Lockdowns are not easy by any stretch of the imagination. They are a hard sacrifice. Christians believe humanity was created for community and as Scripture repeatedly indicates, this is a physical connection.
It is simply not good for humanity to be alone. Isolation has horrible side-effects. Lockdowns have negative side-effects. They are hard on us. The impact on people’s livelihoods hurts our wallets as well. Closing businesses hurts. There is no use pretending lockdowns lack painful byproducts.
Side-effects from human medicine is not new. Countless people live with side-effects from the drugs they take. Some are trivial while others are almost as bad as the illness or disease itself. This continues to be a sad reality in our world. Lockdowns are one of the treatments for our current illness. It should not surprise us that it is difficult. We should not pretend that the public is not being asked to make a sacrifice for the well-being of our neighbours.
Yet making sacrifices for the benefit of others is exactly what Christians are called to do. The primary example that Christians are explicitly commanded to imitate is Jesus. Christ gave up his rights and lowered himself to our level in his incarnation and crucifixion. He put aside his divine prerogative and took on human flesh for us. He left the perfection of Heaven and lived among us on earth. He endured human weakness for the benefit of others. He went to the Cross for us. He literally gave up his life for others. That is the example we are to imitate.
The reality of this truth is regularly taken for granted. It remains a truth that all too often Christians offer up lip service to the imperative to imitate Christ while ignoring in practice.
We know that Churches have spread the virus through their gatherings. We know choirs have spread the dangerous disease through their joyous praise of God. We know the dangers of Covid-19 and how it is spread. While the ongoing discussion of the different metrics used to quantify its deadliness continues, Covid-19’s deadliness and our need to improve treatments are not disputed. Christians worship the God who designed us for life—indeed life eternal. We abhor death—it is our enemy. We value the lives of every human. We seek to protect life, especially for those who are vulnerable. Making sacrifices to protect others is exactly what we are called to do.
Covid-19’s damage extends elsewhere as well.
We know the virus affects members of society disproportionately. Sadly, the weak and the vulnerable, those Christians are specifically commanded to take care of, are struck with greater force. Covid-19 is laying its devastation upon the world.
There is value in civil discussions as to the effectiveness of lockdowns and their results. There is value in religious groups voicing concerns about what impact a lockdown will have on them. Thankfully, democratic government allows us to express such concerns. Our democracy values civil discourse. We grow as people and nations when we listen to others with opposing positions. But there is a vast distinction between civil discussion and brazen law-breaking.
Refusing to obey the law by having large gatherings for services is simply criminal. Perhaps even worse are the examples of pastors using their pulpits to spread conspiracy theories and lies about the reality of Covid-19 and its threat. Shockingly we even see examples in the U.S. of pastors unabashedly announcing to the world that they will meet law enforcement officers with guns if an attempt to stop their services is made.
This is a far cry from when Christians suffered under the persecution of government. In the early Church, Christians were falsely labeled as lawbreakers, atheists, cannibals, and an incestuous people. At times they were put to death as enemies of the State for their faithfulness to Christ and his teachings. In response, Christians appealed to the government, defending themselves in writing against the fake claims levied against them. The Christian apologists testified that they were not the criminals some claimed they were. Instead, they affirmed obedience to the laws.
Thus, Christian apologetics began with the overwhelming cry that the community of faith was composed of good citizens. They did not simply refute the accusations brought against them. Instead, they demonstrated that they made a positive contribution to society. This was the basic Christian claim within an era in which the Gospel spread like wildfire; a time when the church changed the world: Christianity makes a positive difference to the public welfare.
Of particular sadness to me, it seems that too many Christian leaders react to lockdowns with a basic misunderstanding of what churches are and what they do. When they misidentify the essence of a local church with a worship service, they plague the discussion. A local church certainly does conduct worship services. Clearly, a church gathers to worship. But that is only one of the things a church does. It is not their entire existence. A local church is much more than its worship services. Yet when government mandates restrictions upon large gatherings we hear claims that government is closing churches. It is not.
There is a great value and need for Christians to gather together corporately. Corporate worship honours God and blesses people. We should not trivialize it. But we must not limit our view of the Church to such gatherings. There are countless other things churches could and should be doing in this time of crisis as the obediently operate under the limitations placed on them for the health of us all. As the regulations change regarding the number of people that can gather together, we must do all that we can to worship together. But we must not forget that the mandates only limit our large gatherings. Government is not limiting all church activities. There are many other ways we can live out our love for Christ and others.
We know lockdowns are hard on people. People are hurting and need comfort. Many people can feel trapped in their small apartments with no one to talk to for days on end. Thankfully we live in an age where we have technologies available to help. Certainly, in the long run they cannot replace the in-person activities of a local church. “Online church” remains an oxymoron. Yet we can use the tools available to us to offer some comfort for those in need.
Beyond caring for the mental wellness needs of others, we can attend to those who are being confronted with basic sustenance shortcomings. Food kitchens are experiencing demand they have not had before. As the economic impact of Covid-19 and lockdowns hits the populous disproportionality, the vulnerable are experiencing even greater suffering.
The Church is called to live out the love of Christ and follow the divine commands to care for the poor, the hungry, and underprivileged. There is so much that churches should be doing in this time while patiently waiting for things to return to normal. Sacrificing and giving up our corporate gatherings for a time does not mean the closure of our churches.
Our witness during crises is of vital importance. The impact of what we do and don’t do when the world is suffering should not be underestimated. It will resonate for years amongst our neighbours. Actions speak louder than our words. Calling people to worship the God of love while showing disregard for the safety of others does incredible damage to Christian proclamation.
I remain plagued by a question. Will Christians be known for their loving Christlike actions during this truly dark time of Covid-19, or will we be known as those people that refused to obey the law? The world is watching us.
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