What Has Forced Government Shutdowns Of Churches Taught Pastors And Preachers?
By the time this letter reaches you, the world might be back to normal. Or maybe not.
I’d like to remind us of a few things so that we can remind God’s people of a few things as we get back to life according to the Word of God, even with a virus in the streets. On one hand, we’re content (Phil. 4:11). We’re full of joy, full of the Spirit, and living a healthy spiritual life even though the world is in a state of emergency. And that means we can “go with the flow” if necessary.
However, in the midst of a pandemic, or a world shut-down for any reason, what was God really saying and leading us to do?
That was the first thing that I noticed about this whole virus reaction…that I wasn’t hearing any Christian leader say, “God told me to do XYZ…” or, “the Spirit has alarmed me to close the church doors for a season.” There didn’t seem to be much leading of God in any of it.
It wasn’t God’s idea for everyone to go home, change life, skip church, and pause Christian interpersonal activity. It was the world’s.
So, what does that mean for us?
Of course, most church leaders (and especially church members) were just trying to be “subject unto rulers and authorities,” per the scriptures. And it seemed logical for some to do that at first and for a time. Each pastor being led by the Spirit for the safety of his or her own church and people is the best way to look at it. And there should be no condemnation either way.
But it was clear from the beginning that any prolonged government shut-down would force many churches to the other side of the scriptures–commanded church assembly, fervent gospel spreading, and Christian fellowship.
Certainly, God can use it and turn it all for our good. So, there were some benefits. Many churches were forced into finally having an online presence, and now they’re reaching people around the world. Many people have tuned into the gospel online and some have been saved. Christians were able to enjoy something new with parking lot church and horn-honking solidarity. And some Christian might begin to value more highly the church life that was snatched from them. We’ll see.
We still have a good attitude and hopeful outlook, but let’s not kid ourselves–this was not God’s plan for mass revival. Think about it. Evangelists and missionaries have been frozen at home and unable to reach the masses. No flights, no crusades, no meetings under the anointing, little one-to-one witnessing around the world, no laying on of hands, no holy hugs, little Christian fellowship between one another. Most of people’s time has been spent dealing with the uncertainty and distraction about this shut-down.
Barna’s “online church during the shut-down” survey showed that only 40% of regular churchgoers watched their church’s streaming, 23% watched another church’s streaming, and 48% said they watched nothing. It’s quite likely that the Church hasn’t grown much during this time. So we must conclude that that’s devilish interference into the will of God.
Using the government and using the “lion in the streets” threat, the devil was the puppet-master behind this stay-at-home-to-save-the-world phenomenon that has effectively stopped real church meetings and Christian advancement. So for one, we at ICFM should agree together that the devil will pay for this kingdom life interruption. And let’s all do our part to make him.
But that brings us to my main point. For the Church to fully continue the Great Commission and do the will of God, we’ll have to be prepared to sometimes do it against the will of the government and even the will of some of the people. Are we prepared for that? What will life look like if mask-wearing, limited gatherings, and isolated living continue as the world’s solution to every contagious sickness? Will we be the light by playing along with government or by blazing forward without it?
Let’s think back on our calling and purpose. As ministers, our first calling is not to argue with governments for our rights. It’s to edify the Church and perfect the saints. It’s to disciple God’s “inside” people so they can be healthy enough to reach “outside” people. And that’s it. That’s the command from the Lord when the government allows it, and it’s the command from the Lord even when the government doesn’t allow it.
There is certainly a constitutional battle that can be had about this. And for now, in the U.S.A, the document is on our side, praise the Lord. But I believe our first action might not be to argue about legal permission, but to just do the will of God regardless of anyone’s permission.
That means that at some point, we must prepare ourselves and our people for a first-century style of Christianity. You know–the kind in the Bible, where Christians weren’t accepted and where they didn’t run half the country with a constitutional bill of rights to back them–the kind of Christianity that attracted real persecution.
Is that time close at hand? Maybe not for most states, but partially so in some. And also in some countries, where they don’t have a constitution like ours. (And where they can’t obey the government as long as us because they don’t have online banking, they can’t work from home, and their churches aren’t set up for online giving.) In America, we’ve been able to lead a fairly quiet and conflict-free gospel life. And we are grateful to God about it. But we should be a bit more prepared for the persecution Jesus promised us. And we should be alert to support our minister friends who may have some fallout from their spiritual decisions.
And as we move forward, let’s be cognizant of where our people are at. Most aren’t ready to disobey government for the sake of the gospel. The brand-new Christian might be in a different place. Those who have family at risk or who’ve lost a friend or relative to a virus will be in a different place. Those not trained in faith and divine protection or who just don’t have the spirit of Caleb will be in a different place. Many are inclined to accept that the possibility of saving someone from a virus is more essential than church assembly. Of course, that’s the extraordinary part about this pandemic reaction, that it’s not a direct assault on the gospel, but an indirect one. The world kept saints and sinners out of church by presenting this as “stay home or kill people,” making it difficult even for Christians. The end-result was the same. It’s an assault on productive living, and a diabolical assault on the Lord building His Church.
This all may blow over sooner than later. But what about next time? The challenge is to be ready to brave out into the storm, while keeping an eye on the state of our flocks and asking ourselves these faith questions, Are enough of us disconnected from the world enough? Unafraid of evil enough? And ready for persecution enough? And what is our faith willing to do about it?