It’s been a crazy week. Every day there have been dozens of new announcements about COVID-19. Thousands of churches across the country are switching to online worship. What does all of this mean to our identity as a church?
God is still on the throne
The book of Revelation was written by the apostle John near the end of the first century. There had been ongoing persecution of the church for over 50 years. Many Christians were executed for their faith, including all the other apostles. The Roman Empire seemed all-powerful and unstoppable. In that context, God gave John a vision.
Chapter 4 begins the longest section of Revelation with a vision of God’s throne. The rest of the book alternates between scenes in heaven and scenes on earth. The believers in John’s time needed to understand that God was still on his throne. We need to hear that too. Despite our current problems, God is still in control.
We are still the church
My church just celebrated our 46th anniversary. As far as I know, in that entire history there has only been one time that Sunday worship was cancelled. In that case it was due to freezing rain and icy roads. Now we are not going to meet together on Sundays for at least the next 6 weeks. What does that mean for us as a church?
Sometimes we assume that everything that is important in our life as a church happens in the church building. But if our buildings were to burn to the ground and if we were unable to replace them, we would still be the church. We are God’s people, his church. The building is just the place in which we meet. For the first three centuries of church history God’s people did not have nice church buildings. Despite that they were able to share the gospel and plant churches throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.
During this time in which we cannot meet together on Sundays we should reflect on how we can be the church without gathering in our buildings. It might be good for us to take a fresh look at what it means to be the church.
This is an amazing ministry opportunity
It is tempting in a crisis such as this to narrow our focus and be concerned only for the well being of our family and close friends. We become selfish and suspicious of strangers. People hoard supplies without any consideration of how that might affect others. People get into fights over merchandise at Costco. What does it look look like to follow Jesus in this situation?
In previous pandemics Christians have helped their neighbors, even risking their own lives to care for the sick. Martin Luther lived 200 years after the Black Death, but the plague re-emerged in Germany during his time. We can learn much from his response to the plague. He even raise the question whether it is right for followers of Jesus to flee an epidemic. Challenging words!
We have been called upon to practice "social distancing." Avoiding group gatherings is important not only to preserve our own health, but also to protect the health of others. We may still have occasional conversations with others. We also have many technological tools that enable us to maintain social contact at a distance. What does it look like to show the love of Jesus to those around us at this time?
In the current climate of fear and uncertainty there is a greater opportunity for the gospel. If people can see our sense of hope and peace, and the love that we show to others, they might want to hear more about Jesus. The early church grew rapidly during pandemics, in part because people could see the difference in the behavior of Christians. What will people remember about us when this crisis is over? Will that point them to Jesus?
This post is a summary of what I shared with my church last Sunday. If you are interested you can listen to the sermon here.