Danger ought not to be pleaded as an excuse for staying away from church—not at least without very good reason. Christians throughout history have been in the very same place as we are: danger has been a reality for them too, but it has not stopped them from meeting. It ought not to stop us.
Church and danger. Up until recently it would not occur to British Christians to put these two words together. We associate church with many things, but not danger. Yes, there is the threat of child abuse by wicked clergymen, and there is always risk associated with listening to false doctrine, but in terms of simple church attendance who would ever think danger?
That, however, is no longer the case. The current pandemic brought such a level of threat to society that in the interests of health and safety our churches were closed for several months. And still, though the lockdown is being eased and we are free to resume public worship, the virus hasn’t gone away. Significant restrictions remain in place. Some are nervous, therefore, about coming back to church. Others are choosing to stay away. For the first time in living memory — at least for most of us — church is associated with danger.
It’s tempting to say, ‘Welcome to the church of the past two thousand years!’ Danger may be a new thing for us, but not for the church at large. On the contrary danger has been, and still is, commonplace — and that for at least three reasons: war, pestilence, and persecution.
Christians have often met under the shadow of wartime hostilities. The danger of bombings or attacks has been a very real one. Then there is pestilence. It is fully a hundred years since we have had anything on the scale of the current virus, but pestilences or plagues have been common things in the past — the more so the further back we go. They may have been more localised than coronavirus, but they have also been typically far more deadly. We are not the first to be meeting under the threat of serious and potentially life-threatening infection.
The most common danger I take up last: persecution. What threat that has posed to the gatherings of God’s people! Christians have met knowing that they might have been followed. Christians have met knowing that someone present might be a spy. Christians have met knowing that there might be a police raid. Christians have met knowing that they might be violently attacked. This has been the case all through Christian history, and it’s exactly how it is for many across the world at this very time.