1. Coronavirus hasn’t changed anything important about the church.
Last Sunday, our church regathered for the first time in months. We wore masks, we social-distanced, we didn’t touch the door handles, and we sat next to open windows. We only sang one hymn–at the very end of the service–to minimize the possibility of airborne transmission. We moved our post-worship conversations outside to the church lawn. In some ways, church felt very different.
But, in all the important ways, nothing changed. We are still the people of God, gathered in the presence of God, to bring glory to God. We still affirm his righteous rule by living under his command. We still love one another with the same love with which the Father loved the Son (John 17:26). We still testify to the truth and power of the gospel before a watching world. Throughout redemptive history, God’s people have gathered to worship him in all kinds of situations–many of them less than ideal. They worshipped together as slaves in Egypt and exiles in Babylon, as wanderers in the wilderness and as objects of Roman persecution. The church in a pandemic joins their faithful company. We may be six feet apart, but we are still the church.
2. God loves the church.
Going to church is rarely convenient, and these months of worshipping via livestream have elevated comfort and consumerism. When we can hear a sermon–and even interact with other church members–without getting off the couch or putting on street clothes, it’s hard to muster the energy to actually go to church again.
But our fundamental motivation for committing to the church hasn’t changed because of coronavirus. As we are able, we go to church, serve the church, and love the church because God does. Christ promises to be present with his people when they gather in his name (Matt. 18:20). He serves the church by making her holy, and he loves the church by dying for her (Eph. 5:25—27). And what God loves, we must love.
3. Lone Christians aren’t a thing.
The quarantine can create a false sense of self-sufficiency. Equipped with a Wi-Fi connection, I can instantly stream content and community to my nearest device. It can be tempting to think that my spiritual growth can be downloaded remotely too. But the Christian life was never meant to be lived alone.
With his words to Adam in the Garden, “It is not good that man should be alone”(Gen. 2:18), God establishes the importance of congregational life. And this corporate priority is borne out in the rest of Scripture: the family of Abraham, the assembly of Israel, the churches in Acts, the congregations of the New Testament Epistles. In the whole Bible, there are no lone Christians.
You were created and redeemed to join with God’s people in your particular location to worship and work together for his glory. You were made for church.
4. Corporate worship is the essential business of your life.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about what’s essential, with civil authorities categorizing our ordinary activities and businesses under various phases and classifications. But whatever official designation church services receive, Christians must not allow our hearts to believe that worship with the church is unimportant.
In corporate worship, the people of God assemble in his presence to speak to him (by prayer and song) and to hear him speak to us (by word and sacrament). We gather at his invitation and according to his command. We testify to his rule over his kingdom, and we exalt him before our unbelieving neighbors. In worship, we offer to our sovereign God the praise he is due. It is the most essential business of your life.
5. Your elders are a gift from Christ.
On our own, we are, as the old hymn says, “prone to wander.”Our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick”(Jer. 17:9); alone, we quickly grow cold, fail to watch out, and stumble into sin. We need help.
Thankfully, Christ organized his church for the good of our souls. The elders of your church are the gifts that the ascended Christ has given you to look out for your soul (Eph. 4:8, 11—14). With love and tenderness–and sometimes words of urgent warning and rebuke–they minister Christ’s care to you. There is no safer place for a sheep than under the watchful eye of a shepherd.
6. The church needs you–and you need it.
The Bible repeatedly describes the church as a body. “For just as the body is one and has many members . . . so it is with Christ,”writes Paul (1 Cor. 12:12—13). In the church, we each have unique gifts and graces, and we use them together for one another’s good. No part is unimportant, and no part can function well without the others. We need each other. And in the local church, we grow in our knowledge of Christ. We each have some gifts, but Christ has all the gifts. We each have a measure of the Spirit, but Christ has the Spirit “without measure”(Rom. 12:3; John 3:34). We each serve in a few ways, but Christ serves perfectly in every way. We each know some things, but Christ has “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”(Col. 2:3). Only in the assembled body can we experience the fullness of Christ our head (Eph. 1:22—23).
7. The church makes you holy.
In most churches, the pandemic has required additional cleaning protocols. Our church has hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes strategically placed throughout the building. After worship, families take turns disinfecting every common surface. We want our church to be free of germs.
But there are other more dangerous threats to the cleanliness of the church. Sin, our mortal enemy, festers in our hearts unbidden–like mildew around the sink. Thankfully, the local church is designed to promote the purity of each of its members. As we receive the sanctifying word together, as we exhort and encourage one another, as we cry out together for the help of the Holy Spirit, as we set a godly example for one another, and as we warn one another of the danger of sin, we work together to banish sin’s destructive decay.
8. The church is your family.
Defining a “household”has become another preoccupation of our pandemic age. Our civil authorities recognize that these foundational units of people who live and care for one another need to continue doing so. In most cases, the members of a household are free to carry on as they were–just wash your hands frequently.
The Bible tells us that we’re part of a different kind of household–one whose boundaries aren’t demarcated on census or tax filings. As a Christian, you are part of the “household of God”(Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15), which is the church. You have been brought into the family by God’s sovereign choosing and given a new family identity through the blood of Christ, our mutual brother. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to wear a mask to church, but it does mean that our fundamental family priorities of sharing our lives and caring for one another are not derailed by global crisis. Even if we have to fellowship over Zoom and pray together over Voxer for awhile, the church is still a family.
9. The church has work to do.
Recent weeks have brought changes to many people’s work. For some, work-at-home is the new normal. For others, work has disappeared, leaving financial worries in its place. Even as businesses begin to reopen, many Christians will find their daily work significantly altered. The church has work to do as well, and it hasn’t changed because of a virus. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”(Matt. 28:19). Declaring Christ, the Savior of sinners, to the lost and dying world is a task for the church, and we are all co-workers in this job. We each pray for kingdom workers to be sent out (Matt. 9:38) and to have gospel success (Rom. 15:30). We each contribute to the needs of gospel-preachers and other churches (Phil. 4:15). We each invite our friends and neighbors to “come, see”the Savior (John 4:29). Christ’s important mandate is a job for us to do together.
10. The church has a glorious future.
These days, we may be discouraged by the apparent insignificance and smallness of our local churches. We might be tempted to wonder whether the church is going to dissipate with the virus. But when the Lord allows us to glimpse the realities of eternity, we see that the best days of the church are yet to come. Listen to the words of the apostle John:
I [John] saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be with them as their God.”(Rev. 21:2—3)
The church has a future, and it is glorious.