Tag Archives: COVID-19

COVID-19 | Updates For Taiwan And China

The COVID-19 virus is still causing chaos around the world. The wickedness of men and their hunger for power and control is on full display. Many facts are unknown or unclear; statistics and data are inaccurate or incomplete. All of this is a reminder of the fallibility of man, the deception that lies within men’s hearts, and comes roaring out when opportunities arise, and ultimately, the reminder that we are not in control. The good news is: God is in control, He is infallible, He isn’t confused, and all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.

Taiwan: Praise the Lord, we are still on the field. Taiwan has given two 30-day extensions which gave us an extra 60 days on our current visa-free entry. This means we now have until mid-July before we would need to make a visa run. Please continue to pray for the ban to be lifted. The island of Taiwan continues to have little exposure to the COVID-19 virus. It has been over three weeks since the last reported case of a person that was “locally infected” by the coronavirus here.

China: Praise the Lord, one of the pastors reported the salvation of a young man in China! Concerning the virus, some places are doing better while other places are still having many problems. Currently, one of the greater concerns is the resurgence of persecution. We were hoping that the pandemic would ease the persecution, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, the government seems to be taking advantage of the situation. One of the pastors has been called and visited by the police. He was even offered money to turn over evidence on our missionary work there. Also, we were informed through “a friend of a friend” that two of our pastors and a missionary was on an arrest list for a crackdown happening in May. They have been working to see if this is a legitimate threat and what they can do to get their names off of the list. There was some hope that two of the three names were off of the list, but we can’t be 100% sure. Now that May is upon us, please be in prayer for them.

A Review In Needed Lessons

It is good to be reminded of truths that we know but sometimes forget. Reviewing Biblical truth will be an encouragement but also it gives wisdom about how to make the right decisions in the midst of hard times! As noted before, COVID-19 is one of those times.

Below are some lessons to remind us of some of the important truths we ought to think upon during a time such as this. We are in a spiritual battle and we always need to have our guard up. Feel free to read through the lessons or just skim the highlighted areas. I hope this is refreshing and an encouragement. God bless!


A Review In The Biblical Hierarchy Of Authority

The Bible teaches that authority is hierarchical, meaning there are different ranks and classifications of authority. In this hierarchy, God is the highest authority. All other authorities are under His sovereign rule. As believers, we are called to be responsible in our positions of authority and submissive to those whom God has placed over us.

The Hierarchy Of Authority

  • God has authority over everything because He is the Creator of everything. He has the absolute right, according to His own will, to make decisions, give orders and carry out punishment for disobedience.
    Psalm 24:1; 92:8; 93:1-2; 103:19; Genesis 2:16-17; 3:24
  • God has authority over Jesus, but He gave Jesus all authority in heaven and in earth; therefore, obedience to Jesus’ commands is obedience to God himself.
    1 Corinthians 11:2-3; Matthew 28:18
  • Jesus has authority over man. Man has authority over woman. The husband is called to lovingly lead his wife and she is called to respectfully submit to him. The children are to obey both of their parents until they are old and leave them to start their own family.
    Ephesians 5:22-6:4; 1 Peter 3:1–7; 1 Corinthians 11:7–12
  • Jesus has authority over the church. Men are called by God to lead the church as pastor and deacons. They have authority over the church in spiritual matters.
    Hebrews 13:7, 17; Matthew 16:19
  • Government has authority over its citizens. They are to act as the ministers of God to mankind for good. Their purpose is to encourage good, discourage evil, and use force to accomplish this mandate.
    Romans 13:1-4
  • Mankind has authority over the earth and all the animals. We are to use this position to care for the animals and environment.
    Genesis 1:28, 2:15
  • Employers have authority over their employees. The employees are to be obedient to their employer, and the employer is to lead properly.
    Ephesians 6:5–9; 1 Peter 2:18–25

The Authority Of The Government

  • God has ordained the authority of the government so that mankind will have order and be protected from evildoers and their unjust causes. This means they will seek to preserve human life, property and justice. They are never given permission to do wrong. Therefore, if the government is carrying out the function that God has established for them to do, we who are under their authority should be subject to them. If we resist them, then we are resisting the ordinance of God.
    Romans 13:1-2; Proverbs 21:1
  • God has ordained the use of force by the government. The government has the right to make laws concerning what is right and wrong and its citizens are obliged to obey the law. The government has the right to reward those who do good and punish those who do wrong.
    Romans 13:3-4
  • God has ordained the collection of taxes by the government. Because the government serves in this position of authority, they have the right to justly tax their people so they can have money necessary to fulfill their duty.
    Romans 13:6-7; Matthew 17:24–27; 22:15–22
  • God has ordained the authority of the government to be in accordance to His will. No government is autonomous, but they are all under the sovereign rule of God. No government has the right to make a law that is contrary to the commands of God. Therefore, God is the foundation for knowing what is right and what is wrong, not man.

The Separation Of Church And Government

  • The functions of the church and government are different. The government has been ordained to promote justice and punish evil. The church had been ordained to preach the gospel and be ambassadors of Jesus. Therefore, the government doesn’t have the authority in the affairs of the church, nor should it regulate its spiritual functions.
  • The methods of the church and government are different.  The church does not have the right to use “force” to carry out its mission. This is only the right of governing authorities. The church carries out its mission through the proclamation of the Word and living their life in obedience to it as a witness to all men.

The Believer’s Response To Authority

  • Believers are to submit to the authority that is over them, like they are submitting to the Lord Himself. We are to be servants of God that are full of good works, honoring all men, loving the brotherhood, fearing God, and honoring the king.
    1 Peter 2:11–17; Titus 3:1–7
  • Believers are to obey their governing authorities (even if they are corrupt) because: (1) we will be punished by them if we don’t, and (2) because of conscience sake, we know that we are opposing God’s authority if we don’t obey. There is no perfect government because it is governed by sinful people.
    Romans 13:5
  • Believers do not have to obey the authorities over them if they are commanding them to do something that is contrary to what God has commanded. For example, your authority doesn’t allow you to teach in Jesus name, your boss wants you to be involved in fraud, or your friends and family want you to get an abortion.
    Acts 4:19–20; 5:29

A Review In The Loyalty Of Believers

As believers, we pledge our allegiance to Him above all else and strive to remain loyal to Him in all situations—even the hard ones, in spite of the outcome.

Believers Know That Jesus Wields The Ultimate Authority

  • All Power: As believers we live out our lives and fulfill God’s mission in this world under His authority. Jesus’ authority supersedes all other authority structures and governments. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to the disciples and told them that, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”—absolute and sovereign authority. From this position of authority, He commanded them to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Thus, the church has been God’s active witness in the world since then. And since then, as they have fulfilled this command, Jesus has gone with them, and will continue to do so through the entire process until the end of the world.
    Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:19-23
  • Counting the cost: Thus, as the church goes forth in their local communities and sends missionaries around the world making disciples, there will be individuals, communities, governments, and nations that reject Jesus’ authority and persecute those who come in His name. But we have a declaration from the King of kings and the Lord of lords to go forth into every part of the world where there are people to reach with the gospel of Jesus—there is no where we can’t go carrying the good news. But this will come at a cost because even though all people need the gospel, they aren’t always welcoming to it. Thus, to obey the command of Jesus we have to be willing to endure persecution if necessary. For example: God tells His prophet to go into a land with a hostile government. He gave him a specific duty to do (sacrifice) for his protection against the government (undercover) in order to carry out his ultimate mission (anointing). So the choice is left to the believers: obey God and possibly suffer persecution because of it or disobey God.
    1 Samuel 16:1-13
  • The Apostles’ Example: The Jewish leaders questioned Peter and John, saying: “By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, told them very clearly that His authority was “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” and He continued to tell them that, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” They understood that they were going in the authority of Jesus, were eager to declare He was the ultimate authority and willing to suffer for it if need be.
    Acts 3:11, 25; 4:1-12

Believers Pledge Their Allegiance To Jesus Above All Else

  • Believers pledge their allegiance to God over man to fulfill His mandate. When the Jewish leaders saw the boldness of Peter and John they commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus so that it wouldn’t spread further among the people. They had to choose who to obey: God or man? They responded by saying they, “Cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” They were released and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Then as the apostles were doing many signs, wonders and teaching they were arrested again and asked, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
    Acts 4:13-31; 5:12-42
  • Believers should obey the government but ultimately pledged their allegiance to Jesus. God has ordained the authority of the government so that mankind will have order and be protected from evildoers and their unjust causes. God has also ordained the authority of the government to be in accordance to His will. No government is autonomous, but they are all under the sovereign rule of God. No government has the right to make a law that is contrary to the commands of God. Therefore, if the government is carrying out the function that God has established for them to do, we who are under their authority should be subject to them (even though they are not perfect). Only when the authorities over us are commanding us to do something that is contrary to what God has commanded or prevents us from obeying God, should we choose not to obey.
    Romans 13:1-4; Proverbs 21:1

Believers Exercise Abiding Loyalty In Hard Situations

  • Our loyalty to Jesus will be tested. The wicked will test to see if we truly pledge our allegiance to Him or if we will renounce Him. There are numerous situation in which this can happen, but we are going to look at the following two Old Testament examples that encourage us to exercise abiding loyalty in hard situations.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego remained loyal to the true God when they were commanded to worship an idol. King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and commanded all the people, nations, and languages to worship the idol when the music was played. Whoever would not worship the idol when the music was played would be cast into a burning fiery furnace within the same hour. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego only worshipped the true God, thus they refused to obey the kings order to worship the idol. Instead, they made a very calculated risk and told the king that, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us…”—meaning they believed that God could deliver them from being persecuted. Then they said, “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods…”—meaning that even if God chose not to deliver them from being persecuted they wouldn’t worship the false gods or idols. The three men were cast into the fire but God did a miracle and delivered them. This caused the King to repent and bless the true God.
    Daniel 3:1-30
  • Daniel remained loyal to praying to God even when it was made illegal. Certain government officials were jealous of Daniel and tried to find something against Daniel to tell the king, but they could find no fault, so they said, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” They knew He was faithful and loyal to God. So they tricked the king into making a law that would force Daniel to have to choose between his loyalties: the king or the living God. Daniel remained loyal to God and was cast into the lion’s den because of it. But God delivered Him and the king made a decree, that in every dominion of his kingdom people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.
    Daniel 6:1-28
  • Abiding loyalty means that we pledge our allegiance to Jesus even if we don’t know the result. Every believer will receive different types and degrees of persecution. King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, planing to persecute them. He killed James the brother of John with the sword. Then he proceeded further to take Peter also, but the Lord had delivered him out of the prison. Why did God deliver Peter and not James? We don’t know but both men exercised abiding loyalty to Jesus.
    Acts12:1-17; Romans 1:16; (Another example, Jeremiah was delivered but Urijah was killed: Jeremiah 26:10-11, 20-24)

A Review In Going Forward In The Face Of Uncertainty

Go Forward In Wisdom And Harmlessness

  • Jesus sent His disciples forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. In this scenario the sheep is the one in danger—meaning that the persecution was imminent for the disciples. Jesus knew that persecution was going to be a reality if they obeyed His command to go and preach the Kingdom and He sent them anyway. Thus, the advice He is going to give them wouldn’t mean they were to suspend their mission if they were persecuted or even at the “chance” of being persecution. Ceasing to preach or speak in the face of persecution was never intended, but His intention was to encourage them to “go forward,” but as they did, they were to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”.
    Matthew 10:16; (Context: Matthew 10:1-42)
  • “Wise as serpents”—in scripture, serpents are used both in a bad and good way. Here we are told to have this good characteristic: wisdom. Snakes have to be wise because they often live in hostile environments (not many people like them). The first aspect of this wisdom is being shrewd and having a sharp sense of judgement. They pay attention, are watchful and careful. The second aspect of this “wisdom” it to cause the disciples to keep from becoming “slothful” out of the timid, cautious and circumspect characteristics that come when facing danger. Thus, in the same way, we need to have this sense of wisdom as we face persecution.
    (Compare to prudence: Proverbs 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18; 15:5; 16:21; 18:15; 22:3; 27:12)
  • “Harmless as doves”—doves have no real defense or offense. They don’t fight back when attacked. They aren’t seeking to hurt others, take advantage of others, nor are they attacking others. They easily put themselves in danger so that is seems silly or stupid. A dove is vulnerable. It isn’t fearful nor does it hide. As a messenger of the gospel “harm” shouldn’t be characteristic of who we are. Though people will mock, hate and hurt us because of the gospel, we shouldn’t fight back. They might harm us, but we don’t harm them. To apply this to our lives we have to understand that God uses suffering for the advancement of the gospel. Our suffering is a testimony to the grace of God.

Go Forward Ceaselessly Proclaiming The Gospel

  • Go forward speaking the gospel and do not be silent. As believers we are sent forth preaching the gospel and when we are persecuted for Jesus’ sake, we should continue being witnesses to them. In the face of persecution we should always be proclaiming the gospel message, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak through us. Jesus said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace”. Also, after Paul was arrested He used this opportunity to preach the gospel. Never cease preaching.
    Matthew 10:18-20; Acts 18:9-11; 21:27-26:32
  • Go forward speaking the gospel and if needed flee to another location. Jesus tells His disciples that when people persecute them in a certain city they were allowed to flee to another city. We should be aware and alert to the danger that could happen and if needed move to another location as long as we keep on preaching the gospel. We are permitted to leave a city because of persecution but we shouldn’t stop preaching the gospel. Thus, the task is more important than the location—even if the location can’t be changed.
    Matthew 10:23
  • Go forward speaking the gospel and if persecuted keep speaking the gospel. Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city and left there supposing he was dead. But when the disciples stood round about him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe and preached the gospel there. Even after being stoned and left for dead, Paul was faithful to preaching the gospel.
    Acts 14:19-23

Go Forward Doing Right Regardless Of What Happens
1 Peter 4:1-2

  • Go forward obeying God even if persecution is inevitable. Paul was told by a prophet that the Jews at Jerusalem would bind him and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles when He went up to Jerusalem. When the believers heard this, they pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. But he would not be persuaded by them, saying, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Finally, they said, “The will of the Lord be done.” Paul was willing to go forward knowing that persecution was inevitable.
    Acts 21:10-14
  • Go forward serving God even if it is against the law. When Daniel knew that the writing was signed (that said if anyone prayed to any god or man, except the king, during the next thirty days they would be thrown into the lion’s den) he went into his house and prayed just as he had done before the law was passed. He did what He had always done: he prayed with his windows open toward Jerusalem in his upper room; he did this three times each day—kneeling, praying and giving thanks before his God. He didn’t allow fear to keep Him from obeying God even though it had become illegal.
    Daniel 6:10; (Daniel’s obedience to prayer: 1 Kings 8:35-36; 44-50; Psalms 55:16-17)
  • Go forward by faith and not fear. After spying out the land, Caleb stilled the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and posses it; for we are well able to overcome it”. Then the other men that went up with Caleb to spy out the land disagreed with him and said, “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we”. The other men were focused on the facts and looking at all the reasons why it couldn’t be done. They had a list of fearful reasons. This caused them to fear and caused the children of Israel to fear and doubt the promises of God. But Caleb had a mindset of faith. His report wasn’t focused on the giants but on God. All the same conditions were true, all the same giants were in the land just as the other men reported, but Caleb had faith that God was going to bring the victory.
    Numbers 13:30-31; 14:7-9, 14, 24; Examples of faith: Hebrews 11:23-28, 32-40
  • Go forward assembling together with the local church and not forsaking it. Some of the Hebrews were habitually abandoning and neglecting the local gathering of the church. This was wrong. The reasons why some stopped assembling together isn’t given, but whether it was because of persecution and the fear of gathering publicly and being identified with Jesus and His church or another reason, they risked abandoning the faith over time by not assembling. We assemble because we need to exhort (encourage) one another—especially to: draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith; hold fast the profession of our faith (hope) without wavering; and consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. Thus if we need this at normal times, how much more in times of persecution and as we are living out His mission in this world. This is a nonnegotiable.
    Hebrews 10:19-25; Matthew 12:30; Acts 2:42; 14:19-23 (Persecution in Hebrews 10:32-34; 12:3-4, 12-14; 13:3)

Links

The above articles are taken from the following lessons:

Ongoing Conversation:

The Paradox of Compassion

Why is trying to figure out what to do so hard? Why are believers having opposing views on a situation? Because it is hard to know what information to trust in a world flooded with so many ideas, opinions, stats, and so-called facts. You add in the emotional and stressful component in the situation—how this is affecting me and those closest to me, gives a different end result. Some more musings:

Preservation of self can lead to disregard for others and thus harm awaits them. We can’t disregard our neighbor across the street nor those across the world. We are to be world-impacting and world-changing Christ followers.

Compassion is in our DNA.

Love for others, on the other hand, places others before self. How to properly love others in times of crisis is based on what is “best and right” for them according to the facts of the situation and applied through a Biblical filter. When the facts are unknown and the statistics are inaccurate that means the results are incomplete. Thus, what is the proper way to love our neighbor in “this” situation? This lands in the grey area. This is the paradox of compassion. But there is one thing that we do know. We can and should have compassion, grace, love, peace, kindness, selflessness, and sacrifice no matter how we try to apply the “best and right” thing in this situation. Ugliness, namecalling, lack of compassion, and political self-defense isn’t to be our reputation. Even is some things are permissible and good, we need to remember to keep the main thing, the main thing.

To stay home and protect others from getting the virus is loving. But also if needing to open the economy back so that millions around the world don’t go into starvation. Which is worse? Which is just fearmongering? Which is just the natural course of an unfavorable situation? These are hard times and hard decisions. Churches will be starting back. Some won’t be. Some never quit. How can your church best love and serve your community and at the same time strive to be a light all around the world reaching beyond the borders of your local community? (Side Note: God didn’t call you to just reach “your mission field” or local community, He called you to go to the world. Do Both.)

Cast your cares upon Jesus. Don’t let the emotions and stress of this situation to cause you to rant against others, but choose love. Love them through it. Show them the way of living the victorious Christian life in the midst of suffering.

Ongoing Conversation:

Cloudy Discernment (Quick Thought)

As things *try* to go forward, keep in mind that not everyone is going to give good advice. I have already seen several articles that give bad advice to churches. 

Some quick thoughts to think about:

Will a Christian leader’s advice and judgment be clouded when he receives money from the government? Is it hard to be critical of or stand against the government’s wrongdoings when they fund your church (especially if the offerings aren’t enough)? This is true in other realms, could it be true here as well?

Will larger churches and ministries, especially those with a lot of debt have a different perspective than smaller local churches without debt and a paid-for building?

Will different size churches have different plans for returning to a normal assembly, thus each advocating for their own position, judging those who don’t do like they do, turning each other against each other?

What other things could cause someones judgment to be cloudy?

Brave The Dark, Let Your Light Shine! #resistance

This post is somewhat of a continuation of my last post “COVID-19 and the Local Church” and I want to give some more thoughts from the unique perspective that I have concerning all that is going on in our world in relation to the local church.

There are many words we can use to describe this time: uncharted, uncertain, unusual, unexpected, unprecedented, unknown. And even though I agree with all of these and everything does feel unfamiliar, there is one familiar feeling to everything that is going on. There is an attack against the local church that is all too familiar. After doing ministry in China for eight years and continuing to train and work with pastors there, there are some things that we learned from this “closed country” that might help at such a time as this.

1) God Over Government.

One of the constant frictions that you see in the Bible is God over the government. Worldly governments, even though ordain by God, they aren’t the ultimate authority. Governments have been ordained for a certain purpose, from which they can overstep the bounds of that purpose. As believers, we ALWAYS put God before the government. This is a notion that most governments or authorities hate. We have one loyalty, Jesus, above all else!

Thus, don’t be surprised when your government seems to turn on you as a believer. In China, all the missionary work we did (evangelize, church planting, etc) was illegal from the standpoint of the government. But the decision for us was already made: God over the government. (For more on this topic of authority and government, read these articles: What Does The Bible Teach About Authority? and Where Is Our Loyalty In The Face Of Persecution?)

2) Assembly Over Fear.

I have often told people the most dangerous thing we did in China as missionaries was assemble for our Sunday morning gathering because it was our largest gathering and if the police came, we were simply caught red-handed. Now, understanding the truth above, that the “government doesn’t have the authority in the affairs of the church, nor should it regulate its spiritual functions,” we didn’t decide what we did as a church, such as having services based on the government’s permission or recommendations. This was a decision made by our local church in obedience to our head, Jesus. Yes, we might have to pay a price for it, but we are followers of the Persecuted One, we don’t expect anything else. As we follow Him, they will treat us like Him. (For more on going forward in hard situations, read this article: How Can We Go Forward In The Face Of Persecution?)

A local church does not make decisions about assembly based on what the government says. We can choose as a church what is best for us and our community. We can listen to certain recommendations but ultimately it is a church’s decision to choose to meet in spite of anything else.

A snow day. I grew up in Ohio. Many churches would cancel services when is snowed because they didn’t want to put their people in harms way for one service. Understandable. With this virus, many are doing the same thing with moving to online services. No Church wants to become the center of this epidemic and cause the virus to spread to all of its members and community. But this where common sense and wisdom comes in. Understand this isn’t just about a virus, but there is *still* a spiritual battle raging, the enemy would love to do nothing more than to take advantage of this situation and cause chaos in local churches to prevent them from assembling for the longest duration as possible. As believers, we have a different worldview. Fear and misinformation CAN come in the name of safety and health to keep the church from assembling. (Think about it: there is no guarantee that social isolation without a vaccine or cure will fix any problem long-term; there is no proof that a local church cannot take proper measures to keep the virus from spreading and continue to have services. If government offices, hospitals, grocery stores, and gas stations can all continue to function and yet take proper safety precautions to function… the church could do the same thing.)

After all, one of the main reasons that I believe we as believers need to keep assembling according to Hebrews 10 is because we risk abandoning the faith over time by not assembling.

How long can you wait? How long will you wait? I understand this is a controversial topic and it is all based on how to interpret the information you are given. Some agree with the assumptions while others disagree with it. But it does seem that those who are fine with social isolation and not assembling until the government gives approval, even if it takes a year, and those who don’t long for that fellowship with their church family, are most likely those who were already not faithful to church to begin with. This is not trying to down anyone just simply saying we view church assembly differently.

A side note, and possibly a topic for another article, one thing that we have experienced through persecution is that it causes maturity and purging in the church more than numerical growth. We usually report the encouraging stories, but there is a toll taken on the churches. I think the same idea applies here, when the church has to make a tough decision and there are hard times, even if it isn’t persecution like we experience in China, I think you will see a natural purging of those who “were not of us”.

3) One Another Over Individualism.

In China, as I mentioned, just about every aspect of our ministry is considered illegal. The only part that is technically legal would be having a “personal faith”–meaning you can believe it but you can not live it out in any public form (unless approved by the government). Sure you can pray, read the Bible and sing in the privacy of your own house with just yourself or family, but that is not what we are called to do as followers of Jesus and that is not what a local church is. (Note: If you are in the government or part of the communist part, then you aren’t even allowed to believe it.) We are to live out the Victorious Christian Life in a community of faith and reach out to those who have yet to become a follower of Jesus. “One another” is a key component that can’t be dismissed.

I think many are realizing that “online community” is not satisfying. Yes, it is helpful and a “stop-gap measure” meaning that it is filling a void until something better can be done (at least until the internet companies realize that our message is offensive), but it doesn’t check of the relational boxes that we so desperately need. And it shouldn’t be. Certain things can’t be virtual or at least shouldn’t be virtual. Any online community I’ve ever been a part of has not ultimately brought the community that I need. It is dangerous because it engulfs your time but leaves you missing in your real life interactions from those that need you the most, specifically your family. For what online community can actively include your wife and your children (spanning all ages).

I feel this pain with the pastors I am training in China. Sometimes I have to communicate hard truths to them, and I wish I was there to “be with them” so they can feel my love and concern. To share a meal and know that fellowship of being in person. Paul shared this longing. He longed to be with the brethren. He could write letters, even send others in his place, but that longing was still there. He knew that only certain things can be truly done in person and taught in person. (See: 1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:19-30; 1 Thessalonians 2-3; 2 Timothy 3:10-11.)

4) Hard Path Over Easy Path

Thus, knowing that everything we do in China is illegal, what changes for us? Practically, nothing changes unless we are forced to do so. This means that we would continue to have church services even though we are told not to until we were forced and are physically unable to do so.

5) Love Over Hate

We have learned not to be known for an “anti-government” stance, even though the government is extremely anti-Christian. We try to succeed in our love for the people that make up the government, pray for them and see them as souls that also need to be reached with the gospel. (Note: I believe that one of the reasons for persecution is so that those in hard to reach places, such as government leaders and officials, have a chance to hear the gospel…in the midst of persecuting believers. Under normal circumstances these people often don’t have a chance to hear the gospel.)

6) Occupational Hazard Over Isolation

When we make decisions for our local church, it can’t be based on a arbitrary information. Rumors, misinformation, scare tactics are a constant normal within ministry in China. If we cancelled services based on that information, we would have to be cancelling services all the time. We have to look for accurate and trustworthy information, listen to those who have our good in view and understand our perspective. If a decision is made to stop assembly for a “time” the heartbeat should always be to try and assemble again as soon as possible. But we need to remember on thing: there is going to be risk (health, persecution, etc.) in assembly. Assembling has always been hazardous for the church its entire existence…its an “occupation hazard”.

7) Independent Church Over Government Church (A Warning!)

If you did some quick research on China, you would quickly find out that there seems to be a thriving public Christian community there. But what you are seeing is a government-controlled church. They offer peace, safety and even financial help in place of control over your church. How much control? They tell you where and when you can meet. The regulation who can and can’t attend (under 18 not allowed – that is brainwashing). They regulation who can preach and what they can preach about (not all messages and books of the Bible are approved.) Not to mention all the bad doctrine and the false gospel often spewed from false teachers.

That is why it is important to keep the government separate from the church…because they will want to control certain aspects of your church life and ultimately turn it into something that isn’t a church.

In Closing,

Have your guard up. Know there is a spiritual battle. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be foolish with the virus either. Take precautions. Use Wisdom.

Expect there to be an anti-assembly tone…even from within the “church”. Purging will take place. True colors will be shown. Avoid them.

Belief in the mission will be challenged. People will move towards self. World evangelism will be on the back burner for many. You have to decide what you believe is right.

Church, we are on a mission…

#noreserves

#noretreats

#noregrets

…let’s go with courage, conviction and compassion.

COVID-19 and the Local Church

Observation from the Middle

Outbreak in China

Over the past several months, I have been an careful observer of what has been going on in our world during the outbreak of COVID-19. In fact, it has been on my radar for a while now because we are living in Taiwan. The outbreak started in China–where we have ministered for 8 years. So we were getting news from within the country. As more information was coming out about the new virus, China started taking unprecedented actions to quarantine people to prevent the spread of the virus. I knew that there was a problem when the President of the communist country called the coronavirus outbreak a “grave situation”.

The pastors there in China were asking what to do about their churches as the fear and panic of the spreading virus reached their cities. One of the pastors asked me if they should keep having services or would it be disobedient to stop. It was a sincere question from a young pastor who was dealing with this situation for the first time (and really, all of us who are in church leadership are dealing with this for the first time). But, understand the context of his question, church services for this pastor were already illegal. So the question has nothing to do with “should or shouldn’t we obey the government in such a time as this”. These pastors and their churches are already illegal and are persecuted for their Christian faith. This was a question of a different nature. One that led me to consult my mentor.

As we talked through the situation and possible scenarios, the answer eventually came by force. China went on lockdown and not only were large groups of people no longer allowed to meet together, but many if not most of the “housing complexes” didn’t allow people to enter who didn’t live there. So if you couldn’t prove you lived there, you weren’t allowed entrance at the front gates. Since these churches were meeting in “houses” since they are considered “house churches” they suddenly had no place to meet. Local churches in China were forced to find some other ways of corporate fellowship, Bible study, prayer, worship, and singing. Of course, in todays world, this means they went online. They started hosting prayer meetings and services online with different apps. Thankfully, one of the churches already had online giving setup so they were able to continue receiving offerings. This change of situation even gave rise to some special ministry opportunities because everyone was “quarantined at home” and thus had nothing but time on their hands.

Of course, China doesn’t approve of this “online church” as many have called it, and one province has come out to stop the online streaming of preaching and called for remaining house churches to be eradicated. The goal seems to be to keep believers from gathering together in any form, physically or digitally, (at least those without government permission; note: those with government permission–it could be argued they aren’t legitimate churches biblically). It seems China is using this pandemic also as a means for a “power play” against the church.

But even though the local churches I work with are able to fellowship, study the Bible, pray, worship, sing and even give offerings online, there is still one major thing they can’t do that is essential to being a church: “assemble”. As their spiritual father, this is extremely concerning to me.

Outbreak in the USA

Fast forward several weeks and now America is experiencing a “similar” lockdown. Any kind of gathering outside of what the government deems as “essential” is practically to be stopped. This of course includes churches. Many American churches scrambled to get their services online to continue to minister to their congregations through the internet. Similar to what many churches in China did, and now they do everything online. And they find themselves in the same situation, they can do most things digitally, but they can’t do the one thing that is essential: “assemble”.

What About Taiwan?

Yes, I said I lived in Taiwan. So what about the outbreak here? Well, we haven’t really had one. Taiwan adopted early prevention measures: they tested early on, traced contacts who had the virus and where they went, quarantined people when necessary and delayed school just for a couple weeks from opening back up after the local holidays were over. Public places were to check for temperatures, give out hand sanitizer and people were encouraged and even required to wear face masks. Thus, they were able to get it under control without putting the whole country on lockdown. Now many of the new cases are being imported from people returning to the country. As of writing this, there have only been 5 deaths and 322 confirmed cased in the country. Community spread is practically non-existent here at this time (yes, I know anything can change at any moment).

Also, we are in the midst of a church plant. The first Sunday of March 2020 was the first service of our church plant. And we haven’t been asked to stop services, nor does there seem to be any legitimate concern in our location to do so because of the virus. I am thankful for this! (Although many are still scared to go to places because of the “possibility” of their being a problem.)

So from my perspective, I feel that I am in the middle. The country of my early ministry and where the young men that I am leading is China; and my home country and where our partnering churches are is the USA. Not to mention all the countries around us that are having outbreaks.

The Elephant in the Room: “Assembly”

Observations Not Judgment

All of this is good, in a sense, because it is forcing us to work through issues and realize much of what we have taken for granted. It forces us to ask questions like, “How important is assembling to the local church?” As I mentioned above, one of my main concerns during this outbreak, is the we have more churches than ever, at least that I am aware of, that currently are no longer assembling together indefinitely. As soon I say this, I know there is going to be two quick reactions, but this isn’t a statement of judgement, just a statement of observation and concern. For whatever reason a local church stops assembling for, we should be concerned. But let me quickly address two possible reactions:

  • “We aren’t assembling for good reasons.” Yes, many churches have stopped assembling “temporarily” for the physical safety of their congregation, community and country. They have chosen to obey the God-given governance that is placed over them. Some stopped assembling of their own will taking extra safety precautions before it was necessary and others stopped when they were “forced” to by government because of the laws or requirements during this time of an emergency.
  • “We are assembling digitally.” Digital communication is a huge blessing and I use it to continue the training of the pastors in China. I have also been encouraged by all the churches that have found creative ways to use media to minister to their congregations during this time. Good job! But “digital assembling” doesn’t nor can it replace the nature of assembly that a local church is. Sometimes “Christian talk” can confuse this point as we just encourage people to “go be the church” but there is so much more to a local church than “being a Christian” (see more on what a church is below) which is what I think that phrase is meant to mean “put your faith into action through your works,” but none-the-less it can downplay the need of a local church. Also, there are many within our congregations that aren’t jumping on board digitally or can’t jump on board digitally. They can easily be left behind if we aren’t careful. (Maybe we need to brainstorm on what should be done in this exact scenario of COVID-19 if meeting digitally wasn’t an option for anyone in the local congregation. I know this is a legitimate concern for many places around the world, like in certain places in Africa.)

What is a local church?

The base definition I use for a local church is: “A local church is a group of believers who consistently gather together in one place for the common purpose of carrying out the will and work of God and to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, I believe a local church to exists when, at minimum, the following are taking place: “regularly gather for edification in the Word of God desiring to obey it, are willing to baptize new believers as a testimony of their faith in Jesus alone for salvation, and eat the Lord’s Supper together in remembrance of His death, looking forward to His return.” Of course there are many more things that a local church does that makes it healthy, but I am just looking at what the minimum things are required to be considered as a local church. “Therefore, the local church is not a building, nor is it a group of believers who only meet together to study the Bible. A local church is a group of believers who consistently meet together obeying what the Bible has taught about the purpose and work of a church.”

Thus, a “consistent or regularly gathering together in one place” is essential for a local church to be a local church. To answer the question, “How important is assembling to the local church,” the answer is clear: it is of the most fundamental importance.

What is the Answer?

I didn’t write this blog post as an answer for all the problems the church world is facing concerning this issue, but as a warning to not forgot the importance of “assembly” to the local church. We should all be leaning towards “assembling”. And if “for whatever reason” our regular assembly has been interrupted for a season, we should earnestly be desiring to assemble again. It should be the longing of any local church.

Is there ever a legitimate time to not assemble? Of course. I think many are living through one right now. Not the church I am personally leading, but I know many local churches are. But I also think that local churches can have a different application to the same situation:

  • A friend use the term “active love” and I think many churches when faced with the situation at hand, stopped assembling out of “active love” for their congregation, community and country.
  • At the same time I think a church who wants to continue to assemble despite the current situation also wants to do it out of “active love” for shepherding and feeding their flock. They see the church as an “essential” place for the hopeless to receive hope in such dire times. They see church and its doors being open just as essential as the grocery store or hospital.

I sympathize with both sides. So how do we make decisions? Wisdom from the Word, wise counsel (other believers, leaders, and the Holy Spirit) and a willingness to be flexible. And once we make a decision, lets not judge everyone for doing things different than we did, coming to a different conclusion, or not making a decision as quick you did.

Common Sense

We also need to use some common sense and realize that we don’t know everything. Media hype everything up. That is normal. And to make rash decisions based on media reporting is unwise.

  • Don’t be dogmatic. Information and projections about the virus are constantly changing. The stats that we are given about the virus are inadequate because of the nature of testing and the unwillingness of government transparency or government failings around the world. Only time will tell. (Note: Most of the time we usually don’t have all the facts about any certain situation that we aren’t directly involved in, just the information that we have read on the internet and the bent of the author who wrote it.)
  • Listen to the medical experts. Yes, we should as they are on the front line of this pandemic, but they don’t have all the answers or even a common consensus about everything concerning what we should be doing. They only thing they agree on is “wash your hands”. Listen but also think for yourself. If in doubt, follow their sensible advice. (Note: they are medical experts, not experts on everything else in life.)
  • COVID-19 is real but its affects on each person are different. Everyone can point to a case or story to prove their point. Someone had it and it wasn’t bad at all. Thus they declare this is overblown. Another person has it and almost dies or they do die. Thus, people go all in about the virus and the need to be extremely serious about it. What we learn from this is that there isn’t a lot that we know yet. We don’t know why it affects people differently. We don’t know what measures are the best. Everything is still under evaluation.

Judging

Sadly, there is a lot of judgement going on. And it is going in both directions.

  • Fear of judgement from other believers: Many seem to be afraid of others judging them for the decisions they make concerning their local churches, which is why they make such brash statements when they make their decisions.
  • Judging others: There is this feeling of believers judging and even turning on each other. “Believers” turning against “believers”. Churches who stopped having meetings early on are patting themselves on the back and smugly looking down on others who waited until they were forced to do so. Some may be judging others for giving in and stopping services. Brothers and sisters, no matter how you feel about the situation this shouldn’t be so. How do you reach out to your neighbor with a loving hand while smacking your brother with the other?
  • Fear of judgement from the world: Sometimes a desire to be relevant in the world’s eyes causes churches to quickly pander to the lost because they are scared of being labeled with the cultural stereotype of “Christian” and what the world thinks about them. But the world doesn’t need a pandering church it needs a Christ-like church that is full of compassion and truth, declaring peace and hope in chaos and hopelessness. May we not take a backseat for “reputation” sake, but lead for “redemption” sake.

Concerns For the Long-term

In the short-term many have already made up their mind out of an “active love”, But what about the long-term. Its time to think through some things. The following are concerns that are being offered as reasons not to meet that could be extended to a much long time than you are expecting (especially if there is not immediate vaccine or cure):

  • Fear of infecting others.
  • “Endangering” your congregation.
  • “Health And Safety” is paramount.
  • “Protection of the elderly”.
  • “We know better than you” mindset.

How far or how long does this go? How far does this go and who defines it? Anything that justifies unprecedented actions on the basis of the necessity for our safety will most likely be leading down a wrong path. It could be true and innocent, but it should also cause us to proceed with much caution. Fear is a manipulating tool to control people.

Hard Questions for the Future

If you are reading this, then your local church is most likely not assembling…indefinitely. That word “indefinitely” is hard to swallow, but it is true. When will you start to regularly assemble again?

  • How long are we willing to not “assemble”?
  • Where is that line between “obeying government” and “obeying God” in this situation?
  • When is that line crossed by the government?
  • When should we be willing to pay the price to cross it?
  • What would the long-term effects been on your flock for not assembling?

Going Forward

As I mentioned before, I think we go forward with wisdom from the Word, wise counsel and a willingness to be flexible. We love our fellow believers and our neighbors as we walk through this unprecedented time in our world. But also we need leaders with:

  • Solid convictions towards the local church and the necessity of assembly.
  • A willingness to lovingly lead even if it goes against the grain.
  • A shepherding spirit that looks after the flocks physical and spiritual health.
  • Wisdom to discern the “line of obedience” in relation to their local church.

Closing Remarks

There is probably much more that could have or should have been said. But that is why this is simply a “mind dump” about different things that I have been thinking about as the world faces this pandemic. But we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. We have enough for today. We aren’t called to fear, but we are called to watch and pray! Pray with one eye open.

Thank you to the many churches who have done all they can to keep ministering to their people during such a hard time, whether physically or digitally. Keep up being creative and using the resources at hand to make an impact during “today”. And when “tomorrow” comes, we will decided what to do then!

Cautiously adapt for a season, yet longing to assemble and take action when ready.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.