Church Challenges During the Corona Period
Pr. P. J. Daniel
All through Christian history, the ministry of the Church has always been confronted with various barriers and obstacles. It varies in every instance – from persecutions to oppositions, from sieges to exiles. Today, the church faces a very distinct and severe challenge – the Covid – 19, an unacquainted pandemic virus, which has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Despite the many weeks and months that have gone by, the severity of this pandemic disease has not diminished.
The strict nation-wide regulations and lockdown by the government have banned any gathering beyond fifty persons – for religious or any other purposes.
This ban on public gatherings has posed a major challenge to the Church, which is a body of believers, who always come together for fellowship, at least once a week. For the last several months, churches across nations have been unable to congregate on Sundays.
However, digital platforms such as Zoom and Google meet are now extensively used by Christians these days to hold and participate in Sunday services from their homes! It is indeed a blessing to have an alternative such as the VIRTUAL CHURCH instead of sitting idle at home on a Sunday. But if the situation prolongs there is every likelihood that at least certain believers may get accustomed to it and even start liking it! Many such “lazy believers” tend to become happy and satisfied with the present mode of service where they needn’t get ready for Sunday church. They have the freedom to mark attendance by simply “joining the meeting” and engage themselves as they wish. There is no accountability with regard to tithes and offerings. Children are free to do what pleases them. They can spend time playing internet games. If they are bored with the sermon of the pastor, they have the freedom to “leave the meeting” or switch off their gadgets. Food and snacks can be had at one’s will. What a “freedom-filled church service”! Some believers are quite satisfied with this arrangement that they wish to continue with this norm even after the lockdown is lifted!
It is at this juncture, that I would like to bring to the reader’s notice my thoughts regarding the Sunday Church Service and the ministry of the Church. What is the Biblical concept regarding Sunday Service? The Bible proposes corporate worship.
Some questions frequently projected are: Is it important to come together to glorify God? Since God is everywhere, what then is the need of a physical gathering together to glorify Him?
The Bible teaches us plainly that corporate fellowship is God’s appointed way for Christian believers to glorify Him. The first order in the church’s mission is to proclaim His mighty acts. All other aspects of ministry are motivated by this, and without fellowship, the church dies. This fellowshipping together provides the motivation and inspiration, so vital for righteous living, fervent evangelism, and total stewardship of life. The hope for the renewal of the church depends upon renewed genuine fellowship.
Jesus promised His divine presence, wherever two or three are gathered together in His name. Fellowship is a time of personal interaction with each other. Personal interaction is more effective than internet interaction. It is an opportunity to share our testimonies and blessings with others and all good things with our teachers. (Galatians 6:6). Sharing is a cardinal teaching of the church. This is also a time to contribute to the needs of the saints. (1 Corinthians16: 1-2). Corporate worship strengthens and stimulates the faith of believers, enabling believers to personally meet, fellowship and exchange greetings.
It is a time to partake in Lord's table physically. It is impossible to partake in the Lord's table through the internet.
“The believers continued to devote themselves to what the apostles were teaching - to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread” as we read in Acts 2: 42. Only those who have fellowship in person, by hearing the Apostolic doctrine can partake in the Lord's table. If done on-line, we cannot eat from the same bread. "Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; because all of us eat from the same loaf." (1 Corinthians. 10: 17) We cannot drink from the same communion cup. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of the Messiah?” (1 Corinthians 10: 16). During the last Passover week, some priests even conducted feet washing
service online. They washed the feet of dolls and even drew the picture of feet in the name of their believers and washed it. Some observe the very solemn Holy Communion Service online these days by blessing the bread and the wine online and the believers partake in it by eating what they have in their homes – cookies, cake, coconut and coconut water or rice, rice water, cake and tea! We deprive ourselves of the sanctity of the communion of the body of Christ when thus partaken.
At the end of this Holy Communion Service, we are to greet one another in the congregation in Holy reverence through a holy kiss. This cannot be done on-line. "Greet one another with a holy kiss." (2 Corinthians. 13: 12)
It is ridiculous to even imagine how feet washing service can be done in an online service. The Lord Himself said, "If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you must also wash one another’s feet. I’ve set an example for you, so that you may do as I have done to you". (John 13: 14, 15). Otherwise, we have to resort to washing the feet of dolls or the pictures of feet, as done by some of the priests – where it becomes a mere ceremony rather than a personal experience.
In an online service, the believers miss the physical personal attention of their pastor. The believer is deprived of personal counselling during visits by the pastor. A believer’s spiritual growth is stunted without a spiritual mentor.Where can a new believer come to attend worship unless there is a common gathering place? Internet gathering blocks the growth of the church. "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2: 47). Yes, as some claim that there were house churches in the 1st century of church history, meant, not exclusively for a single family but for neighbourhood believers as well.
Initially, there were no church buildings, so they gathered in the house of certain believers who had a spacious house. Due to the above reasons, online churches are only a temporary stop-gap alternative to overcome the present crisis which shall soon come to pass. The cardinal purposes of Sunday service, cannot be compromised.
Another challenge the church faces is the hindrance to open evangelization. Open-air meetings, conventions, house visiting have come to an end. But the church is using social media as an alternative to run meetings. It has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that nobody can stop the broadcasts via electronic media, unless there is intentional disruptive intervention. Such broadcasts of the gospel reach the homes of gospel-lover and oppressor alike. The online and other services give people an opportunity to attend the services privately without apprehension or fear. The gospel can be taken to the ends of the earth – reaching more people, with far greater ease and freedom.
One disconcerting fact is the halting of Sunday Schools during this corona period. Children under the age of ten restricted from public gatherings have been deprived of church services and Sunday School classes. “Today’s Sunday School is tomorrow’s church”. The church of tomorrow is missing the opportunity to be groomed in the Word of God. The possibilities of our children being side-tracked by worldly and evil alternatives are numerous - that can lead the youth into depravity. This is a great impediment to the growth of the church.
In every situation, God has a way. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are more virtuous than our thoughts. We can rest assured that even in these corona days, God is still on the throne and He is in control of every situation around us. The sacrificial death of His Son will not be in vain. He will have a remnant in every age.