At the outset I’ll say this: These words may be for you as a church leader, or they may be words to pass along to those you love and serve. Regardless, here are the words…
The Church seems to be having a Hamlet moment.
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them?”
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene I)
I don’t know what the social-religious climate is like in your corner of the country, but in my upper-left corner these oft recited words from Shakespeare’s troubled character depict, at least in part, the question of the Church. For us, to open or not to open, that is the question? And how and when and why, and which is nobler in the mind?
Of course Hamlet’s concerns raced with wonderment and fear of dying; our concerns race with issues of conviction and safety and legality and our testimony to an unbelieving world.
Half the voices boom: “The Church is a people, not a place.” The other half returns fire: “Don’t forsake the gathering of the people in a place though!” The banter has been polarizing, even venomous at times.
“Our governor has a phased plan that doesn’t allow opening yet.”
“Our president called us essential and overrides the governor.”
On and on it goes, at a wearying pace. Who’s right anyway?
I turn to 1 Peter, where I’ve been spending devotion time lately. And for starters, the Church is a people! Listen and see if you catch it…
“As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:4, NIV).
See there? Isn’t it people being “built into a spiritual house”? Elsewhere it says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The New Testament reminds us throughout that God doesn’t manifest His presence in a place anymore, but rather through a people—a set-apart bunch of imperfect bricks who bring to God their spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise, anytime, anywhere. So it’s true. The Church is a people.
But there is a unique dynamic to people being the Church; we are “living stones.” It takes more than one stone to build a spiritual house. God’s people are the Church, but collectively so. And we need to gather, for at least one big reason (among other big reasons).
Reading on in 1 Peter 2 we find Jesus, God’s Son, the Living Stone – the cornerstone and capstone – is an utterly precious stone. And we who believe in Him get that at the deepest levels. But to the unbelieving world, it’s pish-posh; a joke. Jesus is a myth, or a really good guy at best. He’s a stone to curse when stubbed against or stumbled over.
Friends, the world is hostile to what is deeply precious and important to us. Gathering as “living stones…being built into a spiritual house” is critical for affirming and growing our faith. We do this by reading Scripture, praying together, and encouraging one another together. So it’s true. We shouldn’t forsake gathering the people in a place.
At a church building? Sure. But here the story flips again. Two things…
One, I don’t have good numbers or a reliable source, but I’d venture to bet more Christians have gathered in homes or back rooms of businesses or other quiet, even hidden, places over the last 2000 years than have gathered in steepled buildings on street corners or country lanes. It makes me wonder, maybe the church building is a privilege we’ve grown far too used to?
And two, remember when Jesus told us to love God with all yourself, and love your neighbor like yourself? It is an important command to remember in these tense days as we seek to gather back at the church building as our unbelieving neighbors with real concerns and real fears look on.
So maybe we can do this… Maybe we can steady our faith? Maybe we can be patient in our yearning to gather at the local church building? Maybe, as we’re able, we can gather in smaller groups in folks’ homes as a step toward gathering in our churches? And maybe we can trust our church leaders, who do look forward to gathering together with you again, but are constrained by the conviction and tension to “Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, and honor the King [or governing authorities]” all at the same time.
ANDY WEEDA is Pastor of Emerging Adult Ministry and Director of LEAD Academy at Sunrise Baptist Church. His degrees are from Multnomah University and Western Seminary in Portland, OR. Andy and his wife Amy live in northwest Washington (the state, not D.C.) with their 3 kids. Together they love playing games, walking to the beach, reading, watching Disney+ and chasing a goal to visit every U.S. National Park. You can connect with Andy or read more from him on his blog.