The Importance of Gathering
To the CBC Family:
At the advent of COVID-19 in March, we would have never thought that a day would come when our church would be asked to stop in-person gatherings. But we were. Government officials encouraged all large gatherings to stop. President Trump asked all groups over 50 persons not to gather. There was a new virus that was estimated to kill 2-3 million Americans if we did nothing. So we complied. Our Elders took this seriously, not out of fear or politic, but out of love and concern for the safety of our people and in obedience to our government officials which Romans 13 commands us. We closed our doors and began online services.
I began my pastorate in the middle of the lockdown, and as I reflect on what has happened over the past months and how we should go forward as a church, I want us to consider two key, biblical questions:
Who Holds the Keys to the Kingdom?
In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks his disciples who they thought He was. Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16:16). Moments later Jesus says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (16:19).
So what are the keys of the kingdom? Keys symbolize power and authority. This imagery is applied to the risen Christ who has “the keys of Death and Hell” (Rev 1:18). Scripture teaches that government has been given civic and social authority to govern by the laws of men, and we ought to obey. It also teaches that the church of Jesus has been given spiritual authority to govern by the law of God. Through the faithful proclamation of the gospel, God opens the door of the kingdom to those who respond in faith, while also keeping it shut from those who disobey the Gospel. So, the keys of the kingdom are God’s deputized authority to his church to preach the Gospel. God’s Kingdom matters, and preaching the gospel is essential to sustaining and growing His Kingdom. No earthly authority has the right to stop the church from this task.
What Makes a Church a Church?
A local church is an assembly. If a church never meets, it’s not a biblical church. Meeting, however, isn’t just something churches do. A meeting is who we are. God has saved us as individuals but called us to be a part of Christ’s body, a gathered assembly. The word in the New Testament used for the gathered church is ekklesia, it means an assembly or gathering.
A church is a devoted, blood-bought people called to worship the Living God. We gather to listen to Scripture, fellowship, break bread, and pray. We do this by assembling together in a specific time and space.
What does the New Testament teach us about the local church gathering?
- Churches gather regularly. Paul uses phrases like “when you come together as a church” and “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23).
- A church assembly is a distinct event. This is evident because Paul provides specific instructions on what believers should do “in church”—that is, in the church meeting. “In church, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19).
- Even large churches met as one body in the New Testament era. Thousands of believers belonged to the congregation at Jerusalem, yet they met “all together in Solomon’s Portico” (Acts 5:12).
- New Testament writers instruct churches to do activities that mark a church as unique. In Acts 2:42 says…they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer!” These things happen in community, they cannot happen without gathering together.
What picture do we see here? A church is a devoted, blood-bought people called to worship the Living God. We gather to listen to Scripture, fellowship, break bread, and pray. The church is set apart and committed to the service of others, using spiritual gifts, and loving their neighbors. They do all this by assembling together in a specific time and space.
But the church is more than a gathering. It also scatters. Jesus said we are salt and light. True believers continue to be the church throughout the week—representing Christ in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods. But a church is never less than a gathering.
The Importance of Gathering
As I look across our gatherings, I see believers helping one another follow Christ through hardships, cancer, miscarriage, addiction, depression. And they are doing that by assembling together. We sing the same songs, pray together, hear the same scriptures read and preached, and share in fellowship. All kinds of people of various ages and backgrounds come together in this gathering. It may feel like a pretty normal Sunday to us, but it leaves the outside world speechless. Where else can you find such diversity of people in unity? This bright witness for the gospel is possible because Kingdom Citizens gather.
We hold the keys to the Kingdom as we gathering often for worship, fellowship, instruction and prayer. God delights to pour out his presence on his people as they gather for worship. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, meets us in a special way when we assemble.
As we consider how we will respond to COVID-19 going forward (or to any other civil or social situation), we must hold fast to these biblical, theological truths. CBC will continue to follow Romans 13 and submit to our government. We will follow health guidelines in our gatherings as set out by our government officials. But if we are asked to stop being the church—from assembling together or proclaiming the gospel, we cannot comply. Our authority and mandate comes from God, and as the early apostles stated: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b).
- Published: 11 September 2020 11 September 2020
An Update from Church Leadership
On behalf of the elders and staff of Calvary Bible Church, I would like to give you an update on how our church has responded to COVID-19 in recent months. As stated in previous communications, this has been a highly unusual time in our church’s history. Information changes daily, and there are many facets to the issues we must address. The purpose of this communication is to share some insight into the decisions that have been made.
Since mid-March, the church has had to deal with a number of issues that required a quick response. This is not easy when dealing with a large church, conflicting “facts,” and people with a variety of physical, spiritual, and social backgrounds and perspectives. The principles outlined in Romans 13–15 and 1 Corinthians 9:22 have been the Scriptures guiding our decisions. I strongly encourage you to read these passages. While these verses provide truth and guidance, our ability to make perfect decisions and responses as elders and staff is fallible. We ask for your patience as we wrestle with these difficult issues.
The principles in Romans 13–15 and 1 Corinthians 9:22 are summarized in the verses below (quoted from the HCSB):
“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities … so then the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command … do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason.” – Romans 13:1–4
“… Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.” – Romans 13:9b-10
“Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues.” – Romans 14:1
“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5
“But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God.” – Romans 14:10
“Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way.” Romans – 14:13
“So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food.” – Romans 14:19
“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength.” – Romans 15:1
“Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepts you, to the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7
“To the weak I become weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” I Corinthians 9:22
In summary, the three primary principles that have been guiding our decisions are:
- To honor our government. We should have cause to fear if we disobey our government.
- To love all people.
- To become all things to all people that we may win them to Christ. In other words, we are trying to accommodate as many people as possible so long as it does not cause us to violate Scripture.
When COVID-19 first broke out, we were mandated by the government to shut down. At that time, based on the best information we had, we willingly complied. Our goals were to glorify Christ, protect our flock from a potentially serious disease, and obey our governing authorities as much as possible.
When our church reopened, the three principles listed above guided our decisions. The survey we received from the congregation showed that there were three categories of people at CBC:
- Those who were not comfortable returning to church.
- Those who would only return with precautionary measures being taken.
- Those who did not want to worship with restrictions.
In our goal of becoming all things to all people, we have tried to be respectful of and accommodate all three groups.
- We offered online services.
- We required masks during the 8:45am service.
- The 10:45am service contained no restrictions other than social distancing.
This was done out of love and respect for all three groups.
It took time to reopen after the restrictions were lifted. We needed to complete the survey, talk to the medical community, and determine the appropriate cleaning procedures to establish safe conditions for congregants and staff. We had to order, setup, and learn to use technical equipment so we could live-stream the service. We knew that up to half of our congregants would not be able to attend on Sunday for some time, and we did not want to reopen the church and be unable to provide a worship service for those individuals. Another consideration was volunteer needs. It was necessary to find volunteers willing to serve and establish protocols for various ministries to operate. We opened the church as quickly as possible.
Another issue we have faced is the nature and content of our services. Our sermon series were planned months in advance to allow those delivering the messages time to prepare, and now we are having “family services” every week. People are tuning in at home with their families and children are attending in-person services. We are learning how to present content that enables parents to help their young children participate. This is a work in progress, and we ask for patience as we navigate this issue.
The latest issue was Governor Evers' unexpected announcement requiring masks. This announcement was received on Thursday afternoon at 3pm. Our weekend services and activities had already been planned, and video recording was due to start at 7pm. The church had four hours to adjust. We do not have lawyers or doctors on staff, and we had limited information. Based on the information we had, we announced that masks would be required, and adjustments would be made in future weeks.
After receiving feedback from congregants, working through the details of the weekend services, and gaining better understanding the Governor’s mask mandate, we want to clarify our position and expectations:
We will continue to offer online services for those who cannot attend in-person. We will continue to require that those attending the 8:45am service on Sunday morning wear masks to protect those with health concerns. The 10:45am service will follow the Governor’s order regarding masks. The Governor’s order contains a number of exemptions. It is your responsibility to determine whether you should wear a mask or if you meet one of these exemptions. We will not be asking why a person is not wearing a mask. We are not the enforcers of the government mandate. We urge you to extend grace and mercy to others regardless of which of the three options they choose.
In the decisions we have made over the past five months, our intent has been to love our congregation. We want the name of Christ to be glorified in all we do. As elders and staff, we encourage our church family to love one another, respect our government authorities as much as possible, and, especially, to lift up the name of Christ.
We love our Savior, we love our church, and we love all who attend. Our motives are pure and our goals are noble, but our implementation may not always be perfect. We ask for an extra measure of patience and grace as we work through these unusual times. We have an enemy who seeks to divide and destroy, but Jesus Christ brings love, life, and eternal salvation.
- Published: 06 August 2020 06 August 2020
Update on Services and Congregational Vote
Effective August 1, the Governor of Wisconsin has mandated that masks are to be worn indoors everywhere except private residences (click to read the mandate and exceptions). Wearing masks won't prevent us from worshipping God and preaching the gospel. We will have Worship Services at 8:45am and 10:45am this Sunday with masks required. We will have a limited number of masks available; please bring your own if possible. We encourage you to join us in worship! Our church leadership is considering service options for the coming weeks. A reminder that parking for all worship services will be in the front parking lot starting this Sunday.
Update on Congregational Vote
In response to the Governor's mandate, we will have two options for voting on Sunday at 6pm: A seating area in the Worship Center where masks will be required and a drive-thru area in the back parking lot. Church elders and members of the construction committee will be available to answer questions and receive feedback in both voting areas. Drive-thru voting will be open from 6pm to 7pm.
- Published: 31 July 2020 31 July 2020