How Essential Is the Church?
Published March 23, 2020
Should local churches close their doors on the Lord’s Day during the COVID-19 pandemic? At Desert Hills we have chosen not to close our doors for our worship service on Sunday mornings despite the government recommending that gatherings of ten or more people be postponed or cancelled. In my previous video covering Desert Hills’ coronavirus response, I discussed some of the reasons we continue to meet each Lord’s Day for worship during the pandemic, as well as some precautions and caveats for our meetings. During our Sunday morning service this week, I explained another reason why we continue to meet. We believe the gathering of the church for worship is essential for the life of the believer and for the community at large.
When our president and our governor, both of whom we respect and for whom we pray as a church, recommend that non-essential businesses and gatherings close to help stop the spread of the pandemic, we want to respect that recommendation. We have therefore canceled all of our activities throughout the week, and Sunday evening our prayer meeting was online only. We seek to go to as many lengths as we can to follow these guidelines. When we think about our Sunday morning service, however, we recognize that it is during this time that the people of God gather as one body with one voice to worship our risen Lord. It is an essential part of our faith. It is a vital part of our life as the body of Christ. And it is irreplaceable in the community where we live.
We look at the world around us, and we see that the government has required in some cases and permitted in others businesses and institutions that are vital to the well-being of the community to remain open. These essential businesses include gas stations, grocery stores, hospitals, home improvement warehouses, and even electronics stores like Best Buy. In a recent video on his YouTube channel Conversations That Matter, Jon Harris asked a question in response to these essential businesses staying open during the pandemic: “Is the church more essential than a grocery store?”
As Christians we would do well to allow that unsettling question to penetrate our minds. Will we as Christians go to buy groceries around large groups of people but cancel the assembly of the saints for worshiping Christ because we want to avoid large groups of people? Do we truly believe that man does not live on bread alone? And what do we say to one another and to our communities when we treat the church as a non-essential institution? Is the church more essential to us than a grocery store? Than Home Depot? Than Best Buy?
Just because grocery stores are open does not mean everyone should go shopping during this pandemic. The sick and those with underlying health conditions should enlist people to do their shopping for them and stay home. And so it is with the church. The sick and those with underlying health conditions understandably must stay home and worship digitally via livestream. Other people may have their own reasons for deciding to self-quarantine, and the church should be gracious to her members who decide to stay home during these difficult days and worship via the internet for reasons they may not wish to share.
But the question still remains: Is the church more essential than a grocery store? Just because not everyone should go shopping doesn’t mean the grocery stores close. So should the church close its doors because not all of its members should attend corporate worship? To remain open during this pandemic is not an act of defiance or rebellion against our government leaders but an expression of how essential the church is to its members and to the world around us.