True Christianity offers you something different than 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 fearful and cowardly display of the fear of man and the love of this world.
DC Talk’s 1995 hit “What If I Stumble?” starts with someone reading these lines: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Like it or not, true Christians have to deal with the consequences of the professing church. Many unbelievers look at the professing church’s lack of faithfulness and conclude that such is what true Christianity is.
As such, for many a true follower of Jesus, the response of the professing evangelical and even Reformed church during the coronavirus has been one of the most discouraging and disheartening parts of this whole year. Dealing with government overreach, media-induced fear, and hysteria without end would have been bad enough. But the one place where Christians should have been able to find refuge was in the church. There, believers should have found a different spirit—a spirit of faith and trust and courage. A spirit of freedom and peace. Believers should have been able to point to the church—the called out ones—and said to a watching world, “Behold, there is something otherworldly, something different from the world.” Sadly, that wasn’t the case for most churches. Uncertainty, fear, cancellations of fellowship, mask requirements, and social distance regulations thrived in the church just as much as in the world.
I’ve entitled this “A COVID Apology to America, on Behalf of the Evangelical Church.” This is what I believe the professing evangelical and Reformed church should say to America. And, of course, she should not only say it, but change course accordingly.
The Apology (7 parts):
America, we’re sorry. We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show you how different Christianity is from the world. And we failed.
Years ago, Leonard Ravenhill said, “The world out there is not waiting for a new definition of Christianity; it’s waiting for a new demonstration of Christianity.” The COVID debacle of 2020-2021 was the perfect opportunity for us to give you that new demonstration of 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 that Christians are different. Instead, most evangelical churches acted just like the world. Our profession of faith made little difference in our lives. Our churches closed their doors just like the Lion’s Club and community BINGO night. 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 and fellowship. We preached about passages such as Hebrews 10:25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We told you about Christians throughout church history who were willing to meet despite the dangers of persecution, oppression, and even death. We held these men and women up as examples of faithfulness. And then, when the coronavirus struck us, we scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Forgive us.
Prior to the coronavirus we told you that living for Christ was worth more than anything this world could offer, including safety, health, and prosperity. We told you about Christians—going all the way back to the apostles—who truly understood the gospel and were willing to give up everything to follow Jesus. We told you about the missionaries and housewives, preachers and plowboys, who were willing to die if they could only read the Scripture. We told you that obedience to Christ was not an optional part of discipleship, but the very essence of following Jesus. And then, when it was going to cost us something to stand for Jesus and stand against the world, we crumbled like a house of cards. Forgive us.
We’re sorry we perverted the glorious and beautiful blessing of Christian fellowship.
We neglected fellowship. For some of us, it didn’t even take one week for us to cancel fellowship. 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 did not accurately demonstrate the doctrine of Christian fellowship. We made Christianity to look no different than a social club or sports league, willing to cancel gatherings on the word of a pagan tyrant.
But even worse than abandoning Christian fellowship, we perverted fellowship. We encouraged you to think that Christians view “online” events as gatherings, fellowship, or services. This is all a gross perversion of what God intended for the church. We know that none of these things are fellowship, but we continued to act as if they were. To our shame, when we finally found some courage to meet (or, if we’re honest, when the state allowed us to meet), we continued to enforce mask and distancing mandates. We showed that we really don’t care if true fellowship occurs—where believers can interact with one another, see each other’s faces, and act as family—we really only cared about continuing to present a façade of Christianity. We did have good motives and intentions. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Truth be told, we caved to the pressure. Our actions are a stain upon the true church’s testimony concerning the doctrine of Christian fellowship.
We’re sorry we conformed to the world.
Christians are supposed to look different from the world. The fear that characterizes so much of our world, amplified to the extreme during the coronavirus, is unbecoming for a true Christian church. We know that we have been charged to not be conformed to this world (or “age,” see Romans 12:2). However, we found the temptation too strong and the potential cost too high for us to have our minds transformed during the coronavirus. Instead of standing as a city upon a hill as a light for a lost, confused, and scared world, we acted just like everyone else. Just like the pagans in the plagues of the second and third century, we encouraged you to stay away from others.