As the coronavirus has spread and churches have closed their doors, social media has been peppered with statements accusing other believers of cowardice. They beat their chests with all the theological machismo they can muster and tell the world that they aren’t afraid of a little sickness. They also shame other believers for worshiping in their homes (like many early Christians did) rather than at a church building.
I think that the criticisms of other Christians are misguided. In looking at those who are the most vocal, I also see that they believe that the virus is part of a vast conspiracy to attack the church, manipulate people, or undermine President Trump (some are using it to do that of course, but the same could be said of other crises that occurred during the terms of previous US Presidents).
By trying to protect elderly Christians, this is not a spirit of fear or lack of faith in God. The New Testament includes an instance where the early Christians suspended their regular order of worship in the face of threats. Saul spearheaded persecution against the church, throwing men and women in prison (Acts 8: 4). As a result, the early church scattered far and wide (Acts 8:1). These early believers took precautions to save their own lives. We might also look to the examples of other believers who worshiped in secret to avoid detection by Roman authorities. Should we accuse them of cowardice just because they changed their places of worship in response to mortal threats?
Some critics have made statements to shame other believers. Here are some of my favorite self-righteous comments made in response to COVID-19:
- How we gonna have revival if all the church door’s are closed and all the preacher’s are hiding in there house’s … afraid? Not much to see here except a little ad hominem. Oh, and by the way, revival might be at least a little easier with a better grasp of the English language.
- The blood of Jesus is our shield. No virus or disease will come near your home. Trust the Lord for your protection. Try this one out on congregations in third world nations or in Africa that have had to deal with Ebola or malaria outbreaks. Not to mention the fact that it sounds just like the kinds of arguments health-and-wealth preachers use. By the way, do you have any Scripture references you can give me? Because you make it sound like the gospel virtually eliminates the need for doctors and hospitals.
- I refuse to be a coward and bow down for corona. I appreciate your gospel-fueled temerity. Now, why don’t you go take up a career preaching in leper colonies or infectious disease wards, since Jesus told you to go take the gospel into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20)? Don’t they need the gospel, too? And leprosy is not nearly as infectious as the coronavirus, by the way.
- How should we trust you now when you say we should, apply God’s Word onto our lives, yet you are terrified by an invisible virus? Another nice ad hominem argument here. Please let me know when you tell all your fellow Christians who have trouble attending worship because they have immunodeficiency disorders that they’re in sin because they’re terrified of invisible little viruses (if those things even exist, right?)
- Do you think the 1st Century Christians canceled their worship due to persecution? (just sayin’). Actually, they did something almost exactly like Christians are doing now – Acts 8:1 makes this clear. Before we criticize others, we should try reading the Bible a little more. Or just avoid making claims that are directly refuted by Scripture.
- Sad for those who missed worship out of fear. Fear of the possibility of having contracted the virus and unknowingly spreading it to the elderly or others with compromised immune systems? That’s not fear. Those of us who don’t need adulting classes call that “taking reasonable precautions.” You know, like not walking out into the street without looking both ways or refusing to give your Social Security number to some dude on the phone who claims to be a lottery winner in Nigeria.
- Have you met anyone who was sick with the Coronavirus? So far it looks like the only people who are getting the virus are people we will never actually meet. So ignorance IS bliss? Just give it time. And for the record, do you also believe the earth is flat because you’ve never been to outer space?
- Who u trust CDC or God?? This is what we call the fallacy of bifurcation. That is, asking a question and insisting upon one of only two answers when there are other possible solutions. But, we should never accuse people who post inflammatory memes on Facebook of using logic.
One preacher wrote that to be consistent, we would have to shutter churches during flu season. In other words, the flu is no different than coronavirus—except that we have vaccines for the flu, medicines to shorten its duration and alleviate its symptoms, and a long history of medical research. And according to earliest data available (upon which churches based their decisions), coronavirus is about 20 times deadlier, is more contagious, and had no known treatment at the time of its discovery. But why bother quibbling over irrelevant details? They’re basically the same, right?
To those who accuse their fellow Christians of sin, or who beat their chests and shout their righteousness for all the world to see, you sound like another guy I know who once said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people …” (Luke 18:11). You may want to look him up. It sounds like you two have a lot in common.