Once again, John is typing this post at my dictation. I’m getting better, and even sat at the computer for 15 minutes last night. However, I am still looking for a morning PCA who can help me build up my back muscles. Consequently, I am not able to include Scripture verses or links to citations at this time. Thank you for your patience and prayer as I recover from my back injury.
First Baptist Church of Weymouth has been open since May, but various circumstances have prevented me and John from attending. Even between my illnesses and back injuries, mask mandate makes it impossible for me to drive my power wheelchair because I operate the joystick with my face. Essentially, John and I are now shut-ins.
Throughout recent months, I’ve been hearing podcasts explaining that church attendance is a command from God. This weekend, in fact, Chris Hohnholz and Rich Story did their Voice Of Reason Radio podcast examining Scriptures directing Christians to meet together. Since Rich has a disability that prevents him from attending his local church, they were careful to note that some Christians are legitimately unable to meet with their fellowships on Sunday mornings (I deeply appreciated their carefulness to mention that fact). But they spent the bulk of their program urging listeners not to depend on livestreams and podcasts rather than going to church physically.
I have often thought about asking Chris and Rich to do a program addressing the needs of shut-ins. Those of us who cannot physically attend church often feel frustrated to hear sermons and podcasts about the necessity of going to church. At least I do. Although I know that the Bible explicitly says that Christians must gather together, I also know that John and I have absolutely no way of obeying that command. Yet it always seemed as if the Bible overlooked Christians in our situation.
Then I started thinking about the apostle Paul.
Certainly, most of the Scriptures advocating church attendance came through the pen of Paul. There is no way to convince me that he regarded church as an optional activity! Most of the epistles were written to collective church bodies instructing them on how to work together as the Body of Christ, indicating the assumption that they would meet together regularly. And if, as some have suggested, the book of Hebrews is a transcription of one of Paul’s sermons, the command in Hebrews 10 not to forsake the assembly strengthens the case that Paul regarded church involvement as a necessity.
Yet in the last chapter of Acts, as well as in the epistles of Philippians, Colossians, and the letters to Timothy make it clear that Paul endured one or more imprisonments. Obviously, during those times, he was essentially a shut-in himself. If anyone understood the loneliness and frustration of being separated from the church, Paul could. In no way can we assume that he rebelled against God’s command to gather with the Body.
Paul could have written that a Christian didn’t need church in order to faithfully follow Christ. Indeed, he could have pointed to his own situation and made the argument that church was an option but not mandatory. Didn’t his example prove that one could stay close to Christ even without the fellowship of other believers?
Yes and no.
Paul did remain faithful to the Lord despite his isolation from the Body. The Lord sustained him throughout those years of imprisonment, graciously sending other Christians to visit him and care for his needs. Similarly, God has brought Christians to care for me while I am waiting for a morning Personal Care Attendant, providing me and John with fellowship that we can’t get due to our inability to attend church services. Meditating on Paul’s imprisonments has encouraged me to believe that God does sustain Christians who cannot attend church.
However, Paul’s letters uniformly insist that the church can only function when its members work together, presupposing that they are meeting regularly and faithfully. Nowhere does Paul even hint that a Christian can isolate from other believers. 1st Corinthians 12 demonstrates his conviction that the church is a body whose members depend on each other. Without a doubt, he would never advocate staying home and watching services on the computer when one is physically able to go to a church!
As someone who has joined the ranks of shut-ins, I would plead with able bodied people to attend their local churches regularly. This past year has taught me that, although livestream services and Bible Studies from First Baptist Weymouth bless me and John with some degree of connection with our beloved church family, they cannot replace the joys of being with that family. Before yesterday’s service, the microphone inadvertently picked up the sounds of people fellowshiping — I couldn’t understand anything they said, but I recognized my girlfriend’s laughter. Those few minutes of hearing fellowship reminded me of how precious it is to be physically at church. It also made me sad that many people opt to stay home and “do church” in their jammies.
If you are able-bodied, don’t take church for granted. Being with your church family is not only a command from God, but it is a privilege that you won’t appreciate until it is taken away from you. I beg you to cherish your ability to attend church, and I encourage you to serve your church as faithfully as God allows.
For those of you who are shut-ins, I encourage you to look for ways of supporting your church even in your absence. Be diligent to give financially to support its ministry and staff. Pray often for the pastors, elders, deacons and other church leaders as they work to advance the Gospel. And reach out to members of your church, especially other shut-ins. Remember that you always have some way of contributing to the Body.