Navigating the Way Forward
Navigating how to move forward as churches begin to gather and re-assimilate may present believers with some unique challenges. I am sure that we are all beyond eager to be under the same roof exalting the same Savior; beyond eager to have the most important aspect of our lives return to normal. And in our eagerness, I doubt we have spent much time thinking about the difficulties that may arise. But when considering the possibilities, I can identify one area where the enemy of our souls will likely show up seeking to cause divisions. I’m not trying to pile on bad news or be overly pessimistic, but rather I am aiming to prepare us to be wise and victorious in the months to come.
One of the most challenging aspects of regathering as believers will be navigating the differences and disagreements about how we and others are personally handling COVID-19. What will be acceptable in social settings? How should we view those who seem to have a different response and attitude towards the situation than we do? Hurt feelings and arguments will abound if we are not careful and wise.
I believe the enemy will work hard to get us to use our personal opinions against each other. Those who are extremely cautious may be labeled as “soft and scared,” and others with the opposite approach may be accused of being “reckless and unloving.“ Throw in various political viewpoints and things could get out of hand very quickly. No matter the size of the church, believers will begin to gather with other believers who have varying convictions regarding the virus. And if we are not careful, the enemy will use that to destroy relationships and cause harm.
Satan would like nothing more than for us to spend our time overly concerned about how others are handling COVID-19. Because in doing so, we lose sight of what we should be focused on--proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What should we first understand to help us navigate this issue? We must acknowledge and be aware that we are going to be different. Our church will be filled with people who are taking different approaches to everything this season of life is forcing us to face. And we must remember, that's okay. God doesn't require uniformity among believers, but rather commands us to be in unity. And in the minds of some, those mean the same thing. Or they at least think unity is achieved through uniformity. But it's not. I would even argue that they are mutually exclusive. Why? We can (and should) love, serve, and care for each other despite our differences. If our care and love for one another is based on uniformity, it falls short of the biblical definition of sacrificial and authentic love.
Our differences actually require us to strive for unity. We must love, serve, and care for others who do not see everything in the same way we do. It's much easier to care for those who share your viewpoint and opinion. It doesn't require us to sacrifice, show grace, or exercise self-control. We are not tempted to think that someone must see or deal with something in the same manner that we do. We are not tempted to think we are morally superior or more righteous than someone whose viewpoint or actions differ from ours. Those difficult battles seldom rear their head when dealing with people who have the same opinion as us. And those are battles that must be fought to achieve Christian unity.
But when someone has a different approach than ours, and we still rightly care for and interact with them, that is when true Christian unity is seen. It reveals that what unites us is deeper than simply sharing the same opinions. It's deeper because what unites is the redemptive work of Christ.
Uniformity may sound beneficial or appealing, but, in reality, it presents a path that doesn't require love, grace, or Christian growth.
Uniformity cheapens what Christian unity truly is. Uniformity causes us to think we are always right and never gives us access to viewpoints that we need to hear in order to sharpen and refine our faith. And God will expect His children to be in unity--not uniformity--despite the differences in how we view and respond to COVID-19. And it is possible.
The Varying Approaches
What differences are we likely to encounter as we begin to gather for corporate worship? While it's extremely challenging to identify all possible viewpoints, I think we can discuss characteristics of ones we are likely to see.
Viewpoint one. People with this view are likely to favor conservative approaches to reopening, they follow all CDC recommendations, and have stepped away from their pre-COVID routines in a major way. They can't imagine simply returning to "normal" given the present circumstances. They strive to be what they consider cautious and careful.
Viewpoint two. This group is less likely to wear a mask, they spend more time with other people, spend more time outside of their homes, and don't necessarily mind being in close proximity to others. They are mindful of certain recommendations and guidelines, but see no need to go above and beyond with precautions and safety measures. They favor reopening immediately and may perhaps think that everything has been blown way out of proportion.
Viewpoint three. This viewpoint is a mixture of the previous two. Some people may even find themselves alternating between the viewpoints depending on the day. This is a confusing and emotional time, and our daily decisions may be affected by that. In short, some people who we thought had one viewpoint may change their minds at a later time.
And there are plenty of other viewpoints that will be present when we gather. People will have opinions about a church's right to gather, what obedience to government instructions should look like, and the possibility of dishonest narratives being presented to the general public regarding COVID-19. We must also think of how someone who is categorized as "high-risk" views our present situation. Whatever someone's viewpoint and opinion may be, we need to prepare ourselves to hear and see approaches different than ours.
The Way Forward
We must be ready to face the temptation of imposing our opinion and approach upon others. When we see others who are more cautious than us, we may be tempted to accuse them of living by fear rather than by faith. And the cautious may accuse others of being foolish, insensitive, and unloving. We must be prepared to resist the temptation of accusing our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will be different and that requires us to respect and learn from one another. This season of life should cause us to be extremely careful about how and when we speak. It should cause us to closely examine our motivation for speaking as well.
And we should consider how our differences can be of great benefit to us. Different viewpoints can help us make wise decisions as we navigate the uncertainty we are facing. They can ensure that we don't swing too far in any one direction. Some will need to see others who are more relaxed in their approach to COVID. It will help them be optimistic and hopeful about the future. And others will need to see people being extremely cautious. It reminds them to be sensitive concerning the needs of others and to think through personal decisions in a deeper manner.
We must also remember that Christian unity and healthy relationships are more important than our opinions. If we are quick to accuse and disregard others who don't share our opinion and viewpoint, we fail to properly prioritize what's important. If we think others must share our personal convictions, we will be offended, angry, and defensive when they don't. We can even think less of others who have a different viewpoint than ours. And one thing is certain.
When this crisis is over, we will all have gotten some things right and some things wrong. What will be important is not how correct our opinion turned out to be, but how strong our relationships are.
We must be ready to face and defeat the possibility of becoming "socially distant" because of broken relationships that came as a result of being unable to accept and love others who view COVID-19 different than ourselves.
While we are sure to have different approaches regarding COVID-19, I am reasonably sure we are all experiencing some common feelings. The future seems so uncertain and that reality has impacted us all. And in the face of that uncertainty, we should be quick to extend grace to others. Giving grace to others is more satisfying than being right. Giving grace to others is acknowledging that you need others to give grace to you. Giving grace to others will show our unbelieving community the beauty of belonging to the blood-bought and sin-defeating Church of Jesus Christ. Our culture is currently roaring with opinions and arguments concerning COVID-19. Let's make sure we don't add to the noise when we come back together to exalt and worship our risen Savior.