Many years ago, Aiden Wilson Tozer wrote some famous words: ‘a scared world needs a fearless Church’. Plenty of Christians are reflecting on Tozer’s words in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and asking what Christian fearlessness might look like in a world that is facing such a crisis. I’d like to suggest that fearlessness has at least four key elements:
Fearlessness is loving…
We are called to love one another. In his poetic and succinct way, John writes it like this: ‘We love because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Now, more than ever, Christians should be demonstrating that they are not ‘of the world’ but are very much ‘in the world’. Already I hear of churches planning good deeds to support their congregations and wider communities: providing childminding help for those who need to work on the medical front line; delivering shopping to the elderly or vulnerable; regularly checking on neighbours and offering them spiritual comfort; pooling resources and supplies so that the modern church more closely resembles the early church when the worst effects of the pandemic begin to manifest themselves (Acts 2:42-47).
Let us encourage one another to be inventively and persistently loving as a church.
Fearlessness is sensible…
Now is not the time for foolishness or ill informed bravado. It is expected that church communities will have protocols in place to protect their members. For St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church and for LivingStones Café these protocols are written and being put into immediate effect.
The protocols themselves are constructed following the guidelines disseminated by the Baptist Union of Great Britain and by the Government of the United Kingdom (Romans 13:1-7). The nationwide planning is designed to prevent a ‘spike’ in Covid-19 related hospitalisations that could overwhelm our health services. Our nation will be better able to cope if the outbreak is less intense for a longer period. The people of the United Kingdom must do as they are told to maximise the effectiveness of this plan. This will, hopefully, produce a collective understanding that ‘soldiering on’ despite manifesting symptoms is utterly irresponsible. You may not go to work, you may not visit relatives, you may not come along to church if you have recently developed a cough or had even a mild temperature.
For those who are young, fit and healthy, the effects of contracting the Covid-19 virus are often unpleasant, but relatively mild. A percentage of people manifest no symptoms and carry/transmit the virus unknowingly. For people who have certain health conditions, and the elderly or infirm, the effects of Covid-19 can be far more serious. It is this higher risk group that we must all be persistently mindful of as we make our decisions.
We want to bless and commune with those in our church who find themselves in a ‘higher risk group’. We also understand that physical attendance at services is most probably not sensible for them. With this in mind, we’ll be videoing and broadcasting parts of our services over the internet, receiving and sharing prayer requests and many other things to maintain a strong sense of church togetherness. For those without access to the necessary technology, we’ll be delivering printed materials and making contact by telephone.
On a day to day basis, we will be asking the question, ‘Can the church physically gather?’ St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church will close its doors as soon as we are advised to do so. However, our church will continue to gather in online/postal community, coordinated through the Church Office, once any official closure is announced.
I recommend that the regular communications from the Church Office are read carefully and that the advice contained therein is followed.
Fearlessness is faithful…
The Christians who gather at St A’s are regularly encouraged to study God’s word, pray, worship and declare the Good News. Christian spiritual discipline is often tested during tough times and it is found to be an unshakeable blessing, a source of joy, strength and peace.
George Duffield was inspired to write the hymn, Stand up, stand up for Jesus when he listened to the dying words of his friend Dudley Tyng (a passionate campaigner for the abolition of slavery). Some of the lyrics of the third verse make a similar point:
Put on the Gospel armour, Each piece put on with pray’r; Where duty calls or danger, Be never wanting there!
When they are required, devotional communications from the ministers, via the Church Office, will aim to be an addition to the daily studies and observances of the church attendees. I hope that they will add to the sense of togetherness, should we be physically parted for a time. We must remember that letter communication between small prayerful gatherings was a fundamental aspect of the founding of the early church. St Paul put it like this: For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is (Colossians 2:5).
St Paul did not have an opportunity to video a message and post it on YouTube. Be warned, this is something we might well do!
In Singapore, the Assemblies Of God churches founded a prayer initiative called, ‘Covid-19:00’. They simply asked all of their members to set an alarm and pray together, every day at 7pm (19:00hrs), for those who are suffering because of the pandemic. Let’s do exactly the same, knowing that our God is the Lord of all things, abounding in power and mercy. He has been, is and always shall be the answer to the problems our world.
Fearlessness is hopeful…
Hebrews 12 reminds us that our world can be shaken. It also reminds us that this does not destroy us or sweep us away. On the contrary, the shaking reveals, ‘a kingdom that cannot be shaken’ (Hebrews 12:28). In Christ, we are declared to be citizens of this unshakeable kingdom and we are called to ‘be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe’. In the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, amen.