As Americans across the country are working from home, avoiding large groups, and shielding their older loved ones from physical contact due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the affect on the church has been dramatic. As early as the first week of March, American churches began suspending their main gatherings to prevent the virus from spreading. It started with larger churches, then smaller ones. Then, on Monday, March 16, President Trump publicly requested all Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people. Whole denominations responded and the vast majority of public meetings ceased. As I prepare to address my own congregation this Sunday via camera from Philippians 4:4-9, the following are four Christian responses to a pandemic from this text:
This was not a suggestion. It was a command. Furthermore, it was a command given three previous times in the same letter. Philippians 1:18-20 tells Christians they can rejoice any time Christ is proclaimed. No matter how bad a plague or disaster, there is always an opportunity to proclaim Christ. Last Tuesday, I invited a neighbor, who had started going to our church, to our house. We talked about the pandemic and his fear of losing his job because of the economy. However, the conversation was mostly about the gospel. My wife and I shared with him about Christ and His sacrifice for his sins. Praise God, we got to see our neighbor accept Jesus into his life for the first time. We might have empty shelves in the grocery stories, but we have full opportunities in a lost world. Therefore, rejoice!
Philippians 4:5-6 tells us not to be anxious about anything simply because the day of the Lord is coming. Our world’s biggest problem is not the stock market. It’s not the line at Costco. It’s not even lost jobs or houses. The Lord is at hand! There is a lot of stuff in the news about how poorly prepared America is for COVID-19. What about how prepared it is for the coming of the Lord? There are sinners all around us whom we love (and more importantly whom God loves) who are destined to be brought before the throne of a Holy God. In 1866, a massive cholera outbreak swept through London, England. In that time, one of the greatest pastors in history, Charles Spurgeon, writes this:
"And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that: 'There is life for a look at the Crucified One.' Tell them that he is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by him. Tell them that he is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."1
Romans 5:1 tells us anyone who has been justified by faith through Jesus Christ has the peace of God given to him. That’s an amazing promise. This peace guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7) from anxiety and drives us to prayer and supplication (Philippians 4:6). This peace not only inspires us to love our neighbor at a time of social chaos, but also allows us to discern what is commendable and honorable (Philippians 4:8). Facing the President’s request was a very difficult matter. I believed it our duty as Christians to respect his authority as well as that of our governor for that matter. Therefore, I prayerfully decided to suspend all on-campus activities of more than 10 people and worked tirelessly with our office staff and pastors to identify all church members and attenders in self-quarantine and the rest placed in small, house groups. We invited those house groups to gather every Sunday at 10 am to watch the sermon and discuss it. They were requested to confine all their physical contact with the church to the members of their home group. I would pre-record the sermon on Friday to allow for video edit time as well as the production and delivery of DVD’s to self-quarantined members without technological expertise.
I’m not saying what my church is doing is what every church should do. I think the Lord gives me grace to lead the people He has given me. I hope by sharing what we did that we are a blessing to someone. I can only do what I think is right for the people God has put under my care. I was looking for a course of action that was honorable and commendable in light of the arrival of a deadly virus. Lord willing, we will glorify God together this way and not put our community at risk. In all that we do as the people of God against COVID-19, may we rejoice in the Lord, remember He is at a hand, and receive His peace. I close with this timeless quote from Martin Luther in 1527 regarding his ministry during the Bubonic plague which killed a quarter of Europe’s population:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God."2
1. The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon: 1834-1854, p. 371
2. Luther's Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter "Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague" written to Rev. Dr. John Hess
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