The COVID-19 pandemic has welled up a large inner fear within many Christian leaders in North America. They fear empty pews, forever. I have heard pastors postulating that the self-isolation, necessary in our current pandemic, will translate into a self-absorbed “I don’t need the church community” kind of attitude when the pandemic is over. The church of tomorrow, they say, will be characterized by a hyper-individualism. People will have an, “I can do this through my iPad and from my couch” kind of faith – disconnected from any sense of community.
I hear that fear, but believe that scripture provides the antidote for the church worldwide.
God created us in and for community. Faith, motivated from the inner-self, for the inner self, expressed by yourself, is never enough. It goes against God’s very character and design.
In creation, for example, we are introduced to Yahweh God as a community. The noun is plural. In deciding to make humanity, the voice of God says, “Let Us. . . .” In Christianity, we have understood this “us” to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Trinitarian Eternal Counsel. This is a divine community, of three persons, discerning together the best interests for their new creation! Community, in action.
Just a few verses later, in the creation of humanity, the emphasis on community continues. God creates two people, in relationship with him and each other, conversing as they walk in the cool of the garden. Community is in our history. It is in our genes, in our design, and in our tradition. We have been created to flourish in community.
Scripture continues with additional key emphases on community as well. From the requirement to pass on one’s faith to children recorded in Deut. 6:20-21, in which indiviudal followers are meant to identify with the “we” of the community of Israelites set free from slavery, all the way to Paul’s emphasis on the church as the body of Christ made up of many members, the point is clear. The people of God are designed to be in community.
Whether it is the Black Plague or the Spanish flu, the church has a history of continuing to flourish in community, even after pandemics are over. I am convinced that this time will be no different. It can’t be different. Humanity is hard-wired for community.
Indeed, this is not just a Christian reality. It is a creational human reality. Ojibway-Canadian author Richard Wagamese in his book Ragged Company writes, “Pain, like spirituality, needs community.” This pandemic is producing a lot of the former, in multiple forms. The latter is being tested. Both will demand a community to flourish. That community can and should be the church.
The timeless creeds and confessions of the Church profess this truth. In the Apostles’ Creed, Christians have professed that they, “believe in the communion of saints.” The Heidelberg catechism’s commentary on this section affirms this by saying:
I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member (Lord’s Day 21 Q&A 54).
So, despite an isolating pandemic being the current reality across the world, I am not afraid for the future. The Bible gives us cause for confidence. God created the church to move us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives, and beyond superficial social contacts. The biblical ideal and creational thrust move us beyond ourselves toward community to fully experience life together as the people of God. The pews will be full again
This reflection was originally written as part of a devotional series for the Caribbean and North American Council, of which the CRCNA is a member.
This article was made possible through a partnership with CRC Ministries within Canada.