by Kevin Burton
The Burtons have entered the building, the church building.
We have been watching church on the big screen of my Macintosh computer in the basement for more than two years now. That was a virus thing of course. We didn’t close our Bibles; we were just trying to stay safe.
Last week we returned to going to church in person (wearing our masks). We plan to go again today.
Our original plan was to have our vacation serve as the official return to in-person services. We took our Sunday go-to-meeting clothes north with us in a separate suitcase.
The vacation was an attempt to get back to normal life (whatever that is) in many ways.
But the Saturday before was our first night on the road. We were more tired than we thought and got up late on Sunday morning. We had picked a church to attend, Antioch Baptist Church in Omaha, but with us getting up so late, not knowing how to get to the church, we decided to watch their livestream instead.
Antioch had what we both thought was a dynamic service (about the three Hebrew servants being thrown into the fiery furnace) that morning. It was the first time I could remember wishing I had been there in person.
Not attending in person bothers my wife Jeannette much more than it does me. I did not grow up in the church, she did. I have been the one content to listen to Chuck Swindoll on the radio and call it good.
“Church was a very big deal in my family,” Jeannette said, describing how her parents had the family in church most every week and the outfits her grandmother would make and/or buy for the siblings and cousins on Special Sundays such as Easter.
I don’t remember ever being in a church with my family except for funerals. With that background, my devotion to God did not lead necessarily to regular church attendance, though I have attended here and there, even serving as a Sunday School teacher briefly.
Churches, including the one I work for now, have been one of the leading venues for spreading the virus.
As a church, when the government tells you that you have to close your doors, you would certainly think twice before you obeyed. That’s because the Bible teaches us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together for corporate worship (Heb. 10: 24-25) and because it sets a precedent for government restrictions on freedom of religion.
But even before thinking twice, church leaders should have been praying without ceasing on the matter.
I say it’s a pretty easy call that people’s physical safety in a pandemic would dictate that you use a different means of “assembling” for a time.
In fact, we switched churches during that two-year basement church time because the pastor at our old church put what I thought was undue pressure on people to return to attending in person. This was before any vaccines were available and I thought that was unconscionable.
“We’re better together,” he said.
No fake. But there was an obvious reason not to attend.
There is a politics to church today, as was true in Jesus’ time on earth. This is fodder for somebody else’s blog, not mine.
Please don’t mistake a building for the church. God’s people are the church. They use certain buildings for convenience.
So why attend in person? “Interaction with people, building relationships, accountability, outreach,” are reasons Jeannette came up with just off the top of her head.
Meeting in person is the way to do church. I don’t say it’s required at all times for all Christians, but it’s preferable. This is a celebration of salvation through Jesus and a commitment to the Great Commission, to spread the gospel to all the world.
You can’t get that full experience in your basement.
“Not that God can’t use you where you are,” Jeannette said, “but I kind of think we have missed some opportunities.”
Jeannette is much more outgoing than I am. I have attended some churches as a sort of evangelical wallflower. That’s my comfort zone and it will take some prayer and prodding to move me from it. But I’m praying God will put us in places and situations where we can contribute to the greater family of God.