Last year when we were first asked to shut down our country because of the coronavirus, it was “two weeks to flatten the curve.” A young friend of mine lamented on Facebook: “What will we do if we can’t be in church for Easter?” And I said, “Oh, we’ll be back in church before Easter!”
Now we have established that I am not a prophet.
It is astonishing to me that we are a year into all of the various COVID restrictions that unfortunately have become our new normal. Social distancing; wearing a mask; asking “Did you remember you mask?” when you go out; getting food to go and eating in your car (again); all the instructions and cautions from the media and our government that seem to change on a regular basis; people angry if you don’t follow all the (current) guidelines; people angry if you try to follow any of the guidelines; and lots and lots of time at home, especially for school-age children and teenagers…all these things have unfortunately become part of our daily lives. When will it end? Some say we should lift all the restrictions now. Others tell us it might still be a year or two.
I understand that the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 lasted two years or more. I know we have far more resources for combating things like this now than they did then. I’ve read that one of the ways they combated the Spanish flu was to expose patients to fresh air and sunshine, even moving hospital beds outside when the weather permitted. This is why I’m always baffled when I see someone walking by themselves outside in the sunshine with a mask on. 3500 years ago, God told us how to combat infectious diseases: quarantining the sick, exposure to fresh air and sunshine, and repeated washings in fresh running water (Leviticus 13-14). I’m glad we can add modern medicines to the mix, but those basic practices are still valid.
Now why am I talking about all this again? Aren’t we tired of it all? It’s bad enough we have to live with it. We surely don’t have to talk about it all again.
The reason I bring it up is because of the gloom and despair I sometimes encounter, from the secular media AND from Christian sources. I have sometimes heard a “talking head” on the news wonder if we will ever get back to the way it was before the pandemic, and say things like “People will never shake hands again” or “We will have to become an on-line society,” and so on.
Sorry; not buying it. It’s good to have experts. But have you noticed that sometimes experts are wrong? When I was a kid, experts said we’d have flying cars for everybody by the year 2000. I’m still waiting.
I am NOT saying “Ignore the experts.” I am saying that we all still need to use some good common sense. And maybe a little faith in God, too.
I received an email from a Christian research group recently. It summarized the results of some polling they had done in the past few months. I used to swallow all this stuff “hook, line and sinker.” Slowly over the years I have come to appreciate Mark Twain’s perspective. To paraphrase, he said “There’s lies, darn lies, and statistics.” Statistics and research canbe helpful. But pollsters and researchers have been known to be wrong, too.
This particular email was lamenting the sad state of the church today (again), the vast array of near-insurmountable challenges we face (again), and how churches are on the edge of oblivion (again). I have been in the ministry over 42 years, and I have seen this kind of alarmist talk over and over again.
Don’t get me wrong. Often churches are in a sad state. We do face great challenges. And churches close their doors all the time (75 to 150 churches a week in North America). We should never be careless or less-than-serious when it comes to our commitment to worship God in churches, despite the opposition of an unfriendly culture. But when in history have Christians and churches not faced difficulties, challenges, and opposition?
When secular experts say we’ll never shake hands, hug or gather in public again like we did before the pandemic, my first response is to say, “These are human things, and people have been doing these things ever since there were people.” And from a Biblical, Christian perspective, there is even more reason to push back against the gloom.
The very nature of a church is to gather. The Greek work translated “church” in our English Bibles—ekklesia—means “a called-out assembly.” It was used to describe the democratic assemblies of Greek towns to conduct civic business, the meetings of trade guilds to deal with matters about their professions, and gatherings of believers in Jesus Christ to worship Him together. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The book of Acts is about the spread of Christianity across the first-century Roman Empire, and everywhere people became Christians they immediately began to gather together on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to worship Him together. The writer of Hebrews even said this: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) And that was written to believers facing a hostile society that didn’t want Christians to meet together at all.
So, am I saying to disregard all the restrictions and precautions, and just come to church anyway? No, not while it could really put you at risk. I’ve said all along that everybody needs to do what they feel is necessary to protect their health and feel comfortable. But I do scratch my head over the people who go to Walmart, the Dollar Store, the hardware store, and eat in various fast-food places…but won’t come to church because of the virus. You do what you think you need to to do. But you could probably have a pew all to yourself at church. Just sayin’.
The virus is a real thing. I get it. I had it. And every time I’m ready to say, “Let’s all just get back to normal,” then I hear about somebody else coming down with the virus, getting sick or even dying with it.
But folks: Jesus told us to have church. The Bible tells us to worship Him in church gatherings. We are instructed to give each other the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9), to embrace one another (Acts 20:37), and even to greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26…Be careful with this one. And stay away from my wife!). So, of course we are going to have church again. (We actually never stopped, even if it was just with a handful to put on the radio broadcast.) We’re going to shake hands again, and hug, and talk together without masks, and stand closer than six feet apart from each other. We are going to get back to doing all these things again, because we’re human…and because we are Christian, and because Jesus is still building His church, regardless of what the secular news or the Christian pollsters say.
So, wait it out. But when its over, come back. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Jesus told us to.
And eventually, one way or the other, it’ll all be okay. Jesus said so.
Soli Deo Gloria!