Recently, Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for conducting worship services at the church where he is pastor in Florida. I read a report that a Pennsylvania man is planning an “Easter Blowout” service in the manner of a “Woodstock” gathering. While I have significant theological differences with these two men, as a pastor I can somewhat sympathize with them. For the past two weeks the worship services of the church where I am pastor have been cancelled and will be this weekend as well. I am looking forward to the resumption of worship services in the same manner as a little child on December 24th is looking forward to Christmas; it can’t get here fast enough!
These past two weeks, I have recorded the messages that I would have preached under “normal” conditions if worship services not been cancelled, and posted them on the church’s web page. But it was just not the same. Instead of preaching to real live people, I sat at my desk, staring at a computer monitor. There was no interaction, no feedback, and consequently it was very difficult, at least for me, to add the emotional energy that the Word of God deserves into what I was preaching.
But worship services are more than only the proclamation of the Word of God. Hebrews 10:25 admonishes Christians not to forsake the assembling together for the purposes of worship. There is a vital benefit to believers in coming together for the purpose of corporate worship. If nothing more (and there is much, much more), the encouragement that a believer can receive being among others who are traveling the same road and fighting the same battles is absolutely necessary to the continuance of the journey and gaining of victories in the battles of life.
If I understand correctly, religious institutions are exempt from the restrictions imposed in Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County where the church I pastor is located. Legally, we could conduct worship services. But simply because something is legal does not mean that it is also within the will of God. Unfortunately, the murder of the unborn is legal, but it is certainly not within God’s will. Sometimes personal legal rights must be surrendered for the purposes of a greater common good. The question is if this is one of those “sometimes”?
Years ago there was a popular acronym WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?). I have consistently said that the acronym was a letter off. It should have been WDJD? (What Did Jesus Do?). The first is subjective as to its answer. The second is objective. And so I search the gospels to find a situation where Jesus was conflicted between exercising His legal rights and the greater need of mankind. I find it in how He stood before Pontus Pilate on what we call Good Friday. Jesus was charged with the crime of sedition. It was alleged that He was revolting against Roman authority in seeking to institute His kingdom. The charges were bogus. Jesus had every legal right to defend Himself from the accusations, and more than likely, could have acquitted Himself before Pilate. But there was a greater need. Mankind needed a Savior, One who could bear all of mankind’s sin and pay for it with their death. That was the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and one to which Jesus had given Himself completely. And so He sacrificed His rights as well as His body that man might have eternal life.
It absolutely goes against every fiber in my body not to be in a corporate worship service on Easter and yet, it looks like that will be the case this year. My joy of proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ will more than likely be through the means of the internet. But the joy of Easter comes only as a result of the relinquishing of the personal and legal rights of the Savior. I trust that when this pandemic comes to a conclusion, we will experience the same joy.