Yesterday Sharon and I went for a Sunday drive. We drove along Portage Road which runs in front of Queenston Heights, parallel to Highway 405. There was not a single vehicle on the highway. We passed the sign welcoming travelers to Ontario: “Open for Business.” The irony caused both of us to chuckle. Not that it is anyone’s fault. Fueling the province’s economy was the plan. And then, Coronavirus.
Suddenly the provincial doors slammed shut, welcome mats rolled up, and we all huddled as families in our homes. “Stranger, you aren’t welcome here. Go back where you came from.” We’ve stayed in our homes, minimized our shopping, picked up our coffees, and created a phenomena called “social distancing.” Be safe. Stay at home. This is the mantra for the last seven weeks.
And so it should be! We are now beginning to see some positive effects of our social distancing. There is a light on the horizon. But at what cost? The economy, we are told, is in trouble. It isn’t just businesses that are struggling. We also see significant impact on the not-for-profit and charitable sector. Food banks, shelters of all kinds, services to the homeless and many other vital, “under the radar” support systems have scaled back if not ceased operations completely. And what of the church?
If we learn one thing from church history it is that adversity strengthens the church. It does not weaken it. I speak, of course, of The Church, the singular body of Christ that exists globally. It is organic, not just an organization. It is a community, not a corporation. It is the unified, redeemed group of people who are reconciled to God, committed to living out the truths of His Kingdom and to following Jesus.
Every process is changing. How we do our day-to-day business, how we teach our kids, how our elected leaders do public governance, how hospitals process patients, how we socialize, and how we entertain ourselves have all changed. How we gather as the Body of Christ has changed too. What has not changed, what will never change, is our unity in Christ, our confidence in His redemptive plan, and our responsibility to represent Him well.
Jesus promised, “I will build my Church.” Around the world, and here in our own community, people are constantly being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Redemption, regeneration and adoption as God’s children is happening, virus or no virus. The Church is doing well and globally, often in circumstances that make our current discomfort seem somewhat insignificant.
One thing this crisis has done is cause us to ask why we do what we do and how we do it. From education to grocery shopping to buying coffee, we are not doing things the same old way. The church is no exception. Our gatherings have changed. But has it changed The Church?
The heart of this question is the object of our loyalty. What drives our passion? Are we committed to the comfort and familiarity of a well-established (and undoubtedly impactful) organization which is now being forced to change its modus operandi, or does our heart beat primarily out of loyalty to the King who redeemed us and His Kingdom, regardless of the forms, structures and strategies we may use to represent Him well?
Why do we “church” (can I make a verb out of a noun?) the way we do? Surely it must always be because Christ is still the head of The Church. Being The Church is an expression of loyalty to the King and His kingdom. It isn’t about following a dynamic, engaging, good-looking speaker. It isn’t about finding programing that fits my wants and needs. It is about pursuing life in Christ’s Kingdom so together we can be conduits of His love and grace.
Going back to the sign on Highway 405: “Open for Business.” Despite the changing conditions and environment in which God’s people find themselves, we are never “out of business.” The Church is always open. God is always working. His purposes cannot be thwarted. People are constantly entering His Kingdom, being reconciled to God their Creator and now living with a new purpose and passion for life. The Church is doing well.
Since The Church is a living organism, it means you and I - parts of The Church - are also doing well. It may not feel like it when we listen to the news and look around. But it is true. God’s activity is not “out there” somewhere. He is at work with each of us. The welcome mat of God’s grace never rolls up. God’s love is not living in isolation.