“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 5: 1-2
Romans 13: 1-6; 1 Timothy 2: 1-6; & Isaiah 42: 1-9
On national and local media, it is reported that a few Churches are flouting Provincial Health Directives to meet for Worship. Some take precautions some appear not to. I do not know the full reasoning of those involved and I certainly do not believe that the reports I have watched and articles I have read are the full story. The perception given is that the Churches are making a stand for religious freedom and their rights. Indeed as I write this blog one Church will take their Province to Court to seek an injunction by arguing a breach under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a secular society where these rights seem to be less and less important and where legislation seems to restrict that freedom their concerns are perhaps understandable. Is, however, a ‘Rights’ approach the right approach; is this the time to make a stand and this the right issue to challenge? I believe that God’s Word gives direction which history supports.
As a Senior Police Officer, I worked with different levels of Government and with other services including the Health Service. When major crises occur, it is not a simple matter to lead, nor is it easy to coordinate a joint approach. Every decision has a consequence and knock on effect, sometimes these are not foreseeable. Communication is essential but inherently difficult. With the ever-changing circumstances that this Pandemic has brought coordination will be extremely difficult. We read in Romans 13 that it is God who has established earthly authorities for our good (vs. 1). The passage calls on us to submit to such authority (vs. 5), if we rebel against them, we rebel against God (vs. 2). I am not calling for blind and naïve obedience; there are always grey areas over which questions should be raised and even challenges made. Again, what I am asking is whether this is a time in which, and an issue over which, the Church should challenge the authorities in relation to Her secularly listed Rights; I believe not.
The early Church was called upon to pray for such leaders so that we can live quiet and holy lives, this is good and pleases God (1 Timothy 2: 2-3). This witness helps others see the truth and love of God who wishes all to know Him, His truth and to be reconciled with Him (vs.4-5). With these truths in our minds we can ask whether the witness of Churches breaking Provincial directives is something that pleases and honours God and points towards the salvation He offers in and through the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ (vs. 6)? Whilst there seems to be some contradiction in the Directives I believe there are explanations (even if it be simple error) and that the better witness is one of quiet obedience to the Lord. When working out such dilemmas and understanding what God wants of His Church as well as looking to His written Word it is essential to look to His Living Word, Jesus Christ.
We read throughout the Bible of the Lord’s obedience to and love for His Father God (e.g. Philippians 2: 1-11). We read of His love for us in His self-sacrifice which made reconciliation with God possible (1 Timothy 2: 6). In one of Isaiah’s prophecies (42: 1-9) we see the Lord as a light to the world, a light which shines through service, submission and teaching. He frees His people. The Lord establishes justice but with gentleness and without taking to the streets in a loud vocal stance (vs. 2). In effect Jesus gave up His right to equality with God to humbly serve, He gave up His right to life to save and He did so in submission to God motivated by love. As N.T Wright points out Christians in the past have followed the Lord’s example in self-sacrificial love during previous pandemics caring for the sick and actually establishing hospitals and hospices; this was a powerful witness to the surrounding world.* With this shared history I believe that both sides can benefit the other. The Church is in a way the ‘hospital for the soul’ and holds the God given truth for spiritual life. As human beings we need care for the physical and spiritual, especially the eternal life of our souls. In short the Church, as Christ’s Body, needs to imitate Christ and work with and for the benefit of Society not seeking her own Rights but following in the Lord’s footsteps of humble service and obedience to God.
In conclusion I express a degree of understanding for the concerns of fellow Pastors/Priests and indeed share some of them. That said I believe that God would have us submit to the authorities He has established, pray for the leaders and reflect Jesus in our lives giving witness to His salvific self-sacrifice. In the quoted Scripture above from Ephesians 2 we are called to imitate the Lord and live a life of self-sacrificial love. I believe that the Church should be standing up and shouting about the Lord Jesus not her rights. Shouting in the sense of living lives of powerful witness with deeds of love and words of truth. The World needs God, the World therefore needs the Church, Christ’s Body, and God’s chosen agent in His mission of reconciliation. Our approach should be that of Jesus Christ’s.
To Ponder: The Church is called to be the Body of Christ and be His hands and feet, His voice in the world. What is an appropriate witness during the pandemic, how can we live in His love in such a way that others see the truth and long to be reconciled with Him?
Pray: Almighty Father, you call your Church to raise petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving all people and for all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Enable us to obey you in this ministry as it is good, and pleases you our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. You are one true God and the Lord Jesus the one mediator between You and humankind. Thank you Jesus for giving Yourself as a ransom for all people. Enable your Church to witness to this truth and give Glory to the Father. Amen
Based on 1 Timothy 2: 1-6
Praise: The Servant King by Graham Kendrick
*N.T Wright, God and the Pandemic, Zondervan Reflective 2020
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.