By Ben Fiddian,
News reports this morning suggest that religious services – of all faiths – may not return to normal for the rest of the year. As Christians we want to follow the biblical imperatives to preserve life and willingly cooperate with the government which God has put in place, so far as that does not require us to compromise the moral, ethical, and spiritual principles of our faith.
However, I wonder if those making policy decisions fully appreciate how deeply troubling this is for Christians. I don’t mean that as a criticism. Christianity is not the majority religion it once was and it isn’t reasonable to expect everyone to understand. Better to recognise that, perhaps through no real fault of their own, they might not understand – and to try to explain instead of criticising. This is my attempt to do that.
Joining together for worship is absolutely central to our core values and beliefs. It is essential to our sense of identity – to be a Christian is to be part of the church community. Internet broadcast can only ever be a temporary, make-do substitute – like eating fast-food on a journey to keep you going until you can get home for a proper meal. The experience of online worship can never feel as authentic as a public congregation in which real people meet together to seek the real God. In Christian spirituality the church is likened to a body and it is not going too far to say that lockdown separations feel akin to a spiritual amputation. To have this community dimension taken away – even temporarily – is actually painful.
We need to remember, though, that whilst the church does are shut, the door of access we have to God through Jesus Christ is always open (Hebrews 10:19-25). This privilege of prayer is giving to us to use in situations just like this, in at least two key ways:
1.We are to pray for those making decisions that they would be given divine wisdom and help. This is not just so that the nation would know peace and prosperity but also so that we as Christians will be allowed to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
2. We are to employ prayer to tell God about our longing to return to normal public worship. The Old Testament Scriptures are full of prayers, psalms and prophecies in which people express their heart-distress in passionate pleas and desires for God. We are not the first generation of Bible-believers to be prevented from engaging in ‘normal’ worship. One example of this is David’s Psalm 27. He recalls a time when he was exiled in the wilderness. It is worth reading the whole Psalm but this verse expresses the longing that we as Christians are feeling at present:
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of
my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to inquire
in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
We are not living in normal times and ordinary elements of our religious devotion are inaccessible. But let’s resist any unwise political responses. This is a trial in which the Lord will sustain our faith not a crisis which will overwhelm the resources of His grace. This is because our faith – the faith of which Christ is both “author and finisher” – provides resources for abnormal times just like these. In periods of enforced (not voluntary) isolation, true Christian spirituality finds an alternative emergency expression. The Lord has taken away the privilege of meeting together which we so often take for granted but He has also given us an opportunity to learn what God’s people of old knew so well – the heart-testing experience of longing for the Lord in lockdown.
Ben is part of the lecturing team at the Faith Mission Bible College
Follow his blog at https://fidzbit.blogspot.com/