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From the Pastor's Desk

COVID, Idols, and Christian Witness

Posted by Pastor Stephen Baum on with 3 Comments

COVID, Idols, and Christian Witness

Dear Church Family,

As I trust you all have seen in the news already, in light of the continued prevalence and spread of COVID-19 in New Mexico, our governor has reinstated a temporary mask mandate for indoor public spaces. This means that beginning this Sunday, August 22, we are asking all who attend public worship at First Baptist West Albuquerque respectfully to wear an appropriate face covering while gathered in the building.

Over the last many months, I am pleased to recall, our church body has endured many changing conditions and restrictions with much grace and willing cooperation. I expect it will not be an issue for us to do so temporarily one more time.

At the same time, I am aware that many of us, myself included, have grown weary from being subject to public policy “whiplash.” Yet, our weariness must not become cause for divisions among our body on positions related to wearing masks, receiving vaccinations, or politely complying with governing authorities on matters related to public health. I do not anticipate this sort of response from any of our members, because you have all been exceptionally gracious and patient this last year.

Nevertheless, we do see such responses from so-called and professing Christians in the news and on social media. It is shameful that we have seen Christians hurling insults and condemnations against one another through these media of late. I am so glad the bride of Christ that gathers at First West has not done this publicly.

The apostle John closes his first epistle with an oddly placed but perennially pertinent statement: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). In the present verbal melee over masks and vaccinations and whether or not to listen to the government and follow public health orders, I observe at least two forms of idolatry that we must be aware of and keep ourselves from.

The first is the idolatry of physical health, vitality, and this physical life. Now, our bodies have been given to us to steward as a gift of God and to use for his service and glory in the world—so I am not saying that you should stop exercising and eating right and taking your vitamins and going to the doctor to stay on top of your health. But what we do observe among many right now is a deep seated and paralyzing fear of illness and death that has prevented many Christians from attending corporate worship and ministering in boldness to those most in need. Non-Christians, too, fearful over falling ill have cloistered themselves in their homes and demanded that everyone everywhere receive the maximum level of prophylactic treatment before ever returning to their lives. Christian history, however, is full of Christians doing the opposite. When plagues ravaged ancient Rome and then later all of Europe, it was Christians who stayed behind in cities to care for the sick and ailing, often at the expense of their own lives due to infection. They did not disregard their health, but they did not so worship it so as to stop living as Christ had transformed them to live. And in so doing they won the esteem of many and the message of the Gospel multiplied across the globe carried along by the message of Christian charity, service and self-sacrifice. We know that because we live in a world that has been bent away from God’s design by our own sin that we will live with illness, plague, and pestilence until Christ returns.

Not worshipping at the shrine of physical health, though, does not mean being reckless with our health nor unconscientious of the health of others around us. So we will wear masks for a period of time as we gather out of care for our children who cannot yet be vaccinated and the immune-compromised among us. We will do so to show to our neighbors that while we do not worship the god of wellness, that we still care about helping to keep them healthy during a still ravaging pandemic.

The second idol that I observe as a danger to the church in this season is quite different. It is the idol of personal autonomy and individual liberty. Now as Baptists we believe in soul competency and the responsibility of each individual to answer to God for their own lives, their own sins, and their own faith in Christ or lack thereof. But there is a strain of personal autonomy idolatry observed in both Christians and non-Christians of late whose battle hymn is, “No one tells me what to do!” This refrain sung by Christians, we must note, runs contrary to very heart of the gospel, which is submission to God. In fact, submission to God also means submission to human authorities whom God has ordained. And the ones he has ordained are not just our favorite ones, but even the ones who subject us to public policy “whiplash” (Rom 13:1-7). Submission to a public health order of the sort we have again before us, when evenly and neutrally applied across all sectors of society is not in and of itself an affront to the gospel or a threat to the church. To assume so is to think too little of the power of the gospel, and too much of what humans can do to stop it.

Submission to public authorities, though, does stop at their command for us not to proclaim Christ and him crucified or any other truth from God’s word. There is a profound difference, we should observe, between the governor telling us to wear masks in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, and the governor telling us we cannot proclaim that salvation from sins is available to all without cost, but only through trusting in the death of Christ for sins and resurrection from the dead. There is a great difference between governments using their authority to curb a dangerous viral outbreak, and flexing their authority to curb the message of the gospel. We do well to remind one another of these differences, and that submission to the former in each case is biblical, and submission to the latter in each case is disobedience to God and idolatry of the state.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, keep yourselves from idols!

So then how shall we live as true worshippers of Jesus in these odd and often frustrating times without falling prey to either of these or a hundred other related idolatries? I have just a few suggestions.

 

  1. Worship with your church family. First of all, we are commanded to do so in Hebrews 10:24-25. But second, it is good for your soul, dear Christian. Virtual church is hardly church. You need to hear the voices of other saints singing next to you. You need to be in the presence of other believers to encourage and convict you. You need your pastors to care for you in real ways, not virtual ones.
  2. Spend more time in the Bible, and less on social media. You cannot grow in sanctification and be conformed to the image of Christ when you consume content filled with vitriol, anger, divisiveness, misinformation, conspiracies, and unbiblical declarations of judgment. Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). If we are to be shaped by Christ, we must consume much of the word of Christ.
  3. Be considerate and kind toward those you disagree with on matters related to COVID. Some have family members undergoing chemotherapy and to be infected with COVID would be disastrous. Some have emigrated from nations ruled by overreaching autocrats and dictators and have reasonable suspicion of government overreach. Do everything in your capacity and by God’s grace to seek to understand others and in kindness serve them in meaningful ways. That may mean putting on a mask even when you have been vaccinated. It may mean praying with them for the comfort of God and for his wisdom to fill the hearts and minds of our elected officials.
  4. Pray for your leaders. Here, I do not just mean your pastors (but pray especially for your pastors!). Whether bosses at work, school administrators, governors in state capitols, or pastors in local churches, people in leadership are having to make decisions that they know full well are going to leave a lot of people unsatisfied. Pray that God grants them wisdom and that God grants us patience and perseverance (1 Tim 2:1-4).
  5. Serve someone sacrificially. I have often found that in the seasons of life where I am most selfish, frustrated, angry, upset, fearful, or worried that much can be changed by serving someone else. None of us becomes more like Christ by focusing on ourselves and our own preferences. All of us grow to look and live and love more like Christ by putting our attention on the needs of those we can serve. Christ himself said he came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). And scripture commands us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). Do you have a lonely elderly neighbor? Invite them to dinner with your family. Is a co-worker grieving the loss of a loved one? Write them a note of personal encouragement, letting them know you are praying for them. Does your heart break for people in crisis? Volunteer to care for women with unplanned pregnancies through CareNet or sign up to help feed the homeless in Albuquerque through the Rock at Noonday. Is there a young man or woman in our church who needs help walking with Christ (and there are)? Take them to coffee to read the Bible, talk about life, and pray for one another.
  6. Talk with your doctor about your health and decisions related to vaccines. This should go without saying, but rarely are elected officials actual medical professionals, and almost never are they our primary care physicians. Your doctor knows your health history better than the governor. He or she has likely developed a conscientious and well-grounded medical opinion on the vaccines currently available and whether you should consider getting one. Get your medical advice from the medically trained and not from talking heads on TV or the internet.

I love you, dear church. We will persevere by the grace of God and with the grace he supplies to us day by day. See you in worship soon!

 

Your partner in the gospel,

Pastor Stephen

Comments

Rhonda Edwards August 19, 2021 5:02pm

Thank you, Stephen. I appreciate you and your dedication to the wellness of our church family. Thank you for sharing this.

Tina August 20, 2021 9:49am

We are all one in Christ and there should not be any divisions or distinctions (Gal 3:28). The "public health" mandates are not about public health. What next, will only vaccinated people be allowed in church? If you think that can't happen please look at what's happening in New York, France and Australia. God forbid that churches would participate in such madness! Let us not allow the chaos, deception and division of this world to invade our church! The Covid policy should be very simple: if you feel sick please stay home. Masks and vaccines should not be part of the policy at all - there should not any 'requirements' to attend or participate in our fellowship. It is a mischaracterization to say that people simply dont want to be told what to do. Public health and government officials have not been honest - in fact they have lied about virtually everything relating to this "pandemic". The survival rate of Covid is 99._% based on age. There are treatments for Covid (hydroxychloriquine, ivermectin, budesonide). Masks have nothing to do with public health - they cannot stop the transmission of any virus due to the extremely small size of virus particulates. Both masks and the vaccines have harmed people - thousands have been injured and died due to the experimental vaccines. These mandates violate existing laws, namely the Constitution, HIPPA and the Nuremburg code. Rehab did not heed the orders of the King of Jericho to hand over the Israelite spies The Egyptian midwives did not kill the Hebrew baby boys as decreed by Pharoah. Oscar Schindler risked his life and livelihood to save people in his time. Silent pulpits, compliant citizens and unquestioning soldiers all participated in the horrors of the holocaust due to their inaction. We have the mind of Christ and we are exhorted to be discerning and critically thinking. We are to be people truth and to be valiant for the truth (Jer 9:3). We are instructed to test all things (I Thess 5:21). We are to discern good and evil (Heb 5:14). We are to expose evil when we find it (Eph 5:11-13). Our church should be a safe haven from the madness of the world where everyone is free to attend - these issues should be left outside the walls of our fellowship. Everyone has the freedom to wear a mask and get a vaccine if they choose so please leave it at that. The church cant be the church if the body is divided and there is no reason to bring this division in our church

Stephen Baum August 20, 2021 10:35am

^^^Hello Tina. This is pastor Stephen. Thanks for taking time to read this entry. I would like to talk with you personally about your concerns. You mentioned the phrases "our church" and "our fellowship," but unfortunately I don't recognize your name from among the covenant membership at First West--if I am mistaken please forgive me and help me to clarify my misunderstanding.

If you would like to dialogue personally, please email me directly at sbaum@fbcwa.org, and we can discuss COVID matters, as well as how our church family understands and practices church membership. I would love to make time to meet with you or talk on the phone.

In the meantime, know that my desire in pastoring at First West is to make much of Jesus and lead the church at First West to do so as well during what has been an unprecedented season of life and ministry for many of us. We will not waver on the gospel and Christ's call to make disciples of all nations.

In Christ,
Pastor Stephen