“We are all here,” the Apostle Paul responded to the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:28), and this is my declaration by the grace of God.
One week after a wonderful lectureship in the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, west Cookeville and Putnam County was devastated by a deadly EF-4 tornado with winds in excess of 175 miles an hour destroying neighborhoods, completely removing houses, clear cutting large stands of timber and claiming 20 lives of fellow citizens and loved ones. The warning given the day after on March 4 from city and county leaders was that the enormity of the storm’s devastation would change our community for years to come. Thankfully, TBC was unscathed. There was no damage to the campus, faculty, staff, or students. Many in our city have suffered and are still suffering. The outpouring of help locally and from around the country has been amazing. The Lord’s church has received tremendous reviews for the response with aid, help and relief. The President in his visit to the area highlighted the excellent response of the churches of Christ. Recovery is ongoing and will be just as our leaders warned for months and years to come.
No sooner had the winds of the storm subsided, and we were blindsided by the pandemic. The press has succeeded in scaring everyone to death! Again, no one of the TBC family has been affected by the coronavirus. All faculty, staff, students, and families have made it through just fine. At the start of the outbreak we had to say goodbye (not from the virus) to a dear brother and colleague James McGill who was buried March 22.
The Lord’s church has been turned upside down. Not by the preaching of the Gospel, not by the infection, but by fear of the virus. Churches closed their doors and at this writing are still closed. A brother called from Alabama saying he didn’t know of a congregation in all the state that was meeting. I found one, the East Pointe church in Tuscaloosa. A brother in Texas reported that “almost every local congregation in Texas and Oklahoma has stopped assembling.” It happened so quickly and came so easily that I still am having a difficult time believing what I have seen. In Tennessee, the Governor left provision for churches to meet if they chose to do so, yet most all closed their doors. Several preaching brethren in Nashville told me they knew of no congregation of the Lord’s church meeting in Davidson County. I keep listening for the distinctive music of old TV show “The Twilight Zone” to begin playing.
I asked a brother and friend about his congregation closing and Walmart remaining open. He said, “A man’s got to eat.” I responded: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Mt. 6:25). He was silent. A time of crisis is exactly when the spiritual man needs the unique encouragement and strength that comes from the first day of the week worship with the church. I’m thankful for over a dozen churches in this area of Tennessee who have continued to give folks the opportunity of worshipping with the Church.
It might be worth considering renting space from Walmart for worship perhaps in a corner of the store. It seems that the virus can’t be contracted there—coronavirus free zone! It’s only in the churches that one can be infected by the virus. All the claims of valid worship substitutes, virtue signaling, and pious bullying by some brethren do not answer the authority question of refusing the Church the opportunity to worship together on the first day of the week in some of the most beautiful buildings in the history of the Lord’s church in the land of the free. I know of several passages where God rebuked things done in worship, but none where He rebuked the Church for coming together to worship.
It is time to seriously consider what has happened here in this country and especially to the church. When governors, mayors and county judges order churches closed, should that alarm Americans? Liberty lost is extremely hard to restore and restoration usually comes at an exceedingly high price.
Quite a lot has happened over the last couple of months. “We are all here.”
-David Hill, Tennessee Bible College President