Editorial: The Stay-At-Home Pandemic

Bad habits can have innocent beginnings, like the child who was given a pacifier for calmness but on his 8th birthday still won’t give it up. Or, on a more serious note, like the young father who takes the prescribed medication to alleviate pain, but now can’t live without it.

A bad habit with an innocent beginning is forming in many local churches. “All assembly meetings have been cancelled due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.” “There will be no meetings this Lord’s Day given the current COVID outbreak within the assembly.” “Stay-at-home orders have led us to put all meetings on hold until further notice.” These examples of actual announcements are not meant to disparage any local assembly nor the leaders who have had to make these difficult decisions. They have acted with spiritual wisdom and common sense for our preservation. But it’s becoming easier and easier to stay at home when there is a meeting of the saints. And now we have more reasons than we did before to justify our nonattendance. For some, weeks of absence have turned into months, and they are finding that, indeed, bad habits die hard.

The Barna Group, a research firm that studies faith in the United States, estimates in-person church attendance to be 30% to 50% lower than it was before the pandemic.[1] These numbers are likely similar in other countries, and local assemblies have not been immune from a significant decline. The stay-at-home pandemic is here.

It’s a fine line determining whether such absenteeism enters Hebrews 10:25 territory – “not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing” (NET) – but more than a few believers may be approaching it. What began as obeying stay-at-home orders for health concerns can, over time, devolve into absence because I’m used to it and worsen further into absence due to apathy. From there, it’s not a big leap to a life removed from functional connectivity to the body of Christ and the accountability it provides.

The truth is that we can’t make it in the Christian life by ourselves. No matter which personality type you may have, as a believer in the body of Christ, you are dependent upon the other members, and they need you as well, whether you realize it or not. We cannot be the people we need to be without one another, which includes fellow-believers in the local assembly. And since we are dependent on each other, meeting together is vital, which brings us back to our text in Hebrews 10.

Gathering enables us to “spur one another on to love and good works” (v24 NET). Without the stimulation such togetherness provides, we can only expect a lessening in our love and a deterioration in spiritual productivity. It’s nearly impossible to obey the exhortations in Hebrews 10:24 without obeying the exhortation to gather in Hebrews 10:25.

This bad habit with an innocent beginning has a very predictable ending. If this stay-at-home pandemic doesn’t die out, we surely will.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/more-americans-left-religion-during-the-pandemic-11639494003