Covid and the Church: Nine Pastoral Conclusions

  1. Theologically, I believe diseases, plagues and epidemics are often the judgment of God upon those in rebellion against Him (Ex 7-11, Deut 28, Amos 4:10; Rm 1:27, Rev 18:8). Another judgment of God upon rebellious people is madness (Ecc 9:3), confusion (Ex. 14:24), foolishness (Jdg 7:22), fear (Lev 26:36), timidity (Pr 28:1), disarray (2Chr. 20:22), panic (1Sm. 14:15) and mental blindness (Dt. 28:28).
  2. Evangelistically, I believe our sinful world deserves this judgment and much more. Anything less than Sodom’s fall is a mercy. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can answer and heal and restore. Only Jesus gives lasting forgiveness, which he does to all those who fall before him in humble repentance (1Jn. 1:7).  

  3. Compassionately, I believe Christians should empathize with the hard work and courage of doctors, nurses and researchers as well as with those who have lost loved ones, businesses and savings accounts (Rom 12:15). 

  4. Prayerfully, I believe Christians should ask God to give great wisdom to government leaders around the world (1Tim 2:2). 

  5. Scientifically, I believe and agree with today’s science that coronaviruses are somewhat common and coexist with humans and animals worldwide, some of which result in the common cold. I also believe there is a vast difference between respecting the scientific process of determining truth and accepting the “science” of today’s majority position (Rm. 12:2). The former sees some benefit with facemasks and clean hands. The latter is often not science at all. 

  6. Politically, I believe government often answers crises with extensive alterations to a society that otherwise thoughtful people would not allow (1Sam 8:11). Socialism is alluring to fallen people and very alluring to a fearful fallen people.

    Thomas Sowell has said that all the ideological movements of intellectuals in the 20th century (such as eugenics, global warming, feminism, homosexuality or socialism) use the same game plan. They emphasize the same four things: (1) There’s a big problem most don’t know about, (2) Big action is needed to address it, (3) Government needs to do this, (4) Anyone who disagrees is careless, heartless and negligent. Because most Covid responses worldwide have followed this pattern, it ought to cause great concern to Christians.

  7. Economically, I believe the initial information about Covid was incomplete, causing wildly inaccurate predictions (e.g. half a million deaths in the UK). Instead of responding to Covid as a severe seasonal respiratory illness, global governments took ill-advised and exaggerated measures (Prov 18:13).

    The result has been societal destruction, business and school closures, millions on unemployment, and trillion dollar stimulus packages from bankrupt governments. This latter step cheapens currency, devalues savings, encourages taxation and repudiates debts.

    And yet, in spite of Covid, bad times to the economy have always come and will always come (Job 5:7). Nations like the United States, for example, have faced some form of recession every five years or so. The practical way Christians should respond to this financial downturn is frugal living and careful saving.

  8. Civilly, I believe we must obey the civil authorities over us (1Pt. 2:13-14). I also believe there are times when the government is right to close churches should there be genuine catastrophes like a great plague. Christians should gladly comply with reasonable measures to deter the spread. However, Christians also have the right to express their grievances about sins done by the magistrate (Ac. 16:37; 22:25) and should their consciences be pricked, they should obey God rather than men (Ac. 5:29).

    Moreover, the civil authorities in Paul’s day were different than in our day. Paul was a subject. We are voting citizens. Our government leaders are accountable to us. Paul’s government leaders were not. Presidents and governors are different than Caesars and tribunes. The doctrine of the lesser magistrate is crucial because the Constitution in many nations is a higher authority than governors and chiefs. Christians should take this into account when writing letters to government and considering civil disobedience. Pastors who speak out thoughtfully and biblically should be not be ashamed. They should be joyful to have such an unusual right and privilege.

  9. Pastorally, I believe great damage is done to members that are not able to meet (Heb 10:25). Since the curve has leveled out, past extreme and temporary measures are no longer needed. It’s time to relax the extreme isolation rules by allowing churches to re-gather. High-risk church members such as the elderly should be cautioned but given the freedom to make their own decisions. 

    The Covid matter requires calm, courageous analysis by pastors. Wise pastors see oncoming danger (Pr 22:3) and skillfully take dozens of details into account, such as location, calling, public opinion, the police, community viewpoint, church size, citizenship etc. For example, a missionary (on a visitor’s visa) that pastors (a small church) may be trying with all his might just to reach a culture very different than his. His practical pastoral steps in his congregation might be very different than a pastor in a big city, though their overarching conclusions are identical.

    Moreover, pastors should also remember there may be suitable alternatives to Christians meeting together in one place or sanctuary. Home churches and small groups were ubiquitous in the early church and still have great value today. The great Reformed pastor Richard Baxter was a churchman, but I bet his almost daily practice of visiting his flock would have prepared him well for Covid-19.

Virtual Communion?

Crises in the world and in the church have always forced believers to wrestle with new ethical dilemmas. These challenges have compelled God’s men to bring Scripture to bear on scenarios they had previously never considered. The Apostle Paul never addressed the finer points of homoousios in his letters, but Athanasius did. Athanasius never addressed Popish anathemas, but Luther did. And Luther never addressed transgenderism, but here we are today.

One question the Covid crisis brings to the church’s doorstep is the matter of communion in abstentia. What should happen to communion when God’s people can’t commune? Is virtual communion valid? As a missionary, I’ve wrestled with versions of this question before. Suppose your church gathers in the middle of Mozambique and only has access to porridge and orange Fanta. In a more familiar setting, what about a deacon that brings the bread and wine to an isolated mother in the cry room? Are these legitimate? Continue reading

Ten Gracious Steps for the Sexually Immoral

Sexual immorality is rampant all over the world. Our African village is no different. When those inside our church fall to this sin, we counsel them with a spirit of love by urging them to follow these ten “R’s”.

This always takes time and patience. Teaching through a list like this may take hours or even days. But the repentance of a sinning brother is worth this kind of investment.

  1. Remember. God’s will is that you stay far away from sexual immorality (1Th. 4:3). Don’t forget that God has created you for the purpose of imitating the holy life of Christ (Mt. 5:48).
  2. Request. Ask God to forgive your sin (1Jn. 1:9), to give you a pure heart (Ps. 51:10), to protect you from the sin of fornication (Gn. 20:6; 1Chr. 4:10; Ps. 141:9) and to help you persevere (1Jn. 2:19).
  3. Responsibility. Place the blame on yourself for your sin (Ps. 51:1-4). Do not fault the world or church for suspecting the genuineness of your Christian profession while you are living in immorality (Eph. 5:3; 1Co. 6:9-10).
  4. Run. Stay far away from the temptation, not just the sin (Ex. 13:17-18). The best way to avoid fornication is to avoid tempting situations (Dt. 25:13-15; Pr. 5:8; 7:8). Flee fornication! (Gn. 39:12; 1Co. 6:18).
  5. Read. Diligently study and meditate upon God’s Word. It is powerful enough to keep His people from sin (Ps. 119-11; Pr. 7:2-3).
  6. Reflect. Guard your thought life by thinking upon pure things (Phil. 4:8). Rid yourself of any objects that hinders this (Dt. 25:13). Meditate upon what Jesus did on the cross to forgive you of such sins (Rm. 5:8).
  7. Relate. Be around believers as often as you possibly can (Hb. 10:25).
  8. Respect. Treat younger women as sisters and older women as mothers (1Tm. 5:2). Avoid doing things with a person of the opposite sex that you would not do with your sister or brother.
  9. Resolve. Get married when you are young (Pr. 5:18) to avoid youthful sins (1Co. 7:2), provided are emotionally and financially prepared (1Tm. 5:8) and the person is a Christian (2Co. 6:14; 1Co. 7:31). If not, break off the relationship.
  10. Repent. Mourn over your fornication (2Co. 12:21). Recognize that this sin breaks God’s law (Gn. 39:9; Ex. 20:14), the church covenant and is worthy of church expulsion should you not repent in word and action (1Co. 5).

Video: Reformation Day Celebration in Rural South Africa

As many churches around the world celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (October 31, 1517), our church members gathered to lift their voices in gratitude for the Five Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. 

We translated the Reformation Hymn (© Chris Anderson/Bob Kauflin) into Tsonga, sang it as a choir and congregation, observed its application in Acts 19 and capped it off with baptisms of new believers from Valdezia and River Plaats.

Continue reading

How Should Calvinists Plead?

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-2-47-12-pmIf you want your son to be a great evangelist, give him the sermons of eminent preachers like Jonathan Edwards, John Paton, John Knox, John MacArthur, John Chrysostom, John Bunyan, John Piper, John Calvin, John Wycliffe, and John Hus.

Also, name him John.

Breaking the mold is George Whitefield, probably the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul. His sermons on both sides of the Atlantic are estimated at 30,000. God used Whitfield during the Great Awakening to bring about one of the greatest revivals in the history of the church.

He wasn’t just a Calvinist, he was a high Calvinist. He held the doctrines of grace to the highest degree, including the doctrine of reprobation. “I have never read Calvin,” he said. “My Calvinism comes from Jesus himself.” Elsewhere he remarked: “We are all born Arminians and it is grace that makes us Calvinists.” Continue reading

Overcoming Fear in Evangelism

IMG_0832On October 1, 1866, the young Samuel Clemens—later known as Mark Twain—walked the roadway gripped with fear. His first comedy routine was just a day away and he had come to realize that his material was anything but funny. Earlier that day he had hired three stormy voiced men to sit in the audience and laugh with gusto.

But now he happened to pass on the street a drunken character that said to Twain: “You don’t know me, but that don’t matter. I haven’t got a cent, but if you knew how bad I wanted to laugh, you’d give me a ticket. Come, now, what do you say?”

Anyone familiar with evangelism knows that this is not how unbelievers approach the gospel. “If you only knew how badly I want to follow Jesus and receive eternal life, who’d give me the truth. What do you say?”

FEAR MAKES US COWARDS

But we are afraid to tell our family, neighbors, and co-workers about Jesus, and fear can turn us into cowards. The chief priests and scribes sought to put Jesus to death because they “feared the people” (Lk. 22:2). The blind man’s parents didn’t evangelize because they “feared the Jews” (Jn. 9:22). Government big wigs in Israel believed in Jesus but wouldn’t confess him for “fear of the Pharisees” (Jn. 12:42). Herod kept John the Baptist alive because he “feared the people” (Matt. 14:5). Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus for “fear of the Jews” (John 19:38).

WHEN FEAR IS GOOD

A few preliminary points may help here. First, our goal in evangelism should not be to eliminate fear all together. Rather, we must strive to work through the fear and overcome it. Even the great apostle Paul ministered to the Corinthians “in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).

Second, fear in evangelism is healthy and mixes well with other emotions. Matthew tells us that the women at Jesus’ tomb left “with fear and great joy” (28:8). After Jesus raised the widow’s son, Luke tells us: “fear filled them all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:16). So fear mixes well with joy and worship. It also blends well with evangelism. If we never felt the sting of terror while telling our boss the Gospel or our neighbor the truth of Christ, we would be tempted to forget the enormity of the message. We talk of football and shopping casually. We speak of Jesus and redemption with measured trepidation.

Finally, the object of our fear must be the Creator, not the creature. Christians are commanded to “fear [Jesus] who has authority to cast into hell (Luke 12:5), but not to fear suffering (1 Peter 3:14). “Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11), but we are not to fear man (Prov. 29:25).  Continue reading