Do we “cancel church?” This is the question many church leaders are wrestling with today. The coronavirus is bringing many aspects of society to a screeching halt. Governments have asked churches to close. Are we “selling out” if we fail to stand up to the government?
I would contend that the issue lies with the premise. While it may be possible and even necessary to cancel a church service, the Church cannot be canceled. Jesus said, “I will build My church and gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I would like to suggest that He is doing just fine with this promise and the Coronavirus will not prevent Jesus from keeping His word.
“But Gavin,” you say, “Church/church service–you are only bringing up a matter of semantics. We all know that the Church is not the church service.” Maybe it is just semantics, but let’s consider that it may be more than that.
For many Christians and church leaders, canceling church for a month would seem unthinkable. How would people learn the Bible? How would they be encouraged? How would people grow in their faith through this difficult time? How would tithes be collected? What about prayer and fellowship? These are the types of questions we ask when we cannot imagine Christians walking with God and other believers without the aid of services and church structures set up to facilitate Christian growth and discipleship.
Let us consider that we really have to stretch the text to point to anything in the New Testament that resembles a modern church service. That is not to say that church services are bad or wrong. I think there is freedom in Christ to do all kinds of things that were not activities in New Testament times (driving a car or flying an airplane, for example). There is also the freedom to consider other ways we can function as the Body of Christ apart from attending a church service.
Perhaps times like this point to a deficit in how we have trained Christians to think about belonging to His church. When the prospect of canceling of services causes so many to take bold public stands against it and others to spend countless hours in meetings figuring out how to keep the services going, I wonder if we have not grown too dependent on our church services? Others can be quick to cancel the service for concern members will feel a sense of obligation to attend even if it be in everyone’s best interest for them not to do so. Could we be inadvertently fostering a greater devotion to our services and programs than Jesus himself?
For many believers following Jesus without attending a weekly service seems unthinkable at best and pagan at worst. If this is the case, the services may actually be standing in the way of Christian growth. I propose that now could be a great opportunity for many Christians to embrace the opportunity to learn, listen, and walk with Jesus without a service.
Stay home this weekend. Maybe invite over a few friends or family members. Break bread. Remember His body and blood around the table. Open His word. Read it aloud. Ask others to reflect. Pray for one another. Pray for our nation’s leaders. Pray for the leaders of the church. Take some time to listen to what Jesus is saying. Then leave and follow His directions even if that means you have to take bold risks like loving the sick up-close, helping the least, giving your resources, personally sharing the Good News. This exercise is not clear-cut. It will be uncomfortable. It requires replacing the service with space for everyone to participate by doing the one-anothers we read about in the New Testament alongside a much smaller intimate group of friends or family.
Yes, I say we all try to “cancel church” for a while. I see that it could do nothing but deepen our trust in Him, and call us to action in places we have relied on others to act on our behalf. Yes, the break might even expose us as church spectators if we do nothing for a month and fail to connect with Jesus and His family in a real way. This would all be good for His Church at least until the Coronavirus leaves town. Then we can return to church as usual…or not?