Monday, May 18, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus (Episode 14): Dear American Christian

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).

(Episode 1: Introduction)
(Episode 2:Fearless, Not Fearful)
(Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, Not Others)
(Episode 5: Faith-fullness Involves Trust)
(Episode 6: Faithfulness Requires Humble Obedience)
(Episode 7: The Church's History During Plagues)
(Episode 8: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Episode 9: Spurgeon And The Plague Of London)
(Episode 10: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Episode 11: A Few Thoughts Have Been Brewing)
(Episode 12: Is COVID-19 A Judgment From God?)
(Episode 13: Romans 12-14 - Coronavirus Version)
(Episode 15: Civil (Dis)Obedience)

EPISODE 14: Dear American Christian



The text here is from a blogpost by Carey Waldie - blogger, author, and pastor at Living Hope church. I have some comments of my own afterward in the video, but I didn't write them down. 

Dear American Christian, 

First, I want to acknowledge that as a pastor, these are challenging times for us. We are not used to quarantines, pandemics and the government making rules that affect our worship. It can look very similar to some kind of religious persecution. But I would humbly submit to you that it is not. I have pastored in America for over thirty years now. But I also have extensive missions experience in various countries, most of which the gospel is restricted, banned and outright illegal. 

I have led teams to help underground churches, evangelize the unreached and plowed intercessory furrows in hardened, spiritually dry soil. I’m not saying that to boast, but rather to help you understand that I think I can recognize spiritual persecution when I see it. I’ve been detained, interrogated, and worked through real fear as I stood outside a foreign prison’s walls wondering if I would spend some of my life there because of the work I was doing. 

But my life is different than those who live and worship in those countries. I was able to come back to America. I love America! We are facing a real challenge, but we are not being religiously persecuted.  Why do I say that? For one big reason: We are not being singled out because of our faith. The authorities are singling us out because the nature of our gatherings can lend itself to mass infections. We gather in close proximity, we love to touch, we sing, cough, sneeze, lay hands to pray, all while having the time of our lives! We know the power of gathering together! 

But we are not singled out because of the God we worship. If the schools begin meeting and the Christian churches are banned, this might be persecution. If the movie theatres (one just declared bankruptcy near me) can open, and Christian churches are restricted, this might be persecution. If the bars and casinos can operate freely and Christian churches cannot, this would be religious persecution. 

If our Bibles are confiscated, our hymnals burned, (do you still have hymnals?) and our leaders imprisoned, that would qualify. But pastor, aren’t you worried that “they” might use this crisis to keep Christians from . .  from . . . from what? From living missionally? I would submit to you that the biggest threat to the Christian church in America is not the government but our own apathy toward the things of God. Do we miss gathering because of the entertainment factor or because it keeps us from being missional? 

Could it be the American Christian church is overly entertained and underly challenged? We will fill stadiums for concerts while churches sit nearly empty for prayer meetings. And most believers will never lead anyone to Jesus in their lifetimes. Some now think that sharing your faith is wrong because it’s imposing your beliefs on another. Cherishing our rights is best displayed by how much we use them when we have them not by how much we protest when they are temporarily restricted. 

Nothing that has occurred during this quarantine has kept us from praying, loving God, loving our neighbor or even complaining on social media. Nobody has taken my Bible, silenced my voice or taken me to jail. No man can ever put us in a place where we cannot both obey God and glorify him. How we respond to this crisis will speak volumes to the world around us. Is our attitude firmly planted in God’s goodness and sovereignty?

I personally struggle with not being able to meet. The reason I don’t lead my church into gathering is a fear-based decision, I will admit. But I do not fear the virus. I fear being a bad neighbor. I fear those I am called to reach will not revere my decision to “take a stand” but rather think I don’t care about them or their loved ones. One of our foreign medical workers that we support serves as a physician among many different kinds of people. She laments at the Christian response to this pandemic, “I’ve had more non-Christian friends turn farther away from God during this time because the vitriolic, conspiracy theory, I can do what I want yelling at people for my rights Christians on Facebook and in person. All while hoping this was a time they would turn to Him for hope.”

Our church is in the middle of a multi-million dollar building project. The quarantine has set us back. Just yesterday some workers returned. Our team talked with them and one of the men began to open up about his wife who is struggling with cancer and the lengths he must go to protect her and their young family. Our team prayed with him as tears streamed down this tough laborer’s face. He said, “You’ll never know how much that meant to me.” These are the people we are trying to reach! Those who don’t understand our religious freedom because they are bound in spirit. Let’s bring them to Jesus first, then share about the privilege we have to freely worship him! 


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