Late last week our church leadership took the unprecedented step of suspending worship services. Our initial plan was to do this for two Sundays and then reassess. However, in the meantime, the Australian government has ordered the closure of places of worship (along with other public gatherings). So it seems that we may be “in exile” for a while, possibly even up to six months.
While we’re sad about not being able to gather together, our congregation still has the opportunity to hear God’s Word. We have the technology to live-stream (our church’s YouTube channel) and we’re thankful for that. Last Sunday, I gave two messages at the times we would normally gather for worship in the morning and afternoon. Many of our members were able to use that, and even some from outside our congregation.
We’ve been careful not to say that these live-streams are “worship services.” They’re not. They’re a poor substitute for what we normally do on Sundays. Nothing compares to gathering together in person in the presence of God. Because it’s not a worship service, I don’t stand on the pulpit. We don’t have the call to worship, salutation, reading of the law, assurance of pardon, or benediction. We do encourage our members to sing wherever they’re gathered and with whomever they’re gathered – even to sing by themselves if need be. I supply them with suggested songs. We also encourage them to pray together, and prayer points are supplied to that end. We all pray for the day when these measures are history and we can return to our normal public worship.
Related to the foregoing, different churches have adopted different measures. Some of those decisions may need to be revised in the coming days. Whatever the case may be, we ought to remember that “Satan loves to fish in troubled waters” (adapting from Thomas Watson). We’re in troubled waters and Satan wants to divide and conquer. He wants Christians to be at each other’s throats. Satan wants us to be biting and devouring one another – it serves his cause. I respect the fact that there are other consistories who have taken a different approach to my church’s. I might not agree that their approach is the best, but there’s no need for me to publicly or privately criticize them. Let’s just respect one another and do what we can to strengthen the unity of God’s people in this trying time.
Finally, more than ever, believers need to be serious about their personal Bible reading. You may not be able to go to public worship. You might not be able to attend Bible study. But you can still read and study your Bible at home by yourself. There’s no obstacle to doing that. If there’s ever a time when we all need regular spiritual encouragement from God’s Word, it’s now. If you’re not already using a Bible reading plan, let me encourage you to do so (lots of options here). Don’t worry that you’re starting late in the year — just start where you are and carry on. Satan would love to use this crisis to drive you away from God. Resist him. Instead, let this crisis be a means through which God draws you closer to himself. That means making use of whatever’s available – and the main thing that’s still available is the Bible. Read it. It’ll be a source of strength to get you through this.