Zac VanderLey – Staff Writer
There was always one certainty in my family: Sunday was for church.
I’d look wistfully out the window thinking of the Seahawks game I was missing as my parents drove to church. I remember sitting in a wooden pew while wearing a button up shirt that made my neck scratch and letting my mind drift to a pretend basketball game. But, regardless of my mental state, I was physically present at church each and every Sunday.
I think spiritual disciplines like attending church each Sunday are an important aspect of the Christian journey, which is why I was excited to attend church in Sioux Center last week for the first time since returning to campus. That being said, I hesitated. Sioux County continued to post upwards of a 30% testing positivity rate while Covid-19 cases continued to rise. I watched as Dordt went from 0 active cases to 135 in quarantine after a weekend of people attending church. Church was not the sole cause of Dordt’s increase in numbers, but a packed room full of singing, maskless people is the perfect breeding ground for any infectious virus.
So, I asked myself, should I go to church? My church back home required masks and distancing while holding churches outside. If that were the case in Sioux Center then my feelings would be slightly different, but, alas, some churches are not requiring restrictions and cannot easily meet outside.
When I’m faced with a spiritual question, I turn to the stories from Jesus’ life on earth. Jesus spent most of his ministry challenging the norm. He asked more of his followers than they expected: forgive seven times seventy-seven, he said, turn the other cheek, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The one group of people that Jesus criticized to the point of righteous anger was the Pharisees: a faction of legalistic, political Christians. The Pharisees knew all the rules and enforced each one to a T. They were the faces of Christianity, yet Jesus consistently critiqued their hypocritical lifestyle.
In Matthew 12 the Pharisees condemn Jesus’ disciples for plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. But Jesus defends his disciples by quoting scripture and proclaiming: “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” Scripture states the disciples were hungry, so Jesus valued the lives of his disciples over the rituals of the Sabbath.
Even though Iowa does not contain a mask mandate, I believe we should be the ones going beyond the law by making sure our neighbor is safe. We should value life through love rather than tradition.
The Church, first and foremost, reflects Jesus Christ. It makes me sad to see the Church through the eyes of my non-Christian peers.
We are more known for our political beliefs then our spiritual purpose. We preach loving our neighbor, but some of us won’t even wear a piece of cloth that could save lives.
I think we sometimes fall prey to believing the only form of church is on Sunday at 10am in a hard pew with a large group of people. But I wonder what would happen if we viewed the church as more than a building?
I challenge us to think of the church as the fellowship of believers. We can exist without a building, and we will forever exist as long as two or more of us meet in the name of God. However, when we value traditions over the heart of the law, we become complacent. And complacency can make us resemble the Pharisees more than we would think.
English professor Bob De Smith and his wife have not been physically to their church, Covenant Cristian Reformed Church, since early April.
“It’s partly circumstantial,” said De Smith. “My son got married, we attended a funeral, and we also visited my daughter who is immune- compromised. We just wanted to limit our contacts.”
De Smith doesn’t want to bring the virus to Dordt or to church. He finds watching online to be worshipful and engaging, and he knows that once he does return to church, the connections he has made throughout the years will still exist.
“It’s hard for those who are new to the area and searching for a church,” said De Smith. “I would just encourage people to be patient.”
De Smith believes Covenant CRC has the right formula for meeting in-person: half the congregation meets each Sunday, wears masks, and distances. Face to face church can be safe and have merit even in the time of a pandemic. De Smith challenges the Dordt community to interrogate the why behind attending church. Church is an important part of our walk with the Lord, but it can become based in tradition rather than a desire to spiritually grow. The goal of the Judeo-Christian church is to foster the fellowship of believers, so if you need to be in person to satisfy that connection, then by all means go to church, but don’t forget your mask.