In truth, God’s people have been here so many times before.
Published on: 11-28-2020
Within the first six weeks of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the cultural prophets began predicting how dramatically the crisis would alter the future of faith. Magazine and newspaper columns filled up with ever more dire descriptions of social structures that would be forever changed by protracted disruption, including the local church.
Sermons as we know them would disappear: the future would be dominated by informal fellowship and conversational teaching. Small groups and house churches would proliferate, leaving sanctuaries silent—monuments to an era that had disappeared. The music of the church—great hymns and stirring anthems—would succumb to choruses that could be simultaneously sung by 10 or 20 people camped on Zoom.
It sounded as though the future would declare the rightness of those who having been hoping to dismantle church life as many of us value it—in a building; singing faith in unison and harmony; quieting ourselves beneath the weekly ministry of the Word; finding joy in fellow believers we can greet, enjoy, embrace. All these would disappear, the pundits said, to be replaced with all things virtual.
It is a mercy that the future almost never unfolds as the loudest voices predict it will. Nine months along, this crisis has birthed a multitude of new ways of “doing church”—some temporary and fitted to the moment; others, long-term gains for God’s so patient people. Necessity has once again proved to be the mother of invention, and an explosion of gifted creativity has sparked unexpected growth in many churches. Other congregations struggle to survive this long gestation period, praying in the loneliness for the night to soon be over.
In truth, God’s people have been here so many times before. In every century since Jesus ascended, those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” have endured hard and painful times—sometimes stretching into years and even decades. Their liberties have been restricted; their movements watched and regulated. “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38, NRSV).* Uncounted millions lost their lives to tyrannies more deadly than this pandemic ever will be.
And still the church endured, for it is in the very nature of Christ’s church to endure hardship and adversity. The apostle Peter, who knew a great deal about suffering, reminded us: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12, 13, NRSV). The Word was preached; rich hymns were sung. Disciples were still made, and witness multiplied. Men and women gathered to immerse new faith, share a holy meal together, and celebrate new life.
In grace, Christ’s church persisted. By grace, His church will persevere. The resurrection life of Christ is also in His people.