Monday, April 13, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus: Introduction (Episode 1)

When churches suspended their weekly brick and mortar meetings, I decided to take some time to address online what it looks like for the church to be the church in times like this. So begins a short series on The Church In The Time Of The Virus. I began posting this on my church's site several weeks ago; since then, I have had some thoughtful conversations sparked by some of the issues I addressed. Because of that - and because I like wrestling thoughtfully with important ideas - each post is going to follow this format:

  • Video
  • Transcript
  • Reflections

The beautiful thing about the reflections part is that I can constantly update it, so the conversation can continue! You are welcome to offer helpful comments in the comment section and be a part of this conversation/archival record (as local and modest as it is).

So, with no further ado, here's Episode 1.

(Watch and Read Episode 2: Fearless, Not Fearful)
(Watch and Read Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Watch and Read  Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, and Not Others)
(Watch and Read Episode 5: Faith- fullness Involves Trust)
(Watch and Read Episode 6: Faith-fullness Requires Humble Obedience)
(Read and Watch Episode 7: The Church's History During Plagues)
(Read and Watch Episode 8: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 9: Spurgeon And The Plague Of London)
(Read and Watch Episode 10: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 11: A Few Thoughts Have Been Brewing)
(Read and Watch Episode 12: Is COVID -19 A Judgment From God)
(Read and Watch Episode 13: Romans 12-14 - Coronavirus Version)
(Episode 14: Dear American Christian)
(Episode 15: Civil (Dis)Obedience)



Historically, epidemics have been the time when the “city on a hill” shone brightly in a dark world.

Christianity expanded tremendously during and after the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century (which might have killed as many as a quarter of the people in the Roman Empire) as Christians cared for the sick at the risk of their own lives.

  • From 250-280, the Plague of Cyprian raged through the Roman Empire, killing up to 5,000 a day in Rome alone. Dionisus wrote of the Christians, “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.” 
  • When the plague hit Caesarea in the 4th century, Eusebius wrote, “All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them.  Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all…[their] deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians.  Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.” 
  • Several decades later, Julian wrote to a pagan priest, “When it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans [i.e., Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy.”[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
  • Martin Luther – whose daughter died from the Black Death – wrote this for Christians dealing with plague: “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."

This is not a time to live in fear. It’s a time to live in love for the sake of our neighbor and the witness of the church. This doesn’t mean we don’t take all the recommendations seriously – we should. Luther’s advice is really good. But it does mean we don’t hoard things or panic buy; when we have things, we look to help those who don’t. We pray for wisdom about when to keep our distance so that we don’t spread sickness vs. when to walk toward the sick with boldness and faith for the sake of the gospel.

I know this is new territory for us (not as a nation, but as individuals). I know we are not all in agreement about whether this is being overhyped, underhyped, or hyped just right. I know there is a lot of discussion about how governments may or may not be using this in nefarious ways. If all goes well, we will look like we overreacted – and I pray that is exactly what happens.

I also know this: I can entertain all kinds of questions while respecting the authorities in my life, helping people around me, observing social etiquette, praying for God’s protection, healing and peace, and living in the peace that Jesus offers – that in the midst of any storm, He is with us.

So, what does Christian love look like in the time of plague? I’m going to make a series of points over a series of posts:

  • It’s fearless, not fearful. 
  • It’s bold, but not foolhardy. 
  • It’s sacrificial of self, not others. 
  • It’s faithful, but not faith foolish.
  • It’s grounded in the love God has shown us through Jesus.  


  • Little did I realize how much the question of "overhyped, underhyped, or hyped" and "discussion about how governments may or may not be using this in nefarious ways" was going to explode on social media.  
  • Today, April 13, it is "starting to look like we overreacted" in that the worst case, dire scenarios are being defined down. That is FANTASTIC. Like I noted, I pray that is exactly what continues to happen. 
  • I wish I would have spent a little more time on the introductory "city on a hill" idea. I end up talking more through the series on the importance of our witness, our legacy after the fact. will the church be remembered as a beacon of Christ's light in the midst of darkness? I sure hope so. It's one of the main reasons we are here. 
  • Also, I didn't get into church closings. That comes up later. It probably should have come up sooner if for no other reason than to acknowledge the tension the closures created in pastors, within congregations, between pastors, and with the broader community. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the historical context. I will share this information.