side of this situation.
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