And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -- Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
The New York Times ran the names of the one hundred thousand dead Americans at the hands of the COVID virus. They ran not just the names but small snippets from their obituaries to give us a small window into their lives and who they were. Sandra Santos-Vizcaino was 54 and a New York City teacher. John Prine from Nashville, 73, was a country-folk singer who Bob Dylan frequented. Jordan Driver-Haynes of Cedar Rapids was only 27 and simply described as a generous young man with a delightful grin. These were our neighbors. These people mattered to someone. They died alone. Their families did not even get the chance to bury them properly. Do they matter to you today? Did their lives deserve more consideration than three lines on the front page of the Times? Did they? What if it was your grandmother? Your son? Your spouse? Would you feel differently then? Would the names matter to you then?
This is the blood-stained backdrop to the Sunday where many NAR dominionist churches get their wish and will reopen. They seemingly do not care that they got played by the president, who came out and boldly asserted exactly what Paula White told him to. That church was essential after all, hallelujah, damn those liberal governors and pass the offering plate because we are back in business! I mean, we can worship again, yeah, that's what I meant. Of course the body of Christ always understood that they were essential. Even during lock down time our prayers were essential. We knew that our individual worship of Almighty God was essential. Our acts of Christian kindness amidst a pandemic were essential. Pastors who are not hirelings understood this. They used this time to still run community-based services that could easily adhere to local ordinances. They worked with local law enforcement to accomplish this because they did not follow Facebook memes created by 12 year-olds designed to pit the church against the state. True shepherds in God's church used this time wisely to provide internet for their flock who did not have. They coordinated virtual and streaming services so the word of God could still be preached and people not be infected by a deadly plague. They had their small groups meet virtually as well to discuss the sermon and pray for the needs of the church, community and the dying world. Pastors used this crucial time to reach out and individually pastor their sheep. Not sit around and whine about not being able to grab the spotlight.
That is what the hirelings have done. I had someone feigning upset because I "lumped all pastors who wanted to reopen as NAR." Too bad. Let me be clear. I am not saying you wake up every day and consciously put on a NAR tee-shirt. We all know the NAR is far too insidious and subtle for that. I am saying what you believe and preach is exactly what they believe and preach. I am saying your goals line up directly with their goals. You are on the same team as Rodney Howard-Browne and Paula White. You can pretend you are not but you are and you should be marked as such. Please, if you do not understand the key verses today, stop abusing them. Let me explain briefly why these verses clearly do not apply to our current situation. The term neglect indicates a willful choice. This situation is far from that as we are being asked to temporarily stay at home to protect one another. We are being asked this to at least honor the 100,000 lives that have already been lost. Secondly, as Christians we are called to honor God. We honor God by loving our neighbors and not showing callous indifference towards them. We honor God by obeying the authorities He has placed in command. Thirdly, we are supposed to love our neighbor and redeem the time we have with the lost. By acting petulant towards authority and seeming to not care about people getting sick and dying, we bring no honor to God. We instead make it about us, which is a hallmark of the NAR. Their gospel is about us and not God. Their worship is about us and not God. Their preaching is all self-help and motivation, about us and not God. Lastly, most churches already live stream their services and allow for many to attend virtually before this pandemic. So why was that not forsaking the assembly before? Because it was not. During the Spanish Flu churches were similarly asked to close and here was the answer from the Assemblies of God:
"All churches, missions, etc., including the Assembly of God, are closed because of the scourge of Spanish Influenza that is raging in the town. ... We are finding it a splendid opportunity to devote additional time to prayer for our missionaries, and for the soldier boys [who were fighting in World War I], and for rain all over the world in this time of the Latter Rain. Where assemblies are closed, let the saints devote the time they would spend at meeting to the Word and to prayer."
Moving past the latter rain mention, the overall point here was the acknowledgement that just because they could not gather did not mean the church was closed. It is only the purpose driven theology that limits "church" to an hour and a half on Sunday. The church is so much more than smoke machines, rocking music and a sermon about how you are David defeating your giants. What COVID has revealed is how shallow the NAR and purpose driven church models has rendered the American church. That they cannot fathom their faith beyond that hour and a half on Sundays. I love corporate worship but our faith was meant to be so much more than that.
COVID has also revealed the shallowness of the purpose driven pastor. They were raised to be a CEO, not a shepherd. Andy Stanley has openly stated he believes the term shepherd should not even be used anymore because it lacks cultural relevance. As if God cares what we think. As a CEO, the purpose driven pastor sees COVID crippling his revenue stream and threatening his business. He cannot even think beyond the hour and a half on Sunday because to him that is church. He cannot imagine actually shepherding his flock. Calling them individually. Praying with them. Being their shepherd. Because he is not. So instead he fights for them as carnally as he leads them. He instills a sense of corporate victimhood. A sense of faux Christian persecution. He does so reasonably. He swears he is not being rebellious when he clearly is. He speaks eloquently about rights enumerated by God and wraps himself up in the constitution, a document he clearly does not understand. He speaks with a concerned gravity about making sure that his congregants are socially distancing and wearing masks as if he was an epidemiologist or a virologist. Would you trust your pastor to give you investment advice or would you speak to a market investor? Would you ask your pastor to perform surgery on you or would you turn to a surgeon? Why on God's green earth are we trusting our pastors with how to best protect us from a virus? I love my pastor and if I wanted anything spiritual -- he would be the first person I would turn to. But he would be the last person I would ask about strategies during a pandemic.