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Jeremie Beller makes a biblical case for not meeting during the global coronavirus pandemic.
Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Amid coronavirus pandemic, a theology for not ‘assembling’

If the Gospel is real and relevant, and the church is truly bigger than our buildings, now is the time to show it!

OKLAHOMA CITY — Well, this is awkward.

We are used to arguing about the importance of the church “assembling together.” We’ve debated the importance of Bible classes, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights for years. Now we are trying to justify not meeting. Who saw that coming?

Jeremie Beller | Views

Jeremie Beller | Views

Of course, the church has ignored government bans before. Rome didn’t want Christians meeting and “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:21). They still met. Courageous Christians in China and Iran have met underground in defiance of government regulation for years.

But this time is different. It’s not because of our conviction that “Jesus is Lord” that the government has asked us not to assemble. Instead, the government has requested we not meet out of concern for our neighbors. Ironically, they are calling on businesses, schools and churches to practice justice and mercy. We are being asked to love our neighbor. Government officials have even called for people of faith to pray.

The church is being asked to be the church. They want us to live out the meaning of our confession. And our confession is much bigger than our assembly.

Related: Churches of Christ offering livestream worship

That’s not to say being together is unimportant. In moments of fear, the church assembled to pray (Acts 4:23ff). In times of doubt, Christians were encouraged to continue meeting (Hebrews 10:25).

“Forsaking the assembly” has nothing to do with canceling meeting times out of love and concern for our neighbors, older members and others most at risk. It has nothing to do with reorganizing or repurposing times of assembly for other kinds of ministry.

“Forsaking the assembly” is a conscious effort to avoid being with other Christians, selfishly turning your back on the community of faith and refusing to live out the responsibilities of our calling. Elders and church leaders choosing to cancel or reimagine assemblies are doing anything but “forsaking the assembly.”

Being together is not the end in itself.

The church assembles because we are saved, not to be saved. Assembling is how we encourage each other, lift each other up and blend our voices in praise to the God who saves us.

Related: How Churches of Christ responded when the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ killed millions

Thankfully, many of us are blessed with modern technology allowing us to accomplish some of these objectives in different ways. It is not a perfect replacement, but it is helpful. (Our resident church hugger declared last Sunday that this virus is clearly of the devil.) Technology allows us to receive many blessings of community without threatening to harm our broader community.

It turns out, not assembling for a short time may be the best way to be the true church in these difficult times.

God sent Jeremiah to encourage the Babylonian exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7). Now is our chance to do the same.

If the Gospel is real and relevant, and the church is truly bigger than our buildings, now is the time to show it!

The religious police of Jesus’ day accused him of ignoring the sabbath when he chose to “do good” and restore a man’s withered hand (Matthew 12:13). Jesus reminded them how God desires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7). His desire is unchanged.

If God chooses, this crisis will pass. But this crisis has created unlimited opportunities to live out our confession. Our brothers, sisters and neighbors are sick, hungry and anxious.

If the Gospel is real and relevant, and the church is truly bigger than our buildings, now is the time to show it!

JEREMIE BELLER has served as Congregational Minister for the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City since 2002. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Communication for Oklahoma Christian University.


Filed under: canceling church Coronavirus covid Covid and church COVID-19 forsaking the assembly government restrictions In the Word Jeremie Beller Oklahoma City Opinion religious freedom Top Stories Views

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