How Should Christians Respond to Crisis?

On our new podcast, By the Way, we sat down with missionary and Bible teacher, Gene Cunningham, and asked him about the pandemic panic (and a few other things)—specifically, how we, as Christians, ought to respond to crises like the coronavirus in a manner that is markedly different than the unbelieving world. Here’s a short preview. Be watching for the full episode at anchor.fm/termon!

COVID-19 Update

Not more than a day after I sent out my first email to my church explaining that we were going to continue meeting for the time being, I had to send out a second email with the following update.

Dear church family,

Well, we are here sooner than we expected. In response to the coronavirus hitting closer to home, and in conjunction with the precautions being taken by Fairview Township, we’ve made the difficult decision to suspend our meetings through the end of March. We plan to resume meetings beginning April 1; however, we will be vigilantly monitoring the situation and the wisdom of meeting, and will keep you up to date.

This has truly been a difficult decision to make—not only because of the tension between our desire to faithfully gather and the need to take necessary precautions against spreading the virus, but also because of our awareness that whatever decision is made will bring criticism from one quarter or another. The elders and deacons have been in constant communication over the last twenty-four hours, and we are all very slow to give up meeting together. There is something very real that is missed in not having a physical, embodied interaction and gathering, and we will dearly miss the regular assembly, even if for only a short time.

We will be working on the best ways to keep in touch and to continue to provide teaching each Sunday. I would encourage every household to set aside time these Sundays to pray and sing together. We will keep you posted on Sunday morning teaching and other ways to stay connected.

Isolation tends to foster fear more than it does any real sense of security. So, over the next couple of weeks, be sure not to isolate yourselves from all communication simply because we are not gathering. Keep in touch with one another via phone, text, Facebook, Marco Polo groups, or other similar means. Frequent interaction and constant encouragement will be crucial in the coming weeks.

We, the elders and deacons, are praying for our church, our households, our community, and our country during this time. We trust in a sovereign God who, we are certain, will use this for His glory and our good. Take every opportunity you have to share the good news of the gospel. We don’t fear death and we should not respond in panic like those who do. Let our measured calmness be a testimony to our trust in God and love for others.

For the King,

Christopher Preston
Pastor | Fairview Bible Church

Coronavirus Conundrum

My gut reaction tends to be “people are crazy.” And I certainly am more concerned about what irrational people do when they panic than I am about the source of panic. However, I do think we ought to be thinking seriously about COVID-19 so that we can respond in a manner that is wise, prudent, and faithful rather than fearful. I’ve already had a few people ask me about church being canceled, particularly in light of the CDC’s recommendation to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. So, how should Christians and churches respond?

My current leaning would be to continue meeting for church until your governor puts out a mandate, as many other states have, banning gatherings of a certain size, or until the virus shows up in your county or surrounding area. Then, I think it may be prudent to cancel services for a week or two at least.

In the back of my mind, I agree that this feels much too close to a test run of flexing government power. This whole crisis has shown that it is, in fact, completely viable to orchestrate large-scale, voluntary quarantining. And so I do think we should be wary of the indications this all might have for moves toward tyranny in the future—perhaps particularly the potential for targeting churches. However, I think that some level of quarantining and recommended restrictions are appropriate and within the lawful authority of the magistrate (not just constitutionally—for states that is—but also biblically: Lev. 13–15; Ex. 20:13; Rom. 13:4). So, I think churches, not only out of love for brother and neighbor, but as a matter of cheerfully submitting to the lawful directives (and not all are) of the governing authorities, should adhere to those directives with joy, patience, courage, and faith. And I believe we can do this without compromising our commitment to Christ or to His commandment not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (thought the spirit of that commandment ought to impel us to be diligent not to readily abandon the regular assembly of Christ’s church).

We, as Christians, must not panic. It’s wise to take common-sense precautions; but we are not overcome by fear. Even if this ended up being on the level of the Black Death, God is still sovereign; and we will never be asked for a reason for the hope that is in us if we aren’t demonstrating a hope that is in stark contrast to the panicking, fearful world around us.

C.S. Lewis gave a wise and balanced perspective in 1948, writing “On Living in an Atomic Age.” (His references to atomic bombs have been changed to the virus so you see the principle applying to our current crisis just as readily as his.)

In one way we think a great deal too much of the [coronavirus]. ‘How are we to live in an [viral] age?’ I am tempted to reply: Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the [coronavirus] was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an [virus], let that [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

Martin Luther once wrote a letter to Johan Hess about how he was responding to the Black Death: “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.” His words here convey the calm confidence in God’s providence that ought to characterize all believers.

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Christians ought to be marked by a distinctive courage, love, wisdom, faith, and hope, in the midst of a world that is marked by cowardice, selfishness, foolishness, fear, and despair.

So, what does this look like in the weeks ahead? We will continue to meet for worship and study, remaining alert to the spread of the virus. When the virus reaches our area, we will reevaluate and keep our church updated. If you are high risk, it would be wise to stay home. If you or your children have been feeling ill, again, as always, it would be both wise and loving to stay home rather than risk the spread of any sickness, regardless of the scare surrounding the particular disease. This is a matter of course and common courtesy, but it bears reiterating here. Hebrews 10:25 indicates that one of the primary purposes of the local assembly is the mutual encouragement and edification of the church family. So while we recognize the concern surrounding the COVID-19 scare, we want to be slow to give up our time of corporate worship, study, and encouragement on the Lord’s Day, even for a short time.

So, to borrow some helpful direction from Christ Church Moscow:

As we all watch the evening news regarding the coronavirus, one question that naturally occurs to everyone is this: “what about Sunday worship?” We do not want to have any part of spreading either virus—whether we are talking about the coronavirus or the panic virus (which is also quite contagious). The two viruses have this in common—the carriers often don’t know that they are carriers.

So here are a few prudent measures that we would ask you to observe as we worship this coming Lord’s Day.

Please wash your hands before coming, and if you have portable hand sanitizer that you can bring, please bring it, and please feel free to use it; Please don’t shake anybody’s hand. Just beam at them, or do that new and interesting elbow bump… If you have a cough, or a cold, or any flu-like symptoms, please remain home; If you are elderly, or have any underlying medical condition that concerns you, please feel at liberty to remain at home… And if you are fearful or in any way panicky, we would ask you to remain home also (Dt. 20:8). If you are one of those who likes to share scary stories, statistics, or scenarios with the other saints, please stay at home. And if you do decide to come, please wash your hands and heart down with Ps. 91 and 121 first.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [Church and State]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I shared my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement a church might use that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

I’ve recently been working on an additional point, covering the relationship between church and state, and the political nature of the local church. I’d like to take the time to make notes on my wording choices, as I did with the other sections; but for now, I’ll share what I have in its entirety, and I welcome any questions or suggestions.

Church and State: We believe the church and state ought to remain distinct as institutions. God has delegated certain authority to various spheres, or governments—namely, the household, the local church, and the civil magistrate. Neither the family nor the church exists by the permission of the state. Nor does the civil magistrate bear the authority of the keys of the kingdom to declare individuals as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Nor should the church swing the sword as a civil authority.

This distinction between the institutions of church and civil government ought not be construed, however, to mean that religion and politics should, or can, be separated. The religious convictions of individuals ought rightly to shape and direct their every action—including the policies, strategies, penalties, and measures employed by those in governing positions. Christians ought to seek to influence for good the public square, including the policies of the civil magistrate, through whatever course be available to them. Nor ought this be construed to mean that churches must not speak to political issues. Within the commission to make committed and competent disciples by teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded, churches are to teach what accords with proper justice, righteousness, mercy, and peace. Churches ought also to call upon the magistrate to uphold justice and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ, demonstrating the peace and righteousness of the coming King, to whom the nations owe their fealty.

The ordinance of the civil magistrate is established by God in Genesis 9 as the means for man to uphold civil justice under the administration of the Noahic covenant. The governing authorities that exist are in place by the providence of God to punish evildoers and to protect the lives of the innocent under their watch. God has delegated to the civil magistrate the power of the sword in order to be a servant of God for good, to establish the justice and tranquility needed for their people to be secure in their person and property and to pursue virtue and godliness. The civil magistracy receives its authority from the ordinance of God, and rulers must never presume to act above or outside the Noahic commission, recognizing rather that they too are subject to the justice mechanism of the Noahic covenant. God has delegated the authority of the sword to civil government for certain ends only, and its rule is legitimate to the extent it pursues just ends by just means.

The church is not the kingdom, but is an outpost, or embassy, of the coming kingdom. Jesus has been given possession of all authority in heaven and on earth; he has been declared Lord over all creation. However, the political reality of his reign is not yet being exercised until he returns in power and glory to sit upon the throne in Jerusalem, thus establishing justice and peace over all nations. As an embassy of Christ’s coming kingdom, the church does not swing the sword for itself, but it does speak on behalf of the coming king who will judge the nations at his return. As such, the church has a prophetic ministry to proclaim Christ’s lordship, and to teach the nations the proper standard of justice. The civil magistrate ought to govern by the standard of Scripture, as taught by the local church, so as to uphold justice and minister for good as ordained by God; yet the church is not to coerce the state, just as the state is not to coerce the church.

Christians are to render submission and respect unto the governing authorities in all things lawfully commanded by them. The Christian’s first and highest allegiance is to Jesus Christ, though Christ calls us to seek the well-being of the country in which we reside and to submit to the governing authorities. The Christian must not obey rulers when they command that which Scripture forbids, or forbid that which Scripture requires. We are to offer supplications and prayers for all who are in positions of authority, that under them we might lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness, piety, and dignity—which ought to be the aspiration of all men.

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto. In the managing thereof, they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth. To that end, they may swiftly carry out the just retribution of the wicked, and may lawfully wage war, upon just and necessary occasion, for the defense of borders. We affirm the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

(Genesis 9:5–7; 41:39–43; 1 Samuel 8:10–20; 2 Samuel 23:3–4; Nehemiah 12:26; 13:15–31; Psalm 2; 82; Proverbs 8:15–16; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Jeremiah 29:7; Daniel 2:48–49; Matthew 14:4; 16:18–19; 18:15–20; 22:21; 25:31; 28:18–20; Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14, 19; 19:11–27; Acts 5:29; 17:6–7; 24:25; Romans 1:5; 13:1–7; Ephesians 1:20–23; Philippians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12; 1 Timothy 2:1–4; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–17)

Affections, Passions, or Emotions

Many are surprised to learn that “emotion” is a recent idea, historically speaking—and, frankly, it’s a rather unhelpful category to boot. The discussion used to be primarily a moral one, a distinction between affections and passions was maintained, and this only quite recently morphed into a psychological, all-encompassing category of “emotion.”

To learn more about this distinction between emotions, feelings, affections, and passions—and how it relates to our theology of culture and worship—I commend the following resources for your study and edification.

For a summary introduction to the discussion, you might start with Dr. Scott Aniol’s helpful response to a question here.

That site—Religious Affections Ministries—is a remarkable resource altogether.

Pastor David de Bruyn’s articles on emotion and feelings in this series are tremendously helpful and interesting; especially pertinent is the article on “a short history of emotion.” The entire 58 part (!) series is worth your attention, but the several articles on emotion and feeling are particularly relevant to the inquiry at hand.

For a fuller treatment of the subject with regard to how the affections are related to our understanding and practice of worship, see this helpful paper by Dr. Aniol.

And, lastly, as I’m wont to offer, here are a few books of particular import:

The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards

The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis

From Passions to Emotions, by Thomas Dixon

You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith

Top Books: AD 2019

Top Books of 2019

I read a lot of books in 2019. Below, I share the top of the bag—the cream of the crop—a few books that had a particularly significant impact on me, that I commend to you for your own edification.

Politics, by Aristotle

The Household and the War for the Cosmos, by C.R. Wiley

You Who? Why You Matter and How to Deal With It, by Rachel Jankovic

The Spine of Scripture: God’s Kingdom from Eden to Eternity, by Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Rules for Reformers, by Douglas Wilson

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule, by Jonathan Leeman

Why Children Matter, by Douglas Wilson

The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit, by Larry Pettegrew

Psalms for Trials, by Lindsey Tollefson

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, by Kevin Gutzman

Honest Money: The Biblical Blueprint for Money and Banking, by Gary North

From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy: A Tale of Moral and Economic Folly and Decay, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

A Theology of Biblical Counseling, by Heath Lambert

Books I’m Starting in 2020

I have no doubt I’ll read more than these, but these at least are the books I have started or know I will be reading, and which I’m greatly looking forward to.

Truth or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare, by Jim Osman

Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work and Wealth, by Douglas Wilson

Building a Godly Home: A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage, by William Gouge

A Different Shade of Green: A Biblical Approach to Environmentalism and the Dominion Mandate, by Gordon Wilson

Building Conservative Churches, by David de Bruyn

The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life, by George Herbert