Many states in the U.S. are currently subject to stay-at-home orders in attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government has advised against holding any gatherings of more than 10 people. While there are many churches that have switched to virtual religious services to respect these orders, some Americans say their congregations are still gathering, with no plans to stop meeting together.
According to recent poll conducted by three political scientists, 22 percent of respondents said that they had been “encouraged” to attend in-person worship “because of the virus,” and 17 percent said they were still attending worship services in person, Buzzfeed News reports.
At a time where gathering together could mean endangering the lives of others, it’s important that we continue to monitor CDC guidelines and respect stay-at-home orders. We can still gather together as members of the body of Christ, even if that means we’re not physically together.
If we understand the true definition of church, we can understand why it’s ok to gather virtually. Church is commonly understood to be a building used for public Christian worship but the biblical definition characterizes the church as people.
We see the word church used in the Bible multiple ways. First, it is described as the body of Christ. The church is often defined as a local assembly or group of believers. Paul, who was called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, says in his greeting “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). This is just one example of the church being defined as company or assembly.
Next, the church is defined as the body of living, individual believers. When Paul preaches the Gospel after receiving it by revelation from Jesus Christ, he says, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). Paul also said “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). Both of these verses signal that the church is a body of living people.
Finally, it is defined as the universal group of all people who have trusted Christ through the ages. When Peter makes his confession of Christ, Jesus replies, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18). From these examples, we see that church is not something we do individually. It is something we do collectively. A very important aspect of Christian life is not just what you do by yourself but also what you do together with other people. Biblically, the church is considered to be the “family of God”. We understand family to be a group that is mutually dependent on each other. The same goes for the church. Right now, we may not be able to gather with our family of believers physically, but we can answer that call in new ways.
If your church is now gathering together online, this is a great way to stay connected, especially in the age of social distancing. This is important now, more than ever. Don’t think this is a time where you should fall back from church.
God wants us to still gather with our church community because it’s a good habit. The Bible says, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship. But we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer” (Hebrews 10:25). Scripture tells us that it is a good habit to regularly attend church and worship. Church is important for fellowship.
Online church can be a place where we come together to not only hear God’s Word, but also encourage each other. We do this not only through prayer, but also by being involved in classes, groups and serving where we get to know, pray, help and encourage others on an intimate level. Church is a good habit and when it is a regular part of our practice, we benefit and those who we are in community with benefit as well.
When we become Christians, we attend church not simply because it’s a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. We join a church because it’s what Christ called us to do and who Christ made us to be – members of His body. When we are in are union with believers, we are in union with Christ.
Church is a place we have traditionally gathered to model our lives after Jesus’, to live more Godly lives, and to discover our sense of purpose. The church helps us see that we are here to serve and to love. Even in the midst of the coronavirus, we can still make church attendance a priority. It is a part of who we are as believers. Yes, there are a million other things we could be doing on a Sunday but none of these reasons outweigh being in fellowship and mission. This is what God wants for you.