When the World Health Organization declares something a “pandemic,” the world stops and listens. And in the case of COVID-19, most of the world already knew what we know now: the coronavirus is a disease of seismic proportions. From private and public education to college and professional sports, America has entered into a social, economic, and even political standstill. But does a global outbreak necessarily mean a spiritual standstill? With tens of thousands of churches across America facing a critical decision to cancel their weekly services in the interest of public health, does the church simply “shut down” like the rest of the country? In this chaotic moment in time, with caution and concern ruling the day, the coronavirus affords the church a unique opportunity to reflect upon its own identity and mission, neither of which can be thwarted by something as earthly as COVID-19. Indeed, now is the time for the church to cling to Christ’s precious promise that the gates (and germs) of Hell will not prevail against His church. (Matt. 16:18) In the face of a tremendously virulent disease and rapidly evolving situation in our nation and world, the following are three things coronavirus cannot do to the people of God:
- Coronavirus Can Separate but not Silence God’s People.
When the NCAA cancels tournament games or the NBA suspends its season, it fundamentally alters basketball history. No rings. No records. No memories. Even a basketball game played without fans inevitably produces a different outcome. But the church isn’t a basketball game. The only record book for the people of God is the one written by the Author of Life and Victor Himself, and nothing – not even a global pandemic – can wipe away its words. The future of the church was set in motion long before the world itself was created, and its victory made certain. More than any virulent strain, the Gospel spread from Nazareth and reached our cities and towns. And the church stands as a testament to the unstoppable, in some sense pandemic, power of God’s Word. While church doors may be closed and handshakes may turn to fist bumps, the power of COVID-19 to distance God’s people from one another will never overcome the power of the Spirit to unite them to their Head, and no force of nature can separate His people from His love. (Rom. 8:38-39). The church building is the site of our corporate worship, but it is never the source of our worship. Christ died that we would live, and He was raised so that our hope would not rest in our blood, but in His.
- It Can Infect but not Indwell God’s People.
As the saying goes in America, time is money. Amidst fears and uncertainty, the DOW continues to plunge. Thankfully, the church isn’t a stock exchange. Its outlook doesn’t plummet when the future is uncertain or its doors temporarily close. And the blood of Christ doesn’t lose its worth when the world doesn’t acknowledge its value. In fact, when a crisis springs upon the people of God, they treasure Jesus the most. Whatever the coronavirus may inflict upon the human body, whatever flu-like symptoms it incurs, it remains incapable of accessing the depths of the human soul for which Christ died. (1 Pet. 1:9) If COVID-19 merely increases the risk of death, the Spirit of God which indwells the believer is still the “guarantee” of our salvation. (Eph. 1:14) The Spirit of God was indeed given to us so that we would have hope when our bodies fail and we endure suffering in our lives. In fact, God often afflicts the people of God so that His grace would be sufficient and so that His power would be made perfect in their weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9) Now is that time. Coronavirus cannot dethrone King Jesus. And it cannot decapitate our Head.
- It Can Encircle but not Enslave God’s People.
It’s hard to live in fear when you’re free. And a closed church door has never prevented God’s people from singing praises to their Redeemer. As school systems and colleges send students home temporarily or for the entire semester, the church remains free from the bondage of sin and the elemental things of the world. (Gal. 4:3) We weren’t just sick; we were dead. But no longer. May the coronavirus take its best shot. COVID-19 may bring God’s people to their beds, but it can never bring the church to its knees. When the world seeks protection, God’s people seek prayer. United to the Father in Christ and to one another by the Spirit, the church will continue to fulfill its mission in the face of cancellations and coronavirus, not because of its own policy, but because of the power of God that sustains it.