Preaching to the Choir (Then Again, Maybe Not)
We opened the doors to HDC's campuses two weeks ago, for the first time in months, only to have to close them again last weekend. Actually, we didn’t have to close them. We chose to. The HDC family is blessed with many first responders, doctors, and nurses, who are working double shifts because the virus has impacted so many people in our communities. We recognize this virus is a legit threat, at least in the short term. And because politics seem to have muddied any scientific assessment, we can’t competently gauge its long-term ramifications.
Some of our friends (who are, by the way, wonderful church leaders), have decided to not open their church buildings for weekend services until 2021, when a vaccine becomes available. On the other side of the debate, we have other friends (also wonderful church leaders), who have chosen to defy their governors and open their church buildings for weekend services. As you may know, we don’t worry too much about what others, on either side of this question, might be doing. In any conversation about what is best for HDC, we consider the high biblical value of living under authority, the high biblical value of protecting the vulnerable, and the high biblical value of Christian community. Any decision reflects our humble attempt to find balance between all three.
If you’ve been around here for very long, you also know that I’ve never been interested in making HDC a political platform. I’m still not. In fact, I refuse to let it happen on my watch. But that aside, I do have personal and passionate political opinions. For 37 years, I’ve had to exercise some pretty good discipline to keep them to myself, especially this year. So what I write next has nothing to do with politics. It’s pure theology. Here goes.
No politician will ever have the power to shut down Christ’s church.
The Church is not a building, or even thousands of buildings. The Church is a people. If you’re frustrated because you think we can’t go to church, you need to hear this clearly.
We are the Church.
If there is a divine message for the American Church during this pandemic, this is what I believe it is. (Some of you probably won't like this part.)
“Get over your addiction to church buildings!”
Now four months later, we simply haven’t listened. And we keep pretending politicians have more authority than they've been given. I’m not saying that our personal views about the lockdown aren't important. I have my own opinions. And, based on my opinions, and since I cherish the right to vote, I will vote accordingly. But, throughout history, the places in the world where the Gospel takes root most deeply and Christianity grows most rapidly are places that are always locked down. No public Christian assemblies ever (or, if they’re allowed, they’re closely monitored). No church buildings anywhere. No publicly recognized church leaders out there. And I reminded many of you about that before the pandemic, when we actually had the freedom to meet at our campuses! I thought I'd be preaching to the choir by now.
Personally, I hope we can return to our campuses soon. We've learned that leveraging physical buildings is an effective way to train our church family to pursue their oikocentric mission. But over the past few months, we been forced to find digital ways. I hope we can get back into physical buildings and use that way again. But until Jesus returns, even if we can't, there will always be a way.
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of state capitols will not overcome it.” I’m sorry, that’s a cheap shot. This is what Jesus actually said. “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)
The proof is in the international pudding. For example, Iran’s general population is growing at the rate of 1.2% per year, while the Iranian evangelical Church is growing at the rate of 19.6% per year. Afghanistan’s population is growing at 3.5% per year, while the Afghan evangelical Church is growing at 16.7%. America’s population is growing at about 1% per year, while the American evangelical Church is growing at 0.8% per year. The 10/40 Window is slowly becoming one of the world’s most Christian regions, while the Christian faith in the U.S. is slowly bleeding out. So maybe we need a new approach. Hey, here’s a brainstorm! The data compels us to try Iran’s approach which, by the way, is purely oikocentric.
You may have noticed. There were zero mega-churches in the Book of Acts. There was only the Gospel, moving from person to person, from oikos to oikos. When they could meet together in groups, large or small, they did. When they couldn’t, they didn’t. It didn’t matter to them. They always found a way because there always was a way. The Gospel is a message, not a pew.
I love freedom. I love America. I will vote, as a citizen, in a way that I believe best preserves American freedom. If you think state governors are guilty of an overreach, fine. If you think there’s a conspiracy out there, okay. Post graciously, protest peacefully, vote accordingly, whatever. But you don’t need to drag Christianity into it. Christ’s Church is not being threatened. She will be fine no matter what politicians mandate. Jesus will never need to ask an American governor for permission to build His Church.
Thanks. I got that off my chest. Again.