On Monday, we gathered our staff for an emergency meeting to discuss things going forward in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. While we discussed postponing this and moving that and our various options for services, an impassioned staff member stood up and reminded us that our focus should not be on the “doing” side of church as much as it should be on the “being.”
I think this is the great tension that every church is feeling right now. How do we do our services, our Bible studies, small groups, and worship sets? It is not that the church or pastors are ignorant, it is just our natural thought processes in this modern era of church. It also doesn’t mean they are calloused to need, it just means that they are still trying to get their arms around this...whatever this is. But, I think the “doing of church” is relatively easy. It is the “being” aspect that becomes particularly difficult. I am processing what this means in this new pandemic age. But, I believe we can draw some strength on the being side by looking at scripture and church history.
In Acts 6, the early church was at a major crossroads. Swells of people were coming to Christ, and the Apostles realized that they were about to be overrun with need. It seems that they were still trying to formulate their opinions on what the church needed to be. It needed the word of God pumped into it regularly, but there was also a substantial human need that had to be met. I think the Apostles felt a great tension between doing and being.
So, what did they do?
Well, they employed leaders in their church, not theologians, not Bible scholars, not wealthy entrepreneurs...no, they chose leaders from different backgrounds to make sure that the needs of the people were going to be met.
James, in his letter, even gives us an idea of what true religion looks like. He says,
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).”
Being the church was something important to the church. Now, “being” does not trump doing things like preaching, teaching, worship, and prayer, but “being” must be just as important and take priority in the life of the believer.
Acts 6 was not a one-time occurrence, but it would be a defining value that Christians would be known for throughout history. Nor did the church’s compassion stay within the walls of the church. The earliest Christian writers, pastors and bishops all seemed to implore their parishioners to give. This appeal was not to build the church, but to demonstrate compassion to the most helpless in their society. Tertullian is credited as assaying, “Every one deposits a moderate contribution monthly if he chooses...it is to support the interment of the poor, the bringing up of boys and girls who have neither property nor parents, the relief of the aged, the shipwrecked, and those who are in mines, in prisons, or in exile.”
Similarly, as plague and pestilence ravaged Rome, it was Cyprian in city of Carthage that would implore his church by saying:
For if we only do good to those who do good to us, what do we more than the heathens and the publicans? If we are the children of God, who makes His sun to shine upon good and bad, and send rain on the just and the unjust, let us prove it by our acts, by blessing those who curse us, and doing good to those who who had need.
Then, there is the case of Eusebius in Ceaserea by the Sea. History tells us that the plague hit this metropolis in the fourth century and everyone began fleeing the city. People were frightened and worried for their life. After all, one person died for every four that got the plague. There was one group of people that decided to stay during the chaos, and it was the church. Eusebius recorded his accounts. And he tells us that:
All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.
Eusebius would go on to tell us that everyone knew and spoke about these Christians because of their heroic and loving acts. As a matter of fact, the transition from being a fringe group in the Roman Empire to a major movement in the empire is accredited to Christian’s “being” the church.
The last pagan emperor in Rome, Julian the Apostate, stated:
For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the priest (Julian is referring to the priest in the pagan temples), then I think the impious Galileans (Christians) observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy...They supported not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.
No matter what era we have lived in, Christians are generally marked by us “being” and not for us “doing.” Whether it is the nineteenth century and the Christians focusing on building schools, hospitals and roads as they evangelized to the 20th and 21st century by feeding and building water wells. We are at our best when we focus on “being,” and we increase the glorification of God which should not come as a surprise to us. After all, Jesus tells us:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35, ESV)
Sadly, I think we have been led to believe that we cannot do both.
Like I said at the beginning, “doing” church: preaching, teaching, worshipping and praying are essential elements, but we cannot forget being. They truly go hand in hand. I look at it this way.
“Doing” is external going internal. It deals with our growth and development. It is equipping or discipleship.
“Being” is internal going external. Really, it is the fruit of the “doing.” We love our neighbor and serve the helpless and the poor because we have a revelation of who Christ is which comes from “doing,”
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)
You see, we are not ill-prepared to “be” the church if we have been “doing” the church Biblically. Our “being” is an outgrowth of what God has been “doing” in us.
So, what does “being” look like.
Well, it will look different in a variety of context. For some, it is buying groceries for your neighbor. It might be inviting people lonely and isolated for a meal. It may be volunteering your time helping kids read on their days off. It is certainly praying for doctors, police officers, governmental officials and the like. It is always being kind, loving and full of faith and hope. “Being” is essential fo us to peel away the stereotypes of what it means to follow Christ.
This crisis will pass one day. Hopefully, it will leave us sooner or later. However long it last, my hope and prayer is for you to “be” the church doing these moments. And, when life turns to normal, may our “being” be a value we never forsake.