I was reminded this week of how relatively unaffected our church has been by the coronavirus. We have not escaped the affects of the virus. Many in the church have family who contracted the illness, some are unable to attend because of the virus, we went through a time of limited fellowship and curtailed services and we have made some permanent changes in our ministry activities. However, many churches, even in the UP, are still navigating the difficult decisions of how and when to re-open all their programs. Some churches in more heavily affected areas downstate have not met together since March.
This year has forced churches and Christians to wrestle with what is truly essential for a church. We have all had to evaluate what makes a a church a church and what things are not necessary. For many, these questions were answered a long time ago, but this year put those beliefs to the test. Consider, is it necessary for the church to gather in person? Must a church gather in a church building? Can the church gather and not sing together? Does the church have to collect an offering? Do we need bulletins? These and other questions have been and will continue to be asked by churches as we all continue to work through what is the best response to the needs of our church family during this time of the coronavirus.
What things are truly necessary for the church? The Bible tells us a few things are absolutely essential for the church. The church must gather. A church is not the Christians in a particular city, town or other large geographic region. The church is a group of Christians gathered and regularly gathering together. The New Testament always treats the local church as one that meets together. When the church meets several things are necessary. The preaching of the Word of God is central to the gathering of believers.(1 Timothy 4:13; Titus 2:15; 2 Timothy 4:2) The church needs to pray together. (Acts 12:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 13:8; James 5:13-16) When the church gathers, the fellowship must be loving, humble and harmonious. (Philippians 2:2-5; Ephesians 4:1-6; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:23) The church must sing together. Despite official efforts to discourage corporate singing, the Bible commands Christians to sing together. (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 4:15) Christians are also to give for the support of the work of the ministry. (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:9-11; 1 Timothy 5:17-18) The church must faithfully remember the death of Jesus in communion. Though the Bible does not specify how often the church should participate in the Lord’s Supper, Scripture teaches the church should celebrate communion together until He returns. (1 Corinthians 11:26) These things are essential. They can be accomplished in climate controlled, well furnished, multi-million dollar building, in a dusty field or in a bus driving around the city to avoid detection by the authorities.
This list reminds us of what is truly important for the church. We can do without many things in the church. We can do without a building, pews, pulpit, musical instruments, live streaming, a sound system or coffee. We do not need all those things to glorify God, edify one another and evangelize the lost. A digital projector does not promote holiness. Comfortable chairs do not convict of sin. Hymnals do not transform the heart. Many of the things we enjoy at church are truly helpful, but they are not necessary. Let us give thanks to God for what we have. Let us be careful to not confuse the many luxuries we have in the American church with those things which are truly necessary.