“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:25 KJV
The above verse has been used by many to remind us that, as Christians, we need each other. It reminds us that encouraging each other is vital and that we draw strength from gathering together. It has been used to extol the virtues of worshiping together.
Sadly, it has also been welded as a primary weapon of guilt-inducing legalism.
There, I said it.
Right now, most rational churches are having remote services, and families are gathering in homes to “attend” these services, hearing the preacher preach, sometimes even singing together, at an appointed time. I can’t miss the opportunity to point out that the early church also met in homes. They didn’t have church building with steeples, organs, praise bands, or pews with a plaque letting everyone know that Aunt Vestel donated the money for that pew (which seems to violate Matthew 6:3, but I digress…).
So why didn’t the early church erect a building or convert an old grocery storefront? Because they couldn’t. They didn’t have the resources, the freedom, or the available empty Walmarts. They worshipped with the tools at hand: a time, a place, and each other.
And that’s what we have now. We have a time — the church I attend begins at 10:00, a little over an hour from now. We have a place — our homes via the internet or data. And we have each other. Yes, we do. Last week I watched on Facebook Live as people commented encouragements and amend, clicked hearts and likes, all during the pastor’s message.
Then I saw a couple of stories about churches who were “practicing real faith” by cramming several hundred humans into one room in spite of the very real, very scientific, very common sense danger. And boy, were they puffed up about how righteous they were for potentially exposing their members to infection. It reminded me of the practice of handling poisonous snakes, say God would “protect” those who were bitten.
And it got me thinking…
Why do we want to wear our outward behavior as some sort of proof of loving God more than “that other guy,” and why do we think it’s okay to add to God’s Words?
We rant all the time about the evil of taking words away from the Bible. We call out the sin (especially the ones we personally dislike), we call preachers who avoid the stickier parts of the Bible cowards, and we even allow our complete misunderstanding of grammar, sentence and paragraph organization, and arbitrary verse-numbering to make us think God only uses one version (don’t get me started on this whole anti-intellectual nonsense).
And yet we have no problem adding to God’s Word to keep our people in line. Give generously means give every week. If you tithe on the gross instead of the net, you only get an efficiency condo in Heaven. “Do not be drunk with wine” is cobbled together with “don’t cause anyone to stumble” to shoehorn into an imaginary verse that says “If you order a beer God will cry and you are evil.” And, the one we are grappling with now: REAL Christians never miss church, even if they are sick, even if they had a baby two days ago, even if they had surgery on Friday, and even if there is a Novel epidemic virus that is a fatal threat to anyone who is above a certain age or immunocompromised.
And I’m shaking my head.
What are we thinking? We need to care as much about the welfare of God’s people as we do a checkbox. And let’s take a look at verses like Proverbs 16:2
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.
Or, more to the point, Matthew 23:25–28
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus gave us an important final command before He ascended into heaven, and this is what He said:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
2,000 years ago there were limited ways of doing that. Meeting in homes, preaching wherever people gathered, traveling by foot, water, or animal, and writing letters. The early church managed to do a lot with those tools, no modern technology, and zero television stations or crystal cathedrals.
But right now, in March of 2020, we have an opportunity Paul and Timothy could have only dreamed of. We literally have tools to reach the entire world in an instant. We have news feeds filling with messages of the gospel every single week. People who would never enter a c church building but who might click a Facebook live posted by a friend may hear about Christ.
People are worried and afraid. They are also bored and tired of watching the same series on television. And by now they are realizing that vilifying politicians and mindlessly swallowing the spin that is most comfortable for them isn’t really fixing the anxiety. Maybe clicking a friend’s link and hearing about the only real hope, the one that transcends politics, will change their lives forever.
But by all means, let’s focus on the outward checkbox of walking into an assigned building. Just like we keep records of giving, gossip about that glass of wine we saw Judy order, or misread a difference in paragraphing as a version of God’s Word that he is somehow incapable of using because it doesn’t use 1600’s English.
God’s Word and message do not change, but tools do. Just like we no longer treat illnesses with bloodletting and lobotomies, but medications and nutrition, we have new, wonderful ways to stay connected, make disciples, and reach the world.
In 49 minutes, I’ll cast my phone to my television (which still amazes me) and tune in to Bridgeway Baptist Church on Facebook to hear encouragement and worship with many others. I’ll see amen’s and see friendly faces. And I’ll do it all while protecting myself and my family from infection. My 75-year-old father-in-law with a replaced heart valve will be safe. The friends I have with immune disorders won’t be exposed to something that could leave their children motherless. And because giving can be done online too, we can help the families in our church who are struggling.
And I don’t even have to wear makeup or brush my hair. Now that’s a miracle!