Ignorance can kill. That statement is so true that it doesn’t need any examples. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, some feel that their church is exempt from the medical facts. The “50 States” section of USA Today (Thursday, April 2) carried a report of Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana. He is holding “church” services despite government orders not to. Spell maintains that continuing to conduct services is “not any different from keeping the doors of Walmart or a hospital open.”
The first point we need to make is that the Church is not the building where Spell preaches. The Church is people, not a location. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” In Colossians 4:15, Paul sends a greeting to “Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” The first-century Church did not have a building or a single person who was dominant over everyone else.
The second point is that comparing the Church to Walmart or a hospital is a very ignorant thing to say. While all three are essential to human existence, two of them relate only to a part of our physical needs. You need Walmart or other stores only to get food or other physical essentials. You need a hospital only if you are physically very ill. You need the Church 24/7 for your emotional, psychological, spiritual, and social well-being.
In going to Walmart or the hospital, you rely on humans who are prone to make mistakes. When you “go to church” you are relying on God and His Word, which are always available, and are infallible. Once again, the Church is not a building and not dependent on a single human. The Church is people praying, singing, studying God’s Word, and serving others (See Acts 2:44-47). Holding “church” services by meeting together in one place is very good. But, when necessary, we can still do all of those things without physical closeness.
The third point is that bringing people into a dangerous situation contradicts God’s nature and His teaching. In Acts 12, we read about an angel releasing Peter from prison. The Christians were not exposing themselves to arrest but were secretly gathered in a home praying. Jesus frequently passed out of a situation that was dangerous to Him and others. He never exposed people to a dangerous situation, and His teaching was to avoid evil not to flaunt His power over it. When He rescued a woman from being stoned to death, He told her, “Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:11).
I would not impugn Spell’s motivation for putting his congregation in harm’s way, but that is not what the Christian community is called to do. Holding “church” services is not as important as being the Church.
— John N. Clayton © 2020