“Where is Your Faith?”

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,

Rick Shallenberger

17 thoughts on ““Where is Your Faith?””

  1. Thank you Rick, You addressed real questions, comments and concerns I hear almost everyday. Taking the time and extra efforts to process all the concerns is showing and living the love of Jesus.

  2. I have also been experiencing the “Corona crisis” as a time for needed personal evaluation. Sharing the gospel with family, friends and neighbors is certainly an important part of our Christian lives. But, as we do, it is just as important that we strive personally to become “healthy disciples, the only way we can actually become a “healthy church”. Let’s make sure to take this special opportunity to prayerfully and deeply reflect on our personal relationship with Jesus.

  3. The Pandemic has been a great blessing for me. Praising God, for from December 2018, because of a stroke and moving to another state I haven’t been able too attend any church services. I received a call from a friend every once in awhile. I am so very greatful to our God. I was always watching Newlife Fellowship of Baltimore’s 3 year Bible Study, but to be able to join in with aSunday worship srvice has been so enlightening.
    I only hope that this will continue after we open back too worship together. Especially for those who cannot attend on a regular basis.

    Abraham Thomas Jr.
    Fayetteville, Georgia

  4. Thanks Pastor Rick
    God will not do for us what he has empowered us to do for ourselves.

  5. There are always more ways than one to “skin a cat”. God is showing us, through Jesus, one of those ways. Embrace the moment and the experience. Thanks, Rick !

  6. Very helpful concerning necessary COVID-19 precautions by people of Faith. Thank God that He is not confined to brick & mortar.

  7. Hey Rick, I should address you “RICH”; We have been “churching” each other during the shut-down, and we are all in agreement, we hope we never get back to “normal”. We appreciate your message of encouragement. It traveled faster than the virus for our congregation. They shared with each other, your message, and as each chick-a-dee, churped in, they were all talking about how much your message lifted them up. Keep living the “LOVE”…Chappy!

  8. Amen. I had to explain to someone the other day that recently I felt very uplifted participating in an online worship service when they wanted to claim that the churches were being shut down. In fact, the more time spent in physical isolation during social distancing has given me much more time to reflect and focus on spiritual things.

  9. Thanks Rick for this timely article. Just met a pastor from another denomination who was going on about all of this being a hoax and that they never shut down and those that did didn’t have true faith in God. Thanks for your positive words. I have to admit I declined shaking hands with her as I do work with the public and do my best to keep myself and those around me safe. I don’t think she was impressed with my concern for her or her health.

  10. Thanks Rick for simplifying a lot of issues that a lot us have complicated. Paraphrasing, you know God says He works all things for the good for those who love Him. ( making lemonade out of lemons )This pandemic is a prime example with all the positive effects of it. All glory and honor and praise goes to Him who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God always makes a Way for His beloved, even in death. Let us continue to encourage one another as we see His day approaching and let us continue to model His Love, Mercy, and Grace.

  11. Praise God! Great article pastor Rick. I believe God’s wisdom certainly spoke to us all. Blessings.

  12. Rick, you are accenting true Christian common sense just as Jesus did when confronted concerning what the greatest commandment was. Love our triune God… and Love our neighbors (and to do so as He later magnified it, the way He loved us.) There are all kinds of rumors, remedies, lies, deceits, etc. being spread. But to simply put everything in the proper perspective, the way you explained it: let’s err on the side of love, Jesus love via two great commandments!
    We just might reflect our savior. Thanks again brother!

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