In “Monastically Speaking,” I expressed fears concerning the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on believers coming together to worship. In “One Slice at a Time” I stated those fears were becoming more of a probability than a possibility. Now, I am seeing signs church leadership may be surrendering to the powers that be without so much as a fight. Instead, they may be seeking ways to rationalize what is becoming an all-out assault on church attendance.
Before going further, let one point be clear. The following is not a condemnation of a pastor or minister who urges his flock to accept the governmental mandates interfering with corporate worship. Christians are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when dealing with the virus crisis, for at least two reasons.
First, Christians are expected to submit to the government unless the demands are so outrageous God’s Word demands action. So far, the COVID-19 crisis does not seem to justify flaunting government dictates or other legal concerns. Still, it seems some Christian leaders are bending over backward to make current government interference more acceptable.
Over the last few weeks, my wife and I have attended three traditional services at our home church. By traditional, I mean they were held in our church sanctuary, and the ones we attended featured traditional worship music. The services were far from traditional when one considers the hoops everyone is jumping through to come together in worship. From only a handful of worshipers to the steps taken to keep that handful safe, it was not Sunday services as usual.
Of course, the church’s desire to keep everyone safe while still allowing some believers to attend is understandable. From a personal standpoint, I am thankful they are making the effort. It was refreshing and meaningful to be in the sanctuary, worshiping in song with other believers. Also, it was great to see familiar faces and know your brothers and sisters in Christ were upright and moving. Yet, the comfort factor was shaken by the apparent acceptance of this being the new normal.
The most unsettling aspect of the current experience was not with the limitations on attendance, wearing protective equipment or social-distancing. No, those can be understood, and are not necessarily precursors to the cessation of traditional worship experiences. Comments made not directly related to worship are what seem foreboding.
It was troubling to hear church leaders justifying the interference in the worship experience. It was troubling to hear leadership speak of how successful the ministry still seemed to be, without members and visitors coming together as a body. It was even more troubling during a virtual gathering of believers later to hear the minister leading the discussion appear to downplay the need for traditional corporate worship. In fact, he quoted scripture he believed supported a more individualized worship experience.
Without saying it, the minister was endorsing a modern version of monasticism enhanced by virtual gatherings and online Bible lessons and studies.
As I’ve noted previously, humans are creatures of habit. Additionally, many of us have very short attention spans, and as any life coach or psychologist can tell you keeping someone focused on a goal can be difficult. Whether you are talking about weight loss, breaking bad habits, or studying the Bible, we have a tendency to take the path of least resistance, and often that is the path to failure when it comes to our goals.
The ministry of Jesus was based on bringing people together to hear the Word. It was not based on lone individuals studying the Word in private or listening to it while in isolation.
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