Lenten Devotional Day 34

THE CHURCH TOGETHER AND APART.

While I am sheltering in place in my home, I use Facebook to pray for and laugh with my friends, AND to attend several church services on Sunday. Last week I found an online worship service at 10:00 and afterward I listened to my own pastor preach live at 11:00.  As many more American churches are streaming their worship services, Christians perhaps understand better that we can be “in church” even when we can’t be in the building we cherish or with the larger group of believers we love. I would be interested to hear how various churches observe Communion in these days.

One thoughtful statement appearing in various forms on Facebook is the concept that “the church has left the building.” This statement reminds me that all believers together are the habitation of the Spirit. In the first Corinthian letter to his most troublesome congregation Paul writes: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? . . . God’s temple is holy and you Christians are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17 NLT) The earliest Christians did not have a dedicated house of worship. The small congregations dotted across Judah, Samaria, Galilee, Asia, Crete, Macedonia, and Rome worshiped in homes and all together worldwide they were the holy temple of God. If Christians take the attitude that they are not deprived of the opportunity to worship during quarantine; but rather they are deployed to be salt and light outside the large gathering, missional activity may increase among us. 

Another saying quoted often by my Facebook friends is by A. W. Tozer: “Worshipers never leave the church  . . . we carry our sanctuaries with us wherever we go.” Tozer is paraphrasing I Corinthians 6:19. In the same Corinthian letter Paul admonished his people to avoid sexual sin: “don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself.” (I Cor. 6:19 NLT) Each of us individually is a sanctuary, as a popular worship song reminds us. Perhaps as we listen to Sunday sermons in our homes, sing along with the praise band, and type “Amen” in the comment section of the streaming online church service, believers are more aware that we individually are a worship center, our bodies the very home of the Holy Spirit. If we are the sacred place where God resides, we can’t with integrity practice one attitude, language, or behavior at the church building and another very different lifestyle at home. Wherever individual Christians go, we are a temple of God, a holy sanctuary.

What can we learn from this Coronavirus season when we can’t gather collectively in our “brick and mortar” churches? 

  • Together and separately, Christians themselves are the residence of God. Through us, God makes His presence felt and accomplishes His mission in the world. Maybe our worship and service outside the church building is more indicative of our Christian discipleship than previously realized.
  • We cannot depend on the several hours of instruction and worship in the physical building on Sunday to be our main spiritual nourishment as believers. Churches should intentionally prepare believers to nourish themselves at home with daily Bible reading and prayer.
  • The Christian family is the main spiritual influence for our children and youth. The church has about four hours maximum during an average week to instruct children/youth. Training parents and other family members (like grandparents) to be the spiritual examples and teachers of their children must be a priority for our spiritual leaders.
  • This COVID-19 outbreak certainly requires us as God’s people to demonstrate a Lenten heart. Lent is a time to reflect on our journey with the Lord, to be willing to join Christ in full submission to God and sacrificial love to others, to change as directed by the Holy Spirit. 

Rebecca Luman, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Formation and Instruction at Wesley Biblical Seminary; Director of Spiritual Formation and Distance Learning.