Many sincere questions have been asked by Christians during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Have we failed to trust God to protect us?” “Didn’t Jesus promise the gates of hell would not prevail against his church?” “Why did we allow government to shut our church down?” “Aren’t we going overboard with safety concerns—requiring masks and gloves, and not hugging each other?
There is a lot of information in the news and on social media about Covid-19. Depending on where you are in the mix, you can believe this pandemic is a conspiracy from a foreign country to show our weaknesses, that the pandemic is being used as a political tool, that we are treating the disease wrong, that masks cause more danger than good, that wearing a mask is the true answer, that social distancing is going to make more of us sick in the long run, that social distancing is the best way to stop spreading the virus, that some available drugs can help, that those same drugs are dangerous, that this is all about some billionaires wanting to make more money off the next vaccine, that the whole thing is a farce—more people die of (name the disease or cause) and we are all worked up over nothing.
How are we to provide a message of hope in this myriad of opinions—and very strong opinions at that? It’s not as difficult as one might think.
First of all, let’s be honest. I don’t have the answers to the cause, effect, and treatment of this virus and neither do you. I’m not a scientist, physician, immunologist, or conspiracist. I have opinions and theories, but those are just that, opinions and theories—not based on science or research. Therefore, they aren’t as important as I’d like to think they are. I’d suggest the same for the majority of our membership and leadership. God didn’t call us to be experts in virology or in conspiracy, he has called us to be disciples. So let’s address some of the sincere questions people ask.
Do not neglect to meet together
Didn’t God tell us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together? Why are we closing our churches? Shouldn’t we be getting together to pray for our country, our leaders, those who are sick, etc. The answer is yes, we should be getting together to pray, and to worship, and to fellowship, and to search the scriptures, and to celebrate Jesus. We don’t need a building to do that. We have phones, we have social media, we have Zoom and other social media platforms where several of us can get together.
The quote about assembling ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25) was not about whether or not we meet in a church. The new testament believers stayed connected in ways available to them—meeting in homes and in some public areas. The author was giving a call to persevere in faith by focusing on the “great priest over the house of God”—Jesus. It’s true, it is much easier for us to stay connected through technology in the 21st century, but the context is not about meeting places, the context is holding on to the hope we have and encouraging love and good works in each other.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NRSV)
In this context the author pointed out the tendency of some to not meet together. How do you encourage each other without communicating with one another? Nothing is said about meeting at church on Sunday, it’s about fellowship, relationship, sharing the hope we have in Christ, encouraging each other to love and doing good deeds for others. This is how we are identified as disciples. This greater love and care is being seen today in most churches—despite the inability to be at our church building.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the church
I loved a meme I saw on Facebook. Satan was bragging to Jesus that all it took was a virus to shut down the church. Jesus responded by saying, all it took was a virus to bring the church into people’s homes. The doors of our buildings may be shut, but the church is far from being prevailed against. In fact, it is expanding faster and farther than any of us could have imagined. As I read monthly reports, I’m astounded how many of our congregations with average attendance of 25-50 are reaching hundreds each week via their online services. The churches weren’t shut down, they were redeployed. Our great challenge will be to continue to reach out to our local online viewers after the doors of our churches reopen.
Remember the statement, when you are given lemons, make lemonade. This is what the Home Office team is seeing happen around the world. Rather than the gates of hell prevailing against the church, the door to heaven has opened wide to many who have not had exposure to the truth of God as Father, Son and Spirit. This is new territory for us and we are proud of our pastors and leaders who have been reaching far more people with the Gospel than they ever imagined.
Aren’t we going overboard with safety requirements?
It broke my heart to read the story of the church in Calgary who had a birthday party for one of their members. 41 people attended, they practiced social distancing and used gloves for all the food service. 25 people came down with Covid-19 and two died. The pastor said she’d love nothing more than a do-over. We’ve had GCI pastors and spouses, and some in the Home Office team come down with Covid-19. The virus is real, and for some who have weakened immune systems or pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, there is cause to be extra careful. Is it a lack of faith to be overly concerned? Shouldn’t we all just trust God? I trust God that my sins are forgiven, that death is no longer the great enemy, that my future is secure, and yet I still take my prescribed medicines, I see my doctor, I lock my house, I use smoke detectors, I make sure the grandkids are buckled in and I put my money in a bank or safe. Using wisdom and caution and loving others is not an indication of a lack of trust in God.
We absolutely trust God As our GCI Reopening Guidelines say:
As believers, we live by faith and do not operate in fear, but we also remember the New Commandment to love others as Jesus loves us and therefore we agree to be proactive and to act in wisdom towards our members and guests, especially those among us who are most susceptible to becoming infected with COVID-19.
There are many considerations as we reopen the doors to our congregations. For some of us, that will not be for awhile. But we don’t lose hope and we don’t lose faith. God is doing something we never expected. He has taken the church out of the building and into people’s homes. The gospel is being preached, the gates of hell have not prevailed, and the body of Christ is sharing Jesus’ life and love with others. In other words, the faith of Jesus is being expressed through the church during the pandemic. Maybe it is Jesus who has his hold on us, and not so much our clinging to him? The real upside is that he never lets go and it works best when we participate by grasping him.
Holding on to Jesus,