Covid-19 has been a challenging time for many visible churches.
During lockdown many closed completely, some for want of means of continuing virtually (etc), while others persevered into varied forms of creative ministry, gathering and worship. We continued to hold our worship services through live-stream, Life Groups and leadership meetings via Skype and Zoom and Facetime and communicated congregationally through our print and e-newsletter (along with many other means).
From June 12 places of worship in Ontario were permitted by the government emergency order to emerge from the lockdown returning to physical worship services at 30% building capacity. We safely re-opened our morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day, June 14, also continuing our live-stream for those at risk or still uncomfortable; a few other local churches did the same not long after. However, there are many, many visible churches that remain closed with all or most of their ministries shut down. Many of them cite health concerns for this, which is something genuine to assess, however, “where there is a will there is a way” (i.e. if you have a reason to meet and a purpose to exist you will labour to find a safe means to accomplish it. See also: 2 Ti 1:7). A participant of one such church confided in me his dismay at their church’s decision wondering if anyone would return come September?
You see, if something stops for a week because of a snow storm, it is not terribly life changing, but the moment you speak of ceasing to do something for weeks and months and seasons, it becomes habit forming and life altering (for good or ill).
This raises two important and interrelated points:
ONE. If a church’s god is the only God, perfect, almighty, all-wise and most holy, sovereign, loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abounding in truth and goodness, the rewarder of those who seek him and the judge of all who don’t (I’m referencing the 2nd London Baptist Confession, 2.1) and if you know this God through faith in Jesus Christ then YES, absolutely, you have a reason to bring Him the corporate worship He has commanded and to fellowship together with other believers. Nothing, not persecution, or want or pandemic will stop you from doing this. If this is NOT the case, then naturally why would you gather to worship a God who you think is not really real or worthy, or immanent or knowable or known by you?
TWO. If a church, made up of redeemed or purchased people—bought by the blood of the lamb—has been commanded by their Saviour to publish Good News to all people, a message of repentance and transformation, to glorify Him in all they do, a life lived in gratitude to their King, then YES we have a purpose to exist for we have a Great Commission to fulfil and God to glorify. If this is NOT the case, if church is only a social club or a good works hobby, couldn’t I spend my time better somewhere else?
IF you answered yes to the above questions but are still not gathering and labouring as part of your local church, then appeal to your church leadership, grant leave to gather with a small handful in your home or outside, or temporarily worship with another church.
IF you are still watching the live-stream from home and not personally and physically worshipping and serving and don’t have a legitimate health risk (i.e. you’re going to the grocery store, shopping, eating out and visiting family but not participating in your church) then it is time to lay down your excuses and do so. Live-streaming is a great outreach and it was and can be a short-term substitute, but it is a long-term compromise from the real thing; don’t grow comfortable with it.
Among many other things Covid-19 is affecting on the church and spiritual landscape of our land is the separation from the wheat and the chaff; with some churches being pruned and others experiencing growth. The churches that will continue post-Covid will have these two things in common: a reason to meet and a purpose to exist.
Though our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, Christians ought to pray for their earthly country, its leaders, and ultimately its salvation. Did you know Canada used to be a Christian country, though now a conservative estimate is that only 3-4% are born again. In fact at the turn of the last century Ontario was one of the most Christianized lands in the world! Though there is cause to hope for brighter days, as it was Canada day this week it is relevant to look back to our Christian heritage as an encouragement to look forward.
Here are just three marks of our Christian past (point people to these when doing evangelism):
-Our coat of arms. Did you know the Latin saying on our coat of arms is taken from Ps 72:8 and expressed the Christian vision for Canada: Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae or "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." And don’t forget the cross at the top of her majesty’s crown!
-Our national anthem. Originally part of a larger Christian hymn, one line says it best: God keep our land glorious and free. It is God we need to look for to keep us glorious and free, a freedom and blessing which comes from faithfulness to the Gospel.
- Our Charter: While many forget this or dismiss this all together, the defining line of our Charter comes at the very beginning: Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.
Sadly today we can only beg God’s mercy (“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Pr 14:34). Any hope of future blessing can only be found in the Gospel re-reaching our land. Not that Canada would look the same in the past if this were so in the future, but we need to point people back to the founding person of Jesus Christ if we are to remain glorious and free: “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jer 6:16)
Imagine the scene:
Houses were empty.
A certain book had disappeared off of the bookshelves in shops and online inventories.
Sales of certain illicit substances and content had plummeted forcing companies to close.
Where had all the people gone? What with these mysteries?
Imagine they had all flocked to local faithful Gospel churches! Why? Because they’d heard that Jesus was coming. What began as possibly even a fear of judgement, turned to a genuine fear of the Lord and remorse for their sins, and through faith in the Gospel, their mourning had turned to an eternal joy, and they waited.
Matthew 24:44 says, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Not to trivialize our present crisis, but it is ironic that there is a far greater crisis that is pending—the Second Coming of Jesus Christ—and yet people shrug it off. Yet, tell the world that Covid-19 is coming and people rush to get supplies and self-isolate and close borders so that they are ready if/when it comes.
During a plague in Cyprian’s day (c.252, Bishop of Carthage) he thought Jesus’ return was imminent. Plagues have come and plagues have gone and so it would be hasty to say that our present disease was any different than those of the past as a signal of the Lord’s return, however, it ought to be a reminder to us to be ready, that there is an even greater arrival to be ready for and it is not Covid-19 (as ready as we need to be for that), but the coming of Christ from glory to “judge the living and the dead.”
 Cyprian, On Mortality, Treatise VII.2.
In a previous blog, “the Plague of Cyprian”, we considered how Covid-19 is teaching us about our own mortality and fear. In this blog we’ll consider how it is reminding us that we’re not in charge.
In by-gone days there was an old and wise Christian man out tending his front garden by the road when a farmer passed by with his flock of sheep. The old man hailed, “Friend, where are you off to today.” The farmer replied, “I’m taking my sheep to market, they are going to fetch a handsome price. Then I’m going to go and buy a new implement and a fancy dress for my wife.” The old man replied, “God-willing!”
Not too long afterwards the farmer walked past the old wise Christian man’s garden, this time by himself, and looking dishevelled and beaten up. The old man asked, “Friend, what happened to you?” The farmer replied, “When I was on the way to the market I was attacked by sheep thieves. They stole my sheep and beat me up and left me for dead.” The old man asked, “What are you going to do now?” The farmer replied, “I’m going to go home and secure my sheep and farm, and breed more sheep, and sell others at the market on this date, and return to this market next year, etc.” The old man cut him off, “God-willing!”
In a passage which warns against boasting about tomorrow, James 5:13–16 says this:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”-- 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
From this passage comes the Christian saying, “God-willing” or DV (Latin. Deo volente, if God wills it). While this saying can be over used its sentiment can also be underappreciated. Truly, nothing can happen unless God wills it. We need to remember that He is on the throne and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven—not ours! Corona Virus is teaching us, not only of our mortality, but how little we actually have control over our lives. We must depend upon the Lord and seek His will. We all have had plans change, trips cancelled, meetings postponed, because of Covid-19. May this be a reminder to us of the wisdom of James 5 and teach us to humbly say, in our heart of hearts, DV!
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, they compassions they fail not:
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
God Never Changes
So opens the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It declares a central truth about God that He is the unchanging One, and as such He is dependable. Hebrews 13:10 says, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Humans Are Always Changing
While humans are created in the image of God and reflect His likeness in many ways, God’s unchanging nature is a characteristic that we do not share. Benjamin Franklin once said, “two things always stay the same, death and taxes!” Aside from these points in jest, we change and our circumstances change. Nothing stays the same. Our bodies change as we grow. Our circumstances change as we journey through life. We are always changing. While the rate and amount of change may be something we can or cannot easily process, or sometimes is necessary for survival, to deny change itself is to deny reality.
Change is a Normal Part of a Believer’s Life
Not only do we change as humans, if we are a follower of Jesus, change is the name of the game. The Gospel message itself is the power to change. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to sanctify us, to transform us, to make us more like Jesus. Following Jesus then is one big process of change. If we are not changing or are resistant to healthy and appropriate change, and willing to follow our Lord in faith into the future, then something is amiss.
A Tale of Two Seas
The Jordan River bubbles up at the foot of Mt. Hermon in the north of Israel. Tens of thousands of gallons of water burst to the surface every day. These waters flow south into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea. These two seas are complete opposites. One is filled with fish and life. That is because water is always entering and exiting it, it is changing, it is alive and vibrant. The other only ever receives and never gives and as a result of that and evaporation by the sun, it salinity is so high that nothing can live in it. That is why it is called the Dead Sea. May these two seas be a reminder to us: change is needed if we want to thrive as Christians and an unwillingness to embrace the change of the Gospel can spell only certain death.
May the Lord’s grace enable us to change, for our good and His glory.
On May 15, 2019, I was fresh off the plane in the UK from having travelled to Ontario to preach for a call at Markdale Baptist Church. It was a whirlwind of a trip, I was tired among other things. We returned to our home church, Cromhall Chapel, and I attended the Wednesday Area Bible Study, where once a month we would host a guest preacher. Roger Page, pastor of Phillip St. Baptist Church, Bristol, was the speaker. His sermon was on Job and suffering and comfort and could not have been more timely. In fact it was providential for during our trip back to Ontario we had suffered a miscarriage. Since we are presently studying through the book of Job at MBC in our Cover to Cover series I thought reposting it here would enable others to benefit from his excellent sermon.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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