A Hope for the Church in America in 2021

1 Jan

Reflecting on 2020, I look back on a year of missed opportunity. The pandemic that struck has not only taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, but many others have been left without a source of income. People are struggling. Early on, some Christians wisely pointed out that the American Church had a timely opportunity to become more missional – to remove the focus on our buildings, and to serve and share.

“Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20:21 (NET)

Sadly, in 2020, not peace, but rather indignation came out of portions of the American church. In a year when the Church had such an opportunity to shine and help people, and show we are ambassadors of the King, instead, some churches and several church leaders marginalized themselves and made their focus so much about their internal rights being violated. Even more ludicrous, some claimed that this is all some sort of social conditioning for the mark of the beast. Now, of course this wasn’t universal. Many ministries excelled finding ways to serve and some churches saw a revival, all while supporting the efforts of public health in this pandemic. Unfortunately, the actions of others were loud and often confrontational, and seem eerily reminiscent of the Pharisees.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”

Matthew 23:23 (NLT)

In His “woes” to the Pharisees, Jesus points out that they are focusing on the wrong things. It’s not that internal things (like tithing) are not valuable, but that they are considerably less important than some other things. And as Jesus notes, this is preventing the Pharisees from doing the work they should be doing: focusing on fairness, compassion and faithfulness. Doesn’t it seem obvious that today, instead of being caught up on whether we, who are already in the Kingdom, can meet in a building, that we should be focusing on justice, mercy and faith – the things that matter for eternity? Yes! We should be focused on being the church and sharing the message of Jesus.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

In order to have what some considered their American rights (to meet inside and to not have to wear a mask), some churches have drawn a wedge with many in their community. Some arrogantly went against the wide range of public health experts who were simply asking that we follow the guidelines for a while, until we are past this pandemic. (Please don’t get me wrong. I want to be back doing in person worship and I think we should be doing that as soon as it’s feasible, including offering indoor options, with precautions, when the numbers go back down. But I also think that as I’ve noted here, some things are clearly more important.) Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the actions of a few loud churches and people have really had a negative impact on the way Christians are viewed. Just look at some social media comments. People don’t look to those churches as a place they can find support. They look at them now as a place that put them at risk, a place that is full of angry, complaining people who won’t simply put on a face covering to help others, and a place where people’s actions are responsible for other people, maybe even their loved-ones, dying.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

1 Peter 4:8-9 (ESV)

And for what? What is the most common reason given for this? Freedom. Freedom to meet in a building or to not wear a mask. Is that really more important than showing compassion? Moreover, is it more important than the Great Commission? As Francis Chan recently pointed out, “When you look at the places where there is religious freedom and you compare those places to where there is not religious freedom, what have we done with the freedom? It’s just weakened the Church.” So, is fighting for a freedom (and in fact one that is most likely only lost temporarily) more important than eternal souls? Certainly not. Rather than freedom and rights, our message and our priority should be love and salvation.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (KJV)

As a church body in America, it is my hope that one of the main things we learn from this pandemic is that we should be more missional and less institutional. I pray that we focus less on the building and more on the people.

So let’s take some time to lament, but let’s also pray for the church in America. Let’s pray that it shines so that the name of Jesus will be proclaimed and the people will know the Savior, our King.

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