Sunday morning comes around and you are not feeling too well; your fever is triple digits, the bathroom is a mess for unspeakable reasons, and you look like you just ran a marathon while all you have done is pour a cup of coffee. Or maybe you feel fine but when you look out the window all you see is the whitest snow in a blanket thick enough to swim in. Or maybe the weather is fine, but the world has gone crazy with a pandemic, cleaning out Walmart as if everyone became a survivalist overnight trying to stock up their fallout shelter. (I cannot wait to tell my grandkids that I lived through the Great Toilet-Paper Famine of 2020.) The point is, you aren’t going to church. What do you do?
Did you know that Christians did not always have a church building? In our minds the church building is tied to our concept of Sunday worship: gathering at the church building at ten, singing songs, getting the latest announcements, passing an offering basket, listening to preaching, eating a Communion cracker and cup of juice, concluding in prayer, and going home. The church building, however, is a matter of convenience and not a requirement. (Remember, the “church” in God’s word is the family of Christians, not the church building, 1 Cor. 3:9,16.)
One of the beauties of worshipping God is that its spiritual nature eliminates the need for most physical things. To set up a time to worship God requires only a few (physical) things:
- Nothing external is required to pray.
[1Th 5:17 ESV] …pray without ceasing…
- When it comes to singing,
[Col 3:16 ESV] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
…the only thing you require are the lyrics (unless you want to sing your own songs). Many songs you will have memorized and if you do not, then the lyrics are easily found with a simple Google search.
- When it comes to the collection,
[1Co 16:2 ESV] On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
…you can send a check in the mail (I don’t recommend sending cash in the mail) to your church. You can still take a moment of thankful prayer to God for your possessions.
- When it comes to the Lord’s Supper,
[1Co 11:28 ESV] Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
…what is required is simply unleavened bread (bread without yeast, like a tortilla) and fruit of the vine (grape juice). These are not difficult to obtain.
- When it comes to the lesson from God’s Word,
[Act 20:7 ESV] On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
…all you need is God’s word. You can make some time to study your Bible yourself. If you have a group, one person can bring a lesson. A great point here is how the Lord has blessed us with the internet. If you want to hear a lesson there are many sermons on the internet that you all can watch. A simple google or youtube search will lead you to one. (For suggestions see below)
- When it comes to the assembling (gathering together with fellow Christians)
[1Co 5:4 ESV] When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus…
…there is a usual requirement of fellow brothers and sisters gathering together. But in these crazy times, gathering together is not possible.
I suppose that is the purpose of this article, to answer the question, What do I do when I cannot meet with my church?
God’s word has answers. Looking in the Bible we find the “first day of the week” was when Christians gathered together; there are examples in God’s word of people not being able to meet with brethren on that first day of the week and many examples of brethren meeting together in homes.
The “first day of the week” is simply our Sunday since the seventh day is the Sabbath (Saturday). In Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2,9 and John 20:1, we learn that on Sunday Jesus rose, the disciples found the empty tomb, and Jesus appeared to the disciples. Thus, the disciples used that day to assemble to worship the Lord.
There are times in God’s word when Paul was unable to worship on Sunday. For instance, in Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas were in prison because Paul cast out the demon of a slave woman who was the cash cow of her owners. The owners fabricated a story of Paul and Silas to have them arrested. After being beaten, flogged, and imprisoned, Paul and Silas could not have gathered with brethren to worship together.
(The text of Acts 16 does not mention whether their time in jail included a Sunday or not, but) notice that Paul and Silas worshiped God even in their circumstance,
[Act 16:25 ESV] About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…
A better example is Paul’s imprisonment in Acts 21 which lasts even beyond the book of Acts, meaning it had to include many Sundays. Do you suppose the guards of the prison let Paul out on Sundays or that they would escort him to a gathering of Christians to worship? No. Do you think there were Christians in every prison Paul was placed in? Probably not.
Paul’s imprisonment included travel to Rome so he could present his case to Caesar. On board a ship, there was a storm in Acts 27. Scripture tells us they were on the boat for at least fourteen days, that would include at least one Sunday that Paul was unable to meet with fellow Christians (Scripture does not mention that there were other Christians on the boat–no doubt Paul tried to make it so).
We never have a mention of condemnation on Paul for not gathering with fellow Christians when he could not. In all the instances he could gather with Christians he would, like in Troas he delayed in the town to worship with the brethren on Sunday even though he was in a hurry on his travel (Acts 27:7-12, 16). In this way, Paul was not forsaking the gathering together of Christians because he attended every time he could. He upheld the command that would be written in Heb. 10:25,
[Heb 10:24-25 ESV] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Paul did not “neglect to meet together” when he could not meet with fellow Christians. That word “neglect” is also translated to “forsake,” “giving up,” or “abandoning.” The word means to “abandon, desert” or “to leave behind among, to leave surviving.”
This command is not demanding you to have 100% attendance rate in church gatherings. It is a command to continue meeting with your brethren, which leaves room for the exceptions. An exception was Paul in prison. An exception for you might be the weather. An exception might be a chaotic Chinese flu pandemic (if such a thing ever happened).
When you are in a circumstance where you cannot assemble with your brethren, what are you to do? There is an example in Revelation with John that may apply to this situation.
In Revelation 1 John was on the small island of Patmos (10 by 6 miles) where Rome threw away their exiles. Revelation contains the vision(s) given to John while on this island. Introducing the vision John records this occurred,
[Rev 1:9-10 ESV] I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…
First off, the “Lord’s day” undoubtedly indicates Sunday. The word lord is in the Dative case, which usually indicates possession. The phrase “day of the Lord” is common in Scripture but often refers to a day of the Lord’s reckoning where he punishes the evil and saves the good. In that phrase, “day of the Lord,” lord is in the Genitive case which can, but does not always, indicate possession. The words are the same but this phrase uses it slightly differently to indicate Sunday.
Secondly, John was “in the Spirit.” A prophet with supernatural guidance of the Spirit like John was able to speak God’s word and/or see visions of God’s message. In Rev. 1:10 John was “in the Spirit,” which is likely him being guided and educated by the Holy Spirit.
Why is John spending his time being guided by the Spirit on Sunday (the Lord’s Day)? I do not think this is a coincidence that John happens to be spending time in the Spirit on Sunday. This is a great example for us on Sundays, especially when we are not able to meet with brethren, like John in exile.
We may not be guided by the Spirit in the same capacity as John was, seeing visions and communicating inspired words from God, but we can worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) and we can be filled with Spirit as we sing to God (Eph. 5:18).
Being absent from the church building on Sunday does not mean you cannot worship the Lord. Sit in your living room and worship the Lord there. We do have a responsibility to gather with our brothers and sisters to encourage them and be unified in the Body of Christ, but when circumstances keep you from assembling do not let it keep you from devoting your time to God. If something keeps you from assembling, don’t let it keep you from worshiping!
While you are home, make some time for God. Make it a household event if you live with a spouse or children. Pray, sing, take the Lord’s Supper, and listen to a lesson from God’s word if you can.
Nowadays, there are countless churches who stream their worship service live on Facebook or Youtube. These churches stream their entire worship service,
- Facebook, Estes Church of Christ in Henderson, Tennessee
- Youtube, Brown Trail Church of Christ in Bedford, Texas
On Youtube, these churches and organizations have many sermons and worship services,
- Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas
- Valley View Church of Christ, in Jonesboro, Arkansas
- Searching for Truth
- Search TV Ministry
- Polishing the Pulpit
- Bear Valley Institute
And do not forget that www.sunnysideroadchurch.com has many sermons that have been preached during worship.
If you are stuck at home, take some time to worship God even if it is alone. For the time being we can return to worshipping in our homes like they did in the New Testament (1Co 16:19; Col 4:15, Rom 16:5, Phm 1:1-2).
I will end with this,
[Col 3:15-17 ESV] 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.