“God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” - John 4:24. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.” - Deut. 31:6. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”- Isaiah 41:10.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pandemic now and dozens of countries have instituted measures to prevent its spread including permanent lockdowns in countries like Italy, Spain, (possibly) Austria and some selected states in the United States of America (USA).
On Sunday, the 15th of March, 2020, the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo, issued several directives to help prevent the spread after health officials reported on 6 (positive) cases of the virus. One of the directives is the suspension of all public gatherings, including conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events and religious activities, such as services in churches and mosques for the next four (4) weeks effective 16th March 2020.
Surely, this is really going to affect the progress of the church in several ways. The goals and objectives of nurturing and discipleship activities may be greatly impacted since in certain cases face to face or group discussions are needed. Also, evangelical activities may be affected since proper planning, evaluation and implementation meetings (which may be difficult to be held online) can no longer be held. Notwithstanding these challenges, Christendom should not be afraid. Why shouldn’t we be scared or afraid? The simple answer is that this isn’t the first time a pandemic has gotten in the way of religious activities or services and in each case, though temples were closed down, the church, with the help of God, was able to deal with them and achieved their objectives.
For instance, from 1346 to 1353 an outbreak of the Plague, The Black Death, ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia, with an estimated death toll between 75 and 200 million people. The Plague of Justinian was an outbreak of the bubonic plague that afflicted the Byzantine Empire and Mediterranean port cities, killing up to 25 million people.
The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic which is, to date, the most severe disease outbreak in modern history and causing a total of about 50 million deaths worldwide did not prevent the church from doing the needful. In all these pandemics and others not stated, the Christian faith continued to thrive, the word was evangelised and souls were saved. The simple thing is for the church to find ways to continue supporting each other spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially with or without worshiping in the same buildings. As a passionate Christian I suggest the following;
Worship in Smaller Units Called Cells: The early church in the first century would be surprised to see how huge our temples are (now called auditoriums) and filled to capacity. This is because in those days corporate worship was done in houses of individuals and in silence. In the book of Acts, when the apostle Peter escapes from prison in Jerusalem, he goes to the home of the mother of John Mark where the local church has met to pray. Also, it is evident in the apostle Paul’s Letter to Philemon, in which he greets the church that meets in Philemon’s house.
Therefore, in times of Coronavirus pandemic churches should adopt these initial forms of corporate worship. Churches should find ways of improving or starting cell meetings not exceeding 10 members (average size of a typical Ghanaian household). Note that, the acceptable number of persons in public gathering per the directive is 25. These could be members of the same family.
These members should elect their cell heads and use the existing church programs for their worship. They can pray, sing and encourage each other in these pandemic times. These meetings must be done in rooms and not outside and they should not employ sound systems or speakers to disturb people in those areas. Note should be taken of all the necessary precautions and health guidelines that must be adhered to within these cells to reduce possible spread or infection.
It is very important to note that, biblically the church is the gathering of believers and not the temples in which they worship. God lives in the believer and not temples built by human hands. So, if the government has partially locked down temples, the church can still continue to worship (corporately) in smaller units.
A Call for Proper Fellowship: I may not be wrong to say that God may be using this pandemic to teach the current church what true fellowship means. We have for years now seen the rise of huge (competing) temples (now called auditoriums) filled to capacity but with little or no fellowship among believers. The union or bond that existed among the first-century believers to the point of selling their personal belongings to help the poor and needy in the church is not what we see nowadays. Churches should use these times to have proper fellowship and any amount raised in the cause of cell meetings should be used within those cells especially those in need. Provision of basic preventive logistics and following professional health guidelines is very important for people in every cell.
I can literally say, we are currently being persecuted and prevented from worshiping together by the coronavirus (COVID-19) which must be taken as a test case for the main persecution we would be facing later in the future by governments. How are we going to fellowship? How are we going to support each other spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially? The earlier we begin to learn from this the better for us.
Evangelisation: This is an opportunity for the Gospel to be preached to all mankind on a massive scale. There are several unsaved people who might die in their sins after contracting the virus. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The Lord is not slow (or weak) to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. In these difficult times, God is stretching forth his hands to save others. It is our responsibilities to take the salvation measure out for others to come to repentance. Churches can adopt house-to-house (which is very effective among other) evangelisation strategies to reach out to people. Since main services are on hold, the church can empower cell members to move out on Sundays after their usual cell meetings to teach others in their neighbourhood about the gospel. The church should find ways to distribute gospel tracts to aid in evangelisation works of cell groups. Remember, there are no restrictions on us from going out to preach the gospel. Again, note that all necessary precautions and health guidelines (especially social distancing) must be adhered to when evangelising.
Constant Check-up on Members: The church must adopt strategies of checking up on each member every week until a call-off of this partial “lock-down” is done by the government. This can be easily done through leaders of groups. This is because it is the churches’ responsibility to know that state of every Christian (family member). This will go a long way to aid in identifying needy or infected believers.
Apostle Paul consistently wrote and sought for the well-being of churches or units he nurtured in the Lord. This is very important. One may not know what is wrong with another unless they are checked upon. Let us help in these difficult times to strengthen the bond that exists among believers. This could be done through text messages, WhatsApp messages or phone and by every individual of the church.
I will end by saying that, when the situation does not normalize and things gets out of hands, cells must find ways of breaking up into smaller units. Communication among cells members should continue. I will not advise any Christian to stay away or at home alone without joining any cell. If you stay alone in an area without a cell, use that opportunity to evangelise Jesus Christ. Also, the church should not act in ways that may suggest that they need the monies of members but do not care about their holistic well-being. Remember, God will never leave us or forsake us.