Community in Christian America.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic has exposed the American Church. Looking back exactly 365 days.
March 13, 2020. Friday the 13th. This is a day that will live on in infamy for anyone in my generation. This was the day that the world began to shut down as it dealt with the onslaught of an invisible enemy. It was the day that broadway went dark, the day that the Walt Disney Company announced that all of its remaining theme parks would close temporarily (some of which still have yet to open one year later). It was also the day that many churches in North America announced they would be closing their doors for in-person services, switching to online services only, for the health and safety of congregants.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is no stranger to the idea of not being able to gather with hundreds of other believers at once. The circumstances between Europe in 1933 and North America in 2020 are quite different, however there are some principles that still apply. “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” (Bonhoeffer 7). None of us are able to deny this truth. We as humans are meant to be in relationship with one another. It is the very reason for the creation of Eve. It is not good for man to be alone.
After churches began to close their doors in March of last year, many individuals who call themselves Christians became very angry. It was as if everything had been ripped from beneath their feet. They understandably spoke out against it. Of course some showed their foolishness by turning to conspiracy theories, and some showed absolutely no respect or compassion for those who were suffering as a result of this pandemic. The broad response to these events however leaves me to wonder. Has the American Church been exposed?
As I previously mentioned, we as humans are meant to be in relationship with one another. Prior to the fall, everything in the eyes of the Lord was good, except for one thing, and that was that Adam, was alone. The ability to gather with one another in praise and worship is truly a wonderful thing, however it is absolutely worthless if our only claim to faith is that we attend church on Sundays. Our relationships with one another in the faith community needs to extend beyond the four walls of our churches.
Relationships are great to have, but in order for them to be good, they have to be intentional. In earlier blog posts, I have mentioned my relationships with Rebecca and Katherine. To get to the point where we are today, where we are in fellowship with one another, we had to be intentional. We don’t even go to the same church. And yet, despite this, we have very close relationships, in which at the center, is Jesus.
What should have been an opportunity for Christians to tear down the walls of their churches and extend their community beyond, became nothing more than a festival of grumbling. The fact that here in the United States we have the privilege to publicly express and practice our faith is by God’s grace alone. As Bonhoeffer points out very plainly, not every believer has that luxury. Bonhoeffer himself was one of those people, dwelling in Germany at a time in which a madman saw his rise to power, and began to commit some of the most despicable acts known to man.
If we feel our communities are being ripped apart because we can’t see each other on Sunday’s, then we aren’t doing community correctly. Community isn’t a weekly gathering with live production and rock and roll music. Christianity isn’t going to Church every Sunday and voting Republican. If it was, I’d be an atheist. As Bonhoeffer points out, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” (Bonhoeffer 8). Notice how he doesn’t say “Christianity is the gathering of hundreds upon hundreds of believers in a building with cool lighting and neat slogans.” Community doesn’t end at the church building doors.
Bonhoeffer takes an interesting approach to Paul’s letters. He mentions “The greetings in the letters written with Paul’s own hand were doubtless tokens of such community.” (Bonhoeffer 8). Today, we are able to have more immediate communication with one another when we aren’t physically around each other, thanks to technology. Just as Paul wrote these letters because he was unable to be physically present with those they were addressed to, we can utilize our channels of communication to interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I will not deny that I have been very disappointed in the overall response of the American Church as it navigated through the pandemic. Many in the church made things about politics, something eerily similar to what Paul addresses in one of his letters to the church of Corinth. Further divisions were sown as a result of such basic things as face coverings. Things that have absolutely nothing to do with doctrine. Machen spoke about Christians dividing themselves over primary issues of doctrine. WE DIVIDED OURSELVES OVER A CLOTH.