Looking forward to Sunday?
It's been almost two years now since life as we know it began to change due to Covid, and the pandemic looks like it's no where near to it's end. The Covid pandemic affected the church just as well as many other aspects of life. By now we've also heard arguments on why the church is essential, why and how should the church submit to the authorities, including limitations (see Acts 4:19), and how to act in a way worthy of our calling to be the "salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).
But on this occasion I would like to address the question: are we looking forward to Sunday? During the pandemic many churches closed their doors. While some had to do so, for financial or other unfortunate reasons, others did it by choice. On an article from November with the title "Churches Changed During the Pandemic and Many Aren’t Going Back", The Wall Street Journal discussed the second reason. In her article, Janet Adamy wrote that people grew accustomed to watching Sunday services online which is what the future might look like. As a result, the in-person church attendance in the U.S. dropped during the pandemic by 30% to 50%. However, it is not only the congregates who are moving into this direction. Janet wrote in her article that some churches [that is the church leaders], are focused on boosting people's engagement by putting more emphasis on a one-on-one relationship with God. Meanwhile in the U.K. we see a similar pattern that echos that same attempt by some church leaders. In an article written during one of the lockdowns, the Baptist Union of Great Britain shared what I can only describe as a disturbing initiative by a pastor of a small London church. Nick Graves from Old Lodge Lane Church in Purley, south London said that he became really uncomfortable with the Sunday morning service model, which is often led from the front, by a middle-class person. He went on to say that on Sunday mornings people are usually involved with sport or wanting a lie-in which is why the church decided to move the service to Thursday evenings. "When not being spoon-fed from the front, people were capable of studying scripture themselves; learning the art of silence, contemporary spirituality; all without the need for the traditional Sunday format", Nick added. The result is that once restrictions lifted "Sunday wasn’t actually missed."
There is a lot to say about Nick's drift from Scriptures and pragmatism in his and the church's initiative. However, one particular detail that drew my attention with reference to my question is the casualness with which the Sunday service was abandoned in this instance. On one hand it's the convenience of watching a Sunday services online without having to get up and actually travel to church. I've heard on a couple of occasions people describing the freedom of watching an online service in their pyjamas as liberating, as if the Sunday service was an inconvenience. On the other hand the Sunday service is simply not a priority anymore. As well as an inconvenience for attendance in person, it can be in the way of sports or other personal hobbies, or simply a lie-in as described by Nick. The result: The Lord's Day suddenly becomes my day.
When realising the danger of drifting I felt prompted to analyse myself and be honest with my priorities and preferences especially when it comes to the Lord's Day. The chart below shows some questions beginning by simply asking: Do I look forward to Sunday? and followed by the reasoning behind the initial answer. As a truly regenerate Christian it is important to ask one's self: do I long to have fellowship with the Lord in the midst of His congregation on the Lord's Day?
It is easy to figure out what the correct answer might be form the graph above, but that is not the aim of this exercise. Presumably we do seek to go to church on a Sunday morning, the questions to ask ourselves are: (1) what do I want from the Sunday service? and (2) what does God want from my worship of Him? It is not a bad thing to look forward to some weekend relaxing time. We all need to switch off from the busyness of our daily lives whether it's work, study or anything else that God has called us to do. However, the time of personal relaxation should not be at the detriment of fellowship with God first and then with one another. There are two considerations to be made here:
1. The hunger.
As does the body, so does the soul needs feeding. The question to ask ourselves, therefore, is: do we feel hungry when the soul isn't fed as we do with our physical body? People who are used to attending a Sunday service every week tend to fall into the routine. The issue with the routine is that when the attendance stops, as with the pandemic lockdowns, apart from the initial awkward disturbance in the routine, there is no hunger for going back. As described in the article above, the Sunday [service] isn’t actually missed.
2. The worship.
Whether we realise it or not everyone worships. You may consider yourself to be an atheist or simply not a Christian but you still worship. The difference is that if you do not worship God, your creator, you will most certainly worship someone else and very likely that is yourself. The Lord's Day is set apart for the Lord, the clue is in the name. However, as sinful fleshly beings, so often we are tempted to take what belongs to God and attribute it to ourselves forgetting that "our chief end is to glorify God" (The Westminster Shorter Catechism).
So does that mean that the church is failing? Not so, for Christ will build His church, and "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Nevertheless, it is discouraging to see churches being closed and professing Christians departing form Scripture. But at the same time we are to be reminded that true Christians "born again of the Spirit" (John 3:5), "set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5). May the Lord help us to do so for His glory!
Soli Deo Gloria!
The Wall Street Journal (Janet Adamy)
The Baptist Union of Great Britain