The nature of the spread of novel coronavirus is showing us (a) how small the world is (within a space of 3 months since we first heard of novel coronavirus outbreak in China, the world finds itself in a state of shock, quarantine and immobility), (b) how fragile the world is – with all our technological advances and bureaucracies, we are still vulnerable and susceptible to attack by small and invisible biological agents and elements (c) and how quickly the conditions of life can change around us. Equally, the sting of novel coronavirus has certainly been non-discriminatory, affecting all continents, gender, age and class groups, almost as though we are being reminded of our equality as humanity, regardless of the value of our shelter, automobile or the type of position we hold in society – we are all made up of flesh and blood. Politicians and celebrities have been infected alongside ordinary citizens and the poor.
In particular, the sudden change of conditions of life (even as governments find themselves having to activate regimes or legal mechanisms like the State of Disaster here in South Africa and various measures in different parts of the world) reminds us of this scripture, “while people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape”. NIV (1 Thes. 5:3). This scripture speaks to us about the suddenness of change of life conditions and how human insight will always be limited to predict and clearly figure out the future. They say, “peace and safety” but the resultant outcome is “destruction”, the very opposite of the predicted outcome. This scripture is not speaking even about long term predictions of man, it’s dealing with what is in fact within man’s view. Man’s research and statistical systems even about impending events is still limited to fully and accurately provide insight and intelligence about the future. This as governments scramble to seek this valuable information in order to govern their nations better, like ancient kings who periodically gathered their wise men to seek to understand the unfolding of events of life.
Having noted this reality, and after looking at the question of how to do church in this crisis of novel coronavirus, the question that remains for humans generally and for us who believe in Christ specifically is how exactly are we supposed to engage the current moment? What are the drivers that must inform and shape our behavior and actions? The word “drivers” here refers to internal values and positions that give definition to outer behavior and action. The Scripture tells us that “as a man thinks, so is he” (Prov 23:7). That is, our behavior and actions do reflect something about the state of our inner life – our beliefs, worldview, mindset and attitudes. In a crisis like the one we are going through, you just need to look at people’s actions to figure out their attitudes towards God, fellow citizens, government etc.
Over and above the fact that we all need to respond to the current crisis with prayer (which is still an activity that must be informed by inner drivers in one way or another, and whose effectiveness must be determined by the extent to which those drivers are aligned with the counsel of God’s word), I would like to submit the following three drivers that I feel the Lord pressing in my heart and which can make church’s presence in communities even more effective during this crucial time.
Driver 1: Faith to engage the current Prophetic Moment – the famous word that is used in Scriptures and that is relevant to the current situation is the word “kairos”, which is generally translated as “time or season”. The word kairos means an occasion or an opportunity, a time at which foreordained events take place. Implied in this word is (a) the ability to see the movements of God in the midst of life events and conditions, (b) the ability to figure out appropriate prophetic responses to life’s situations, (c) insight to discover and establish pre-ordained actions in the midst of a particular moment. In the well-known story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17), the real issue wasn’t simply the defeating of a Philistine’s warrior by a young Israelite, it was in fact the establishment of young David upon the throne of Israel. It was the events that took place on that day that prepared the way and ushered David to the throne, in accordance with Samuel’s prophecy (1 Sam. 16:11-13). After David fought and defeated Goliath, the women began to sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:6-7). God was moving in David’s life, from a private ceremony of being prophesied as king by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:11-13), to being acknowledged by the nation as one fitting to be the king. Had David not confronted Goliath that day, not only was Israel going to be defeated by the Philistines, but David’s ascendancy to the throne was not going to be realized. Goliath was “the crisis”, in the same way that novel coronavirus is, but the establishment of David upon the throne was the real moment or kairos. In this sense, a kairos is a circumstance (life situation or event) that creates an opportunity for the fulfillment or realization of the Purposes of God, provided those in the moment respond timely and correctly (like David). In a sense, Goliath’s mocking of the armies of Israel set just the perfect conditions for David to emerge in the scene (1 Sam. 17:8-11). In a time when every warrior in Israel was imprisoned by fear, David was divinely provoked by the Holy Spirit to go to the battlefield – it was his moment (1 Sam. 17:32). We must discern conditions that are terrifying in the eyes of man, but that are creating a platform for us to step into the Purposes of God!
The enemy that hinders us from engaging the prophetic moment is fear and an escapist mentality. It is when we use religion like a “drug” so that we don’t feel the moment. Let us be encouraged to not “run away” from the moment back into our usual church programs and routines. This is a special time requiring that we consider and reflect life as it unfolds before us. Even as we gather as churches, let not the gatherings and even the things we preach constitute the drugging of our souls. We must be encouraged to engage the moment, not for the sake of the moment itself but so that we may hear the voice of God in the moment. We must be in the human condition with the people, see and track the news and let all these things minister to our hearts to catalyze the voice of God within. Like Nehemiah, we must examine the situation before us – and this does not mean violating the guidelines of social distancing etc., but we can easily do the examination by following the news, statistics, and by talking to fellow believers, friends and neighbours.
Neh 2:13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. NIV
The word “examine” means to scrutinize with an expectation and a hope for newness. Thus, this word carries two dimensions of (a) observation and information gathering as well as (b) developing insight concerning a future that could emerge out of the brokenness or crisis. In other words, this word does not merely speak of “gathering data” and being paralyzed by it, it speaks of being inspired by brokenness that’s before us. In reality, the word describes a process of hearing the voice of God in and through a crisis. If the church is not in the moment of the current pandemic, and if she escapes through her usual programs and routines, and by superficial preaching, we will miss the opportunity to hear the voice of God for life after the pandemic.
In the days of Nehemiah, there were different groups or categories of people that had different relationships with the crisis: (A) Hanani was simply occupied with “newspaper commentary” about Jerusalem (Neh. 1:1-3). (B) Sanballet had an evil interest and wanted to keep the situation unchanged (Neh. 2:10). (C) There were marginalized Jews who were waiting for someone to activate them (Neh. 2:17-18). (D) And then there was Nehemiah, who did not only pray about the situation (Neh. 1:4) but who also took sacrificial action (Neh. 2:1-9). We want to be a Nehemiah in the current moment!
Driver 2: Responsible Citizenship – Romans ch. 13 is one of the scriptures that give us a framework for good and responsible citizenship. It talks about the theology of the State and our responsibility as those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but who exist in geopolitical spaces under earthly government. We are exhorted to honour the State for the sake of our faith and conscience, not because of fear (Rom. 13:5). The apostle Peter confirms this by stating, “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority among men” (1 Pet. 2:13). The phrase “for the Lord’s sake” is important here – fundamentally, the spirit of Christ and the Cross is not one of rebellion against the State, it is one of submission to legal processes but only to invoke even a higher authority of God for the redemption of mankind. He whom we serve stood before Pilate (a mere earthly authority) and made a good confession (1 Tim. 6:13). We are to follow His example! Romans 13:8 continues to exhort us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. The context of “neighbor” in verse 8 is not fellow church members, but it’s fellow citizens. All of this speaks about two things, (a) our actions must honour the State, (b) and also honour our fellow citizens. In this regard, if the church aspires to be “the head and not the tail” or a leader in society, then she must honour the laws, the regime and constitutional mechanisms that have been put in place by our government to mitigate the current crisis and ensure human well-being and justice. We must realize that the current guidelines coming from government and informing how we must engage the current situation are not mere suggestions but legal prescriptions. The state of disaster is informed by the Disaster Management Acts – this is a law aimed at saving lives. As long as we believe that the government is neither overreacting nor using the current legal framework for some other hidden and unjust agenda, then we must cooperate fully in this process. If we as church want government and civil society to respect and take us seriously now and in the future, then we must act responsibly in this current moment. We must advance the Kingdom of God and the faith within the legal framework before us.
Part of fulfilling our citizenship responsibility also involves praying for the government (“those in authority”) and for our fellow citizens (“all men”) so that there may be peace and stability in the land (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It is time to pray for our nation and the nations of the world!
Driver 3: Keep the Fellowship – we must honour social distancing without cutting off structures of fellowship in our hearts. Social distancing deals with minimizing unnecessary public movement.
- At the very least, (a) we must maintain a greater sense of identification with fellow brothers and sisters in our hearts, (b) and hold them in prayer before God as they do the same for us.
- We can use several cost-effective technological options to stay connected – we can share our faith, pray together and even share light social moments via technological platforms.
- Where possible and with appropriate measures of social distancing and hygiene practices (e.g. avoidance of public transport, washing of hands, avoiding handshakes, general sanitation and staying home when sick), we can still visit one another in small scale fellowship engagements, even if it’s for brief moments, so that we can exchange dynamic spiritual energies of faith, prayer and even share light moments together.
Fellowship is one of the cornerstones of the church (Acts 2:42). It is a means by which we share in our faith and inspire one another in the Lord. If there is one thing that must happen post this pandemic, especially to disciples of Christ, it is a greater sense of oneness and togetherness in Christ. We are not called to face these moments alone but together as the Body of Christ.
Pastor – LivingStones Agency
Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship