Reportedly, the old saw, “Death by a thousand cuts,” came from an ancient form of torture. Today, it is often used to describe the destruction of something or someone, one small attack at a time.
Christians with any knowledge of history know they and their faith face an enemy practicing this philosophy. The attacks on Christianity throughout the centuries range from crucifixion to stoning to modern-day genocide. The victims of those attacks range from Jesus to modern-day children in countries dominated by anti-christian politics or religions.
Today, Christianity faces a new form of assault, one that seems logical, even justified. Still, it is just another part of the same process. Atheists, other faith systems, and even different traditions with supposedly Christian foundations are slowly chipping away at the faith of believers.
In Monastically Speaking, I suggested some forces within this country were attempting to drive a stake into the heart of Christianity; corporate worship. The COVID-19 crisis gave them the perfect opportunity to prevent Christians from coming together to hear God’s word.
In some ways, my fears were theoretical. As with the pandemic’s impact on traditions such as handshakes and hugs as forms of greetings, the idea that believers would stop coming together on the Sabbath was just a possibility. Over the last few Sundays, I realized it is more of a probability.
These were the first Sunday services at my home church since the pandemic shut everything down. In one way these were great experiences. In another, it was a frightening confirmation of my fears.
In a sanctuary capable of seating 1,200, attendance averaged fewer than 200. Yes, two of these Sundays were the beginning and end of a holiday week and government guidelines limited capacity to 300 or so plus staff and volunteers. Still, the number of reservations and the number in attendance dropped for each new service.
Humans are creatures of habit. That is why we face so many challenges when we need to change behavior. We may know eating too many sweets is adding inches to our waistline, and shortening our lives by months, if not years. We may realize our sedentary lifestyle increases our risks even further. Yet, changing how we go about our days is just as difficult as changing how we eat. The same can be true about beliefs and the practice of one’s religious traditions.
It is so easy to justify pulling away from corporate worship and fellowship. Watching the church service online is so convenient. In some cases, virtual attendees can chat with each other. Also, they can grab a snack or take care of personal issues without disturbing other worshippers. Heck, they can text, email, or rearrange a calendar without disturbing the others watching the service.
Of course, there are other perks as well. If friends want to do brunch on Sunday, it is possible to meet them, and catch the service later, at your convenience. That’s a lot more fun than driving to church and sitting in the pew for the whole service.
Sadly, I believe there are forces at work counting on exactly that. They hope to make it difficult to attend church with other believers. They want to force believers to transition to virtual attendance, virtual small groups, even virtual Kid’s Camp or Vacation Bible School. Then, it is only a matter of time before many believers will be far removed from the feeling of inclusion, fellowship, support, and love one can feel at church.
Even a congregation seated in a way to conform to social distancing guidelines, and minimize fear of contagion can feel a sense of community that is impossible via the internet. Without that feeling, that camaraderie, that proximity to other believers, our faith may become what it was to me, and many others I’ve known in the past, something I used to feel.
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