and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.Revelation 12:6Perhaps like many other faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, over the past couple of months I have been thinking through God’s providential dealings with the pandemic coronavirus/COVID-19 virus. The reason it has captured so much of my attention, theologically, is because while God’s written revelation is complete and through it He still speaks, God has not ceased from providentially ordering and sovereignly ruling His creation. As He did in the Scriptures, so too today, God still speaks and acts through providence. While this is no sure guide, it nevertheless does not mean it should be ignored. Therefore, for me at least, as I learned and wrote in the John Owen post, it is incumbent to view God’s providential dealings through the lens of Scripture and examine all areas of life. In times of crisis, it has always been a time of reevaluation. With that said, some may wonder why I am devoting such time and attention to the evangelical response to the pandemic. The reason is simple, I believe that this crisis is a severe wake-up call for Christians, particularly in the U.S., and it calls for a reevaluation of our practices – certainly in the light of Scripture. For anyone, pastor, minister, or otherwise, to assume that we either will or should return to ‘normal’ is a fool’s thought.
For years in teaching various Bible studies, I have cautioned against reading our own personal situation into passages of Scripture that deal with the suffering and persecution of believers, particularly as it relates to the United States. In no real way have we experienced suffering and persecution on any level as those who were living under the reign of Nero in the first century and really those brothers and sisters around the world who are killed for their faith everyday. When we come to these passages, it has been my intention to make this fact clear, but then to hedge and say that persecution – on any level really (other than perhaps marginalization) has not come…yet. But almost as if overnight, that yet has creeped into the present and is a reminder that no one who bears the name of Christ should consider themselves immune from persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).
Along these lines, despite some church buildings reopening to resume their services, most are doing so following government guidelines and regulations. However, almost daily there are stories of churches being threatened, fined, and otherwise prohibited from opening. Case in point are these examples, just a few among many:
More Recently (June 1, 2020)
So when I write to answer questions on whether a building is necessary, whether a professional pastor is necessary, and what exactly believers are supposed to do when they get together – all through the lens of Scripture, it is because every one of these ‘normals’ is in grave danger and we need both a path and a plan going forward, one derived from Scripture alone. The great problem, as I see it, is that few, if any, are preparing for the very real possibility that quarantine will occur again. Few, if any, are considering the reality of ‘what if’ some similar lock-down is mandated. We were caught off guard last time, and run the very real risk of being ill-prepared again. Instead, it seems the response is more like Jeremiah 6:14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace,” as most simply bide their time to return to the buildings and get on with worship services. Where are the leaders who have beckoned us to follow them, the T4G superstars, the Gospel Coalitions, all of the men who have taken our time and our money are providing zero leadership during this time? On the local level, what plans and preparations are being made? Are we prepared to leave the building if it is ordered closed again? What if we have to leave it for good? If the ‘congregation’ is scattered again, where does the professional pastor go? Are his duties essential? Have we equipped brothers and sisters to minister the word to one another?
Perhaps, and only the Lord knows, this was a short-term wake up call, if so, then one question still remains, have we put ourselves in a position to weather storms like these and the potential rise in persecution that can come overnight? The answer, as we’ve seen, is a resounding no.