Shut Down Church

What is God’s purpose in the current crisis?

My earlier post under the ‘Wit’s End’ label suggested that larger churches do their best to look after the smaller ones with online help as we pass through the coronavirus epidemic.

I was encouraged to be contacted by a church involved in caring for a pastor-less small congregation who shared what they are doing for them at the present time.

Return to ‘Dinky Chapel’

I will keep the churches anonymous to save their blushes, but I thought that they had really caught the right spirit. Here is what they are up to:

‘We have been providing online ministry since 22 March. Starting 5 April 2020 we will also assist nearby ‘Dinky Chapel’ in the following way. We will record a greeting to the church including a couple of notices and prayer. This will then be edited onto the message I will be preaching to our larger congregation. There will be a ‘Dinky’ specific conclusion edited on as well.

We have created a YouTube page for ‘Dinky Chapel’ and will send their elders a link to the page which they will circulate among their members. We will likely film the Easter message from their chapel building which may be reassuring to them at this stage. We are seeking to come alongside them, not to take them over during this period.’

When I got this report, it made my day! Love in action! This group have set a tremendous example which I hope others will follow. We can have the biggest church in the world, but 1 Corinthians 13 would tell us that without love it is an absolute zero.

I am sure that one of God’s purposes in this crisis is for us to grow in love for one another.

Time to reflect

But we do have to wonder if there might be more that God intends for us through this pandemic. I was at a church, before Christmas, where the pastor had just begun an exposition of Malachi and those words of rebuke from chapter 1 stuck in my mind: ‘“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty.’

Now just this has happened, by the hand of God himself. The churches are something of the NT equivalent of the OT temple (1 Corinthians 3.16), and they can no longer meet. Church buildings and chapels are locked up for the foreseeable future, for the first time in England in over 900 years when Pope Innocent III placed King John’s realm under an interdict. Now however, the doors are shut not just in England but across the world.

Surely this weighty providence should cause all responsible leaders to ponder carefully? Of course, we must continue to love and encourage our people at every turn. But has the way we have been ‘doing church’ not been quite as wonderful as we might have thought it was?

Amidst the increased digital activism which has attended the shutting of the churches we have been told that online church is the greatest opportunity for evangelism in a generation, as the nation is confronted so closely by death. We need to stop and reflect. Have we run to our technology rather than to the Lord himself? Have we truly taken in what has happened? Or have we become too superficial for it to register?

At this point I could expound all the ‘bees in my bonnet’ about the contemporary churches. In providing and depending on so many ‘programmes’ for our people, have we made spirituality too much of a ‘tick box exercise’ rather than a matter of the heart and of a personal walk with God? ….

But I will resist going further. Let each of us take time to pray, search our hearts and think things through for our churches for the glory of God and the good of our people.