Below is a letter sent to the congregation of First Central Bible Church to update them on Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.
Category Archives: Church
I am puzzled by those who say they have no interest and desire to be part of a local church. I heard that sentiment again most recently from some students in one of the online classes I teach. To be honest, the statement and the attitude behind it bothers me.
I freely admit that I am biased when it comes to the topic. I grew up in the church. I am a pastor and have devoted my life and career to the ministry of the church. I have a personal stake and investment in this issue.
However, the value of the local church is not merely based on my personal opinion and feelings alone. You can trace the importance of the church throughout the pages of the New Testament.
- Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
- The book of Acts describes the beginnings of the church.
- The book of Acts describes the pattern and practice of the church (Acts 2:42-47).
- The church in Antioch led the way in reaching the world with the gospel (Acts 13:1-4).
- The apostle Paul planted churches as part of his missionary strategy (Acts 13-14).
- Paul wrote letters to churches to help strengthen and establish them.
- Elders were given the task of leading and shepherding churches (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3).
- Jesus addressed the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.
- The writer of Hebrews specifically warned his readers not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Some might say that they only need a small group. After all, they reason, Jesus said that when two or three are gathered together, he is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). While that promise is true, the context of the passage (Matthew 18:15-20) is about church discipline and judgment, not about small group fellowship.
Don’t buy into the lie of the enemy that you can live the Christian life by yourself. Don’t move through life as an orphan cut off from the family of God. Find a local church where you can learn, grow, and serve. Ask God to change your perspective about the value and importance of being part of a local church.
My wife and I have become fans of Masterpiece Theater on PBS. We have watched and enjoyed several of their programs including Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Endeavour, Poldark, Victoria, World at War, and Grantchester. Several of the programs are historical dramas that provide insight into the history, culture, and values of the respective time period in Great Britain.
While we have enjoyed most of the programs, we have been surprised and puzzled by how the clergy is portrayed in Grantchester. It is a drama that takes place in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Cambridge. The main character is a Vicar in the Church of England named Sydney Chambers who works with the local police to help solve crimes. The stories are entertaining murder mysteries.
In the first season, Sydney is suffering from PTSD (although the term is not used) from his time as a soldier in the Scots Guards during World War II. He self-medicates by consuming alcohol and smoking. Over the course of the first four seasons of the show, he also sleeps with at least three different women. Rather than being portrayed as a rogue, Sydney is viewed by all as a “good man,” someone who is simply “human.” Because of his actions, he struggles with his guilt, identity, purpose, and faith in God and the Church, which in turn leads him deeper into alcoholism. As Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (who doesn’t believe in God) tells Sydney, “You fall into the cycle of sin, guilt, drink, sin, guilt, drink …” When they show Sydney preaching, he is giving pious platitudes and self-help wisdom.
In addition to the Vicar, there is a Curate named Leonard, who wrestles with homosexual leanings. There is also an Archdeacon who covers up the sexual abuse practiced by another Vicar in a different parish.
On the one hand, the dramas are well written, entertaining murder mysteries. As an historical drama, they present an accurate portrayal of the 1950’s & 1960’s church culture in England. On the other hand, the program subtly devalues those who serve in ministry. The clergy are portrayed as hypocrites who preach godliness but engage in sinful habits behind closed doors. Dramas like Grantchester subtly devalue and lower our respect for clergy. No wonder the church is viewed as irrelevant.
I remember back in the day when worship was so much better. We could sing and praise as we felt led. Everyone was welcome at church. We could enjoy rich, close fellowship. We could share coffee and donuts and talk about our lives around the table. We expressed our compassion by putting an arm around someone’s shoulder as they poured out their heart. Our children loved going to Sunday School and learning Bible stories from their teachers. We still have the crafts and lesson papers they brought home. Those were the good old days, B.C. (Before Coronavirus).
Now, we have to wear a mask when we go to church and we are required to sit six feet away from the next person. We have to plan ahead and register our attendance and hope there is still room for us. We have to rely on Zoom conversations instead of being close and present. We cannot share food and conversation before or after the worship service. There are no children’s programs because of all the restrictions and guidelines. Worship was so much better when we could pass the offering plate instead of putting it in a box by the door.
It’s just not the same. Worship was so much better before all this happened!
The complaints we feel today and the longing for yesterday is not new to this generation. Almost 2,500 years ago, a group of people expressed a similar anguish and longing for the past. The Jewish people built the first temple and dedicated it under the leadership of King Solomon. 400+ years later, the nation was carried off into exile and the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. After 70 years of exile, God allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. When the foundation was laid for the second temple, many of those who had worshipped in the first temple wept (Ezra 3:12).
It is very easy to fall into the comparison trap and give into the idolatry of nostalgia. On the one hand, we should grieve for what we have lost. On the other hand, we should give thanks that God is still in control. On the one hand, we should acknowledge that church and worship have to be done in a different manner than before. On the other hand, we can rejoice that God’s mercy is new every morning. On the one hand, we should mourn that life has changed and things are different. On the other hand, we can give thanks that we have a message of hope that we can share with the world. On the one hand, we can complain that we have to make one more change. On the other hand, we can rejoice that God is still in the business of changing hearts and lives.
Yes, the Coronavirus has changed how we do church and how we worship. But we still have much to praise God for.
We can weep or we can rejoice. Which will you do today?
First Central Bible Church (building) is reopening tomorrow, May 31, for worship. We’ve spent the past 10 weeks doing virtual worship services. Now, we are allowed to once again meet together, though with some limitations. (We will also livestream our worship service on Facebook for those who cannot join us.) As part of our preparations, we’ve had to limit our access and seating and find new ways to do old things. Here’s some photos of our preparation process.
On any normal Sunday, pastors minister to a cross section of people. Young and old. Immature and mature. Weak and strong. Struggling and stable. Liberal and conservative. Vocal and quiet. Extroverts and introverts. Givers and takers. Participants and spectators. Sinners and saints.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a whole new dimension of opinions and viewpoints. As churches begin to reopen and start meeting again, pastors are once again placed firmly in the middle with the challenge of ministering to people on various stages of the spectrum.
|On the one hand||
On the other hand
|Stay home and stay safe||
End the lockdown
|The virus is deadly||
The lockdown is politically motivated
|The crisis is real||
It’s all a hoax
|Face masks are required||
Face masks don’t work
|Self-isolation keeps people safe||
Self-isolation is killing the economy
|Flatten the curve / Find a cure / Wait for a vaccine||
The goalposts keep changing
|Churches are non-essential||
Worship is a First Amendment Right
|Churches should not have corporate worship because singing is dangerous and spreads the virus||
Scripture tells me to praise God through singing
|Practice social distancing||
I show compassion by hugging
The writings of the apostle Paul provide pastors with a good model of how to minister to a divided church. 1 & 2 Corinthians in particular were written to a church divided over party politics, spiritual gifts, role of women, practice of worship, church discipline, and a number of other issues. Paul’s emphasis was to get the church to focus on Christ and Christ alone (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
In the book of Romans, Paul gave counsel as how to act when you find yourself on the opposite side of the table from another believer. Paul encouraged both parties to place themselves under the authority of the government leaders (13:1-7), seek to love one another (13:8-14), not to pass judgment on someone who holds a different opinion (14:1-12) and not to cause another person to stumble because you believe your position is “right” and their opinion is “wrong” (14:12-23).
While we as pastors cannot please every person and satisfy every whim, we do need to be gracious as we serve all those who are present. As we do, we must keep our focus on God and seek to please him above all.
We generally associate the term, advent, with the month between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. During the season of Advent, we anticipate the arrival of Christ and we prepare our hearts and lives to celebrate his birth. Our sense of joy increases and builds to a climax as we get closer to Christmas Day.
There is a sense in which the church is stuck in a season of advent right now. During the COVID-19 crisis, churches are not allowed to meet or gather together. The longer the mandate for social distancing lingers, the greater the sense of anticipation builds for when we can come back together. We long for the day of deliverance and a time of corporate celebration.
As we wait for the day of our release, we should take the opportunity to prepare our hearts and lives. We should search the Scriptures to learn more about Jesus. We should reexamine our priorities and schedules to make room for him. We should search our hearts and confess our sins so we can have a closer relationship with him. We should look forward to the day when we can celebrate Christ with other believers and Christ followers.
Massachusetts is beginning a four-phased approach to reopening the Commonwealth. Places of worship are included in the first phase. There are three documents that spell out what churches need to do in order to function within the rules.
- Sector Specific Workplace Safety Standards For Places of Worship and Religious Services To Address COVID-19
- Places of Worship Protocols Summary
- Places of Worship Checklist
The leaders of First Central Bible Church will be meeting to work through the guidelines and determine when we will start holding in-person services again. This is certainly an answer to prayer and a cause for praise.