I thoroughly enjoyed the May 1, 2020, C-Link photo essay sharing stories of MB churches adapting to the “distance worship” challenge. I was so encouraged to see pastors and volunteers using seldom-needed resources. The collective creativity is amazing.
But a more important test for the church coming out of this coronavirus lockdown will have less to do with Sundays and more to do with how we cared for each other, and others, the other six days. That is why the stories that inspired me most were of churches in parking lots and streets dispensing resources to neighbors. What a joy to see the church in action!
At Hope Kingsburg we began studying James’ letter during the shelter-at-home mandate declared by our now all-too-recognizable governor. James is best known for calling us to put our faith to work, not as a path to salvation but as evidence of salvation.
So, what about the church during this time of “testing”? Brian Stiller, writing in the April 29, 2020 issue of Christianity Today says, “Pastors, let us be under no illusion: during this time of global fear and need, we will be tested. We will be seen for our deeds and judged for our generosity. We will be interpreted not by our words but how we move among our community, how the love of Jesus is manifest as we interact with our leaders. There is no hiding today. We may be sequestered, but as we emerge and show our faces in public, the gospel is on trial.”
A vaccine has not been found for COVID-19; our president predicts it by the end of the year. Scientists work feverishly to discover therapies that can slow the power of the virus. Distancing works to some degree to slow its infectious spread, giving us some confidence.
But quoting Stiller again, “What will be the test for the church of Jesus Christ, both during and following this virus? The test is how our words of faith match our care for people. It is not complicated by our view on pre- or post-millennial theology. We won’t be asked if we are closer to Calvin or Wesley in our theology. I doubt anyone will wonder if glossolalia happens at Spirit baptism or after.”
Matthew records Jesus’ test for every generation and any challenge to the church: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matt. 25:35-36).
In this COVID-19 outbreak I see signs of the Old Testament Jubilee when debts were canceled, slaves set free and land given rest. Doesn’t it feel like Jesus’ proclamation is being renewed for the whole world to hear—the one he gave when he launched his ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth? He opened the scroll of Isaiah and announced his calling, and ours: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
Dennis Fast is currently part-time associate pastor of care at Hope Kingsburg, a Mennonite Brethren church located in Kingsburg, California He is also the chaplain at Palm Village Retirement Communities in Reedley, California. He has served lead pastor roles in Hillsboro, Kan.sas and Reedley and was interim pastor at Hope Kingsburg. He has also served as the interim Pacific District Conference minister and was the MB Foundation church relations director. Dennis and his wife, Connie, have three adult children and 15 grandchildren.