The non-essential church

The non-essential church


Times of crisis reveal much about us as individuals: our courage, faith, integrity and more. They also reveal much about the state of a society or nation. Like those stars on a map of a park trail, certain moments in a crisis tell us, “You are here.”

Recently New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked why the coronavirus infection rate was slowing in his state. He said, “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that.” He wasn’t asked about God or prayer, he just said it. That was a “you are here” moment for society.

Acknowledging God and providence is a common theme through our history, whether calling for a day of prayer in the crisis or a day of thanksgiving after. Today, it’s common for officials to just ignore any role God might play in our world. But there’s a big difference between ignoring God and outright denying He deserves any credit at all for anything; from miraculous intervention, to strengthening medical professionals, to acknowledging He gave some the minds to develop therapies and technologies.

Even more alarming is Cuomo’s comments hardly created a stir with almost no comments from the media or church leaders, showing that secularism is now firmly embedded in our culture. Not the kind of secularism that takes Christianity and its claims about truth and morality head on, but the kind that dismisses and relegates them as just personal, private commitments, irrelevant to public life and maybe even in the way.

It’s clear that, as a society, we don’t take seriously God’s place in this world anymore, beyond being a source of personal encouragement and maybe inspiration. We are no longer the kind of people who really turn to God in times of trouble. And the growing conflict between churches and local governments only confirms this analysis. For instance, the demand by our government that churches not gather for worship during times of crisis. In some places people were ticketed and fined for attending a drive-in church service, while fully complying with social distancing guidelines, listening to the sermon on radio in the church parking lot with windows rolled up. Surely if we can trust people to go grocery shopping in a safe manner, we can gather safely, using prudence and doing everything reasonable and lawful to minimize the risk to worshippers as well as to the community at large.

Our governments deem churches “non-essential.” (In many jurisdictions abortion is an “essential service”, but worshiping God is not!) But the sad truth is that for many “Christians” the church has long been considered “non-essential”, well before COVID-19. When they choose to simply stay home rather than attend church, or choose to go for a weekend of shopping, partake of their favourite recreation, attend functions that conflict with times of worship and so on, they have already declared to God and man that the church is a non-essential aspect of their lives. Governments have seen that and are just using this pandemic to make official what many have already made a practice.

Jonathan Thomas