No the church did not roll over during COVID

There’s an insinuation going around in some circles at the moment that because churches closed down buildings and started to meet online during the COVID-19 lockdowns and are currently conforming with face mask and social distancing rules that this makes us wet cowards.

The narrative is that COVID regulations are some kind of authoritarian attack by secular states against human freedoms in general and against the church in particular. Therefore, so the argument goes, the fact that we shut up shop proves that we rolled over too quickly and demonstrated that we were an easy target for godless tyranny.

The consequence of our timidity, it is claimed is that secularist despots will taste blood. They will be back with longer, harsher restrictions and before we know it, the churches will be closed permanently

I can’t help thinking that some of the “thus far and no further” statements by prominent church leaders recently are a result of them having put the wind up them by harsh critics taking that line. The thing is that the narrative is a long way from the truth. Although I cannot predict the future and so cannot claim that there will never be a time when a tyrannical government persecutes the church, I am confident that our response to COVID has not made that more likely or proved that we will not be able to withstand such persecution.[1]

What actually happened was that when churches found that the building doors closed, just as has happened in other countries, the virus could not stop God’s people from meeting, from encouraging one another, from hearing God’s Word taught, sharing communion and reaching out to share the good news with neighbours. This is not about our strength or ability but because we have a God who is greater than anything we might face. We may be timid but he is not. We may be restricted by a virus so that it feels like we are in chains but his word remains unchained. We may not be able to see a way around the obstacles but the Holy Spirit faces no barriers that can withhold him. The virus is no more able to stop the Gospel than tyrannical regimes (and vice versa).

Does this mean that God’s church is perfect, that we don’t make mistakes, that we are not in need of renewal and reformation? No, of course not. However, it does mean that our trust in God is rock solid.

[1] Again to be clear, I cannot predict how we would get on during actual persecution.

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