by Ps Rick Toh
Original article can be found here
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world overnight. It has also impacted the church in a profound way. Suddenly, we are no longer able to meet together like before. We can’t greet each other with a hug or a handshake. We can’t sing together. We can’t hold or lay our hands on another to pray. We can’t break bread physically together. We can’t do church like we did before.
John Piper considers this pandemic as a “God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ.” This leads me to consider the state of the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Two churches were commended for their faithfulness. Two churches were rebuked for tolerating with false teachings and sexual immorality. The remaining churches that seemed fine outwardly or thought they were, were rebuked for lacking sincere love or true spirituality.
If Christ should visit His church today, would He commend her for her faithfulness or would He rebuke her for her doctrinal and sexual impurities? Is the church besieged by self deception thinking she is doing well when in fact she isn’t? It is time to ask ourselves what really is the church, what is truly core and what is actually periphery of the church. It is a time to review our practices and observances and recalibrate our focuses and priorities. I believe that God is testing the church through this COVID-19 pandemic.
Testing her Theology
It is easy to believe that God is sovereign during sunny days, but when storms assail us, how we behave will testify to what we truly believe. Do we still believe that God is good when life is hard and people around us succumb to the coronavirus? Do we still believe in meeting together as a community of Christ when we finally can do so? Many may stop attending physical church altogether even after the pandemic and content to be mere Christian isolates. In addition, what does this crisis reveal about our beliefs in suffering, sicknesses, death and resurrection? Perhaps this pandemic will loosen the grip of the health and wealth gospel on the church. The prevailing teaching that believers are immune from sicknesses and poverty in this world will be challenged and found to be false.
Testing her Discipleship
What guides us to make decisions during this crisis will reveal our spiritual maturity. Are we guided by Scripture or pragmatism? Do we choose obedience to God above fear? Are we motivated by our devotion to Christ or our personal convenience? A true disciple of Christ will understand that our faith calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him. If our focus is to preserve our lives in this pandemic than to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, then we are not His disciples. In addition, will live-streamed church services that are so rampant nowadays lead to the privatisation of faith? Some may be proven to be consumers of church rather than followers of Christ.
Testing her Mission
The church is placed in this world to be salt of the earth and light to the world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that, “The church is the church only when it exists for others…” The focus of a church will tell if she is truly Christ’s disciples. Is the church inward-focus in this pandemic? Is she more concerned over her ability to conduct her religious rituals? Is she consumed by sustainability issues? Perhaps, the church has been overly focussed on the ministry on the stage and neglected the ministry on the street. Perhaps this pandemic will balance the emphasis on presenting the gospel message on the stage with being the gospel message on the street.
When the COVID-19 crisis first hits home, fear set in. I was afraid my family will be infected by the coronavirus. I was afraid that food supply will run out and my family will experience hunger. I was afraid that I will lose my income and my family will experience poverty. Yet beyond fear, this crisis uncovered the root of materialism in me. Deep within me, I realised I was praying that God will intervene in this crisis because I didn’t want it to affect my lifestyle. I wanted life to remain comfortable. I wanted the status quo. Furthermore, I found myself battling with self-preservation. I struggled with the thought of giving away my last piece of bread with another who needed it more than I do. My faith was tested and found to be wanting.
Unlike the COVID-19 swab test that can only detect but not cure, Scripture tells us that God’s purpose of testing is never just to reveal but also to heal His people. Job declares: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:10) Apostle Peter exhorts: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
So take heart, God is not testing us to punish us but to perfect us. May the church of Christ be purified like pure gold through this COVID-19 test.
PS RICK TOH
Ps Rick Toh was an avid IT educator for more than 10 years before the Lord called him to enter into pastoral ministry. He is currently the lead pastor of Yio Chu Kang Chapel and also the Acting CEO of Bless Community Services. He is happily married to Janice and has two sons.