The Church in Crisis
It takes no great insight to see that the Church in America has been operating in crisis mode for most of this year. The trigger, of course, was the lockdowns early in the year that almost immediately created a crisis of unity. And all sorts of questions have been forced into our consciousness. Is the pandemic really a political scam or is it a genuine health crisis? How should churches be meeting? Should they be meeting in person at all? Or should they be meeting as they always have, as if nothing has changed? Masks or no masks? Inside or outside? “Distancing” or no distancing? Can the Lord’s Supper be participated in virtually, or must it be in person? Christians have differing opinions on these questions and they are often strongly held.
Obviously many such questions need to be answered, even if only for practical and logistical reasons. But it must still be said that a large amount of disputation over these issues amounts to silliness. And the disagreements are often about maintaining traditions that make us comfortable but are not actually required by Scripture. But it must also be said that the result has been anything but silly. Indeed, it seems to me, at least, that much of the Church is now in a missional crisis. Churches have become so distracted by secondary or tertiary matters that they are struggling to preserve focus on the larger mission. But I would argue that if the Church could regain a biblical sense of its mission and genuinely renew its focus, much of the crisis of unity would dissipate.
We gather as local churches to lift our hearts to God in corporate worship and break bread. To hear his word proclaimed and taught. To encourage and exhort one another. To engage in corporate prayer (see Acts 2:42). Through these means we are, in significant part, preparing ourselves and each other to carry out the mission to the world to which Christ has called us. These are things that should be central for us. Most of the rest is just external trappings. Meantime, there is the gospel to be preached and souls to be saved, people to be clothed and fed, broken hearts to be bound up, prodigals who are drifting and need to be restored.
How significant, really, are many of the things we are disagreeing about? And how much discouragement have we caused each other? How many hours have been spent by leaders trying to address criticisms and disputes and how many of their meetings have been co-opted by the need to try to speak to them? What has the opportunity cost been in the gospel? Let me offer this plea: Next time we are inclined to criticize or dispute some change that has happened in response to the global crisis, whatever we may think of it, let’s make sure that raising the issue is really worth the distraction to our mission.