Today marks another birthday for the Church. Today the church is 1990 years old (assuming an early date for the resurrection of AD 30). We mark today as the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, and the day that the Holy Spirit fell upon the early disciples and empowered them to deliver the good news to the people gather in Jerusalem. By contrast, Tabernacle/ Temple Judaism lasted from 1440 BC to AD 70, which was about 1509 years (you don’t count the zero year). From a group of 120 on the day before 3000 were added, to today, where a quarter of the earth’s population (about 2 billion) is considered Christian, that’s quite a feat. I think the Church is here to stay.
The church has suffered countless persecutions and been nearly wiped out in one area after another, and yet even today “the gates hell will not prevail against it.” The Church survives, thrives and continues. Jesus is that important. So a three-month closure of church buildings in the United States is not the worst thing to ever happen to the church. Asking Churches to close due to COVID-19 will not destroy the church.
I don’t know who said it, but I have heard the saying that the tree of liberty has to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots. I think that means that from generation to generation, there need to be tangible examples of why we continue to strive for freedom. I also hold that the same ought to be true for the church. For the church to resist complacency, there ought to be from time to time the onus of persecution placed upon the church. The church needs to suffer occasionally to remind everyone that we do not belong to this world. This world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven. And when Christians are made to stand out in a crown of their peers, mocked or even jeered, we find faith tested and made sure. Will you still believe when the world singles you out? Will you testify to your faith or duck behind the cover of conformity?
1900 years ago or so, Christians were ordered, along with everyone else, to pay homage to the Emperor by coming before an altar, pouring out a little oil or wine, and saying, “Caesar is Lord.” This was no casual usage of lord, as it was meant to say, Caesar is the almighty deity. Christians in good conscience could not do this. They could not bow to the will of the state. But not all. Some Christians reasoned among themselves that it’s only words. It’s only a little oil. And they looked down on their brothers who would not give such “respect” to the governing authorities. Those who refused were arrested for atheism (yes, that was a legal charge in ancient Rome) for refusing to worship the Emperor. Many were beaten, some even put to death. All because they wouldn’t pour out a little oil and say a few words.
I think we need this “light and momentary affliction” upon the church. We need a little persecution, and little inconvenience, to put our faith to the test. Do we really believe what we believe, or is it just words? Do we really believe God is sovereign? Or do we allow the State to tell us when and where to worship? I can admit that for a short time, the Church can listen to Science and heed its warnings. I also believe that short time has passed. States that continue to hold on their their power of forbidding assembly, particularly for the Church, are putting themselves in the place of God, and have never had the right to do so.
If Science is true, then in a few days, we will start to see the rioters and looters begin to get sick, and their hospitals will be overloaded, and Science will be vindicated. But if they do not, why should Christians be arrested to meeting together peacefully and worship the Creator and the Savior through the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when they let pass hordes of rioters and looters without reprisal?
The time for abundance of caution has passed. Now those who love God will be revealed as they emerge from their homes to worship in the Lord’s house. Can you worship in your own home? Absolutely. I hope you do everyday. But let us not forsake the meeting of ourselves together in the assembly. It is a strong statement to the world that the Church is alive and well, even after 1990 years.
God grant us the strength and courage to stand against those who would keep us from You, who by their demands for “an abundance of caution” and “flattening the curve” keep peaceful Christians from meeting together for worship. Lord I know the issues are complex, and the Church is flexible, but Father let us not shun one another. We were not called to shun and “social distance” but to love, to expand the gospel, and this You have placed upon us as Your ambassadors. Lord grant us wisdom in this. Help us to be as peacful as doves, but as wise as serpents. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.