Evangelism and Epidemics

By David Meredith (Mission Director)

They say it started with bats or maybe rogue pangolins in Wuhan, China. The armchair epidemiologists said that it was no worse than flu, that it has already peaked and will disappear from our consciousness in a few weeks.

They say it started with bats or maybe rogue pangolins in Wuhan, China.  The armchair epidemiologists said that it was no worse than flu, that it has already peaked and will disappear from our consciousness in a few weeks. 

Today, Scotland is in lock-down.  A social distance of 2 meters has to be maintained, all unnecessary travel is essentially banned and a gathering of more than 2 people is not permitted.  

Last Sunday, and for the foreseeable future in the Free Church of Scotland, the doors of all our churches were closed and locked. 

People are asking the question: How do we spread the Gospel in a context where physical meetings are impossible? 

Doing Well 

 

Many of you are hard on yourselves.  I am no Paul but remember how he spoke to the Philippians, ‘I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.’ (Phil 1: 4,5) 

Each day the Gospel is being proclaimed through the natural chattering of people whose lives have been radically changed by Christ.  We are a remarkably diverse bunch of people scattered throughout Scotland (and London) who live our lives quietly and peaceably in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim 2:2).   

The point is that in the present crisis you do not change.  You have faith in the good times and in the bad.  Your identity is in Christ, not in riches or status. The best evangelists are not always aware that they are doing it, they do it naturally and with a certain amount of ease 

Speaking

The Gospel has to be spoken.  The good news is that there are more opportunities in the present crisis to speak about your faith than ever.  You wait in the queue outside Morrisons and smile at your new companion across a 2 metre space.  The situation is unusual and demands a comment to that effect to the person next to you.  You are only with them for 3 minutes but there may be an opportunity to speak naturally of Jesus.  Remember, you are not expected to give the whole story of redemption accomplished and applied.  The speaking is natural but the moment has been supernaturally ordained.  All that is required is that you plant a small seed, the responsibility of growth is way beyond your pay grade. 

The rule in random encounters is that less is more.  If people are unwilling to buy double glazing if instigated by a total stranger, they are less likely to accept the offer of eternal life which involves committing their lives to someone they only knew as a swear word up until that moment.  

It’s interesting to note how many short conversations Jesus had, often simply leaving people with thought-provoking questions.  

What you say has some authority because it is true.  Paradoxically what we are seeing is the practicing of Christian values.  The world economy is being stopped to protect the vulnerable in society.  Is it worth it?  Of course it is.  The Bible teaches that the world is broken and groaning.  The Bible also teaches that we are in the middle of a story with a hero at the centre.  We have an opportunity to tell this better story of Jesus who has inaugurated a better world and who invited us to be part of it.   

Online Services

Online worship is abnormal. There is light in the darkness. Many people either fear going to church or they don’t have the time.  The last week has revealed that many people are anonymously eavesdropping in our churches.  In most congregations, online numbers are up from the normal!  A surprising number of people would love to give church a try, but the journey over the door is an enterprise too far. 

Imagine a few weeks ago being able to say to someone that there was a way in which they could go to church invisibly.  Many would have jumped at the chance. Now they can.  We know that invisibility is ultimately impossible because God sees everything, right through to the motives of our hearts.  Motives are often good and the desire to know about God and the big questions is more prevalent than we give credit for. 

Send an email or a text with the online details of your local church. What is local is real and accessible.   This storm will pass one day, so we want to introduce our new disciples to pastors and churches which are real and relate to our specific culture.  Online church is a temporary measure, it will not be part of the new normal.’ 

Serving the Community 

 

In these days of epidemic there are many ways we can reach out to our communities. At the time of writing, NHS volunteering opportunites have not been activated in Scotland.  We can serve by being good neighbours.  Christians will be at the forefront of delivering food to the vulnerable, phoning the lonely and texting the forgotten.  We are also called to live like good citizens by obeying the government and modelling graciousness on social media.  We will not be hoarders but, like the Children of Israel, will take the manna for each day! 

Here is the thing.  There are things that our Muslim, Buddhist and Atheist friends can do.  By common grace we are seeing an outbreak of community care and love.  Only Christians can proclaim the Gospel.  Community engagement is essential, especially among our most vulnerable citizens but the Gospel is the preeminent need.  Paul asked a series of questions, ‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15) Beautiful feet are not formed in a podiatrist’s clinic but in the act of speaking about Jesus.  Preaching is not always done from the pulpit in a loud voice by a man in a suit; it’s also done quietly by a teen in designer ripped jeans, by a young mum in a baggy hoodie … by a guy in a boiler suit. The bottom line is: that preacher can be you! 

Signs Following 

We can’t say that the COVID-19 virus will spark off a revivalWe can say that already God is speaking.  Former Atheist, Dr Julian Urban, tending a dying pastor in Lombardy, Italy stated, “Never in my darkest nightmares did I imagine that I would see and experience what has been going on in Italy in our hospital the past three weeks. The nightmare flows, and the river gets bigger and bigger,” but then he added after watching the pastor die, “Despite having had over 120 deaths here in 3 weeks, we were not destroyed. He [the pastor] had managed, despite his condition and our difficulties, to bring us a PEACE that we no longer had hoped to find. The pastor went to the Lord, and soon we will follow him if matters continue like this.” 

Charles Wesley’s doctor said, “Most people die for fear of dying; but, I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death, but [are] calm, and patient, and resigned to the last.” 

In this crisis, yes, we may help people to die well, but we have a better story than that.  The Gospel is not simply about getting People through to ‘the other side’.  Let the last word go to Jesus: ‘I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10)