How do you “do” church when you can’t “do church”?March 20, 2020
These are certainly interesting times, aren’t they? So much is changing, and so fast. I think we are all starting to feel the loss of fellowship and communal worship. When it comes to being the church, the things that formed the foundations of our spiritual life are suddenly …. different. All the truths remain, but in a new context, with new rules, less organizational structure and less ‘official’ spiritual oversight. How do you “do” church when you can’t “do church” – at least the way we’ve been used to doing it?
I think there are some great lessons to be learned from our brothers and sisters in Acts 8. The early church lived in interesting times as well! They were part of a dynamic, growing body of believers in Jerusalem, led by the Apostles Peter, James and John. The Lord was “adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41, 5:14). The church was emboldened to speak for Christ in the face of resistance (Acts 4:31) and the believers enjoyed tremendous fellowship and unity in their profession and their possessions (Acts 4:32). The Holy Spirit was confirming the gospel through miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 5:12). The office of deacon was established (Acts 6) and the work of mercy moved forward with great effect. It was a wonderful time to be a believer.
And then it all changed. In Acts 8:1 we read that a “great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
Almost overnight, life was suddenly very different - including church life! How do you “do church” when the church is scattered to the four winds: when fellowship groups and relationships are severed, diaconal networks are broken, and you are separated from apostolic oversight and preaching? The answer is simple – you do what you can, where you can, to continue to live out what you are, the people of God.
The great persecution of 8:1 led to the scattered church acting…. like the church. The word was preached (8:4), signs and miracles continued to confirm that preaching (8:13), and apostolic leadership was expanded geographically (8:14) and in personnel: Deacon Philip becomes a leader (8:4ff), Saul is converted (Acts 9), new leaders are raised up in each location, like Ananias in the city of Damascus (Acts 9:10). In other words, the church quickly adapted and continued to “do church” in their new context. The new context provided new opportunities for gospel ministry which the church eagerly embraced. The saints learned to use their spiritual gifts and the gospel mission moved on!
Though our current situation isn’t identical, there are applicable similarities. We are in a new context – our normal church life has been upended. But the church of Jesus Christ, equipped and empowered by the Spirit of Christ, always moves on. The Word will still be preached. The gospel message will continue to bear fruit as our lives are being transformed and reformed by its power. Spiritual gifts will still be put to use – whether teaching, leading, giving, or serving. New opportunities for ministry will become evident and embraced. The gospel mission will move forward, in our homes and in our networks. This will all take place because God’s people can’t help it; the life and love of Christ compel us to live out what we are – the church.
These are great days for reflection. As your schedule opens up take time to ask some basic questions: Who are you in Christ? What are you living for? How can you serve your Savior right where you are? Begin with personal devotions and family worship. Start conversations with your Christian friends and small groups about practical ways to encourage each other, serve brothers and sisters in need, and engage our nervous community – in other words, act like the church of Jesus Christ.
Let this prayer be a guide and encouragement!
2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:1 (ESV)
11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord is at work, right now, to glorify His name in us – and us in Him. That’s magnificent. Amen?
— Pastor Dale