BY BRETT CHRISTENSEN —
The response to the pandemic has led to people in many parts of the world being confined to their houses. The degree of restriction varies from place to place, but in some parts people are forbidden even to leave their houses, except for essential purposes like getting food or medical attention. Very commonly, gatherings of more than two or three are banned.
Most understand why governments deem this necessary. We’re trying to stop the spread of a virus that is remarkably adept at spreading.
That’s why it is particularly concerning to read of denominational groups insisting on having large gatherings, more so at Easter. Large gatherings all over the world have been cancelled or postponed — even the Olympics. But some churches are standing on their right to assemble in large groups, as though it is essential to their religion. There are en masse rituals and performances which they feel they cannot do without.
Well, perhaps it is essential to their religion, but it is not essential to biblical Christianity. While we keep hearing the word “unprecedented” in connection with this pandemic, our meeting in homes to break bread is not unprecedented. It’s what our brothers and sisters did in the first century. So it’s actually more biblical than meeting in a building specially built for the purpose (commonly called a “church”). And having a taste of something more biblical can’t be too bad.
When the church got started early in Acts, we read that there were thousands of members. Acts 2:41 says about three thousand souls were added on day one, and then verse 47 says that number grew daily. Acts 4:4 says “the number of the men came to be about five thousand”. Since that count didn’t include women and children, we can only assume that the full number was something like 15,000.
Where did they all fit for their Sunday assembly? Who baked the bread for the Lord’s Supper? Who squeezed the grapes? And who put the juice in all those thousands of thimble-sized glasses? And imagine the washing up!
Acts 2:46 tells us that it wasn’t like that.
“Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.”
See? The breaking of the bread was done in their houses. So doing it today, while seen as odd, is actually not. Meeting in church buildings is not an essential. It’s a luxury unheard of in the first century. Christ’s followers didn’t spend a cent on building chapels. Bricks and mortar were not part of the pattern, as they are commonly considered to be today.
From the days of the patriarchs, through days when families observed the Passover, the family home has been the basic unit of God’s people. Today we have an opportunity to strengthen (or recapture) that. Our Jerusalem brethren demonstrated early in Acts that it doesn’t preclude having larger gatherings (pandemics permitting) or encouraging one another daily (Acts 2:42-47). We’re now learning how to do that with technology which makes it possible even while we’re in lockdown. It’s one of the pluses of this pandemic.
What we’re compelled to do during the present distress is helping us think outside the box about how to serve and encourage one another. And it’s actually taking us a step closer to what our first century siblings did, and helping us discern the essentials from the “extras”. We’d do well to learn from their example.
This pandemic will pass. Meanwhile, “Stay home!”
Brett is an Australian who lives in Victoria. He describes himself as a self-supporting proclaimer of the Way. His website is Proclaiming the Way.