I caught part of a radio interview about Covid-19 between a reporter and people selling various wares at a market. I found it intriguing that the interviewees sounded like they never appreciated that the rules and regulations government had put in place were for their own safety.
“They say we must wear masks; I honestly do not see how that regulation can be implemented,” was a response to one of the questions.
Already a divide was created between “they” and “us”. “They are the unreasonable ones who place on us demands that are probably good for them, but certainly not for us”, anybody listening to the interview would extrapolate that this was the type of reasoning by the people in the market.
This, at any rate, is not an isolated case. Much of the population would go along with that reasoning. The antagonism, real or imaginary, between the people on the one hand and the authorities, on the other hand, is hardly surprising.
Churches have been no exception. They have taken the order to reduce the number of people attending church services as an onslaught on the right to free association which the church has hitherto enjoyed. After all, the Bible urges believers not to stop the habit of meeting together in the epistle to the Hebrews. So the order to reduce the number of people meeting can only come from the anti-Christ or his agents, right? Wrong!
It must be remembered that these orders are a temporary measure to try and contain the pandemic. They should be taken as orders coming from a well wisher not from somebody bent on persecuting the church. They are meant to create a situation which will effectively deal with the pandemic in the shortest possible time so that life can swiftly return to normal and congregations can be full again.
What the church should have done is to be innovative under the circumstances. What we are facing is a situation tantamount to war, albeit against a non-human adversary. In war, you do not conduct business as usual; it is business unusual.
The Jews faced a war situation when Nebuchadnezaar of Babylon captured Jerusalem and swept them into captivity. They could no longer meet for worship in the temple. They could no longer offer animal sacrifices as commanded by Moses. Their religious life had come to standstill, courtesy of the situation they were facing.
After exile, the Jews could only shudder when they looked back at their life in Babylon: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137: 1 – 4)
In Babylon, the Jews learnt to do things differently and innovatively. One of the captives, Daniel, for example, quickly learnt that the small assembly (less than ten people) with his collegues, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (whom the Babylonian chief official had renamed Shadrach, Meshac and Abednego) was all he needed to keep his faith afloat. Indeed, it was through this association that he was able to defy the royal food provisions and later was able to interpret the King’s dreams.
It was in Babylon that the idea of synagogues first sprouted. As they could no longer meet in large numbers in the temple, they invented a new way of meeting, in small numbers in the synagogues. The institution the Rabbi was also mooted in exile. As they could no longer offer animal sacrifices as demanded by the Mosaic Law, their meetings were primarily for teaching the Torah under the leadership of a well trained Rabbi.
The church should also be innovative today under Covid-19. Rather than fighting the authorities, the church should be saying, “What is it that we can do in the circumstances?” Some cottages (milaga) have taken it upon themselves to meet virtually over Whatsapp. It is not the most ideal way of meeting, but it can keep us going in the circumstances until the situation normalises.
Some will be quick to say: “That method of meeting is expensive and only the elite with the appropriate hardware can afford it. The majority of our people cannot.” That is true, but even the rural communities can innovate. Why not meet in small groups outside church buildings, while observing all the other precautions?
The church must search within the times and realise that the authorities are not tormentors.