This letter was written May 2020 after a number of attempts to sit down with my pastor or even an assistant pastor about my concerns over closing up our churches. Instead I was met with silence. Absolute silence. You see, I believe Christians are being put to the test. God’s threshing room is operating at full throttle. The wheat and chaff are being separated.
In conversations with my Christian and non-Christian friends I have made this argument: When a corporation, charity, educational institution, government, mother/father, pilot, pastor, soldier, or whatever job you can think of forgets what their primary, intended purpose is they go astray. Christian churches’ primary purpose is to bring the Word of God to people who need to hear it. It is to have Christians and searching non-Christians be in communion with each other to praise God for our salvation. It is to serve God and God’s people. The primary purpose is NOT to keep people from catching a virus. Now, that doesn’t mean that safety and security are thrown out the window. Just like our schools, whose primary purpose is to teach our children — not keep them from catching a virus — our churches must stay focused on God’s plan. I laud those corporations and small businesses who have not forgotten their primary purpose — to bring goods to customers. Somehow they have figured out how to also keep their customers and employees safe. Christian churches should place themselves at least on the same plane as Costco or Walmart. I, for one, think our churches have a much greater role to play in God’s universe.
After I sent this letter to my church and church leaders I waited for the storm to come. And it did. I found it interesting that the people we all see as “plugged in” at our churches were the most offended. In fact, I was told by one that Satan was working in me. I also got the “who do you think you are?” But it was regular, church-going people who spoke to me with shouts of “hallelujah!” We “regular Christians” are begging for communion. We NEED each other. We need to see each other raising our hands to God in praise. If you are a pastor and reading this, we need you.
“I told my friend today that I’m about to commit a “Jerry Maguire.” For those of you who haven’t seen the movie here’s what I mean. Jerry, a sports agent at a large firm, has a “come to Jesus” moment one night about the nature of his business and how it has become de-personalized. He writes a manifesto and shares it with all his colleagues. And while they all think what he says is great, they turn against him, shunning him.
My manifesto is not about a job, it’s about Faith, or the lack of it from our churches. In these uncertain times we have allowed Satan to use all his dirty tricks against us. And we have willingly followed him like the Pied Piper. We have failed at God’s biggest test since Jesus’ crucifixion. And we’ve failed gloriously. We have been Judas in the garden willingly pointing out the rule breakers. We are Peter denying Christ out of fear of punishment.
Just as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:14, the devil has masqueraded as an angel of light. His deception has been as cunning as with Eve. Our churches have closed and our pastors have hidden away under the guise of “saving people.” We have allowed the realm of worldliness to define the role the church plays in our Christian lives. We have deemed ourselves “non-essential.” All the while our role of bringing people to the one true Savior has diminished. We are no longer in the business of saving souls.
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says he will keep on with his ministry in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about – saving people. He goes on to say, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. Unlike today’s churches, Paul describes the Macedonian churches as giving everything they had during severe trial just for the joy and privilege of sharing in the service for the Lord’s people. We can count on one or two hands the churches in the news that have shown this same fervent love for the gospel.
But what have been Satan’s works? I’m sure if you’ve read to this point you have already spoken a few of them in rebuttal. Let’s start with the most prevalent. Romans 13 clearly convicts us to obey the government because they rule only under God’s authority. Rebelling against authority is considered rebelling against God. So therefore, when the State tells churches they must close, we must obey. Ah, but the devil loves to cherry pick scripture. What he has done here is take advantage of the Christian desire to do what is right, to follow laws, and to be good citizens. What he doesn’t want you to do is dig deeper. Is the law just in the first place, in the eyes of God? Backing up to Acts 5 we see the apostles being persecuted for performing signs and wonders among the people. The Pharisees were angry and claimed the law prohibited them from teaching. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name,” the Sanhedrin says in verse 28. And the apostles’ response? “We must obey God rather than human beings.” (v29). Where were our major denominations at the outset of our shut down standing firm that churches are essential? Where was their conviction that God calls us into service during times of trouble? And where have they been since? It’s one thing for a church to have said on the outset of the shut down, “Let’s close for a couple of weeks and see what this is all about. We will clean our facilities and come up with safe practices. And then open.” But allowing government to tell us that we are not even allowed to do that goes not just against one of the basic rights of this country but of God’s laws.
But what is wrong with keeping people healthy? You now entered into Satan’s second lie. To accept this premise, you have to believe that our churches are irresponsible, unnecessary and incapable of keeping people safe while attending church. Somehow, we have a greater respect for our grocery store management than for our church management. I laud those few pastors who have found creative ways to do church – beyond the impersonal video exchange. Drive through confessionals, drive up church, drive through prayer time, and more. The bold few have even ripped the veil off one of Satan’s other lies – that going to church is somehow not a choice. So, they open their churches to anyone who chooses to attend. Do they still adhere to safe practices, of course, because God doesn’t call Christians to be stupid. He calls us to trust and to obey Him. Why have we expected more from Walmart than from our church? Why have we put ourselves on equal footing with our gyms?
Even our most trusted faith leaders have failed us. While they preach on trusting God, they cower behind their computer screens. Where is the trust? Where is the bold faith? Where is the healing of lepers and of the sick? Where is the knowledge and belief that God is in our midst? Who do you think God is smiling on – the church that closes and locks their doors or the church that is open to the sick, the anxious, the scared, the homeless, the alcoholic, the abused, the weak and the poor? The other lie Satan tells us is that living in our impersonal, technology connected faith, God’s work is full, is enough. We say things like, isn’t great we can connect with missionaries across the world during this time? Isn’t’ amazing how we can still be together through a video screen? If that were true, then why didn’t the apostles just rely on letters to the churches? Why did they feel the need to enter into cities that were sure to persecute them, sure to throw them in jail? Where are the pastors who say as Peter and John, who after laying hands on a lame man cured him, said to the Sanhedrin, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man is healed.” Yes, technology is great for those who can’t be with us. But we’ve preached and preached over the last few years about the dangers of relying on technology and becoming less connected rather than more. And what about the supposed connections we’ve made? Besides videos, have our churches and our denominations reached out regularly to their parishioners via phone calls, letters, etc? Have they been regular guests on news shows teaching about ways to ease our anxieties? Have our pastors personally reached out to people who have reached out to them about their concerns? And what about the non-members that attend our churches? How have those people been personally connected? What about the non-believer who one night, feels called by the Holy Spirit to enter a church and hear the Word?
You see, the devil has used our goodness, our desires to do the right thing against us. It’s time to gird our loins with Truth. God does not want our churches locked. He does not want us hiding in fear. He wants those doors thrown open. He wants us to welcome all who are lost, who are lonely, who are fearful, and who are spiritually sick. We must stop allowing Satan to define God’s mission for us. As my friend once said to me, “This should be a pastor’s ‘jam’.” Meaning this time in the world is when the fight between dark and light should be most obvious. It’s what we have been training for. It’s the time to call for peace in His arms, for faith in His words, for trust in His love. “
Here’s the thing about what happens to Jerry Maguire. He wins in the end. He gathers up the believers. He tears down the old way of doing things. He renews faith. He remembers what his intended purpose is.