I don’t typically choose to share what I think about current issues, but I’ve heard very few people talk about our opportunity for evangelism right now (which should be the highest priority of Jesus-followers), so that’s why I want to share my thought process with you.
Let’s just jump right in:
I believe that this COVID-19 season has produced the simplest opportunity for evangelism we’ve ever had.
I’ve come to this conclusion by asking the two following questions:
- What is the role of the Church in this epidemic?
- What is the role of the the individual Christian in this epidemic?
So, if you belong to a church and you are a Christian, I’m writing to you.
Let’s break it down.
1. What is the role of the Church in this epidemic?
[The ‘big-C’ Church, the Bride of Christ, the worldwide Church.]
Right now, there are mainly two reactions that I’ve witnessed from church congregations or Christians who are talking at the Church, specifically about the topic of evangelism.
The first one: “this is the end times.” This view says that we need to make sure we’re ready for Jesus to come back and that we should get out there and evangelize with the time we have left.
I’m not going to debate that this is the end times with you, though I’ve heard hefty Biblical arguments from both sides! Except, I want it to be considered that what’s happening right now has happened other times in history in different forms and quite frankly, it’s been the “end times” since Jesus ascended. The commands to evangelize were some of His last words to us (Matt. 28:19, 20). So, we should already have our “lamps filled with oil” (Matt. 25:1-13) and we should already be telling the Good News.
The second one: “this is our chance.” This view suggests that this virus is an opportunity for the Church to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus and do what we say we’re about because the world really needs it right now.
I agree that this is an opportunity for us to obey, a massive one at that, and I pray we will steward this well. But this is only one opportunity out of the thousands of other opportunities to obey that we’ve already lived through. It’s been our chance, Church. The world has always been in need. So, we should already be loving and serving our communities and the ends of the earth like Jesus, not just because it’s currently convenient and affecting us.
Therefore, while aspects of each view might be agreeable, there’s a big flaw in our practical theology if we’re just now motivated to evangelize or obey the commands of Jesus because we think He’ll be coming on the clouds soon or because it’s convenient for us.
I wanted to share these two views with you for the sole purpose of explaining the problems with our practical theology. Neither of these perspectives steward this opportunity well, nor do they teach us to practically serve our communities. They are not relevant answers to the Church’s role in coronavirus because they are not righteously motivated. Suddenly beginning to evangelize or obey Jesus’ commands in crisis is not faith that expresses love for Jesus; it is faith founded on fear and convenience.
In other words, non-believers do not want us to suddenly start caring for them because we think that Jesus is about to come back or because it is finally convenient for us to minister to them with all of our spare time. Doing this sends the message that we don’t care about how the rest of their lives go, as long as they believe in the last-minute before He returns. It implies that our pre-COVID-19 life was somehow not a mission field. Love for Jesus and others is a life-long lifestyle, not a quarantine lifestyle.
If you find yourself in one of these two boats: this new season has revealed the flaws in our practical theology. Our sin has been exposed, but this means we have learned another opportunity to repent. This is simultaneously the worst news and the best news! We are so sinful, yet that’s why the sacrifice of Jesus is so sweet and serious for us! We can repent; we can turn from ourselves and toward the Lord. We can agree with the Truth: we are more sinful that we can imagine and He is righteous beyond our understanding. This repentance bears fruit (Luke 3:8) and new growth. And Church, this is when the real change happens. When we repent, we acknowledge that God knows our deepest, darkest parts, and we ask for help to change. Out of this comes a loved-based faith in Jesus, from which we can truly love our neighbors and communities.
Regardless of our different views about the Church’s role (of the two categories I’ve just listed or something totally different), we can all agree that this epidemic is not persecution against the Church. All of the world is suffering and grieving because of this virus. All are vulnerable to it.
The reaction of the Church has included most church congregations not gathering for face-to-face services for the time-being. Here should be three of our primary motivators for this decision (that are evangelistic in nature):
1. Our faith is practiced through submission right now. For the persecuted Church, gathering in the face of opposition and suffering is an act of rebellious faith. However, because coronavirus is not exclusively oppressing the Church, our faith should not be rebellious, but submissive.
We practice submissive faith by honoring the earthly authorities God has named over us (Romans 13:1). In submitting to earthly authority, we are submitting to care for our community, and ultimately, submitting to honor God.
2. We humbly admit that we are merely man. We are not immune to suffering and sickness. This is a way for us to own up to our humanity, to accept our human limitations, and agree with God that…we are not God. In acknowledging our human vulnerability and neediness, we are linking arms with our Christian and non-Christian neighbors around the world, paving way for the Gospel to be proclaimed.
I’ve heard it said that churches should continue to meet during this time, trusting that God will protect and heal. For those of us with a high view of God, Church and church community, this is a divisive view. Yet while it is true that God is completely capable of protecting and healing, we don’t know if He wills that on earth at this time. We do know, however, that He wills for us to obey authority. We are merely human and we must first obey what we know is true (honoring authority), then pray for what we desire to be true of us (healing and protection).
3. We must guard our witness to non-believers. If you’re still not convinced that churches shouldn’t be meeting, stop for a minute and think about how keeping our doors open to large gatherings would be perceived by a non-Christian. If I was outside-looking-in, I wouldn’t be thinking, “wow, they’re so full of faith.” I would be thinking, “okay, so they don’t care about the well-being of the greater community?”
Church, attempting to still gather when we have explicitly been told not to by our authorities could damage our witness to non-believers. This stage is not forever, but for the time being, we must accept this cup before us with gratitude.
To sum it up, we don’t gather right now because we are showing our communities what we really believe: that the Holy Spirit can still work in us through livestream church services and that God is not limited to church buildings. It proves our belief that people make up the Church, not brick and mortar. Following Jesus means that we care for our communities, so for the time being, we practice submissive faith by enjoying church services from our couch.
Let it also be said that when leaders of God-glorifying church congregations make decisions, they are seeking the best for their members and the surrounding community. Therefore, church members should submit to decisions made by church leaders and seek to live up to those standards, not just by watching the livestream service, but in all the decisions of their daily lives.
Submission, humility, and consideration of others free us to be the best neighbors and the most respectful social-distancers. Even though we may not be afraid of the virus because we believe God is sovereign and good, we still live within the boundaries of the current social and health norms because, if for not other reason, the fears of our non-Christian friends are not put to rest by the good, kind, and trustworthy God that we know. We build friendships and own up to our common human limitations, not scare them off with reckless “faith” because we think we’re invincible.
Respectful, submissive church bodies have members with true and loving practical theology (like we were talking about earlier) which leads to my second question:
2. What is the role of the individual Christian in this epidemic?
There’s no doubt: it’s evangelism. Our role in this world is always seeking the glory of God and the good of others, which we do through evangelism, mercy ministry, discipleship, and so on. Currently, our opportunities to evangelize are unique because most generations of Americans have never lived through something like this. Personally, I think we’ve been given the most simple opportunity we’ve ever had to share the Gospel. But how? We’ve already talked about how fear- and convenience-based Christian reactions to coronavirus are not helpful or truthful, nor are they correct motivations for evangelism.
How do we evangelize, then? By commonality. We’ve already talked about this as being a stance of the Church, but we must lean into the core things we have in common with others right now in order to know how this is a vessel for evangelism.
While the whole world has always been united in its need for salvation, right now the fallen nature of man and of this world is recognized by everyone in the same way: we are all vulnerable to a virus. It’s built a commonality among us, as nearly every single person on the planet is affected by it. No one is rich, famous, or healthy enough to escape its potential harms.
As we suffer together (some far more serious than others), we raise questions, like:
- “Is there a God?”
- “If there is a God, is He good and does He care?”
- “Why is there suffering?”
- “What’s the purpose of my existence?”
- “What happens after I die?”
As followers of Jesus, we find our answers in Scripture and trust Him with the rest of what we do not understand. We have a big hope, even in the worst times. But for the unbeliever, where are their answers and what do they hope in?
In order to evangelize, we must recognize that everyone is asking these same questions right now: the person in front of you in the grocery checkout-line and the neighbor walking on the other side of the street and your FaceTime friends and literally everyone in the world and you and me. Our hearts are always crying out with these age-old questions, but especially right now. Even if you and I know most of the answers because we hope in the Lord, if we’re honest, we still wonder when we see another headline or read another death toll. Suffering and grief have a way of bringing our deepest questions to light.
And while these questions are in the light, we have a unique opportunity to wrestle through the exact same things as our neighbors and FaceTime friends. Sharing the Gospel has never been so simple because everyone has the same hole of questions burning in them at this very moment…questions only the Truth of the Gospel can answer.
It’s so incredibly simple. We lean into the questions our own hearts are asking and we ask our neighbors and friends if they, too, are wondering about these things. We don’t bear the arrogance of knowing all the answers. Again, we don’t bear the arrogance of knowing all the answers, even if we do know. We commit to wrestle with them and we find and re-find our answers in the Truth of Scripture and by the help of the Holy Spirit, we explain our reasoning and we trust the Lord to do His mighty work of Salvation in the hearts of our non-believing, socially-distanced neighbors and FaceTime friends. We “go and tell” by first sitting and asking.
The whole world is suffering and grieving the same things, the whole world is asking the age-old questions of mankind, and the whole world is in need of salvation.
It’s so simple, beloved Church: we love in this COVID-19 season by practicing submissive faith, humbly admitting our human limitations, and considering the needs and fears of our neighbors. It’s so simple, beloved Christian: we obey the commands to evangelize with the Good News by wrestling through life’s hardest questions alongside our non-believing friends and neighbors. And we prayerfully wait in hope for the Day of Salvation.