Attention has turned from concern over a deadly viral illness to saving our economy, in many cases our personal livelihood, and even our sanity. In the eyes of at least some, “Stay Home, Stay Alive” has become a curse itself, rather than a way to avoid the curse.
The pandemic has certainly caused damage on many levels. Whether from the virus or from the reaction to it, many are suffering. Compassion is certainly due the workers who are now unemployed, small business owners who have been shut down and may never reopen, as well as those who are ill and the grieving families of the dead. Almost without regard for the uncertainty of the situation the cry is now for “reopening”—allowing businesses to do business again, workers to return to the office or the factory, and whatever it takes to get the economy moving.
If we are not careful, we will fall into thinking the church is just like other kinds of businesses. There are parallels, to be sure. We have employees, so we pay wages and are subject to labor laws. We are a public building, and so are required to meet certain standards for safety. Like other businesses, there are codes that regulate things like occupancy limits and the size and location of signs identifying who we are. At times the reality of the church as a business, operating under regulation in the context of the governing authorities, causes some discomfort—like, whenever there are certain laws some would prefer to ignore. I have heard it this way, in the present pandemic: “They can’t shut us down!”
Those words are true of the church in a way they could not be true of any other endeavor. Because the church, if it is truly God’s church, is not like any other business in that it is not merely a human endeavor. Gamaliel got it right in the counsel he gave to those who sought to “shut down” the first apostles, Acts 5:38-39—
So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!
Damascus Community Church has never been closed. Oh, the building has been, for the most part. We went from overused facilities to hardly used facilities in a day. In fact, this season has helped us get a better grip on the point of our facilities—a tool we use to facilitate ministry, whether it be gathering for worship, or prayer, or instruction. Because we have discovered that while the building is an asset and a help in all of these, it is essential for none of them. We have said it before, and will say it again, the church is not a building.
So the church has remained open for business. Worship has continued, prayer has continued, instruction has continued. The church, meaning the followers of Jesus who normally would gather for these activities at the DCC building, have continued to encourage one another, serve one another, and reach beyond themselves to share The Good News of Jesus with people who now, maybe more than ever, are desperate for some good news. In these days the church has again demonstrated the reality of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 16:18—
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
If death itself cannot prevail against the church, then neither will a virus. Nor society’s shutdown, whether you applaud it or view it as an “overreach” of government. For this reason, it makes no sense to speak of “reopening” the church, the way other businesses need to reopen. What we have not been able to do, again whether you think it wisdom or some conspiracy, and in fact the only thing we have not been able to do, is assemble in one place to fulfill our ministry purposes. So rather than reopening, we speak of “regathering”. And most of us are indeed anxious to gather together again with our family in Christ.
Pray for those who must plan for our regathering, especially in view of the wide range of thoughts and opinions (and thank you for sharing yours, by means of our survey). Our disagreements over what is best to do could be far more damaging to the work of Christ than the pandemic restrictions. May we have grace toward one another, think of others more than ourselves (Philippians 2:4), and regather in the life and love of Jesus that binds us together, even when we are apart.
We have added the following links to our COVID-19 page at our website, and encourage you to be challenged to live out love and grace in the coming days: