Over the last several months I’ve had many conversations with friends from different parts of the country. Not surprisingly, the primary topic of discussion has been COVID and how it has affected the church. Sadly, there are places where the virus has hit the church very hard. Not because Christians have caught it but because they are fighting about it. Particularly, about how the church should handle it. I have heard many reports of elders resigning, members arguing and leaving their congregation, and even a church split. Shame on us.
Admittedly, COVID came upon us rapidly and forced us to consider things and make quick decisions on matters that most had likely never contemplated before. Combine its effect on the church with the effect on our country as well as the politics involved, and it is certainly understandable that we all would have very strong concerns and opinions about it. It is also safe to say that at this point, many of us can now look back with a clearer and more educated vision and reflect on decisions made that would be different today if we had to make them again. Yet in all of this, there is one unchanging truth that should serve as the foundation for making every decision and working through every disagreement–our love for the church of Christ.
Our Lord created the church to be a unified body (Eph. 2:14-18) and every member is obligated to put forth strenuous effort to maintain that unity (Eph. 4:3). Such is possible only when one possesses the attitudes that promote unity–humility, meekness, longsuffering, and a willingness to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). When problems exist in the church, often a lack of these characteristics is the foundational culprit. I suspect that such could be said about some of the issues COVID has caused in the church today.
Consider masks as an example. I was appalled recently to hear that in one state, church members were leaving congregations because of disagreements about wearing masks in the worship assembly. To be transparent, I hate wearing a mask, but that is beside the point. In no way whatsoever will the action of wearing or not wearing a mask in worship harm my soul. It is entirely a matter of judgment. Therefore, if an eldership decides to ask their membership to wear them, they have that right. If they decide to make them optional, they have that right too. If I disagree with a decision made by the elders or men of the congregation regarding masks, then I should do so with Christ and the church in mind. I should be mindful of God’s will regarding submission to the authority of elders (cf. Heb. 13:17). I should also pay close attention to God’s will regarding matters of judgment. Romans 14:19 says, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” Paul’s attitude is summarized well in 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother to offend.” One who recognizes Christs’ desire for His Bride’s unity will do everything possible to promote it, especially in a disagreement. It is certainly possible that one could choose to leave a congregation for a valid reason, and with the right attitude. Suppose an eldership decides to suspend bible classes indefinitely and a family decides to attend elsewhere because they want their children in bible class. Such situations can be worked through in a respectful and godly way, that does not harm the church’s unity. Leaving a congregation is not necessarily wrong if done correctly. The problem is when one causes discord in the body and forsakes a sound congregation because of selfishness, obstinance, and a refusal to humble themselves and work through problems.
We often preach and teach about the need for unity and we challenge one another to pursue it. But let me suggest that the question we should be asking one another is “how much do you love the church?” Jesus loves His church. He bled and died for Her (Acts 20:28), and He cares for and provides for Her (Eph. 5:22-33). He prayed for Her unity in the hours preceding His death (John 17:20-23). Does it not follow that one who loves the church of Christ as he should, would gladly see to the unity and needs of the church ahead of his own desires (cf. Phil. 2:1-5)? God wills us to be “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2). We are to “love one another fervently with a pure heart”
(1 Pet. 1:22). “And above all things have fervent love for one another…” (1 Pet. 4:8). Brethren, these passages speak to our love for the church as a whole, not just one another individually. If I love the church as I should then I will not allow my own opinions or feelings to harm Her. Even in matters of doctrine, where sometimes we are forced to withdraw and divide, my love for the church should govern the process and force me to do so with the proper attitude (cf. Gal. 6:1-5).
COVID has been difficult for the church and there are several other concerning items about it beyond the scope of this article. However, our reaction is concerning. The possibility of much stronger persecution in the near future is very real, and yet we are arguing about wearing masks and social distancing. How pathetic. Satan rejoices over the way some of us have behaved. We ought to feel ashamed of ourselves and fall to our knees to ask for the Lord’s forgiveness. We ought to go before our brethren and let them know that we have sinned in allowing our selfishness to give the Lord’s Bride a black eye and ask for their forgiveness as well. Trial and persecution should bring the church closer together, not rip us apart
(cf. Acts 12). One wonders how the church will react whenever we are challenged in a far more severe manner.
I remember where I was when I realized how serious COVID had become. I remember some of the thoughts that cross my mind. I am sure you do as well. I can tell you that I never imagined that this virus would be the cause of discord and division in the church of Christ. God forbid. Brethren, let us examine ourselves thoroughly and see that we love the Lord and His church more than our own opinions. Let us work through our problems together, as brothers and sisters who love one another, so that God may be glorified and the church may be strengthened. Let us cease allowing COVID to shame us.