I’m reading through 2 Chronicles again. It strikes me again how alluring Baal worship was to God’s people. Jeroboam and his calves; Ahab and Jezebel. Over and over again, God allured, threatened, spoke, invited, exhorted his people back to him and his covenant promises.
The reason that it was so alluring was Baal promised a god that could be somewhat controlled with the proper ceremonies, rites, rituals, sacrifices. Baal was more of a power to be tapped into, rather than a personal God who covenants with his people.
A personal God makes promises, chooses to reveal himself, loves, redeems, delivers – but he isn’t controlled, and that makes him scary, especially when the future is uncertain. Why not just offer to a golden calf just to cover your bases?
We have the same temptations today. I believe that the reason that we are so restless and filled with turmoil is that we really don’t believe in the personal, triune God. We confess him with our mouths, but do we really believe what he said, that he cares for us, that he loves us, that he will never, ever forsake us?
Recently, a very public pastor made a very public tweet. He said, “We’re under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ #CHURCHISESSENTIAL. Church isn’t a building it is the fellowshipping of believer’s around the teaching of God’s Word. That fellowship can’t happen online or across dozens of outdoor, distanced services.”
In other words, I believe that his position is that God cannot bless his people unless the ritual is properly followed. On the one hand the church isn’t a building, but on the other hand, it can’t happen online or in small groups. It can only happen on the terms of the Pastor in Charge. To me, this seems more similar to Baal worship. We can only have “Church” on our terms. In a huge building with thousands of people.
Now, I believe in the means of grace – God gives his grace through the means that he has appointed – the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. But the “fellowship” is not a means of grace. It is a side-effect, that flows from hearts made alive by the means of grace, but itself it is NOT a means of grace. Lots of organizations have fellowship, but God is not there. But he IS present wherever his word and sacraments are, whether large or small, indoors or out, in homes or in caves.
And God is personal. He is not a power to be tapped into. He doesn’t say, “Well, since Governor Newsom has forbidden the churches to gather together, I guess I won’t be able to bless anyone with faith and hope and patience. How I wish someone would come along to stand up to that guy!”
This is not the God of scripture. He who spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?
Be at peace, everyone. God is not restricted to large gatherings in large buildings with large budgets. Ordinarily, it is true that one ought to get up, go to church, physically be present with God’s people. But these aren’t ordinary times, are they?
He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. His grace is given, not tapped into. His grace is his favor towards us in Christ, proclaimed to us in his word and sealed with the sacraments.
The church throughout the world meets in yards and caves, stables and catacombs, valleys and meadows. Sometimes there are 5 people. Sometimes there are 100 people. Rarely there are even more.
But God’s grace is not tapped into with large buildings and large budgets and famous pastors. Perhaps now would be the time to humble ourselves.
Church is essential. I agree completely. But let’s be clear as to what the church is. If the church can be stopped by a decree from the state, then it isn’t the church.
Since God gives grace to the humble, instead of making ourselves stink in the nostrils of the state, forcing it to take legal action, we should follow the example of the martyrs that have gone before: strive to be obedient citizens, humbling ourselves instead of exalting ourselves, and continue to preach and administer the sacraments wherever God has placed us, in service, community and love.
Like Isaac and his wells, if the Canaanites dispute, move somewhere else. And God will make room for you. He is personal and he loves his people.
Jesus, where’er Thy people meet,
There they behold Thy mercy-seat;
Where’er they seek Thee, Thou art found,
With grace and mercy to abound.
For Thou, within no walls confined,
Inhabitest the humble mind;
Such ever bring Thee where they come,
And going, take Thee to their home.