When is the Church not the Church?

When is the Church not the Church?

14th June 2020

The simple answer to the questions is, when the church is operating under the current lockdown rules. Before I explain further, I just want to say that everything I am about to say is based on the situation right now in England where I live. I do not know exactly what the lockdown restrictions are in other countries.

Since March this year the government has imposed severe restrictions upon the citizens of England in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. These restrictions impact on every part of society, including the church. For the church this has meant that we are no longer able to meet in our church buildings or home groups. And we have all been held separate in our family homes. In other words, as a church, we are no longer able to meet together physically or work together physically. In response, many churches have stopped most activities and have turned to meeting online through video conferencing. In doing so, the church’s activities have been restricted to online or virtual Sunday services, prayer meetings and bible studies. In effect we are left with a virtual church on the internet. But is this right?

When it comes to understanding what the Church is meant to be, we need to turn to the New Testament where the Church was first revealed. So how does the Bible define the Church. The original Greek word for Church is Ekklesia which means the assembly of believers. And in Matthew 18:20 Jesus described the Church with these words: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” It is clear from the New Testament that Christians are meant to assemble or gather together physically in one place to worship God, use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, build one another up, exercise ministries and have love feasts. But is that happening now?

Before I go any further, I just want to list those things that the Church can no longer do under the government-imposed restrictions:

  • We can’t assemble together in one place.
  • We can’t have love feasts or share bread and wine in communion.
  • We can’t have baptisms.
  • We can’t worship together in accordance with scripture.
  • We can’t do missionary outreaches.
  • We can’t preach in public to groups of people.
  • We can’t debate with Muslims at Speakers Corner in London.
  • We can’t have any events such as conferences, summer camps or exhibitions.
  • We can’t lay hands on the sick or anoint them with oil.
  • We can’t include those who are not on the internet.
  • We can’t effectively counsel anyone.
  • We can’t shake hands.
  • We can’t give each other a holy kiss.
  • We can’t give any physical comfort to each other such as holding hands or putting an arm around.
  • We can’t provide a shoulder to cry on.
  • We can’t have proper home groups (2 metre distancing is impractical).
  • We can’t provide hospitality.
  • Many of the talents and gifts that Christians have are now lying dormant.

 

We can have bible studies online but they are nowhere near as effective as they are face to face. We can have Sunday services online but they are limited (we can’t sing hymns together) and unbiblical. We can have prayer meetings online but yet again they are not as effective and they are unbiblical.

At the moment we are able to open our church buildings for private prayer but that is based on a false understanding of true Christianity. As I have stated above, the Church is the assembly of believers and that is what our church buildings are for. Private prayer can be done anywhere; there is nothing special about our buildings. It appears at the moment that the government is going to allow us in the near future to use our church buildings for other activities such as collective worship. However, we will have to keep two metres apart, wear masks and we won’t be allowed to sing hymns. When that happens we will still not have a biblical Church.

I hope you can now see why I said from the beginning of this blog that the Church is not the Church when it is under the current lockdown restrictions and that won’t change when we can use our buildings again in July. In effect the Church no longer exists as it is meant to be. Instead we have a false online version of the Church. And that won’t change until the Church returns to the biblical model if it ever does.