The Coronavirus: A Parable For the Church
The Coronavirus has captured the world’s attention. It reminds us that everyone from the young to the old, from the blue collar worker to the college professor, and from the minimum wage earner to the CEO can be dropped into the grave by the tiniest of organisms. Death scares us.
But the world has focused upon the Coronavirus for another reason. The virus has tested China’s ability to handle a major health crisis. The nation claimed to have learned the lessons extracted from the SARS epidemic and the Bird Flu. Yet despite China’s promises to do better and her ability to wield the massive amounts of resources needed to create a hospital in 10 days, the Western press has found the nation’s management of the coronavirus to be less than inspiring.
The New York Post reported that China had discovered the germs in December and then hid the outbreak from the international community. According to CNN, the news of the virus reached the world because Dr. Li innocently and then boldly talked about the virus with other doctors and the press in an effort to protect humanity. The Wuhan police charged Dr. Li and several others with low level crimes for “spreading rumors online.” China also placed a gag order on the researchers who first identified the virus. on As late as January 8, 2020, China’s government continued to withhold vital information from the U.S. Center of Disease Control that revealed the virus had become more contagious. Though the nation possessed the resources, manpower, and technology to address the crisis, China still lacked the transparency, the ethics, and the humility needed to effectively address this latest medical challenge. According to the international community, China had not internalized the lessons of the past. Though the nation knew another epidemic would come, she was not prepared for it.
As China, the church also knows that viruses will come, testing their spiritual preparedness. Jude encouraged his readers to
Remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit (17b-19).
Though scholars have failed to discover the specific prophecy Jude has referenced, we know Jude has accurately represented the teaching of the apostles. Paul often warned the church about future spiritual virus in his pastoral letters (1 Tim 4:3; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-31 summarized his view. Paul said, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” The apostle John concurred writing, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” The apostles new wolves, antichrist, and virus would come into the church. The church must prepare accordingly, remembering that no amount of growth, goodwill, or resources can keep germs away. They will come. Will we be ready?
To prepare for the next spiritual virus that will descend upon our church, we must capitalize on the times of peace. Jude provided his readers with direction for such preparation. He wrote, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” While such terminology sounds comforting, it still begged the question of how. How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Jude gave us three phrases that will guide our preparation.
First, Jude told his audience to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” The phrase “build yourselves up” means to build on another’s foundation. More specifically, we are to build our faith on the teaching and testimony of the prophets and the apostles who delivered to us the faith once delivered for all (Eph 2:19-21). To prepare for the next spiritual virus, Christian need to be regularly studying the word and listening to the word preached. Believers who neglect the preaching of the gospel will not know truth and can easily be infected by false teaching. The best antidote for error is a gross familiarity with the Scriptures. For this reason, congregations must stand ready to remove pastors who fail to preach the Scriptures well. The careless pastor destroys the church’s immune system and prepares the church for spiritual doom. Likewise the believer who neglects the preaching of the Bible and personal study cannot help but be destroyed when error infects his blood stream. Those who survive the spiritual pandemics of their age build their lives upon the faith once delivered for all.
Second, those who are prepared for the next round of spiritual error pray: “praying in the Holy Spirit.” The author E.M. Bounds noted, “Prayer and devotion are united as soul and body are united as life and the heart are united. There is no real prayer without devotion, no devotion without prayer.” Many Christians lack joy, hope, peace, and love simply because they do not pray. James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” James does not advocate for the health and wealth gospel, telling us that if we ask hard enough we will get everything we want. He notes that “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions (4:3).” Prayers can be selfish and ungodly. Thus, John tells that we must ask for things “according to his will (1 John 1:14).” We must ask for God to grow our faith, to increase our patience, to provide for our health and material needs, knowing that God promises to care for us. Indeed prayer is a powerful and essential tool in the believer’s tool belt. James reminds us that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
God works through prayer. He has ordained all that is to come to pass. He knows what he will do before we pray. Yet, he still works through prayer. I do not fully understand this paradigm. But God saves the Israelites because Moses prayed. He takes Jonah from the belly of the fish because he prayed. He saves Hezekiah because he prayed (2 Kings 2:20). God either answers our requests or he changes our heart, providing us with the peace of God as Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane. Though prayer God blesses us and changes us and transforms our church into his image.
If we want to be ready to stand firm when viruses hit, friends be praying. Set aside time at night, in your car, or in the morning to pray. Create lists, use apps, keep a notebook. The method does not matter. The praying matters. Prayer is no trivial thing. It essential to the Christian life. John Bunyan powerfully said, “You then are not a Christian if you are not a praying person (57).”
And if we do not pray we evidence a sickly dependence upon ourselves or a lack of faith. Those who know God is there life source as revealed in Scripture pray.
Lastly, we must look to the future. Jude wrote that believers wait “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” To expose virus takes courage as Dr. Li exemplified. He spoke when few others would, understanding the implications of covering up the coronavirus. Christians who are prepared for the next spiritual virus also understand the future. They know Christ will come back and that nothing in this world with devils filled can undo them. They do not fear correcting error, standing for unpopular truth, and the hate of their neighbors. The believer knows the outcome of the future. Nothing a false teacher or government does can separate him or her from the loving power of Christ. Their eternal destiny remains firm.
The coronavirus exposed the weaknesses of the China. What will the next spiritual virus reveal about your heart and about your church? Are you studying the word, praying, and gazing towards the future? Are you ready for the next spiritual virus?