By Ward Shope
As we experience the dislocation of COVID-19, some have drawn a parallel to the persecuted church in its inability to meet for regular worship and Bible teaching. I’ve done it myself, having close connection to some serving the Kingdom in that part of the world. There is a mix of prudence and distrust that wracks the church there. On the one hand, Scripture is clear that believers need to live in community. On the other hand, the very people they want to trust could be the very ones to bring disaster by outing them—either out of fear or coercion. Christians have used technological means like radio, TV, and the internet to spread the gospel in those areas. On some level, like the persecuted church, we can view the next person we meet as the next threat to our lives or the lives of others rather than brothers and sisters, friends, or neighbors.
Beyond these similarities, the parallel breaks down. None of us in our country is going to be imprisoned simply because of our faith. We aren’t in danger by being discovered to have listened to a religious broadcast, or by being vocal about our faith. There are no neighborhood spies keeping track of our every movement, or the number of people going in and out of our houses. Most churches in such countries struggle to get above a group of 10 participants and have no goal to do so because it would be unwise.
So what does this period of relative freedom mean for us who are being limited by CDC recommendations and governor mandates? As an introvert, gatherings with large numbers of people are a little bit of a challenge anyway. I can handle groups of 10 people and under. It’s Jesus who needs to push me out into the lives of others—while some need Jesus to hold them back in Sabbath times of communion with him. How are we to be Jesus’ followers during COVID-19?
Many things—maybe the majority of things are still the same. Horizontally, I am still my brother’s keeper. Are my physical neighbors and spiritual brothers and sisters in need? Are they working? Are they well? Are they lonely? We don’t necessarily need to trespass social distance to check up on them. The phone provides human interaction for many who need it. Are they anxious? Is there a way I can communicate to them about the secured and assured life in Jesus?
Vertically, how am I developing my own relationship with Jesus during this time? It would be easy for us to seek entertainment or home projects to fill our days when we’re not working. Perhaps this is an unusual time for us to observe the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection—to read the Bible and pray on our own. Is this a good time for me and my spouse and family to begin a devotional life together or linger over an unrushed meal? Can I gather a few others to pray with me (virtually or in person) for the special circumstances of this hour?
Maybe life at its deepest level isn’t all that different for us. Jesus’ Spirit can give us wisdom as we ask him.