Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus: Fearless, Not Fearful (Episode 2)

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. Thus, The Church In The Time Of The Virus. I began posting this on my church's Facebook page 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 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).

(Read and Watch Episode 1: Introduction)
(Read and Watch Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Read and Watch Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, and Not Others)
(Read and Watch 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)

Episode 2: Fearless, Not Fearful.



When you look at the history of how the church was faithfully and lovingly present during pandemics, there is no record of hoarding, or Christians making a run on their local store to empty shelves, or running panicked through real or virtual streets. The church ‘esteemed others” over themselves. We are here to serve others as Christ served us, after all. Going without toilet paper is minor inconvenience. If this is throwing us into a panic, we’ve got some trust issues to work on.

Last week, I read an excerpt from a letter Martin Luther wrote during the Black Death. It’s not gospel, and it’s not perfect, but it’s full of wisdom.

Luther allowed for Christians to flee the plague in the same way they would flee the sword if an army were descending, and thought that those who did should not be shamed. If you know sure death was coming by the sword, getting away from that sword might be a really good idea. Paul, for example, fled from cities where people planned bodily harm. Avoiding harm is not in itself a sign of cowardice, and might be a sign of wisdom.

However, God also raises up His people to walk into danger for the sake of the gospel. Think of it in the same way we read in the Bible that the Holy Spirit “gives gift as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).  Luther apparently thought of boldness in time of the plague this way. He thought those to whom God gave special fearlessness should stay, or even walk into the epidemic for the sake of helping.

“It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is therefore to seek to preserve life and avoid death if this can be done without harm to our neighbor, inasmuch as life is more than food and clothing, as Christ himself says in Matthew 5 [6:25]. If someone is so strong in faith, however, that he can willingly suffer nakedness, hunger, and want without tempting God and not trying to escape, although he could do so, let him continue that way, but let him not condemn those who will not or cannot do the same.”

In other words, God has not planned for everyone to play the same role. Some ought to protect themselves and their families; some are called to stay faithfully present with the diseased in the same way that some are called to stay faithfully present when the sword approaches. What matters in not that everyone does the same thing. What matters is why one responds the way one does: not because of fear, or a desire for glory, or seeking a glorious death, or because one thinks they are smarter than everyone else and this is no big deal, but out of a prayerful, thoughtful, and loving commitment to being faithfully and lovingly present in the world according the to the responsibilities and the gifts God has given.

To summarize the first two episodes:

First, the church has a history of being faithfully present in times of crisis, even when it meant laying their lives on the line, because they were determined to love those around them with the kind of radical, agape, self-sacrificial love that Jesus showed them. If this meant that no one else cared for the sick, they cared for them, even while they counted the cost.

Second… this is not a call to foolhardiness (more on this next episode). Christians need to do their best not to contribute to the problem. Luther is clear about this: he calls flaunting common sense “tempting God” more than once, and it’s that’s not a compliment. It’s a warning. Don’t flaunt common sense and then beg God for a pass. You can have the best intentions; you may even miraculously avoid sickness.  But you could become the carrier of a disease that kills others. It would be a terrible thing to spread death in an attempt to bring life. The fearless are not called to be foolish: they are called to be ready, if everything else fails and no one is positioned to help, to be faithfully and lovingly present, while observing every protocol to the best of their ability.

Third, as Scripture tells us and Luther reminds us, we have a loving duty to our neighbor. In the time of an epidemic that is going to have a HUGE economic impact, this is greater than, but not less than, material provision – money, food, things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We all can and should do this to whatever degree we are able. The church in Acts modeled this. They looked out for those in need, and those who had gave to those who had not. It could also be that we will be required, when all the other social safety nets fail, to walk toward the sick knowing there will be a price: quarantine at best, illness and potentially death at worst. We are not there yet, and I pray we will never be. But if that bridge must be crossed, may we do it without fear and with wisdom.

This I know: all must be done out of trust, hope and love, not out of fear.

Be bold; be wise. Don’t tempt God with foolishness, and love you neighbor as you wish to be loved and as Christ has loved us.


I have been thinking a lot about the idea that God calls people to different roles. It makes sense; we are all part of the "body" that is made up of different parts. Of course our roles are different. Of course our callings are different, and our responsibilities, etc. What's hard it thinking of all of them as equally honorable. Is it really just as faithful to flee as it is to stay? One person takes their family to safety; another takes their family into danger. It is SO HARD not to think of the former as cowardly compared to the latter. But then I think of other stories that show what has to happen in times of danger:

"You take the children to safety, Bob, while I fight the dragon!"
"But...that's...not as.....important... (voice trails off)."
"Listen to yourself, Bob."

I always felt for the guy who had to leave the front line. We all want to walk toward a particular kind of glory. But what if our front lines - and our glory - are far more diverse than we have considered?

I suppose it comes down to the heart (like it always does). Am I motivated by fear or duty? Do I sense a righteous obligation to run toward the battle in a particular place and in a particular way, or am I just trying to make a name for myself? Where do my talents, skills, and obligations best lend themselves in the service of the Kingdom of God? When this is over, did I do/go/act because I believed it was how God would have me do/go/act, or because I felt pressure from my friends, family or culture?

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