Saturday, May 9, 2020

Unless we believe it. . .

It is clear that much of our government and those outside the household of the faith consider church  non-essential and worship merely an optional social gathering.  Some of the more egregious examples of the disdain with which politicians and a secular media hold the church are well known.  But what is less well known or appreciated is the fact that many within the Church have come to hold the same opinions.  Church is a non-essential activity, faith is largely a private and personal affair, and worship an optional social gathering.  We will make little progress against those outside the Church until we first convince ourselves that the Church is essential, that faith is by nature public in confession and piety, and that corporate worship is expected by God and commanded in His Word.

No one should be shocked that those who do not believe in God would judge the life of faith  nonessential and neither should Christians be surprised that our lapsed and fringe members who do not practice the faith and who see the practice of the faith as essential to their life should also presume that it is also unnecessary to the lives of everyone -- Christian or not.  What should be shocking to us is that within the Church — among our leaders, clergy, and faithful alike — there was no protest against such judgment.  Why is it that our leaders, clergy, and the faithful in the pews would acquiesce to the idea that Wal-Mart must be kept open, liquor stores and abortion clinics are essential to our daily lives, but the practice of our faith is not.  How is it that bishops, presidents, priests, and pastors would remain fairly quiet as the Church and her sacramental life was summarily deemed optional to the faith and non-essential to the faithful?

Please note at this point, I am not advocating revolution nor am I suggesting that we take a militant role against our government and its political leaders.  That would be a false characterization of what I am saying.  Certainly, it would not only be understood and legitimate that the Church would for a time curtail the former unlimited access to corporate worship -- especially in the face of a pandemic out of control and about which we had little certain knowledge.  BUT that judgment would be and remains the Church's to make and not the government's to demand or the politician's to regulate.  The Church has lived through many plagues and pandemics over the years and we were not without experience in making a faithful response to such changing conditions.  That, however, is the judgement of the Church to make and not the domain of civil authorities.  They would certainly be within their rights to ask for the Church's cooperation and partnership but not to preclude it.

Instead what I am condemning is how the Church has behaved as if she also and truly believes that she is not essential, that her sacramental life is optional, and that corporate worship is optional to the practice of the faith.  This will surely come back to haunt us.  We have either deliberately or unwittingly taught ourselves as pastors, the faithful in the pews, and those outside the Church that locking the doors, forbidding the assembly, regulating our sacramental life, and replacing it with virtual worship on the small or large screen was both legitimate and salutary.  In essence we agreed that we as the Church were not to be trusted to act responsibly.  Sure, there are always crackpots and kooks who would violate rules and act without care for those in their flock but none of these were actually restrained by the government's guidelines. Only the responsible ones paid attention and did what the medical and political establishment told us we had to do.  Even where it was not yet mandated, the Church acquiesced.

If our open doors were ever needed, it is in time of threat.  Whether war or pandemic, it is precisely in a crisis that the Church shows to the world hope.  This hope is no more profoundly displayed before the world than when the faithful gather around the Word and Table of the Lord.  If our liturgical and sacramental life is not essential or needed in time of crisis, when is it ever essential or necessary?  If live streamed worship services and video reality substitutes for our corporate gatherings around the Word of the Lord and His altar, why do we need to meet in person at all?  If private devotion, spiritual communions, virtual sacraments, and personal piety is an adequate substitute for our coming together on the Lord's Day in the Lord's House, why would we not surrender our face to face meeting together for the sake of cost, convenience, and comfort?  If the Church can be shut down, sacraments distributed like fast food or consecrated at home, confession by media, private or postponed baptism the norm, and video funerals to replace our gathering to remember the dead and rejoice in our hope, then she is herself not essential and the Church is but an invisible reality hidden not in the nave but in the home behind locked doors out of fear.

Of course values conflict and compete.  The restrictions placed upon the Church were borne of this tension and of those politicians and medical authorities who decided the priorities attached to those values.  But is not the Church, the bearer of the highest and holy values of the Kingdom not at least as well prepared to sort the way through the tension between these crucial but competing values?  Surely we know that public safety and the unrestrained sacramental life of the Church often come into tension but by placing a ban and acquiescing to that ban, the conversation effectively ended.  And the Church was left to echo what political and medical authorities had decided.  I am not at all sure that there was ever the critical tension that would require a choice between these competing values and I believe the Church could have found a way to sort out the two showing that public safety was not in conflict with the Church's mission and sacramental life.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I suppose there is some truth in your observations, however, I personally have not seen evidence that the government considers church non essential. I believe the social distancing rules are a temporary situation to avoid spreading the virus. If the government allowed stadiums and concerts to open, but kept churches closed, than we would have a strong case. Many political leaders who are Republicans are very religious people and support the churches, I believe fewer hard core Democrats are interested in the fate of the Christian churches, since this political party promotes abortion, same gender marriages, and state control. American Democrats would gladly undermine the church because some conservative ones are opposed to their values, Only a progressive worldly Christianity is acceptable to the Democrats.

Carl Vehse said...

"It is clear that much of our government and those outside the household of the faith consider church non-essential and worship merely an optional social gathering."

Sigh.... Again to clarify, We the People ARE the government. The U.S. Constitution notes in its Preamble that it was ordained and established by We the People to, among other things, secure the rights of life and liberty. The Bill of Rights recognizes (NOT bestows) those [endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable] rights of life and liberty.

According to our Constitution, the elected and appointed (especially state and local) representatives in our form of government do not have the authority to arbitrarily change the Constitution on their own or to replace our Constitutionally-recognized rights with limited permissions during the ChiCom plandemic. These kakistocratic representatives do not have the authority to declare our First Amendment rights to be banned as "non-essential business."

Not only should we use lawsuits to overturn such abuse of our rights, but we (particularly Christians) need to demand that subverters and betrayers of the Constitutionally-recognized rights of U.S. citizens be indicted and tried in courts of justice for such crimes.