by Fred Willis
In Numbers 22:23-27 Balaam is stopped by the donkey he’s riding for an unknown reason. He beat the donkey because he surmised that the donkey was being obstinate and didn’t want to go forward. The donkey even veered from the otherwise clear path and was beat again to move forward. Finally, the donkey crashed against a wall and caused Balaam’s leg to be hurt. This was the final straw and Balaam beat the donkey again, but something happened in verses 28-35, the donkey spoke!
The donkey spoke and cited his years of faithful service to Balaam then pointed to the sword wielding angel blocking the path. The Bible says that the Lord then opened Balaam’s eyes so that he too could see the angel. The angel told Balaam that the donkey was actually saving his life because the angel could have killed him in his persistence to continue instead of turning away, so Balaam then repented because he didn’t see the angel blocking the way and sinned (verse 34). For the full account of Balaam, read Numbers 22-24.
Now that the President has designated in-person worship services as “essential”, what should the church do? Should there be a rush back to the sanctuary? The CDC has issued a statement for houses of worship opening up and has even provided enhanced guidelines for leadership to consider. The return to church is the latest schism in the body of believers in the United States. But should it be, is there no corporate guidance that believers can look to for guidance? Chief Apostle and Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake sent out communication to his constituency in the Church of God in Christ on Saturday advising leaders to delay opening their churches until the virus is contained and that churches should wait to hold in-person worship services until they are deemed safe.
Whether church is at home or in-home, it remains tethered to a greater entity, the Kingdom of Heaven. In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus says that the Kingdom is not something to be seen, rather it is in us! If the Kingdom is in us, it is wherever we are. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, the Apostle Paul says that each of us make up the body of Christ. He does also admonish believers not to forsake assembling together (Hebrews 10:25) but in the face of a pandemic, virtual church should suffice.
Pastors, please make room for the people and embrace the fact that they may have a much different perspective that deserves serious consideration. Considerations of health, safety and even spiritual implications are important. As implausible as it may be and as preposterous as it may sound, what the Lord wants to accomplish in this season may not require in-person worship. Has the modern church lost the virtue of patience? It would seem so. Moving too soon could have devastating consequences for houses of worship which are grossly unprepared to welcome congregants to service. Sanitization must be paramount and unless churches are willing to sanitize before and after each service, they probably shouldn’t open. Houses of worship should also abide by percentages if they choose to welcome members again. Capacity crowds are still a breeding ground for spreading the Coronavirus.
Need a cautionary tale? Consider the Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Georgia which closed its doors and resumed online worship after only two weeks of resumed in-person worship services. Though the church practiced social distancing and limited attendance to 25%, attendees still contracted the Coronavirus.
For the better part of sixty days now, churches have existed primarily online, hosting virtual weekly worship experiences. This has worn on both leadership and laity, but some semblance of interim normalcy has made virtual “church” more palatable as the quarantine continues. Pastors, if your members aren’t ready to return, take that into consideration. If some of the people you’d least expect to speak up are the most vocal, you should probably take that into serious account.
The sudden designation of church as essential has many a skeptic in the faith community with many decrying its purported political motivation and refusing to even consider it. Many others have been awaiting the green light and will be celebrating the Savior in their regularly scheduled services this weekend.
Pastor Reginald Sharpe made quite a splash when he announced that the historic Fellowship Chicago would remain closed, though the economy and states would be opening up. Chicago has seen a fair share of objections to the sheltering in place order imposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and fore-stated, many have never closed and have been fined for not doing so. Stay home, stay connected and stay safe because whatever the Lord’s plan is for this pandemic, it is not yet manifested. It’s safer to wait and as we wait, let’s pray for a cure and not add to the cause. It is hard to kick against the pricks, but let’s determine what the c for the end of this pandemic is and not risk lives, the reputation of the Kingdom or the health of congregants by moving too soon to reinstate in-person worship.