Dear friends, house church leaders, organic church practitioners, and adherents of the simple church model,
I am one of you. I left the Institutional Church (IC) in 2016, and have been on the journey with you of exploring what it means to practice Christianity outside of traditional church structures and models ever since. I share your concerns over the problem of church hierarchy, overbearing leadership styles, and a lack of discipleship. I too long for a more relational, more authentic church experience. I’m with you, I really am. But I need to get something off my chest.
It’s a trend that I’ve been seeing in our movement as we all continue to struggle with the reality of the Coronavirus Global Pandemic. Here it is. I’m seeing a lot of posts from people within our movement that basically go something like this: “So your church is cancelling public worship services? We are a small community, so the risk is low. Come join us!
Do we really want to capitalize on the grave situation facing our world (at least 6500 dead worldwide as of tonight) in order to win people over to our cause? Is it right for us to take advantage of something so very serious, so dangerous, just to further our cause, to get more people on “our team,” to win folks over to our way of thinking on this issue? I don’t think so. We are better than this. Christ calls us to live better than this.
Okay, that’s enough scolding. Is there an opportunity to reach others whom we might not otherwise have this opportunity to reach? Yes. Is there a chance here to serve our neighbors? Of course. Does this provide an opening to demonstrate the value of real, genuine, no kidding, face-to-face, life-on-life discipleship. Sure. But do we want to achieve these admirable goals with a cheap stunt. At best, this kind of thing has a really ugly appearance. At worst… well, I’ll just say that if we’re not careful we could find ourselves on the wrong side of one of the most important ethical issues in centuries. And instead of bringing glory to God, we could end up bringing disgrace upon the cause of Christ.
Okay, I think I’ve made my point here. There’s one more thing that I’d like to discuss here. And that is: To meet or not to meet – what’s an organic church to do? You see, I help to lead a small fellowship gathering, so I had to struggle with this decision myself within the context of our community. What follows is an edited version of a post I made to our little group (there’s just 8 of us) which outlines my thinking on this important issue. I share it here in hopes that it is of some assistance to others in the Organic church community.
Many will say that, it’s a small gathering so the risk is low, and therefore we should go ahead and meet. But I still feel a responsibility to make sure our response is carefully and prayerfully thought out. In the interest of full disclosure, I am influenced here by a recent post from the current President of my Alma Mater, Fuller Seminary (you can read that post for yourself here).
There’s basically two approaches I see here:
One, I’ll call the faith approach. It goes something like this. God is not going to allow us to get sick because we came together to worship Him. And/or, we’re not gonna allow the devil to keep us from gathering as the church of Jesus. OK, I get that. For me, I would tend to see this type of thinking as “hyper-faith” or “hyper-spiritual.” Others will see it differently.
The second approach I will call the love ethic. It goes something like this. This virus is real. The WHO and the CDC don’t take lightly labeling something a Global Pandemic. The best, and indeed most loving thing we can do in this situation is to observe the guidance we’re receiving to practice social distancing, and thus do our part to slow (and perhaps even reduce) the spread of this virus. Clearly this is the more pragmatic of the two approaches.
I look at it like this: if I observe the protocols, I have the potential of saving the life of someone (maybe many), perhaps 10 transmissions down the line in the progression of this illness. I will of course never know who it was, or have any confirmation that this has actually happened, so this too is an “act of faith.”
The key here is finding the “radical middle” between fear and faith, but also finding the right balance between being driven by fear into panic, and simply taking “reasonable precautions.” I am not so much driven here by concern for my own safety and that of my immediate family (although I do fall into higher risk categories). And I am of course concerned about the rest of our community, but especially I can’t help but think of the smallest and most vulnerable among us (i.e. we have a 1-year old in our group).
But basically, the approach above is an argument for doing what is best for others, and for my money that sounds pretty Christ-like to me! That said, I ended up recommending that our community err on the side of caution and postpone at least our next 1-2 face-to-face gatherings, and then re-assess the situation. But given that I don’t believe in top-down, hierarchical church structure (I’m a plurality of elders guy, and you can read about that here) I didn’t want to make a unilateral decision for the group, so everyone in the community was invited to chime in with their thoughts.
In the end, we did end up reaching a consensus to hold off on physically meeting together for a while. We will likely opt for some type of virtual online in order to “stay connected.”
I wish you and your community dismemberment, and Gods wisdom (James 1:15) in making your own decision in these challenging times.
Grace and Peace be with you friends,