I’m beginning to suspect that a lot of us Protestants have a pretty low view of corporate worship (as something that’s optional and nice to have, but certainly not essential to our faith). Some in our ranks (though certainly not all) seem perfectly fine with online church and are in no hurry to return to the pews.
On one level, this is perfectly reasonable, as we’re grappling with a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of our neighbors and family members, and Christian charity demands that we care about everyone’s safety. But online church isn’t a viable long-term strategy for healthy churches. It’s our least-bad option right now. So I can grit my teeth a while longer.
But on another level, it’s a little unnerving to see so many of us shrug our shoulders at losing something that previous generations saw as precious and worth dying for.
Is church just something we can watch on a screen, or is it a place where the Lord uniquely comes to His people (and us to one another)? Or is it like a TV show or a Youtube video, which we can consume and discard without further thought?
If we must stay home (assuming such orders are reasonable, based on science, temporary, and not discriminatory), shouldn’t it hurt us? At least a little? And if we’re not aching to return to church, is it any wonder that our friends and family feel the same way?
In answer to the request of a friend, here is the basic outline of how I came to believe in Jesus Christ and the difference He has made:
My birth on August 1, 1961, two months early, did not go well. Only three pounds and 11 ounces, I beat the odds and survived. But for the rest of my life I would carry the burden of cerebral palsy.
Through the years I have often asked “Why?” and it was hard not to feel resentful. Most of the time I felt like an inferior, an outsider, afraid of rejection. And sometimes I was rejected.
One night I remember looking up at the countless stars splashed across the silent sky. In the darkness my mother said it was hard to believe that all this could have just happened–but I wasn’t so sure. My experience led me to suspect that the universe was cold, indifferent, and meaningless. God, if he existed, was either too busy to care or too weak to help. In my mind, he was unknowable, like the “unknown god” worshiped by some of the ancient Greeks.
But needing something to believe in beyond this life, I turned to science fiction, UFOs, and “pyramid power.” I also began reading books about the end of the world, and that got me into the Bible.
As I read it, I realized that my life could only have meaning if I were properly related to the God who created me, just as I was. And this was a God I had never expected: One who was personally, painfully involved already. One who not only had made Himself known but who graciously had reached out to me, a sinner.
This God came to earth as a Man, Jesus Christ, to live the perfect life I had failed to live and to voluntarily die on the cross in my place–in short, to pay for my sins–including the bitterness, the self-centeredness, and all the rest.
Moreover, he understood my frustrating disability. On his way to the cross, Jesus had publicly stumbled and fallen. I could relate. Suspended between heaven and earth, Christ’s weakness was exposed for all to see.
And yet because he was raised from the dead, someday I too would be raised, with a powerful new resurrection body. That was an offer I couldn’t refuse!
I wish I could say that since receiving Christ by faith that all of my insecurities have evaporated, and I no longer have doubts about God’s love. But that wouldn’t be honest. My disability, which continues to affect me, has shaped not just my body, but also my soul. Even though I now sense God’s presence daily, it will probably take me the rest of my life to overcome my painful insecurities–but, slowly, I’m getting there!
One day, Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” The Lord said that the man’s disability presented a divine opportunity, “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Trust me—I’ve seen some of those works!
Undoubtedly I will face more frustrations and heartaches. Yet today I can accept my disability in a way I never could before, because Christ’s power is most clearly seen not in my strength, but in my weakness.
A hundred years ago, after the Great War and the devastating influenza pandemic, 1920 Presidential candidate Warren G. Harding promised voters a comforting “return to normalcy.” Today, following another pandemic, a weary American public is pining for another return to normalcy.
But Christ’s Church must not simply seek the pre-COVID-19 status quo.