By now everyone, or most everyone, is abreast of the news that WHO labeled the coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Soon after the announcement, many organizations, institutions, and government agencies revealed their decisions of how they plan to respond to the pandemic.
So far, many higher educational institutions are moving strictly online for the rest of the semester. All sporting events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. And churches are moving strictly to online gatherings.
Even though there has been talk about the coronavirus for the last couple of months, with the announcement on March 11th, and the expectation by experts for there to be a substantial rise in cases and deaths, pandemonium seems to be developing. Megyn Kelley, a well-known journalist, tweeted, “I’m so frustrated right now… that we can’t trust the media to tell us the truth… as a journalist am not sure where to turn for real info on COVID.” In other words, there really is confusion as people try to weed through the information and determine fact from fiction.
For believers and church leaders, there’s been a myriad of responses. Some still wonder what all the “fuss” is over as they post graphics on their social media account that show deadlier diseases. Some are slightly preparing for a quarantine of some kind as they stockpile toilet paper, rice, and hand sanitizer (odd combination, I know). Then there are church leaders that have made the decision, like Lakewood, to cancel weekend gatherings. And in these responses, people give their own rebuttals, that in some cases lead to negative exchanges.
So, what should our response be as believers? As local churches? I don’t know if I have a specific answer, but I do have a framework that can help believers and churches think through how they will respond in their own way and in their own context to a world that is watching while in crisis.
The church should be concerned about a world in crisis.
The last thing believers or churches should do is dismiss the crisis the coronavirus has caused in the world. I understand some of the skepticism expressed by some. Sure, the flu has already claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people in the US since October 2019. Yes, as of now, I know there have been deadlier strains of viruses in the US in years past—like H1N1.
Nevertheless, if believers and churches become calloused to crises–whether large or small—the world will become immune to the healing balm (hope) we possess—Jesus.
We should never discount someone else’s crisis or pain. We should see every crisis as a “for such a time as this” opportunity to be a stable presence and a calm voice in people’s time of need.
The church has a biblical mandate and a rich history of being a good neighbor.
Luke, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, depicts the kind of love and mercy we are to show our neighbors. This kind of love isn’t optional but fundamental to what it means to be a Christian. Christians love—through a full range of activity—the way God first loved us. With regards to the Samaritan, Tim Keller notes, “The Samaritan provided physical protection, medical help, transportation, and a financial subsidy. In short, he met his full range of physical and economic needs” (Ministries of Mercy, 38).
Throughout church history, the church has demonstrated what it means to love her community in sacrificial ways. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the third century, expressed, “there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love. . . . Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith” (quoted in Harnack 1904, 172–73).
Rodney Stark in his book, The Rise of Christianity, notes, “…had classical society not been disrupted and demoralized by… catastrophes, Christianity might never have become so dominant a faith” (The Rise of Christianity, 74).
Stark records a few examples like Dionysius. In 260A.D., Dionysius wrote, “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. 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…” (82).
The church was such a force for good early in the Roman Empire—especially in their response to plagues—that Stark records how they saved an enormous number of lives. (117). Think about it, the church’s presence raised life expectancy!
Today, with the crisis the coronavirus is causing, it’s important that the church respond in loving, sacrificial ways that would promote and extend life.
The church should be a people of peace.
The church worships the Prince of Peace. As a result, we are people that embody, enact, and express a calmness, tranquility, harmony, and flourishing of the soul as well as with and towards others regardless of what we face.
During this crisis, there are a least four ways we can be people of peace.
- Embody peace in our hearts in the midst of crisis and calamity.
The psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil” (Ps 46:1–3).
Although our lives are threatened physically, emotionally, and financially, as believers we won’t fret because our hope is anchored in the unmovable God.
- Be at peace with other believers.
Paul writes in Ephesians, “For [Christ] is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Also, to the church in Colossae Paul pens, “And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts” (Col 3:150).
Paul in both instances stresses the peace that should be displayed between believers. For instance, in Ephesians, Paul is noting how Gentile and Jewish believers are to be one. Gentiles and Jews couldn’t be more different. Yet, in Christ they are one.
The reality is, there are so many things that divide believers today—I.e., theology, methodology, and politics. While my heart grieves over the division that exists between many believers and Christian groups, my prayer is that this crisis—and people’s perspectives, reactions, and responses—wouldn’t be another thing believers would allow to erode the unity and peace for which Christ gave His life.
- Pursue peace with all men
The author of Hebrews communicates, “Pursue peace with everyone…” (Heb 12:14). Paul even writes in his theological treatise, Romans, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18).
Our world right now is in a state of panic, confusion, fear, and frustration. There’s an infectious disease spreading across the globe, a toxic political environment that preys on situations like this, financial and economic instability, schools being closed down, and events and gatherings being cancelled left and right.
People are extremely sensitive right now. Therefore, may God give His people wisdom, discernment, and understanding on how we can strive for peace with a world in panic. I think this can be played out in a host of ways. But one major way I think it could play out is how we choose to respond to governmental authorities and experts that are trying to lead in the midst of crisis.
Paul writes, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). Civil disobedience should only be used when there is a clear demand being made that goes against the commands of our King. As James writes in the context of seeking wisdom, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).
- Work and Pray for peace
Jeremiah, writing to the exiles in Babylon, writes, “Pursue the well-being of the city I have departed you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive” (Jer 29: 7). During this time of crisis, anxiety, and fear, let us seek the peace of the communities and cities where we reside.
And, while we work for the peace and well-being, let us pray. St. Francis of Assisi prayer for peace is one we could adopt today:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
In this season of crisis, may we be an instrument of peace that not only embodies the peace we have within, but may we pray for the peace of the world. And through this crisis, may the God of peace work all things out for His glory and our good.
In closing, I believe when the church builds out this framework in specific ways for their context—by seeking the Lord’s will through study and supplication as well as the Spirit’s guidance—they not only will be more prepared to respond Christ-like but also will be a hopeful beacon to a world in crisis.
God have mercy on our world, and, through your Spirit, empower your people to share and show the good news of King Jesus.