For the first time in our 152-year history, the doors of the First Baptist Dallas Church building were closed on Sunday. Previous wars or diseases hadn’t managed to close the doors, but somehow Covid-19 has accomplished what nothing else in history has been able to do. And yet…the church is still gathering.
In fact, Covid-19 is mild in comparison to many disasters the global church has faced over the years.
During the plague of Cyprene in 250-270 A.D., nearly 5,000 died a day. Christians stayed in the afflicted cities to care for the sick, despite persecution also rising in the Roman empire at that time. An “epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity,” noted Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame.
In the 1500s the church faced what came to be known as the bubonic plague.
When the plague hit his town of Wittenberg, Martin Luther wrote a letter to a friend explaining how churches should deal with such complicated circumstances. “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Volume 43, Pg. 132: Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague – To Rev. Dr. John Hess),
It was no different during the Ebola crisis in Liberia, which began in 2014. Christian doctors were said to be running toward those sick rather than fleeing, like so many family and friends of the infected.
In comparison, Covid-19 is mild. Yes, people are still growing sick and dying. Yes, many are quarantined at home, losing jobs, going without an income, or sacrificing daily routine, comfort, and social interaction. But we, Church, still have an opportunity. During every crisis, the Church—the people of Jesus Christ—step in. We don’t panic and run away. We run to the Lord with our fear and then run towards those who are sick and dying – sometimes metaphorically and sometimes literally. As the economy struggles and people have comforts and security stripped away, family abuse, suicide, and depression have the potential to rise. But so does the Church. We were made for crisis, because we know suffering is temporary, eternity is waiting, and people need to know the hope that we have found. The crisis will end. May the people around us confidently be able to say: “The Church of Christ Arose.”