March 10, 2022
In his summary, of the core thesis, of a new book, Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, Andrew Sullivan writes: “Create a throw-away consumeristic civilization, break families into ever smaller units, add a tech revolution, online addiction, economic precariousness, breakneck social change, endless work, and the collapse of religion and meaning, and yes, people will go a bit nuts. They’ll become depressed; they’ll seek out escapes through opiates or meth; they’ll disappear down rabbit holes of online fanaticism; they’ll seek meaning through work or fame; they’ll tear each other down with glee; they’ll lose the skills for family, friendship, constancy, discipline, and love.”
I might not have fully embraced Sullivan’s observation had I read it a few years ago, but having lived through the last two years of a global pandemic, political division, social separation, and cultural anxiety, now followed by the atrocities of war in Europe, and I agree, “people will go a bit nuts.” I have pastored for over thirty-five years, and in all that time, I have never witnessed division in the church caused by outside sources. Sure, I have observed and even had a front row seat to church schisms in the past, but they have always been the bi-product of internal politics, not national politics. They have been over the type of music employed on Sundays, a dislike for a new church program, or even disagreement over paint colour, but never before have they been over the churches response to outside influences.
Traditionally the local church has had a shared view of its place in society, and an understanding that, although we are in the world and here to serve the world, we are not of the world. That belief has been almost universal, especially among the evangelical community and certainly a cohesive force in the local assembly. When tragedy has struck, regardless of the nature, the church has worked together to provide peace and strength in the midst of the storm. The last few years have been different. Views regarding Covid-19 and the Government’s responses to it, have not only caused division outside the church, but they have done much damage inside the church as well. It seems that not only does everyone have an opinion about the virus and the government responses to it, but that opinion trumps every other ideology, even the confession of faith.
This division and how tightly individuals hold to their convictions, was graphically laid out for me in one week in the spring of 2021. As vaccines became ubiquitous and at least half the population had received the shot, someone from the congregation inquired, “Have you been vaccinated yet?” When I responded, “No” they added emphatically, “Well Pastor, it is really important, you need to get out and get vaccinated, you need to lead by example.” Four days later in the lobby on Sunday morning, someone pulled me aside and asked, “Pastor, have you been vaccinated yet?” to which I replied, “No.” Their response was, “Pastor that’s good, it is important that you don’t cave in and get vaccinated, you need to lead by example.” At the time I found the dichotomy somewhat amusing, however six months later my amusement turned to sorrow, as I watched my Saviors bride turn in on itself, as families were divided and friendships were strained. Social ideology had trumped faith.
The church is needed today more than ever. We have the answer to the stresses of life – His name is Jesus! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His Kingdom and His gospel, is what we have been called to advance. Our world is divided, the bridge of reconciliation can and must be built by the church.
Wayne Levy, one of the wisest men I have ever had the privilege of walking with, was arrested by the Lord recently, when he read Prov 15:7 “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, then a fattened calf with hatred.” What the Lord revealed to him through that scripture was this: Better to be a fully vaccinated person having vegetables with an unvaccinated person with love in your hearts, than to be a fully vaccinated person having steak with another fully vaccinated person with hatred in your hearts AND better to be an unvaccinated person having vegetables with a fully vaccinated person with love in your hearts, than an unvaccinated person having steak with another unvaccinated person with hatred in your hearts. Amen!
In the Spring of 2020 as the pandemic began, I urged the church to not be held in the grip of fear, to treat one another with kindness, to invest in front line workers and put others first. I reminded the church that historically, the people of faith have always been at the centre of a pandemic, serving selflessly and loving with the compassion of Christ.
Today nearly two years later, I urge the church to do the same. Do not allow yourself to be dragged down by fear, treat one another with kindness, invest in each other and put others first. Ask yourself what kind of church does the world need right now? A divided church or one that builds bridges?