How Pandemics Change Christianity

Our family has been through enough natural disasters to know that we’re never completely prepared. Our comfortable lifestyle has been so normalized that we can’t wrap our head around a different way of living … until that disaster happens. Every type of disaster — whether hurricanes, floods, or tornadoes — reminds us of essentials that were forgotten. But absolutely nothing can prepare you for a long-term disaster. How do we prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic? I am discovering in social distancing that my spiritual life needs better disaster planning.

Currently our church is in the process of preparing for ministry without meeting in a central location. This is the closest we’ve come in modernity to being thrust back into the culture of New Testament Christianity. Honestly, in our initial assessment, we thought we were relatively prepared. Our church already streamed worship live, was familiar with online giving, and had multiple means of communication such as text, email, and apps … plenty of apps, from giving, events, directories, etc. I just thought that we’d begin to steer our primary physical ministry toward our secondary digital ministry. But what I found was that there were some greater fundamental shifts taking place than what could be answered with another social media tool.

Here are my initial assessments how Christianity is changing in light of Pandemic living:

  • Aesthetics: “This doesn’t feel like church.”
    This is not the first time I’ve heard this complaint. My first church used a similar statement upon my arrival because they had just moved into a new sanctuary. Upon digging deeper, I discovered that the old sanctuary with cramped low ceilings reverberated much better than the new architecture with plenty of space. “The Holy Spirit just isn’t as prevalent now,” I heard. In reality, our pandemic is forcing us to realize that our feelings are secondary to our doctrinal understanding that God’s immutability transcends room and location. Our aesthetic expectations are often too narrow to embrace our big God. We must be spiritual.
  • Effort: “I just don’t want to go to that much trouble.
    Hardly a Sunday passes when I’m not preaching to someone fiddling with their phone. I’m certain they’re doing word studies on the passage I’m preaching. But for most Christians, the most effort they put into the worship event is brushing their teeth and driving to a building. (OK … at least driving to a building). Worship during a disaster is harder, not because booting a computer is difficult (although I’m hurting for our senior adults who are late to the tech game), but because everything has just become more private. No one is taking role or shaking your hand. Your absence is not nearly as noticeable. Pandemic Christians have to decide that worship effort is individually necessary for their spiritual growth, not merely their routine. We must be intentional.

pandemics illuminate the necessity of true biblical Christianity while bringing a swift sword to comfortable religion

Shawn Nichols
  • Pragmatism: “This is God’s judgement.”
    There are two risks here. Our first error has been to be too pragmatic. We still have those who want to pigeonhole current events into their eschatological timeline. The second error is not being pragmatic enough. Some teachers are afraid to mention the Coronavirus lest they be called a fearmonger. The beauty of Christ, however, is that He meets us on our current road and speaks into our situations in such a way that adds perspective and that brings glory to Himself. Pandemic Christians must find Christ in a fresh way where His Word speaks into our situation. We must be real.

The honest truth is that churches anticipate lower offerings and lost contact with some people if this thing drags on longer than expected. I’m not convinced the pandemic is the problem. Rather, I would suggest that our comfortable Christian existence has blinded us from seeing the true nature of New Testament discipleship. I anticipate that some professing Christ-followers won’t survive, as some of His disciples when Christ began preaching about death. I hope I’m wrong.

Looking back, I suppose my title is wrong. It’s not that pandemics change Christianity. Rather, pandemics illuminate the necessity of true biblical Christianity while bringing a swift sword to comfortable religion. For Christ’s sake, may it be so!

What are some of the ways you see Christianity changing under a long-term quarantine? Comment below.