As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “there is a time for everything” and those words ring true now more than ever. It seems to me that we, as people of faith, are in a time of testing more than I have ever seen during my fifty years on this earth. I think it is fair to say, as we compare ourselves to the saints of old, that we have been living in a time of relative ease as the Church.
As we read through the history of the early church, we read about Christians being fed to wild animals, being lit on fire to light garden parties, and suffering all kinds of brutal tortures for the sake of Christ. During my life, it seems our greatest struggle has centered around whether to sing hymns or contemporary songs in our worship services. This may be an exaggeration, and it certainly applies more to the American Church than it does to other parts of the world where Christians have continued to be persecuted over the years. But in my lifetime, and in my experience, the testing of our faith has had more to do with the apathy that comes when an army is at rest for too long, rather than the battle scars of outright war.
But now, we are truly being tested. In fact, I fear that we are not keenly aware of how much we are being tested right now, in the middle of this pandemic. When it all began, I took it in stride. I saw it as just another “speed bump” of life; one where we must slow down, drive over, and move on. However, the longer this season of quarantine and separation goes, the more dangerous it becomes for the church. Today, that is what I am most concerned about…. the Church.
Like any apex predator, Satan is always looking for an “opportune time” and I believe he is working overtime during this pandemic. If I were the devil, I would see this season of life as ripe with opportunities. I would be tempting Christians to escape into various forms of immorality, just to deal with the monotony and frustrations of living during a pandemic. I would try to distract them from leaning into the Lord and, instead, would whisper into their ears that now is the time to indulge in self and that we deserve to “let loose” a bit. I would use this opportunity to lead non-believers into a state of depression and despair, attacking their already fragile sense of meaning and worth. I would try to assault those who struggle with anxiety, isolating them further until their fears and loneliness are magnified. If I were Lucifer, I would be working these angles, and more, in the lives of people across America and the world.
But, if I were Satan, I would also see this as one of the best opportunities to lay siege to “the Church” as a corporate body. And that is my biggest concern as a pastor and as a Christian. I think that one of the greatest targets of Satan during this time is the corporate church, for the limitations placed on us during this pandemic naturally allow him to tear at the fabric of unity we cling to as the Body of Christ. I mean, it is our unity and our love for one another that makes the church…the CHURCH. It is our fellowship and solidarity that gives us strength and that the Lord uses to encourage each of us in this journey of life. It is a fact that we can worship God on our own. We do not need to attend church to walk with God or know Him personally. However, the Lord instituted the Church as a way for us to remember that none of us are alone as aliens and strangers in this sinful, violent world; that we are part of something bigger, something greater…a family that pulls together as the Bride of Christ. I believe it is that sense of togetherness that Satan is working to undermine. I believe it is our commitment to “the Church” that is our greatest test during this pandemic. I believe that Satan is taking advantage of this opportunity to pull us apart and isolate us so that he can tear us down while we are separated from our Christian family. At this point, I don’t see him attacking our commitment to Christ as much as he is our commitment to the Church.
But we must not minimize this strategy. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, we must not be “unaware of his schemes.” Like any skillful predator, Satan knows that if he can lure us away from our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a step towards taking us down as individuals. Pulling us away from the Body weakens us to various degrees and gives him a foothold to work on our hearts.
My dear friends, we must guard against these tactics. Even though we are limited in our gatherings right now, we must hang onto our commitment to them. We must not allow ourselves to emotionally and spiritually drift from our commitment to one another as the Church. Instead, we must continue to pray for one another specifically, stay connected in whatever ways we can, and especially we must maintain our devotion to one another as we are devoted to the Lord.
I’m sure that, right now, many of you are tempted to drift from your church family. Truly, it is tantalizing to settle for online services and home-based praise and worship. There is a freedom that comes with staying home; we don’t have to take the risks that come with face-to-face interaction and connection; we avoid the burden of encouraging someone when they are down or need help; we can skip the time commitment that goes along with driving to the building. There are attractive reasons to stay away that aren’t related to the pandemic at all. But I would challenge us all to resist those temptations and to remember that the Church was instituted by God as a vital part of our walk of faith. The truth is that we need each other, and that God uses each of us to minister to the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Him.
Although we must navigate through the legitimate limitations we have right now regarding the size and scope of our gatherings as a corporate body, may we never relinquish our commitment to the Church. In the face of this pandemic, we should continue to be safe and wise in our choices, but I pray that we will open our eyes to the devil’s schemes and his attempts to lull us into spiritual slumber, weakening our resolve to be together. Let us recommit to our love and commitment to one another. May our hearts be, once again, filled with a vigorous desire to unite as one Body under our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we thwart Satan’s attempts to lure us away from the encouragement and strength we receive from the family of God.
Brothers and sisters make no mistake…the most ancient of predators sees an opportunity to victimize the Church.
Our love for His Body is being assaulted. Our commitment to one another is being challenged.
How will we respond?
Yours in Christ,