6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Genesis 11:6-8As the world knows, the Coronavirus (Covid-19) is sweeping the globe and is wreaking physical, emotional, and spiritual havoc. Some countries have been minimally effected, while others have concentrated areas that are struggling, meanwhile it appears as though the originating country (?) China, is returning somewhat to normal. It remains to be seen whether the virus will infect at the rate that many experts are saying. As with most crises, it’s difficult to distinguish truth from fiction or overreaction from a proper response. I’m not a medical expert, so this won’t be a medical advice blog, but what I do hope to address is the initial responses that we are seeing to the virus, particularly in the United States, and how it has exposed fundamental areas of weakness in our culture. First, the American idolatrous affair with sports has been exposed. All sports from the majors to the minors have either been postponed or suspended indefinitely, while everyone tries their best to sort through the confusion and chaos of a largely unknown virus. As Lloyd-Jones once pointed out during his own generation, we had long reached the point where more people were watching others play sports rather than engaging in them. What I think the good Dr. was getting at was that our view towards sports has become more about entertainment and escape than health, fitness, and camaraderie. At the local level, parents and families for decades have given their entire focus and free time towards transporting children to and from various practices and games, which no longer have an off-season. This isn’t a secret or surprise, in fact we laugh and make jokes about it, yet parents trudge along as though anything contrary or less is simply not being a good parent. If we learn anything from the virus, it’s that we need less focus on sports at all levels and more focus on family – through which children can learn the same values, though more representative of their own families rather than others. Second, and related to the first point, our addiction to entertainment has been exposed. Writing in the mid 1980’s, Neil Postman delivered a lecture that developed into a book titled, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Postman’s thesis was that our great societal danger was not an Orwellian 1984 scenario of tyranny, oppression, and pain, rather a Huxleyian Brave New World scenario where our appetites would destroy us. This, as it happens, is precisely what Romans 1 says, that man is given over to his desires. In our Western culture, we are given over to entertainment of endless varieties. In a very real sense we work to be entertained. We want entertainment as a distraction from reality. It allows us to turn off our brain or to retreat into a fantasy world. But what happens when those avenues of entertainment are closed, such as theme parks, concerts, movies, and the slush of filth that is generated out of Hollywood? On the one hand, those faucets have, at least for the moment, been turned off. On the other hand, we’ve been given over to the entertainment desires that focus their funnel through the internet, right into our homes and pockets 24 hours a day. Think screen time has gone up or down during this present crisis? We’ve been blinded like the men of the city of Sodom, yet that hasn’t kept us from feverishly groping for the door of entertainment even more. Third, the American financial system (and really the global market) is a house-of-cards, as many had expected. I’m as guilty as the next person for overreliance and consumption from an unsustainable system. In reality, this virus has exposed the fallacy of the American dream. It’s built on consumption and that is never sustainable. One must ask how a thriving economy that was setting market records daily could be undone in one week. Conspiracy theories aside, that shouldn’t happen to a robust financial market, but fear is the master of the day. There is indeed wisdom to be found in the verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12There is something about being able to work with one’s hands, really, regardless of the job, and see the fruits of one’s direct labor without layers of managerial oversight and wondering about the significance of it all. One of the things I admire about my father most was his ability to make a living at anything he put his hand to, including starting several businesses. Fourth, security is an illusion. Under this heading, would be job security, financial security, and health security. Generally speaking I think we get this, but unfortunately in this county we get lulled to sleep pursuing the aforementioned American dream and resting in the fact that we can get food from the store or any number of restaurants at any given time on any given day – until you can’t. Similarly, there are medical clinics and pharmacies on every corner, surely indicative of an aging and unhealthy society. Furthermore, with the speed at which this virus spreads, it’s foolhardy to think that one can perceive this as a war against an inanimate virus and manipulate the pieces to “save” the world. Yes, of course there is wisdom in practicing good sanitation and even to some extent distancing from larger crowds, but let’s be real, when or where does that end? Who gets to say “Ollie Ollie oxen free” (Alle, alle auch sind frei) or “Come out Come out wherever you are”, letting us know that the boogeyman is gone. It’s an illusion. Rather, a much more sane approach, a much more God-fearing approach is to rest in the sovereign hands of God trusting that He has numbered our days, that He has ordained this virus for His own good purposes, and then appeal to Him for mercy upon the land. He alone, through His Son Jesus, is the Savior of the world. Man is not and cannot be the savior of men. Fifth, we’ve been exposed for our overdependence on big market food supply. When I was a kid, I used to go with my grandmother to the local farmer’s market that met under a large interstate overpass. Then, I just assumed that you went there to supplement what the grocery stores either didn’t have or didn’t have fresh enough for your tastes. Now, in times of crises like these, it’s easy to see that the grocery stores may not be able to keep up the supply with the demand, not to mention the fact that their supplies are literally being shipped from around the world. Perhaps there is something to be said about knowing the farmer next door and supporting him/her. Perhaps there is something to be said about working with one’s own hands rather than simply assuming consumption will always be an available option. Perhaps there is even something to be said about a system of barter and trade between local farmers/neighbors, without paying the exorbitant shipping costs, not to mention layers of taxation. Perhaps that old lunatic farmer in Virginia is on to something. https://www.thelunaticfarmer.com/blog Sixth, and related to points four and five above, an over-reliance upon a medical industry to keep us healthy and alive. I’m certainly not anti-medicine, however here what I want to call attention to is the danger, particularly in the West, to look towards medicine to save us. It’s not provocative to point out that staying alive is a multi-billion dollar industry. Hospitals continue to build out and up, and in some cities particularly throughout Appalachia, hospitals are the largest community employer. In my small town, we have four stop lights (1 for a gas station and 1 for a school) and three pharmacies. One of these pharmacies recently relocated inside a brand new clinic facility, because what good is a doctor if pills aren’t close by. Again, I don’t want this to sound anti-medicine, but largely we’ve gotten ourselves dependent upon doctors and pills because of decades of unhealthy eating, unhealthy food sources, lack of physical exercise, and general disregard for our God-given immune systems. Simply look at the media response to this, what is the savior parousia that is being prayed for? A vaccine to save us all. In the meantime, we’ll muddle along with drugs to treat the virus until the true savior arrives. Seventh, we’ve been exposed for relying on a government-run education system to teach our children. I have friends and family that are teachers. I even once considered short-term teaching when I was laid off. But the reality is, handing over your children: 1. For someone else to teach, mold, and shape 2. To a government run program with literally unbounded liberalism, is an absolutely terrible idea.
Nearly a decade ago, when I was serving as a youth pastor, I remember getting into a discussion with an older deacon on the dangers facing Christian children in public schools. I remember distinctly his analogy that if the Christian kids, at least in name only, are pulled out of the schools, what are you going to do when the sparks from the fire reach your house. Meaning that we ought to have our kids in public school so that they can minister and help control the “flames” growing at the school level. Now, let me say that this is admirable logic. Let’s send our little missionaries to the mission field and simply unleash the gospel through them.
Ahh, if it only worked that simply.
I was one of these Christian kids, who after seven years of private Christian education by my parents literally scraping up spare change to pay the tuition, I was enrolled in public school. I know firsthand that year after year of exposure to kids who are not only unbelievers but in many cases hostile to the gospel, takes a toll on you. A continual drip of water is enough to split a granite rock in half. On the one hand we might say this is good for our children and character building, on the other hand this is a recipe for disaster, particularly when you consider that thirty years after I first started, the education system is far more liberal and children are exposed to things never before dreamed of. Back then all my mom had to worry about was having me pulled out of the “sex-education” section in health class. Now, depending on the school of course, the entire system is geared towards the normalization of LGBTQ, opposition to God and His Word, the promotion of evolution, not to mention the ignorance of history, and do not get me started on Common Core.
Again, I realize there are Christian school teachers in the midst of these liberal cesspools. I understand there are various after-school Bible programs where kids have an opportunity to hear the Gospel. But handing over our children to a system that is in its entirety antithetical to the God of Creation and His Son Jesus Christ is simply mind blowing. I know of no other way to say it than it is brain-washing our children into embracing the liberal paganism that is running rampant in the country.
During this disaster, where parents are now forced to teach their children at home, or at least make provisions for this to happen, it is genuinely shocking to see the hopeless/helpless feeling of parents not knowing where to begin in teaching their children, struggling with being around their kids so much now, and generally wishing they could return to dropping their kids off in the lap of someone else to deal with. Much like point nine below, we’ve settled for the professionalization of education with respect to our children and it is not a positive development. The home should be the central hub for educating our children and I’ll make the case below that it should also be the core for our Christian gatherings.
Eighth, an overreliance on media of all varieties – 24-hour news, social media, and the general availability of news and information has fueled the response to this virus. Information is good. Too much information is rarely good. On the one-hand, I suppose there is value in being able to track a virus like this and watch it move like a tidal wave around the world. On the other hand, I’m not sure listening to so-called experts (even the credentialed ones) over and over again, yet alone reading the “statuses” on social media is healthy. It’s just not. And over-exposure to media and information at our fingertips hasn’t been healthy for the last decade and a half of its rise and spread throughout society. Turn it off, unplug, and go outside. Ninth, we’ve misunderstood the meaning of church, both its form and its function. Let’s pretend for just a minute that instead of an upper respiratory virus, COVID-19 is actually persecution against the people of God.
Because we’ve fallen prey to the idea of consumer-driven worship, i.e. the purchase of land/buildings, an attractive name, and bigger congregations, not to mention filing with the government or at least letting them know where we meet, we’ve exposed ourselves as weak and fragile. By farming out preaching and teaching to the professional experts, we have weakened generations of men who are now incapable of taking the Word of Almighty God, setting it before their family within their own home and declaring “Thus sayeth the Lord!” We’ve emasculated the rightful duty of a man to function as a priest in their home for the sake of leaving it up to the professionals. Then, as a substitute for the practices we’ve been embracing for years, we legitimately think that watching this same expert preaching live stream to a screen is acceptable. Who said this is worship? Who said anything about listening to a monologue sermon for 45 minutes a week is what God wants? The past two Sundays I was simply shocked to see the number of folks who were gathering around computer screens to listen to a man preach to empty rooms. Folks, this is not preaching. A Spirit-led preacher, rare these days I know, needs to be at minimum in the same room with those to whom he is speaking. He needs to see whether the hearts of men and women are being spoken to, whether there is life, how the Spirit is moving in and amongst the room.* We’ve reduced ourselves to watching a screen and calling it worship.
What is wrong with us?
Pick up the Word of God and proclaim it in your homes, in your neighborhoods. It doesn’t have to be a brick and mortar First Baptist Church, it can be a living room, or a picnic table, or under a tree, and there doesn’t need to be a crowd, simply two or three gathered in the name of Jesus. I understand this is perhaps overly critical and many people are just trying to make the best of a less than ideal situation, but we’ve created an environment in which Christianity cannot thrive, let alone survive, without the institutionalism and professionalism which we’ve allowed to engrain itself into what we call church. What if this social-distancing lasts 2-3 months? 6 months? What then? Will people still flock to a screen and listen to a man preach to an empty room?** Will we have equipped them to rightly divide and proclaim the Word themselves? This is indeed a wake-up call and we’ve been left exposed and unprepared.
These are just a few of my concerns and observations as I consider what we are going through in this country and around the world. Are some over-generalizations? Yes, I’ll admit. Are some strongly worded? Yes, to get the point across. However, isn’t it simply remarkable that a pandemic virus can remove the idols that were blinding our eyes, cause us to consider the hand of God’s providence and perhaps be less reliant on systems – more reliant on God and our nearest neighbors, while also returning families to the home for the opportunity to educate and mold their children, not to mention getting back to the basics of Christian gatherings.
Thousands of years ago, post-global flood, man had so advanced technologically that they considered themselves to be gods and were so bold as to build a temple/tower (ziggurat) to heaven, resulting in God scattering them as a people and confusing their language. One cannot help but see a scattering by God in our present situation. Perhaps a regathering in the home is exactly what is needed.
Soli Deo Gloria ~ for the Glory of God Alone!
* Please do not take this to mean that there is no value in listening to online sermons, there is and can be, but this is never a substitute for the gathering of believers, no matter how small the gathering.
** I am left to wonder if the recent explosion in online viewership of “preaching” at popular pulpits won’t actually create the environment necessary for the global rise of deception and contribute even more to apathetic Christianity.