By Dr. James Emery White, Crosswalk.com
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages
This past weekend we canceled all of our weekend services and events. We will do so again next weekend and, as we continue to monitor the ever-changing situation, we may very well cancel them further.
To my surprise, some churches have resisted the national call from health care leaders and government officials to limit our gatherings. Some feel it is a wrongful assault on our freedom of religion. Others feel it capitulates to fear instead of faith. Some simply do not feel their church could survive such a move, so they continue to meet out of a sense of self-preservation.
Common Sense Isn't Caving to Fear
I never felt the call was an assault on religious freedom, but a heartfelt request for help. Further, following common sense guidelines for public health and safety does not seem like caving in to fear but using common sense. And as far as churches not surviving, as Seattle’s mayor replied to people who criticized him when he closed all meeting places in 1918 in response to the Spanish Flu, “Religion which won’t keep for two weeks is not worth having.”
Yet there is a deep and compelling reason why churches should not only willingly close their doors, but joyfully.
We are called by God to treat others as we would want to be treated, and to serve and love those around us. While most of us are not at serious risk from COVID-19, we have many in our community who are—namely the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions. If the spread of the virus is not quickly contained, not only will it put many we know and love in danger, but our medical system will be overwhelmed and unable to serve the vulnerable in need.
To provide the necessary social distancing for the spread of this virus to slow, the North Carolina Governor asked for all gatherings of 100 or more people to be cancelled or postponed. The gathering of the Meck family on any given weekend brings together thousands. We have a responsibility of love to our neighbors to gladly comply.
We Are Still the Church
But just because a church takes a break from physically gathering together doesn’t mean it ceases to be a church! We all know that a church is more than bricks and mortar, and while called to gather for worship it is vastly more than weekend services. During this time, we will continue to offer services through our Online Campus. We are continuing our ministry to families and children by sending out suggestions for activities, home devotions, videos telling Bible stories and more. Individuals will continue to be encouraged to honor God financially through online giving, we will receive any and all prayer requests submitted online, and we will stay active and connected through social media. And, of course, select events and classes, workshops and interactions, will take place as deemed safe throughout the week.
At this moment, our culture needs something it doesn’t have. No, not simply more test kits, but the peace that surpasses understanding. We are surrounded by anxiety and fear. Yet as followers of Christ, we must not give in to fear—instead we are called to meet all things with faith. As one of my great historical mentors and heroines, Corrie ten Boom, once offered, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.”
We alone can offer the world these words:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7, Msg)
Close Building Doors, Open Spiritual Doors
So close your doors this weekend. And live out your faith with other acts of love, compassion and service we will likely be presented the opportunity to bring to bear in the coming days. We are exploring two options: needs among homeless and underprivileged children who depend on meals in schools but who will not have access to those meals while schools are closed; and second, offering our production studios and experienced staff assistance to pastors who may not have access to such equipment so, while closed, they can post sermons or other messages for their congregation. I am sure that more ideas and opportunities will come our way. And yours as well.
All to say, by closing a physical door,
… we may just be opening a spiritual one.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.