The coronavirus, which is is highly contagious, is not highly lethal. Most estimates put the real death toll at under .5% for confirmed and nonconfirmed cases. Some epidemiologists suggest as much as 30% of the population has had or now has the virus, and 80% will never know it. Most of the other 20% who display symptoms have mild symptoms, and only a tiny portion will be hospitalized. Only a tiny proportion of those hospitalized will succumb to the virus. Of those who do, 99.5% of them will have pre-existing perilous health concerns.
Some evangelicals are convinced that disbanding church for the sake of a weak-sauce pandemic will actually be good for the church. In fact, there couldn’t be a better billboard to advertise that your church is non-essential than closing down during a little plague but some churches claim that a small spike in their live-stream views is evidence that God might use their sin (forsaking the Lord’s Day) to grow the church. Maybe, the thought goes, tons of people will be “reached” who weren’t reached before (as though people who don’t darken the doors of the church will suddenly be watching their church’s live-stream for some reason).
The opposite is likely to happen. Churches are working overtime in their foolishness to convince their members that “virtual church” is the real thing. When the actual church opens back up, I predict many will stay home to watch it from their computer. After a few months, these same people will switch over to watch Joel Osteen’s much-more-interesting live-stream (he will have Kanye West perform this Sunday). Churches are shooting themselves in the face and don’t even know it.
However, as we have been pleading for Christians to actually act like they’re Christians and continue to meet (especially so) all the more as the end approaches (Hebrews 10:25), we have seen thousands upon thousands of comments from people arguing, “Church is not a building.”
The mantra, slogan, and repetitious word-vomit is so identical every time it’s written it seems like everyone has cut-and-paste it from a bumper sticker somewhere.
The church is not a building.
Well, of course, the church is not a building. Tell us something we don’t know. But the “church is not a building argument” often betrays a vast ignorance on what the church is.
The church is an ἐκκλησία (ecclesia). An ἐκκλησία means, “a gathering” or “an assembly.”
However, the metaphor of a building is in fact precisely what the Holy Spirit uses in Scripture to teach us what a church is.
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).
Please note that the church is only the church when it is gathered. You are not, in and of yourself, the church. Neither is your family, in and of themselves, the church. The church is comprised of all those regularly assembled together. The church is comprised of living stones (people) who create (together) a spiritual house when it is put together.
When someone says, “We don’t go to church, we are the church!” we must respond, “You are not the church. You are only one piece of it. You must be gathered with the rest of it.”
Likewise, when someone says, “We don’t ‘do church,’ we are the church!” we must respond, “We indeed do church, because assembling is an action the church does that makes it the church.”
There is no sense that someone is the church individually and not collectively. For example, all Christians together are called the Bride of Christ. But you, as an individual, are not the Bride of Christ. Jesus is not a polygamist with a million different brides. He only has one, and that’s the collective elect.
The “church is not a building” claim is the worst possible argument for staying home on Sunday morning and those who repeat this often are usually proving they don’t really believe that which they speak. If you really believe that church is not a building, you would be finding ways to assemble together outside that building. You would be doing drive-in church, practicing social distancing in a field, or finding some other ingenious way to meet outdoors. Instead, the “church is not a building” people have chosen to stay home and not assemble because their buildings are closed.
Think of the irony! We are being lectured for meeting outdoors by people claiming “church is not a building,” while these critics themselves stay home from worship and refuse to assemble outside of a building!
Frankly, I want to mock them back.
“You guys decided to cancel church just because you can’t meet in your building? Don’t you know church is not a building?”
Meet outside. Meet in a parking lot, a field, or somewhere else where communion can be observed and you can sing “to each other” psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. But whatever you do, assemble. Be a public witness in a public place (building or not) for the Gospel and do so in person.