Last week, when he live streamed our All Comers Bible class covering the books of Ezra & Nehemiah, Wayne Brewer made many good points. Among them were some things he said about the status of our Lord’s church during the period of the Babylonian exile as compared to what is going on today with the “Covid-19 Exile.” He made the point that the work and worship of Christians is not limited to a church building. The fact that we are currently restricted from a physical assembly (for reasons of health concerns for our most vulnerable members, and all of us, really) does not mean that we cannot and do not worship. If you want to say that our freedoms have been taken away from us I don’t know that I can offer much of an argument to the contrary. But, then we have never been through a pandemic like this one. It has tried our patience, wreaked havoc of our nerves, tested the limits of our endurance to remain quarantined, challenged our resolve to keep the proper social distance and wear face coverings in public, but above all it has forced us into a different way of doing “church.” Pardon my terminology.
For as long as I can remember our brethren have said, “The church is not the building. The church is the people.” This is usually said in response to those (most often denominational people) that think the church building is the church. They speak of “your church” and “my church”; they refer to a building and call it a “church,” and we seek to correct their thinking. I wonder if we need to correct ourselves. In the words of Paul, “you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom. 2:21)
Faithful Christians take the assembly of the church seriously. Most of the people I know are those who are present “every time the doors are opened.” Of late, the doors have not been opened, and it pains us all. Most of us understand and are compliant with the situation as it is, realizing that we will be back together again soon, just not soon enough. So, no one need “preach” to us about the importance of assembly. I hope that no one is still clinging to the misguided notion that brethren have forsaken the assembling of themselves together (Heb. 10:25). I pray that mature minds realize that we are not being pressured by government opposition to cease preaching the crucified Christ. If that were the case there would have been a massive uprising two months ago.
It seems that what we are going through is somewhat analogous to what Paul called “the present distress” (1 Cor. 7:26). The Greek word for “present” could be rendered “impending,” suggesting a crisis that was just around the corner for the churches then. The translation being “present” suggests that the churches were in the midst of it at the time Paul wrote. Whatever the distress was Paul chose a certain course of action (regarding marriage) for himself, which he elected not to impose upon others.
In a similar vein we are facing a present distress that has forced us to adopt a certain course of action as a congregation. The elders have decided that sheltering in place and worshiping in our homes each Lord’s Day is the best course of action to follow. Other congregations have adopted the same practice and some have devised other procedures. All have reacted to the present distress in one way or another. The present distress has created tension in all of us. Most of the tension has focused over whether nor not it is right to observe the Lord’s Supper at home.
The question is whether or not it is scriptural to observe the Lord’s Supper in any setting except when the entire church has come together. People don’t have any issue with singing, praying, teaching/preaching at home, or with sending in their contribution. For some reason we have made the Lord’s Supper sine qua non to the assembly, and the rest of worship important, but negligible. That is, if some are on a tight schedule to be somewhere at a certain time on a Sunday morning they will exit the assembly immediately after the Lord’s Supper. They dare not miss communion, but the rest is trivial. The practice of taking the Lord’s Supper at home can become an excuse for not being in the assembly. Some brethren who somehow manage to find a way to get most anywhere they wish to go sometimes find it too difficult to make it to worship on the Lord’s Day. One is surely struck with the inconsistency of that practice!
Are we to think that in his journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:16) Paul was not isolated from assemblies during that time? David Roper described this as “a few weeks’ voyage that took months” (Truth for Today Commentary, Acts 15-28, pg. 449). If Paul, Luke and Aristarchus had access to the elements of the Lord’s Supper in their travels can we imagine that they might have communed together in their berth? When Paul was kept under house arrest at Rome for two years, and unable to meet with the church, is it possible that communion might have been brought to him? (Acts 28:17-31)
Each of the expressions of praise to God are involved in the corporate worship of the church along with the Lord’s Supper. If not, why not? Singing is a corporate activity of the church (Col. 3:16). The Lord’s Supper was observed when the church came together (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-22). Giving at the church in Corinth was to be taken up on the first day of the week for the particular need of aiding the poor brethren of Judea (1 Cor. 16:2). What Paul said about “men” (males) praying everywhere was charged to Timothy while he was at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3; 2:8). It is a congregational activity. In addition to that, if the men may pray anywhere it might also include private meetings outside the congregational context.
It has been debated over the years whether it is right or wrong to take the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins. Typically, in most any congregation, some are in favor of it and some are against it. Has it ever occurred to us that those who ask to have the Lord’s Supper brought to them often do not show equal interest in the singing, praying, teaching and giving?
The present distress has taken us away from the public assembly only temporarily. It will not last. I hope that brethren will love and support one another during this difficult period of isolation. I pray no one will add to the distress by retro condemnations and second-guessing elderships for the decisions that have been rendered. Let’s love, support, pray for one another and treasure the bond of fellowship that we have in Christ!