There have been many upsetting aspects of the two year long Covid19 ordeal. But the response of the church has been one of the most discouraging and disheartening parts of all. Dealing with government overreach, media-induced fear, and hysteria without end would have been bad enough. But the one place where people should have been able to find refuge was in the church. There, believers and unbelievers alike should have found a different spirit—a spirit of faith and hope and courage. A spirit of freedom and peace. Believers should have been able to point to the church and said to a frightened and confused world, “Here is a sanctuary from the doom and gloom. Here there is hope and salvation.” Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Insecurity, fear, paranoia, hypochondria, cancellations, mask requirements & social distance all thrived in the church just as much as everywhere else.
Here is what I believe the nation’s churches should say to their local communities. And, of course, she should not only say it, but change course accordingly (a.k.a. “repentance”).
We’re sorry. We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show you how radically different Christianity is. And we failed.
The covid crisis was the perfect opportunity for us to give you a demonstration of courageous Christianity. We could have shown you what it means to live a life free from fear. We could have shown you what it means to value spiritual things more than material things. We could have shown you the priority of eternal life over physical life. Instead, most churches acted just like everyone else. Our professions of faith made little difference in our response to the crisis. Our churches declared themselves non-essential and closed their doors. We did so with less of a fight than the off-licenses, garden centres and abortion clinics put up. It’s too late for us now to change how we responded. But the least we can do is say that we’re sorry.
We’re sorry we contradicted so much of what we had told you previously. Prior to the coronavirus, we told you that it was vital for Christians to gather together for worship and communion. We shared stories about Christians throughout history who were willing to meet despite the dangers of persecution, oppression, and even death. We told you about the missionaries and housewives, preachers and ploughboys, who were willing to die rather than forsake worship. We held these men and women up as examples of faithfulness. And then, when the coronavirus struck us, when it was going to cost us something to stand for Jesus, we scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Forgive us.
We’re sorry we neglected Christian worship. For some of us, it didn’t even take one week for us to cancel meeting together. We dressed it up with a lot of explanations and qualifications, but the bottom line is that we told everyone to stop meeting together as a church body. We made Christianity to look no different than a social club or sports league, willing to cancel centuries of unbroken worship simply on the whim of political despots, scientific soothsayers and their media mouthpieces.
We’re sorry we followed the crowd instead of Christ. Christians have been charged to not be conformed to the prevailing culture. However, we found the temptation too strong and the potential cost too high. Our minds were transformed during the crisis, but not by the supernatural power of God as our scriptures instruct us but by the manipulative power of behavioural psychologists. Instead of standing as a light for a lost, confused, and scared world, we ran for cover just like everyone else. Just like the pagans in the plagues of the second and third century, we encouraged you to treat each other as deadly contagions and keep away from others.
We’re sorry we made our faithful brothers and sisters—those churches that stood firm from the very beginning of the COVID lockdowns—look like outliers. While most of the professing church kowtowed to the secular world’s pressure, a faithful remnant did not soil their garments with the fear and paranoia. These congregations are worthy of admiration. But even when we had these godly examples right before our very eyes, we made them look like the extremists. We told you that we were doing the loving thing by not allowing the family of God to commune with Him together. We made it look like those churches that didn’t compromise God’s sovereignty over His church were unwise, unloving, and uncharitable. We said that forcing congregants to wear masks and stay away from each other was the “loving” thing. We’re sorry. We simply didn’t have the courage or conviction to make such a stand. If part of us admired those dissident churches, the greater part just felt much more comfortable conforming. We preferred to receive a, “Well done, good and faithful servant” in the here-and-now from our fellow man rather than in the life to come from the Son of God.
We’re sorry we misrepresented Christianity. We made Christianity look like just another arm of the health & safety executive. We denied our omnipotent saviour’s supernatural power but endowed fallible, hubristic scientists with divine authority. We took the powerful, courage-inducing message of Christianity, and buried it in the sand. We made physical safety and personal protection more important than the spiritual wellbeing of souls headed for an eternity in either heaven or hell. The message of the gospel is that your soul is of far greater value than anything in this life. Instead of faithfully proclaiming that message, we shamelessly peddled an insipid and impotent version of Christianity: “wash your hands, wear a mask, be kind”. Britain, that is not what life-changing Christianity is. We’re sorry we didn’t have the strength to resist.
We’re sorry we made Christianity look like a pansy religion that causes her adherents to be unwilling to face the consequences for faithfulness. We had examples of radicals, dissidents and martyrs – stretching over millennia – who refused to compromise their faithfulness to God’s Word despite dire consequences but we simply ignored them. We made it seem like our situation—with a virus which has an incredibly low death rate—was worse than anything that has come before us. We pretended that our situation was so unprecedented that the worthy examples of history could be admired but not emulated. We pretended the coronavirus was worse than the plague that occurred in Germany when Luther was unwilling to stop meeting with believers. We acted as if it was worse than the outbreak of Asiatic cholera in London when Spurgeon kept meeting with Christians. We have done a really good job of looking to church history for motivation, but we have done a really bad job of following in their footsteps.
But supreme over every other example we have the very one who is the focal point of our worship & devotion. At this time of year especially we recall how Jesus of Nazareth was betrayed, abandoned, falsely accused, mocked, beaten, scourged, tormented, tortured and killed for our sake. Yet for two Easters we retreated behind our doors and our masks, justifying to ourselves and – worse still – to our Saviour that the risk from Covid19 was just too great to share communion.
True Christianity causes people to be willing to suffer the consequences for faithfulness to Jesus. The true church is composed of those who are willing to suffer loss or hardship for the sake of Jesus. True Christianity involves “counting the cost”. It is a message which is so powerful and beautiful and moving that all around the world its followers will “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”. We pretended like we still believed that. We pretended like we would still lay down our lives for Jesus if we had to, all the while we were unwilling to even meet with fellow believers because we might get sick, fined or disapproving comments. Sometimes, it’s a lot easier to say you’d die for Jesus, than it is to actually live for him.
Martin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” We presented Christianity as a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, suffers nothing, and is worth nothing. We’re sorry. That is not true Christianity.
We’re sorry that, even after two years of this, we continue to misrepresent what actually happened. So many of us continue to say things like, “Covid19 was so devastating that we lost the ability to worship together”. We’re sorry we keep perpetuating this lie. We know it’s not actually true. We didn’t lose the ability to worship any more than first-century Christians in Rome lost the ability to worship because they could be thrown to the lions or burned alive as human torches. We didn’t lose the ability to worship any more than the 16th century Separatists lost the ability to worship because the crown forced them to attend state-sanctioned services. We didn’t lose the the ability to worship anymore than those believers who this very day gather in secret, underground churches for fear of the authorities or their neighbours.
We had so many good things to say to you and to share about the gospel, but we simply chose not to live them out. It wasn’t forced upon us. We had the ability to open our doors to you – just like the supermarkets did – but we chose to “shut up shop”.
The message we offered during the coronavirus was cheap. It cost us nothing, it asked nothing of you, and it offered nothing distinctive to the watching world.
We told you of the glorious good news of Jesus, and the infinite worth of faithfulness to Jesus, no matter the cost, and then we capitulated, without even a fight. We heeded every word of false prophets like Whitty & Ferguson but paid lip-service to the promises of the One who has the words of eternal life.
Unless you saw one of those rare churches that stayed faithful to God’s calling —unwilling to cancel their collective worship, unwilling to force her congregants to cover their faces and stay away from each other like lepers of old— then what you saw these past two years was not Christianity. It was safetyism dressed up in Christian garb. It was supine servitude masquerading as humble obedience. It was cowardice marketed as compassion. True Christianity offers you something different than the rest of the world does, but true Christianity will cost you. And there will be consequences. What you saw from most of the professing church was a dismal display of the fear of man and the love of the here-and-now. If you are willing, please give us another chance. And if we continue to act as we did, without acknowledging how we sinned and admitting we succumbed to the climate of fear, then go find a group of Christians that are willing to face the music for their faithfulness. Find a group of barefaced Christ followers who live out their faith unafraid and unashamed. There you will find transforming Christianity.
[The above is a reproduced & rehashed version of this sermon transcript, by Chris Hume. Permission granted].
On the first Easter Friday, Jesus’ companions all swore their allegiance to Him. Hours later – overwhelmed with fear – they had betrayed Him, abandoned Him and denied even knowing Him. One day later, when Jesus was dead & buried, they went into lockdown, afraid of the authorities. So, the Church’s craven response to Covid19 is not new to the Lord Jesus!
Far too many Christians are stuck in the same “Easter Saturday” mentality as those first disciples: feeble, fearful and faithless. Jesus had been full of revolutionary promise, but the government and various lobby groups had had the final say. Or so they thought…
It didn’t end that way. Easter Sunday was coming! There was a glorious resurrection. Even the grave could not contain this prisoner. Death had lost it’s power and another one of Jesus’ cryptic slogans now made sense: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” What else was there left to fear?
Jesus forgave His pitiful band of deserters, revived their faith, restored their positions and empowered them to transform the world. That same radical, revolutionary, resurrection power is still available today – for you and His church. Maybe some of the Related links below might help you discover it for yourself.