The President recently caused a stir and opened a debate when he declared churches to be essential and demanded that governors allow churches to open for worship. Some celebrated the wisdom and truth of the President’s statement. Some decried it as reckless and dangerous. I’ve been asked if I think church is essential and of course, I do. Some may think church is optional or is essential only for those who “need it.” Even after making his declaration, the President spent his Sunday morning playing golf. I suspect he wasn’t the only one on a golf course and not attending an essential church.
Is church essential? And what of it is essential? Here are two thoughts.
It is essential that we worship and that we worship together. Closed churches perpetuate a lie. Closed churches say that God is irrelevant. Much of the way we live and work agrees. We do our work. We play. We indulge our needs. And it matters little whether there is a god or not. Someone has said in our daily lives we are functional atheists. Closed churches reinforce the lie that God is powerless. The book of Revelation was written to expose this very falsehood. It was written to a group of churches suffering persecution under Rome. It was easy to see Rome held the power. All this talk about Jesus being King of Kings and Lord of Lords seemed a fantasy. Rome could do as it wished and what it wished was to imprison believers. Jesus was irrelevant. Where was he? After a message to individual churches, the Spirit pulls back the veneer we see and shows us what is real. We “come up here” and see from a heavenly viewpoint. We see nature in constant worship. The people of God throughout the ages surrounding the throne of God. Angels singing new songs of praise. Celebration and joy and God enthroned in the center of it all. We see a slain Lamb standing, reaching out, and taking the plan of God for the world into his own hands. He does so because power and authority, and this is true, is gained through sacrifice and love and can never be seized. Worship is occurring at the heart of the universe. That’s what’s real. The illusion that God is not at the center of everything is false. Open churches where people are gathering together to worship are a window into the deepest reality in the universe. We remind the functional atheists what is truly real when we gather to worship together. That’s essential.
It is also essential that we do not demand our rights, and it is equally essential that we do not use power or force of any kind, even political power, to make sure we get to do what we want and by doing so make other people pay a price. Look at Jesus. Listen to what he tells us. What you see and hear is we are never to use force. We are never out to win. We are never to see another person as our enemy to be beaten. We are to be like God who sees everyone as someone to be helped, served, loved. Even now, especially now, we are to look at the people around us and to ask, “What is the best thing I can do for you?” Right now the best thing we can do to love others is maybe not to worship together.
The problem we face is both of these essentials are true. What do we do when truth pulls you in two directions? Try to seek a balance. Declare both. Obey both. So we stay physically distant and socially connected while we worship Jesus together.