We are facing a global medical crisis as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread from country to country and caused widespread concern. Our governor has declared a state of emergency and issued a series of guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus.
This is certainly not the first time that the church has encountered such circumstances. And that history can bring helpful perspective. With the Coronavirus, there is a mortality rate as high as three percent for those who are infected. In contrast, the great epidemic of the second century claimed roughly thirty percent of the total population. Dionysius served as the bishop of Rome during this time, and he described the terrible conditions. “At the first onset of the disease, [the heathen] pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead…”
In contrast, the Christians not only remained and cared for their own family members but they also cared for the those who had been abandoned. A century later, the pagan emperor Julian had to acknowledge, “The impious Galileans (aka Christians), support not only their poor, but ours as well…” Of course, many Christians died to perform these acts of service. But their selfless actions validated the gospel and drew many to Jesus. In his classic work, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark suggests that the early church grew rapidly, in part, because of their selfless and sacrificial actions in the midst of those early epidemics.
It is certainly appropriate for us to take healthy precautions. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems should take steps to eliminate unnecessary exposure. For the good of the community, it might be wise to curb some of our normal patterns of greeting (i.e. handshakes). And as much as we are able, we should function under the authority of our governmental leaders and their guidelines.
But in the midst of all this, let’s not give way to paranoia and panic or isolate ourselves in the midst of suffering. We have the confidence of life after death and that allows us to love and serve without fear. The crisis before us is also an opportunity. In God’s providence, he has often caused his church to experience the greatest growth in the midst of adversity.
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