As the U.S. enters a new phase of response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our churches will be pressed to respond. Our sister churches in China have already been responding in a Christ-honoring and community-loving manner. I’m in close communication with a Chinese Christian leader who is part of organizing a Christian response to the coronavirus, and below are lessons I’ve learned from the reports that he has sent and reflection on Scripture.
It’s not a secret that China’s government has been increasingly unfriendly to Christian churches over the past several years. Even under oppression, China’s churches have organized a loving, Christ-honoring and government-respecting response. As U.S. government health authorities roll-out a plan of response to the coronavirus, we can be thankful that we are not governed under an authoritarian government as the Chinese churches are, but we need not to use our freedom for evil.
Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 CSB)
Submitting to the authorities and cooperating with them is not only part of the solution for slowing the coronavirus, but it is also a way that we can give testimony to Christ and put his goodness on display. If the Chinese house churches could cooperate and submit to their authorities regarding the coronavirus outbreak, it should be comparatively easier for us to submit to our authorities in the U.S.
Chinese Christians partnered together across churches, with community organizations, and with local authorities to lovingly care for the communities. The one leader that I know cooperated with 28 partnering organizations, including numerous provincial level-administrative regions. The Chinese Christians did not act in a panic or a rebellion, but organized in an orderly way to support the efforts of the greater community. Christian volunteers worked together with community security guards to take temperatures of people coming in and out of residential areas under quarantine. Christian volunteers approached people who were not where they were supposed to be, providing a gentler pressure to submit to the quarantine measures. Christian volunteers donated, packed, and distributed emergency kits with preventative materials for the virus. Christians helped by donating a “disinfectant spraying machine” to their community, and helped distribute flyers about the epidemic in the community. They also mobilized teams to educate children about the virus and to educate rural villages about the virus. Christians reached out to care for those who were harshly affected by the quarantines, such as dialysis patients, people with special needs and mental disabilities, and the poor who had no reserves to live from.
What can we learn from this?
1) Proactively responding. The church is God’s people, the body of Christ, and brings the presence of God’s Spirit into a community. We are a light to the nations. The church should step forward and take active steps to help the community responding to a crisis.
2) Partnering with local authorities. Chinese Christians found ways to partner with local authorities. Rather than subverting them, they were honoring those in authority and helping them to manage the crisis. Our churches should also partner with local health authorities to provide a right response. We can mobilize the members of our churches to respond to the virus voluntarily in a way that helps our community, and doesn’t create additional burden on our community authorities.
3) Educating our communities. Churches are about making disciples, and so we already have established networks of disseminating information and of educating people. One way we can help our government and authorities is by appropriately communicating with our members and communities. We need to be careful not to pass on false information. By passing on accurate information from our local health authorities we can open new communicative paths for sharing the gospel.
4) Caring for the outcasts. The coronavirus is going to affect some people greatly, and others minimally. As Christians, we need to keep our eyes out for the outcasts, the lepers, the tax collectors, the widows and orphans. Jesus looked out for the marginalized. We need to find creative ways to care for those who are especially disadvantaged by the measures being taken to slow the spread of the virus. The world might overlook those who are hurt most by the measures taken to slow the coronavirus, but we should take notice and care.
5) Living and speaking as a people of hope. In a time in which some in our culture are reacting in extremes, panic on the left and dismissal on the right, Christians can be a people who face the problem squarely with the hope of the gospel of peace. Keep your boots on. We can put the kingdom on display by our caring actions and response in crisis. We do not live afraid, but we know the hope that is beyond death and greater than any virus. We live in submission to our authorities in loving service to others because we serve the King of Kings who has defeated death. How we live and speak amongst our culture’s varied challenges has eternal impact, and so let’s point our culture to the hope that is found only in Christ Jesus.
Our colleagues at Wheaton College have put together a response booklet to help churches prepare a Christ-honoring response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s worth taking a look and adapting for use at your church. https://www.wheaton.edu/media/humanitarian-disaster-institute/Preparing-Your-Church-for-Coronavirus.pdf