For Sake of God’s Kingdom: OPEN THE CHURCH!

This past Sunday, thousands of small house churches met in China, Iran, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and several other nations that are lethally-hostile to Christianity. Each led by a pastor, an elder, or simply a layperson who understands Christ’s call to His churches to assemble regularly together. Each faced slightly differing threats – some from neighbors, others from police or government officials – and all also under a declared world-wide pandemic. And without a doubt, there were some who were found and reported, some who have been beaten for gathering with the saints. And we have no way to know for certain just how many may very well have died for their faith as a product of simply trying to meet together with the local body of believers.

Meanwhile, here in the US, Canada, and several other far more “Church-friendly” nations, thousands of churches were empty, doors locked or with only a skeleton crew to operate a camera and to “preach” to, in hopes that an electronic video would stream to a social media or video hosting platform that some of their people might tune in. Some of these local churches are claiming to be following Romans 13’s command to subject themselves to the ruling authorities who have issued mandates and regulations that have all-but made church gatherings illegal. Others are simply scared of this virus and fear being blamed if someone were to get sick and die from it. Figures like Andy Stanley (I refused to call him a “pastor” as he has turned apostate on all manner of foundational doctrinal matters) closed their corporate mega churches months ago wiht promisees to reopen in January, yet their auditoriums are still empty with the lights mostly off – and their flocks still scattered… and like the flocks, big-or-small across this nation – the sheep are suffering and even dying from discouragement, spiritual deprivation, and growing malease from the lack of a fundamental need of all genuinely regenerated believers: the personal fellowship and edification that comes with corporate prayer, worship, and preaching.

I ask, first: which is the biblical picture? Which is seeking to please God rather than man? Which represents a hope of and in a God who is Sovereignly ruling and reigning still? Which holds a low view of God and His power and authority? Which fulfills the writer’s admonition in Hebrews 10:25

25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25

How do we fulfill the command to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) through Zoom teleconference or a recorded video?

How can we share together the ordinances of the church Christ left for us through a pre-recorded message? The Lord’s Supper, that beautiful reminder of the sacrifice Christ made of Himself on our behalf is commemorated in the sharing together of the elements – with the combined illustration of humble service. Jesus didn’t die virtually, nor should we remember that sacrifice “virtually”.

But lets address a few things. First is that claim of Romans 13 submission to ruling authorities. Throughout Scripture, God’s people are commanded to obey God first. And every single time that man’s law and rulers conflict with God’s Law & Commands, the positive choice is always God’s Commands. Whether in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, or the Pharaoh in Egypt, or in the face of Roman and Jewish rulers who demanded the early believers not proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the God-glorifying, Kingdom-building and righteous decision is to always obey God rather than man.

For those who refuse to open churches for in-person worship based on threats of fines or arrest under law or dictatorial edicts, particularly in the United States, I encourage you to find a copy of the U.S. Constitution and turn to the Bill of Rights and the first Amendment (included here for your convenience):

The key component here is that it clearly prohibits the government from prohibiting (interfering with) the free exercise of religion or the abridging of the freedom of speech… or the right to peaceably assemble. So, even if one were to try to twist Hebrews 13 to be a mandate to obey governing authorities even when their demands contradict God’s commands, these mandates and forced closures are themselves unlawful. This doesn’t’ change just because there is a virus.

So lets turn to fear. Yes, the virus that has triggered the “global pandemic” is a real virus. Yes, I personally know people who have died either directly from, or as a result of complications arising from the virs formally known as SARS-CoV-2. My intent here is not to chase theories regarding where it came from, if it was a human engineered weapon, or if it is a sign of the prophetic end times. But I will argue that Satan has used Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (hereafter referred to as FUD) to cause authorities and church leaders to make un-Godly decisions. And as we see our world (and especially the USA) turn increasingly anti-Christian, anti-church (if the church isn’t #WOKE with the Social Justice false gospel of the day), and so-called “Christian leaders” sacrifice the gospel and kingdom building on the altar of politics and political correctness to appease the culture – we see an increasing hopelessness: the exact opposite of what Christ’s people are suppose to be showing the world.

And please don’t take this wrong – many churches have been forced to reach beyond their physical building via streaming or video uploading of sermons. Indeed, the church I pastor has seen an interesting audience well outside of our local “mission field”. But again, this in no-way justifies shutting the doors of the local church meeting.

Among the most common phrases in all of Scripture, directed always at God’s people:

Each and every time the doors of the local church open, people make a decision if they are going to assemble together with the saints or not. This has always been true (and is the core of admonition regarding not forsaking the assembly as is the matter of some). Long before their was a Coronavirus causing panic or being used to create FUD, people made this decision. Week-after-week. But as a pastor, I have no right to take away an the opportunity to assemble together with believers. I don’t even take issue with taking reasonable precautions as one would with any spreading illness (we can save discussion of the efficacy of some of the current mandates and requirements at another time), if that is what it takes to help people overcome their fear. But ultimately, whether someone assembles together with the local church at any given time is a matter between the individual, their doctor, and their Creator. But I will do everything within my ability to make sure the doors of the church I have been called to lead, are open for for all who desire to worship as we have been called to worship (together), and I call out other pastors – for the sake of the sheep – the flock of God, and even more importantly, for the Glory of God and the sake of His kingdom:

Gunshots, Death, Schools, and God…

I have intentionally held off this afternoon and evening commenting formally on the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One reason is that I needed to have time to pray about it and to give authorities time to make sure things were clear and victims being taken care of. Also, to give others plenty of time to speak up and respond. Further, my desire was and is to not overly politicize this tragedy. Many already are trying to use this shooting as yet another foundation to push their own misguided political agenda.

I was pleased to read President Trump’s quick and measured Tweet:

 But was further saddened to see the immediate responses by many who’s ugly and vile response to the President’s message betrayed the core of why I believe we are seeing these horrible acts of violence.

Let me begin by saying – we are seeing ugliness in this nation – acts of violence including mass shootings, we are seeing increases in all sorts of crimes, and at the same time we are watching an entire generation appear to collectively lose their minds (demonstrated by such acts as the recreational “eating” of Tide Pods!). We see cities like Philadelphia celebrate their professional football team’s Super Bowl victory by taking to the streets and systematically causing as much destruction as they can, while simultaneously looting businesses of their merchandise and other property.  You see – these are all symptoms (and some may say – “signs”) of both the times we live in and the absolute corruption spreading in the hearts of mankind in our nation.

The horrible and deranged acts of madmen shooting up concerns venues, night clubs, movie theaters, schools, and more, are all the product, not of WHO the President of the United States is, it isn’t the result of the “NRA” and any undue influence or money they seem to exercise towards politicians.  These acts that so shock us are not the product of a vast Right Wing Conspiracy, or of racism.  They are not the product of “white privilege” or the desperation of the poor in the “inner city”.  Every one of these acts are the direct result of unregenerate hearts.

Mankind has been carrying out violent acts and murder against man since soon after the creation of the world.  Cain killed Abel because of self-pride and a corrupt heart. Joseph’s brothers beat him, cast him into a hole, then sold him into slavery out fo pride and a real hatred for their own brother.

Jesus Christ, the very Son of God was murdered – put to death, though innocent of any sin or violation of the law Himself – because of jealousy and sinful pride of the religious leaders of His day and the willing, unregenerate population of Jerusalem.

Even in “church” history – the sad reality is – many have killed in the name of Jesus – but out of their own hate and pride or who was “right”.

Violence has been a part of this creation since the fall of man in the Garden. It is one fo the many symptoms of the who don’t know the Lord our God, and instead “turn each one their own way” doing “what was right in his own eye”.

Within minutes of today’s shooting, and on the heels (and in reply to the President’s prayerful Tweet posted above), very real hate, vitriol, and total heart corruption was put on display.  Hearts that are every bit as corrupt before a totally righteous God spewed fowl language at the President, mocked not only the President but all Christians for their “useless” prayers. Posts and Tweets across social media mocking God in particular –

And I say this – every one of them serve as a vivid reminder of just WHY God ALLOWS these horrific events to happen.  The answer is quite obvious to anyone who has ever spent any effort to read the Bible.  Just take a look at what has happened to every nation that rejects God – that turns from God (in the case of Israel/Judah). When a people functionally kick God out – turning to their own idols and pride – God has regularly allowed judgement to come in the form of unholy leaders, oppression, violence, suffering and much more.

While the context is not the modern USA (in context, God was speaking to nation Israel in a specific time and set of circumstances), the message still rings loudly –

My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. ~2 Chronicles 7:14

Or the words God spoke to Isaiah:

“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.”  ~Isaiah 1:15

You see – all we really need to do to face the horrible things we see unfold before us and begin finding solutions, is to see that we – a nation that at one time really was known as a “Christian nation”, has blood on its collective hands.  We have sat idle by (either literally, or functionally) and watched as 60 million babies have been murdered, depriving them of the most basic and fundamental right of man – the right to LIFE.

We have, as a nation, systematically torn down the institutions that God instituted from Creation – redefining those institutions to suit our own fancy, instead of honoring the God-ordained order.

We have decided that gender is an artificial construct and not set by any standard by your own “feelings”. Need mind that even at our very biological core – the DNA specifically identifies our gender.

We have not only thumbed our noses at God’s ordained patterns and systems, we have also collectively told God to “take a hike” – shoving all mentions of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit from the public square. We have wedged in definitions of the founding Father’s choice of guaranteeing the freedom of religion to be free FROM all religion that includes the biblical God (but amazingly have tolerated or even promoted the false “god” of Islam and other pagan religions, ultimately setting up a national religion (specifically prohibited by the Constitution) of Secular Humanism.

No – it isn’t “the guns” that are responsible for these killings (in fact, I have never seen a gun load and fire itself at anyone). It isn’t because some people actually understand the Constitution and the reasons for the Amendments wisely included.  It is the corrupt hearts of man – that will continue to kill and hurt others until Jesus Christ returns and sets things straight.

NO amount of finger-pointing at Presidents or politicians, organizations, or inanimate objects is going to fix the corrupt hearts of men.

Might I suggest we begin by humbling ourselves before God, repenting of our hard hearts – confessing that we have failed to speak up, failed to witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ (in words OR in our actions). Might I suggest inviting God back in to this nation as a welcome King? Might I urge the reader to not just let this latest horrible event just add to your hate and anger – but instead to turn your eyes upon Jesus…

Are there major problems in our society? Of course.  And yes, we have a responsibility to act responsibly – but we must begin in the strongest position of all in this world – on our knees before a Holy and Righteous God –

“The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. . . All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

Noah Webster, (author of the first American Speller and the first Dictionary)