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Shuttered ChurchesOctober 2, 2019
I was driving home from Metasville, GA late Sunday afternoon doing what I normally do on such a drive. I had been to Metasville to conduct a funeral service for a woman who with her husband had had a very profound impact on mine and Anne’s life over the course of many years. I went to be the pastor of the Rehoboth Baptist Church in Metasville in 1974 and met her and her family then. She and her husband had raised three sons and a daughter, now all grown, with numerous grandchildren and beyond (she had buried a son and a grandson lost to cancer). They had been married 74 years in a marriage that was a true one-flesh union when such a union was more than rare.
I was driving home passing by and looking at churches, often pausing in my drive to pray for them. I had just left the current pastor of the church where the funeral was held where during the time, I was there we met morning and evening on Sunday and then for prayer on Wednesday night. He would tell me that this once thriving church was now down to 30 in attendance, meeting on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. Praise God for a church that still meets for a prayer meeting during the week. The small number in attendance and the absence of a Sunday night gathering was on my mind as I drove away.
As the late afternoon gave way to the setting sun and the emergence of dusk, I began to pay more attention to the churches. I wanted to pray as I passed as I looked for cars in the parking lot and people making their way into the buildings. But I did not see that anywhere. I passed church after church, many of them known to me quite well from the past, where there were no cars and the church was shuttered. Sunday evening worship time was rapidly approaching and passing, and no people were gathering. I was deeply saddened.
Now I know that there are places in the world where many must walk long distances on the Lord’s Day to get to the gathering. There are other places where people must spend several hours on public transportation to get to the service, and still others where space is rented so that only one service on the Lord’s Day can be held. But that is not the story in the deep south. I was passing by church buildings that on the Lord’s Day evening were closed. I don’t know all the reasons, but I do know that if what has happened historically is any indication then this doesn’t bode well for what could well happen in many of these churches in the not too distant future.
Follow the flow of what happened in western Europe and in Great Britain and we find hundreds of churches that were once thriving but now are closed, and many of the buildings are now home to some other enterprise. How did it begin? It started when people in churches began to treat the Lord’s Days as if it were like any other. As one writer puts it, “we began to reduce the Lord’s Day to the Lord’s Hour . . . or less.” The big exchange was that we began to see it as our day that existed for us rather than the day that God gave us during which we could demonstrate our devotion to Him by gathering for multiple sessions of worship and study. What characterized the day was the worship of God, eventually being framed by morning and evening. The truth is that what we do with the Lord’s Day in its entirety speaks volumes about our real and true spiritual condition. We shutter our churches because we have opened the doors and windows to schools, to social events, to family outings and to one hundred plus other activities. Such an exchange of priorities means that we have to shutter our churches. It is enough to make me shudder. What about you?